St. Peter’s rugby had miserable seasons during the last two years after having won the Singer Under 20 Division 1A league and the Milo knock-out rugby schools titles for two successive years in 2006 and 2007. So far this year they have rediscovered their dominance, becoming the undisputed league champions.
The dominant St. Peter’s College team that won the League title
Though they have one more match against St. Anthony’s at Nittawela today, the outcome of this game does not matter. They already have adequate points to take away the title. The team led by Number eight, Keith Gurusinghe, is the only unbeaten side so far this season, having won seven matches along with one draw.
Since 2006, St. Peter’s has been a side to be reckoned with. That year they won the league after a lapse of four years since 2002, when the side was led by Dilanka Wijesekera. The 2006 side led by Haren Ariyawardena lost one game to Kingswood in the league championship but went on to clinch the league and knock-out titles.
The year 2007 team was a vastly improved side led by Ranuka Jayasinghe. They remained unbeaten right throughout the season and went on to take the league and the knock-out titles for the second successive year.
But it has not been a bed of roses for the Peterites. They underwent the agony of being pushed down or demoted to the lower division in the year 2004. But they fought to come back to the top, with Sanath Martis taking over as the coach.
Sanath Martis - Coach extraordinary
As they say “success does not come on a platter you have to earn it through dedication, determination and commitment”. That was the mantra that Coach Martis used for the Petes’ revival. The understanding between the coach and the players succeeded to a great extent at the end of the first season and from then on it has been like a duck taking to water where the performances of the boys are concerned.
Martis is a name synonymous with rugby in Sri Lanka, a coach with immense experience who started his coaching with a stint way back in 1985 at junior level at his alma mater Isipathana. He was elevated to coach the senior team in 1988 and four years later Isipathana had the honour of becoming the triple champs, league, knockout and seven’s, the first time such a feat was achieved by any school.
He went on to coach St. Anne’s, Kurunegala RFC (both teams emerged ‘B’ division champs), Wesley, CR & FC who emerged the Clifford Cup champs in 2001 under his coaching, and Isipathana again in 2002 before he docked in at St. Peter’s.
Before going into the details of the champion team’s success, The Sunday Times spoke to Colin Dinesh, the assistant coach for whom the background of rugby in St. Peter’s is like the back of his hand. The team was on their way to Kandy three days before the scheduled match against St. Anthony’s.
The first question that was asked was why was the team going to Kandy three days before the game? Colin stated that win or lose they have been doing this type of thing earlier too. “We play the tournament match by match. We don’t take our opponents lightly, whether they are strong or weak.”
“They have to get used to the climate and have to practice in the morning and evening, and later in the night the boys are told to forget rugby and are pushed away from the mental stress that they are under as they enjoy some entertainment by a calypso or local band.” Speaking of the champion Pete side, Colin mentioned that it was the dedication and commitment of the boys along with the motivation and guidance given by Martis that enabled them to achieve this.
“In fact the foundation for this achievement was laid way back in 2008. We knew like any other rugby playing school there are the dark clouds and we underwent two lean seasons. We could see it happening this season too, so we set a target.”
“The team began practicing as early as January. We made our plans and strategies to face any situation. The boys underwent coaching camps beginning from morning. Even in the morning they practice for about two hours and in the afternoon they have a rest which is compulsory. During this period they cannot go anywhere even the meals are brought to them.
Every day the boys are shown video clips for 20 minutes after which they have to answer questions. The school authority, spearheaded by the Rector Fr. Travis Gabriel, spends over Rs. 50,000/- per month on their nutritional needs which are identified by the coach and physical trainer.”
He said they planned their strategy match by match which turned out to be very positive and the boys in the beginning of the season were told to rake in as much titles as possible.
They began the season on a sound footing by winning two sevens titles and from there on they have never looked back. “Our physical trainer Ransilu Jayatileke has been a tower of strength to the boys. He along with coach Martis have been a fine combination in fine tuning the youngsters.” Colin explained.
Colin brushed aside the critics who say that the Peterite side comprises players from other schools. He says, “I am sorry for these guys. They are just like the barking dog that never bites.
When we lost last season and were placed sixth with almost the identical side, nobody made a fuss. Everybody wants to see what St. Peter’s are doing but we don’t stoop down to that level.
We don’t take anything seriously and our school encourages boys who want to join St. Peter’s.
Anyone making criticism does not think about the future of any student. One recent case was Mohamed Rinaz a student from the hill capital who had a successful rugby season at St. Peter’s and today he is in Australia.
Lastly Colin mentioned that the team’s success all these years has been due to the support and encouragement given by their Rector Fr. Travis Gabriel, who is a sports enthusiast, along with sports coordinator Fr. Lakmin Silva and the master-in-charge Sunil Aponso.
Not forgetting dedicated old boys like Suranga Seneviratne, Mangala Dharmapriya, Dilan Amarasuriya, Shanaka Gunawardena, Geethal Edwards, team manager and team doctor Mahesh Perera and Dr. K.M. Perera and also the parents of the players, who put in their share by supporting St Peter’s rugby..