Thurstan’s rich and colorful rugby history is over 48 years old. History records that Thurstan began playing rugby in 1957. Thurstan was the second government school to take to rugby and from the inception started playing with all leading teams. To Surath Wickremasinghe goes the honor of leading the first Thurstan Rugby team.
Thurstan’s ascendancy to big league was in 1963, and enjoyed one of the finest seasons in the history with a historic win over Royal College at the University grounds. 1963 team was captained by Deepal De Zoysa a classy wing forward who later on played for CR&FC, captained Kandy SC and represented Upcountry. His co wing forward was Ranjith Jayawardena who was selected to lead the prestigious Colombo Schools team and later went on to represent Havelocks, University & Air force. Srinath Gunasekara (Captain ’64, represented Colombo Schools & University), Indra De Silva (Captain ‘65, represented Ceylon schools & coached Thurstan in 1968), Dushyantha Samarasekara (Captained CR&FC, Secretary SLRFU), Wimal Kulathunge CR&FC, E.K.R.Wijewardana (Police SC), Vernon Caldera (NCC) and Ananda Karunaratne were some of the other stalwarts of this team. Dushyantha Samarasekara was a tower of strength behind Thurstan Rugby and his contributions are well remembered. Srinath Gunasekara captained the 1964 team and he was an outstanding player in that era. Graetian Gunawardhana was the fly half of this team.
In the mid sixties Thurstan did not fare in top order but did well to retain their name as a fighting outfit. Not be outdone a galaxy of stars emerged from this era too. Sarath Fernando a dashing wing three-quarter who played for CR&FC, Sunil Jayakody a familiar figure in up country rugby who captained Dimbula for many years, Mangala Ratnayake who excelled for Army and later coached the college, Tissa Nanayakkara one of the best forwards (also with a fame for place kicks) produced by Thurstan. Tissa later played with distinction for CR&FC, Air Force and won his Ceylon Cap. After retirement from active playing he coached Thurstan for several years. Latter under the guidance of Tissa Nanayakkara and his brother Sisira Nanayakkara Thurstan got through to the semi finals of the presidents’ trophy in 1991.
Seventies saw the emergence of the players like Sisira Nanayakkara, Tissa Wickramanayake, Sumanasena brothers Mohan (represented Army) and Sudantha. Rienzie de Silva (Havelocks), Mervyn de Silva, Chula Dharmadasa and SK Karunathileke (CR&FC) with Geff Rutnam being the coach. Chula Dharmadasa and SK Karunathileke represented CR&FC with distinction and were worthy members of the Sri Lanka team that bagged the bowls trophy in the Hong Kong sevens. Chula Dharmadasa was a national selector and president of CR&FC. He latter coached Thurstan with his brother Vipula Dharmadasa.
In 1975 Thurstan drew with Isipathana under Tissa Wickramanayaka’s captaincy. This era saw number of Thurstanites donning the CR jersey and Sathyapriya Liyanage (later played for Army), G.L.Thilekerathne, R.L.Hewa and N.B.Ravindra and K.N.Sirikumara (captained Petersons) are few of the names.
Entry of Upali Hewage (captained ’68) as rugby convener in 1985 marked a rapid improvement and refinement in Thurstan Rugby. He was able to attract some of the best coaching talent like Vipula Dharmadasa, his brother Chula Dharmadasa, National Coach Ajith Abeyrathne, Nanayakkara brothers Tissa and Sisira, Senaka Kumarasinghe and Ajith Fernando. During this period Thurstan won against St Thomas Mt lavinia for the first time and defeated Royal in 1991 under Asela Weerasignhea (a nippy scrum half who played for Havelocks but gave up prematurely) and in 1992 under Ruwan Sirisena. Ajantha Rodrigo another star of this era played for Thurstan till 1990 & captained Police SC.
Thurstan featured prominently in almost all the senior and junior tournaments. In 1991 Thurstan qualified for the president’s trophy under the leadership of Asela Weerasinghe for the first time, and was unfortunate to loose to Ananada College in the semi finals in the penalty shootout. Since then Thurstan has played almost all the president trophy tournaments. Chaminda Samaranyake who played for Thurstan from 1889 to 1992, Played for CR&FC and latter for Police SC before injury kept him away from professional rugby. Latter he coached Thurstan in both junior & senior levels as an assistant coach.
In 1993 Thurstan under the leadership of Suranga Kulawickrama came close to a draw with the score reading 11 all with the their traditional rivals Isipathana only to loose out 18 to 11 with a try by Isipathana in the injury time. Ranjith Charles Peiris (who played as Fly half later played for CR&FC during the short period he played for club rugby), Rishan Thambidhorei (Captained ‘94), Lalindra Jinadasa & Viraj Prassana were some of the outstanding players in this team. And for the first time in Thurstan history the rugby match commentaries were given in the SLBC and Sunil Karunanayake shared the mike with Diyanesh Rajarathnam in this memorable encounter where rugby was seen at it’s best. The match was also memorable for the sporting gesture of Thurstan skipper Suranga Kulawickrama who stepped down for this match to give his deputy Lalindra Jinadasa to do the honors. Nishantha Welagedara the present captain of the Police SC is also a product of Thurstan.
In late nineties Thurstan rose up in school rugby arena and in 1997 Thurstan registered two superb wins over Royal College and St.Thomas college to reach the finals of the President trophy only to loose out to Isipathana in the finals. Both in 1996 & 1997 Thurstan reached Milo 10 A side tournament finals with Isipathana. Both this occasions Thurstan were unlucky to loose to Isipathana their traditional rivals in the finals. And finally in 1998 under the captaincy of Nuwan Kumara, Thurstan were able to topple Isipathana after 35 years and creamed up with winning the prestigious President’s trophy for the first time. Nuwan Kumara was later selected to play for Sri Lanka youth team and also played for CH&FC along with Kokum Senevirathne who ultimately won his Sri Lanka Cap. In 2000 Thurstan reached the semifinals of president trophy again beating Isipathana in the quarter finals, and lost St.Thomas in the semifinals. 2004 Thurstan team was captained by Sadun Kumara. Sadun Kumara presently plays for CR&FC.
Thurstan can really be proud of their Rugby history as they produced not only classy players but a galaxy of personalities who contributed immensely to the game in Sri Lanka. Geff Rutnam undoubtedly takes top billing as a Ceylon Captain (it was under Geffs’ captaincy that Ceylon scored her first ever international win against the Paris university’s club in 1970) and National Coach, Dushyantha Samarasekera was the secretary SLRFU/Asian Rugby Board and president of CR&FC, Sunil Jayakody National selector and President Dimbula A.C, Chula Dharmadasa National selector and President of CR&FC, Harsha Mayadunne President SLRFU.
In addition to the “Abdul Jabar Trophy” which is played with the traditional rivals Isipathana two more annual encounters for the “Diyanesh Rajarathnam Memorial Trophy” in 1998 with Wesley College and “Graetian Gunawardhana Challenge Trophy” in 2001 with D.S.Senanayake College were added to the Thurstan rugby fixture.
( Special thanks to Mr.Sunil Karunanayke for providing with the details of the Thurstan Rugby History)