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Dr. Tony- the tenacious tackler

SPORTING PERSONALITIES: To refresh and recall nostalgic Rugby memories of his playing days for Sri Lanka, C.R. & F.C., University of Ceylon, (Peradeniya) and the Combined Universities - a tall, demure and distinguished Dr. Tony de Sylva, presently here on holiday from New Zealand with his dainty wife Dr. Nan, spoke gently and joyfully of his life-changing experiences and challenges, in 'growing-up'! From his youth, of almost fifty years ago, Tony has been a courteous, well-mannered and cheerful personality.

Now, he portrays a mellow, mature, masterly man, who speaks volumes of his substantial benefits and gains in life!


Dr. Tony de Sylva

Going back in time, in the year 1972 'Doc' Tony married Dr. Nan (nee Jayasuriya) - and a year later, after the Clifford Cup Rugby season, they proceeded to England in 1973, to further their studies in the Medical Profession.

While they were in England, they were blessed with a son, Sanji, in 1973 and received their second blessing of a daughter, Sonali, in 1977, before returning to Sri Lanka in 1979. As a family they migrated to New Zealand in 1990 and since then, both Sanji and Sonali have passed out as Doctors.

Dr. Sanji has his medical practice in Sydney, Australia, while Dr. Sonali does likewise in Wellington, New Zealand. What a unique achievement - one family of four Doctors - father, mother, son and daughter!

In the mid-sixties and seventies Tony was known to be a flashy, flying flanker and a tenacious tackler on the rugby fields of Sri Lanka! A part of his 'life-changing' experiences from the field of sports, reveals the fact that he was a superb "Stubbs Shield" Boxer, who won his Colours at Trinity and represented Sri Lanka Schools on a tour of India.

His appreciation was expressed for the training in Boxing that he received from Leslie Handunge (former Olympic Boxer) and Lakdasa Moonemalle, one of Trinity's best Boxers ever produced. It was unfortunate that he could not obtain a place in the Trinity College Rugby team, as the two games clashed in the same season during the second term.

Not to be 'outplayed', Tony gained entry into the University in 1962 and there, he was encouraged to play as a 'flanker' wing-forward by the Captain, G. Thiruchittampalam, a classy, speedy wing three quarter, who played for Sri Lanka and the C.R.& F.C. in 1960 and 61. In 1963, the University fielded a 'fairly good' side in the Clifford Cup Tournament.

Along with Tony, two other great sports stars, Adiel Anghie, who excelled in Cricket and Rugby from St. Peter's College, Colombo, and U. L. Kaluarachchi, Royal College Rugby Captain of 1962, also played in the 1963 University team, which participated in the Clifford Cup Rugby Tournament.

This team surprised the strong C.R. & F.C. side, by holding them to a scoreless draw and depriving them of entering the Final, (based on the points table), which enabled Havelocks to squeeze through to meet Dimbula and beat them.

In 1966, as a fully-fledged flanker, Tony was appointed Captain of the Combined Universities Team and discovered as a 'rising star', sought after by the big clubs. So 1967 saw him playing alongside his elder brother 'Superstar' Sari de Sylva in the C.R. & F.C. side which was captained by a fine Wing three, former Trinitian - A. R. M. Azain.

This was a smashing team that lost to the Havelocks, in the finals. Some of the others who played were, Hadji Omar, Bumpy Jayasekera, D. V. P. Samarasekera, Cecil Perera, Hiranjan Perera, Eric Roles, Tony Sirimanne, Mohan Sahayam, Didacus de Almeida, T. B. Wijesinghe, Hamzie Hameed, Sarath Fernando and 'Karu' Karunasekera.

Tony's bright memoirs centred around 1968 to 1971, when he was selected to play for Sri Lanka as a dazzling wing forward. For the first time in 1968, the All India Rugby Tournament invited four Club sides, Havelocks, Police, C.H. & F.C. and C.R. & F.C., to participate and compete against four Indian teams namely, Calcutta, Madras, Armenians and Maharastra Police.

Some credit must go to the Selectors, who made good moves to bring in a brilliant No. 8, Ajith Abeyratne fresh from Trinity, also a second row forward Michael Pereira, who played the game of his life and Iqbal Jumar as Full back.

However, it was a super move by Didacus de Almeida who split through the defence and passed the ball out to Hamzie Hameed, to score a great try and a win over Havelocks by 8 points to 6 in the final.

In 1969, too, CR met with a lot of success and beat a classic Kandy side, led by Denzil Kobbekaduwa, in the Clifford Cup Final. Kandy had a well balanced side, with superb players like, Y.C. Chang, Chang Fa, Mohan Balasuriya, Jayantissa Ratwatte, Shafie Jainudeen, Dr. Makuloluwa, George Jayasena, Gavin Stevens and Freddie Prins.

It was indeed sad that Mohan Sahayam who was appointed CR Captain, could not play during the season due to injury. Hadji Omar took over the Captaincy and tactfully made sure that the team players will be supportive.

He led by example and asked for (demanded!) team effort and 100% individual performance from the players... and he got it! In fact he was highly respected for his dedication, fitness and exemplary play.

In these years up to 1971, new outstanding players like Hasitha Kannangara (STC), Errol Warne, Ian Geddes Ajith Abeyratne (Trinity), Reggie Bartholomeusz (Wesley), Indrajith Coomarasamy (Royal and Harrow), Ronnie Schokman and Junie Cader, turned out well for CR.

Tony received the great honour of leading the President's XV up in Kandy, against the Bosuns, a touring team from England in 1969. With Hadji Omar as Captain of the Sri Lanka team, he also played in the All India Tournament and toured Bangkok and Singapore, in the same year.

This team comprised of some of the best rugby players Sri Lanka has produced such as, Michael de Alwis, Y. C. Chang, Ali Ratnapala, S. U. Mendis, Keith Paul, Dr. Tony de Sylva and Hadji Omar (Capt.), as the 'pack' of bustling forwards.

In the back division were, Tony Sirimanne, Glen Van Langenberg (halves), Jeff Ratnam, Hamzie Hameed, Abdul Majeed and three 'local' Foreigners namely, John Burrows (an Englishman and Captain of the C.H. & F.C.), David Graham (Britisher and CH) and Maurice Marrinon (an Australian, also from the C.H.), who played as Full back, Inside three quarter and Wing forward, respectively.

CR lost to Havelocks in 1970 but in 1971, CR regained the Clifford Cup under the astute Captaincy of D. V. P. Samarasekera, a fine Forward, with a convincing win over the Police by 26 points to 6. Due to the 'famous' Civil disturbances in 1971, the Armed Service teams were compelled to withdraw from the Tournament.

At this time, some good talented players had joined the CR, like Hafi Abdeen (ex Havelocks 'Star" fly-half), Tikiri Marambe (brilliant Scrum-half from Trinity), 'Viper' Gunaratne (another super terrifying tackler from the Air Force and Kandy), Charles Wijewardena (an excellent, consistent place-kicker and Full Back from the Air Force).

Sari de Sylva on outstanding Flanker returned from England in 1970, to add strength to the CR side but 'obligingly' played as a Wing three quarter, since his younger brother Tony, was already excelling as a Flanker! Reggie Bartholomeusz, Ronnie Schokman and a dazzling Didacus de Almeida made up the back line.

'Lofty' Perera, Ali Ratnapala and Shiraz Fernando (2nd rowers), Bumpy Jayasekera (Hooker), D. V. P. Samarasekera (Captain), Hadji Omar (Props), Dr. Tony de Sylva and 'Viper' Gunaratne (Flankers) and Ajith Abeyratne as an excellent 'reader of the game', manoeuvring clever moves from the No. 8 position.

Five brothers, Dr. Ranjan de Sylva, the eldest (a fine Tennis player at Trinity), Raji (Trinity "Lion", CR & FC and Sri Lanka Rugby), Sena, (Trinity Boxing "Lion) and Captain of the Army Rugby team and Combined Defense Services team), Sari (Captained CR & FC Rugby and Sri Lanka) and Tony, made up another rare, formidable family of Sportsman!!

In quoting from the Prize Day speech of Rod Gilbert, Principal, Trinity College, Kandy, to all students "We must have guts and the determination tempered with compassion and care!" This virtually sums up the life and characteristics of Dr. Tony de Sylva, as a fearless, 'gutty' Rugby player in the field of Sports and caring as a true Medical Doctor with compassion.

Tony was often seen running on to the field, to assist the injured players whenever the need of a Doctor's services were required. In whatever he has achieved in real life, his fullest appreciation is to his family for the encouragement and support, his close friends (Professional and others) and those who helped him in his formative days at "the best school of all" - Trinity College, Kandy.

In Rugby too, he has much respect and gratitude to three illustrious Sporting personalities, Mahes Rodrigo (Sri Lanka's brilliant Cricketer and Rugby Scrum Half), Summa Navaratnam (Asia's Fastest Sprinter in the late Forties and Sri Lanka Rugby in the Fifties) and Kavan Rambukwella (Sri Lanka's scintillating Inside three quarter), who coached and guided him.

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Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

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