Notable Rugby players of the past : How Priyantha rose to reach Rugby’s top spot | Sunday Observer

Notable Rugby players of the past : How Priyantha rose to reach Rugby’s top spot

Priyantha Ekanayake
Priyantha Ekanayake

Priyantha Ekanayake the present CEO of Sri Lanka Rugby, the former St. Anthony’s College, Kandy Sports Club, CH & FC, CR & FC, Sri Lanka forward, and Asian Barbarians, except CH & FC. Priyantha has led all the teams he played in. He can be rated as the best ruggerite produced by St. Anthony’s College, and is the first Antonian to lead a Sri Lanka rugby team and hold the Sri Lanka and Asian rugby Presidency. He has the unique achievement of being the only ruggerite to lead the country at four Rugby Asiads.

He was an outstanding third row forward during his days. He had an excellent record in school with his natural talent. Towering over six feet, Priyantha played rugger, cricket, and basketball and also took part in athletics for the Antonians from 1973 to 1985. His pet sport was basketball at school, and represented the country at the 7th Asian Basketball Championship in Seoul, Korea where he also obtained a Korean Diploma in Basketball Coaching. Later he represented the country at several tournaments. At cricket he was a fine all-rounder, where he shaped up as a good pace bowler but rugby robbed him from cricket.

He started his rugby career under the guidance of the famous Antonian coach late Kalu Perera, who coached him till he left school. As a school boy he played for Kandy Sports Club. From then on there was no stopping Priyantha who represented the Sri Lanka under-25 team and toured Taipei in 1985. From about this time he was an automatic choice for the National team.

After seeing his talents in a Kandy SC - CH & FC game President of CH, Kishin Butani grabbed him for his Club and Got him to play in the R. Premadasa Trophy Championship which CH & FC went on to win. After a short stint at CH & FC, Priyantha was invited by Malik Samarawickrema and he crossed over to CR & FC in 1987 and played for them till 1991 and led the side in 1990.

In 1992 Priyantha and a few players from CR & FC, most of them products of Kandy schools crossed over to Kandy, after a dispute and helped Kandy Sports Club to win their first ever trophy in rugby after 42 years of club rugby.

It was Priyantha, who motivated the Nittawela boys to do great things.During his days he tackled like a wrecking ball and ran like a charging bull, but it's his pain threshold that really marks him out.

He led the Nittawela club in 1993 to win the Clifford Cup. From the year 1985 to 1997 Priyantha was a regular member of the Sri Lanka team and had the privilege of leading the country at four Asiads - a record.

He also had a stint in New Zealand where he played for Ravense Bourne Sports Club in the Premier League and also played in Wales for Ebb Bale Province.

In 1997 he made Kandy and the country proud by leading the Asian Barbarians invitation team. The Barbarians comprised players from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The other players who were selected were Thushara Jayalath of Havelocks SC and Asoka Jayasena of Kandy SC.

Priyantha became the first Sri Lankan to lead the Asian Babarians. In the first game against Hong Kong Under 24, which had top class players. Priyantha leading from the front was able to beat them 46 points to 35. Then in the main game, they met the Hong Kong Dragons where again the Barbarians won 26 points to nil.

A warrior who played the game without fear looked his opponents in the eye and never took a step backward no matter what was unfolding in front of him. He was considered as one of the finest players of his generation.

He gave his best for rugby and ended up as the President of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union and Asian Rugby Football Union along with Dilroy Fernando.

Today he is the CEO and doing a good job with the support of the rest at Sri Lanka Rugby Officials. Priyantha treats every club in the same manner and gives the best for the game.

He coached Kandy Sports Club when Harris Omar led the team, and helped the club to win the inter club sevens for the first time in 1999. Priyantha’s brother L.V ‘Lakshman’ Ekanayake was another outstanding sportsman produced by the Antonians, he too went on to represent Sri Lanka in Rugby.