Big Ben Bena traded football for rugby | Sunday Observer

Big Ben Bena traded football for rugby

Anton Benedict
Anton Benedict

Anton Benedict is a product of St. Joseph’s College in Colombo where he excelled in rugby and football. His first pet game was football but he switched to rugby and represented the Joes in 1963/64 and won school colours.

He played 14 seasons of A Division club rugby from 1965 to 1978 figuring in five Cup finals, for Police in 1967 and from 1970 to 1973 for Havelock SC. He also played in five Championship teams from 1974 to 1978.

He also played for Low Country and Sri Lanka as a forward and can be rated as one of the top players. ‘Bena’ as he is popularly known led two clubs, Police and Havelocks to win the Clifford Cup.

Anton Benedict is now 72 and he first played for Havelock SC in 1965 at the age 18 years. He also played in the 1966 team when this club had players of the calibre of Nimal Maralande, Gamini Fernando, Maurice Silva, Noel Brohier and Frankie David. Then in 1967 he joined the Police Department as a sub-inspector.

When police were playing in the ‘B’ division it was S. Sivendran who led Police to gain entry into the ‘A’ division and the year 1972 was the best year for Police rugby. Under the captaincy of Anton Benedict, Police for the first time, won the coveted Clifford Cup edging out the CF & FC to a 12-9 win off a last-minute penalty by Nizam Hajireen.

Then again in 1974 Bena went back to his first club Havelocks and the year 1978 was a glorious one for the Park Club. It was the year that Anton Benedict led them to win the triple, though he missed the Sevens due to injury. But he was back playing in the League and Clifford Cup by beating Kandy SC led by Irwin Howie and the President’s Cup.

It was in 1970 that Bena for the first time was in the national squad and his first match was against Singapore in 1970. From 1970 to 1977 he was an integral part of the national team. One of the interesting matches he played in was against Japan in the final of the Rugby Asiad in Colombo in 1974, which was the first time that Sri Lanka qualified to play in the final of the Asiad. The side was led by Indrajith Coomaraswamy and coached by Bertie Dias

Bena captained the President’s Select XV coached by Gamin iFernando to victories against three visiting teams from Dubai, Germany and Zambia. In the final game against the team from Zambia he stretched the ligaments in his left knee but continued playing contrary to the wishes of Havelock coach Nimal Maralande and skipper Jeffrey de Jong.

After he hung up his boots, due to a recurring knee injury, Bena took up coaching and refereeing. He coached Police in 1980 and after a break started coaching them again from 1984 to 1986.

He was also a very active referee officiating from 1980 to 1987 and featured in international tournaments as a referee.

The big break in his coaching career came when he was picked as the national coach prior to the Asiad of 1990 in Sri Lanka.

He was a selector from 1996 to 1997 and was elected vice president of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union in 1997 and its president two years later.

During his tenure as president of the SLRFU, Sri Lanka hosted the Youth Rugby Asiad and the Sri Lanka U-19 team finished the tourney as the second runners-up and qualified to play in the Youth Rugby World Cup held in Chile in 2001.

This was the first ever time that a Sri Lankan team had qualified to contest a World Cup in rugby.