When Thomian schoolboys played like hardcore pros | Sunday Observer

When Thomian schoolboys played like hardcore pros

19 July, 2020
Shane Pinder
Shane Pinder

Nobody gave them a dog’s chance to make unparalleled history but Shane Pinder and his band of raw recruits from S. Thomas’ College turned the tide against all odds

On April 13, 1959 one of the finest Sri Lankan rugby players named Royceton Shane Pinder was born in Colombo, lived in Bambalapitiya and was the torchbearer of the Thomian First XV outfit in 1978 under head coach the legendary Quintin Israel.

He piloted S. Thomas’ College to an unbeatable record of winning the first ever schools’ under-19 knock out tournament against all odds.

The Sunday Observer revisits Pinder’s rugby days with an exclusive interview all the way from the USA where he is domiciled since 1979.

To Pinder rugby is not just a game, it’s a passion.

As a financier he still cherishes the lessons learnt from rugby as an outstanding captain for his alma mater in 1978. Perhaps, sports came naturally to Pinder as he hailed from an elite sporting family.

Said Pinder: “My two uncles Jeff and Dan Ratnam, aunt Lorean Ratnam and two Josephian sons and my first cousins the late Micheal Perera who played both cricket and rugby for St. Joseph’s and his younger brother Lalith Perera who played cricket and rugby for the Joes and also for CR and FC were exactly like me playing as attacking full back before migrating to the USA after the end of the league season in 1989.

“I honestly believe in teamwork. That’s what my favourite game rugby has taught me throughout the years.”

Pinder recalled that sports helped him to imbibe qualities such as leadership, determination and having faith in his team mates.

Like with many others, school was the best era of Pinder’s life.

“I owe everything to my school S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia, including nurturing my character with dignity and honesty,” he declared.

Speaking further Pinder said: “After winning all our matches including a 6-6 draw against arch rivals Royal we unfortunately lost to Trinity 6-27 in 1978.

“If there’s any rugby match that I wanted to personally forget, then it’ll surely be the Trinity game.

“They were coached by the great Berty Dias and players like Ravi Balasuriya, Janaka Kiridena, centre Andre Tissera (elder brother of Jaan and the nephew of legendary Sri Lankan cricket captain Michael Tissera) and Lalin Sourjah didn’t allow me to have any room to play my natural game. Our coach Quintin shifted me from full-back to fly-half and then to Centre but nothing really worked because the four guys really tackled us to a standstill,” Pinder remembered.

But the loss made him more determined to somehow win the Centenary knock out rugby championship in 1978 under his captaincy.

“I personally believe the 1978 team stands out from the rest, not because I was the captain but due to the fact that we played with only five coloursmen and 10 freshmen,” recalled Pinder.

“So using my friendship, I had to invite cricketers like the Idippily brothers Umesh and Viraj, Dylan Subramaniam and Lakmal De Zoysa to join our First XV team and they acknowledged it with distinction.”

Pinder’s best moment in school rugby was when under his captaincy in 1978 in the Centenary knock-out championship the Thomians knocked the daylights out of the unbeaten league champions the mighty Royal College in the semi finals.

“My team mate and crack centre Christopher Jordashe intercepted the ball and ran nearly 60 meters to score the match winning try which I still cherish to date because it completely tore the heart out of all Royalists,” said a reminiscent Pinder.

Speaking further Pinder said: “When a group of young men play as a team and not as individuals they can achieve great success against all odds.

“All my team mates played their hearts out. Christo (Jordashe) and his brother David were outstanding, so was Direan Hallock, Romesh Arunachalam and Waseel Hafeel. Our entire pack was outstanding.”

In the final, Isipathana tried to play a psychological game even before kick-off but Pinder and his mates were not made of the stuff that would make them cave in.

“When we went into the final against MPF Salley’s Isipathana side, he and his team came to our locker room and declared point blank that in the first five minutes they’ll have us carried out from the field. I said okay and even referee Rodney Patternott heard this,” Pinder said while bringing back those chilling moments any team could encounter before a blockbuster decider.

Pinder remembered how at the kick-off by Isipathana full back KD Nanayakkara four players charged down and hit him from underneath illegally.

“I told my boys no bloody retaliation, no fighting and let’s concentrate only on the game. Let’s play a clean game of rugby and nothing else. They heard me loud and clear,” recalled Pinder.

At one stage of the game Isipathana was leading and Pinder made a judicious left boot chip kick which struck the cross bar and rebounded into fly half Lakmal de Zoysa’s hand for him to gleefully touch down under the post. The try changed the fortunes of the Thomians.

“We were very much determined as underdogs to win the Cup, so at the last minute we got a five-meter scrum and our scrum half David Thambapillai went through on the blind side and made a punt, collected the ball himself and scored an unbelievable match-winning try which foxed Isipathana scrum half Ajith Thilakasiri in style. With that we won the prestigious Centenary knock-out championship,” recalled Pinder with happiness.

Going down memory lane Pinder spoke highly of his centre, ex CR and FC captain, Sri Lanka player and 1979 Thomian captain Christopher Jordashe.

“Christo was a true and humble gentleman on and off the field, a superb player who at a glance knew all our moves,” said Pinder.

He had the unique feat of representing champion Havelock Sports Club in the club knockout tournament in 1978 as a full back while still a schoolboy and earned a reputation as a much sought-after player under rugby legend Anton Benedict.

“My team mate and full back Marco de Silva was undoubtedly the nicest and most down to earth gentleman I’ve ever met. He used to move out to the winger position willingly, allowing me to occupy my pet position at full back,” said Pinder of the legendary Havies full back.

Pinder also found a slot in the Sri Lanka team at the world famous Hong Kong Sevens in 1978 that comprised Bharatha Hegoda, Hisham Abdeen, late Sandy Hameed, Wimal Epparachchi, Saman Jayasinghe, Angelo Wickramaratne (Captain), Ajith Silva and Rohantha Peiris.

In 1979 Pinder decided to hang up his boots and move to Australia when he sustained a knee injury during the Mercantile Sevens tournament.

He later moved to the USA where he has been domiciled with his wife, who is the eldest daughter of Thomian and Havies scrum half, the legendary Dicky Jayathilaka. He has a son and daughter.

His son played rugby as a scrum half and American football in the USA while his daughter is working for a top financial institute.

“My father, mother, sister, two uncles Jeff and Dan Ratnam, aunt Lorean Ratnam and STC head coach Quintin Israel have been my major inspirations in life and I’m eternally grateful to all of them,” said Pinder.