By Sunil Karunanayake
November 2008 was of historical significance for Thurstan College. It was on a day three Novembers ago that Thurstan’s Rugby Stadium development project was launched by the then Minister of Sports and Recreation Gamini Lokuge and Namal Rajapaksa, chairman, Tharunyata Hetak at the Thurstan Park down Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha. The stadium is due to be completed soon.
A dream so will come true for this intrepid school, long hampered by the lack of a rugby ground of their own. In the early days when rugby was confined to just a handful of schools, venues were not a great issue. In the beginning Thurstan was allowed the use of the CH & FC and CR & FC for practices, while the neighbouring University grounds were where they played their home matches.
When the venues became difficult to obtain, they moved to Brownrigg Park, which despite its bare facilities didn’t discourage the Thurstanites from continuing with the game. Old boys of the 1950s era recall that it was in 1956 that a few enthusiastic students got together and played for the fun of it.
The year 1957 was the first official year of Thurstan Rugby, and the honour of being the first Captain went to Deshabandu Surath Wickremasinghe who also captained the team in 1958. Fittingly Surath was a distinguished invitee and had the privilege of cutting the first sod along with other distinguished guests. Some of the other big names in this team were Jeff Rutnam and Rafi Abdeen, a more reputed boxer who led Ceylon Schools in the inaugural Indo-Ceylon Schools Boxing contest in 1960.
The Architect behind the Rugby Development and Revival, Retd DIG Upali Hewage has been a tower of strength to Thurstan Rugby for nearly three decades. Initially practicing in a far corner of the CH & FC grounds at the old racecourse, then at the University grounds Thurstan Road and later at CR & FC, the dream of a turf of their own will soon come true when the rugby stadium is completed. It is a poignant irony that the stadium is situated in the old racecourse, not far from the patch of earth where Thurstan rugby took root, courtesy the CH and FC.
Upali Hewage who is the incumbent president of the Thurstan Rugby Football Club (TRFC) is ably supported by past stalwarts Deputy President Rear Admiral Jayantha Perera (1976 captain and now directing Navy Rugby), Vice Presidents Retd. Admiral Harsha Mayadunne (former president SLRFU), Retd Brigadier Upali Bandarathileke, Suranga Kulawickrema (Captain 1973) with Mohan Fernando as the Secretary.
With the development of the rugby ground Thurstan is bound to be a force to be reckoned as they no longer will need to go round seeking venues for practices and matches. Despite having no ground of their own, Thurstan over the last half century has produced an array of eminent rugby players and administrators at the highest level. Jeff Rutnam who played from 1957 to 59 had the honour of leading Ceylon to its first ever international victory over Paris University Club.