Sangathy
Sports

When rugby ace Lanil travelled from Passara to Colombo and back for national team practices

Lalin Tennakoon (sporting white sweat band) at the Rugby 7’s game in Hong Kong.

by Harischandra Gunaratna

Former Sri Lanka Rugby captain Lanil Tennakoon in an interview with The Island said that he was compelled to ride his 650cc BSA motorcycle from Passara to Colombo and back covering nearly 450 km to attend national team practices.

He said that he had to be at Longdon Place by 4.30 pm for practices and back at work at Passara to supervise the tea manufacture and plucking the following morning.

Lanil who was attached to Gonakelle Estate in Passara had to endure the rigorous routine because his boss was a very strict administrator who was not supportive of sports and refused to release his Sinnadorai (Assistant Superintendent) for rugger practices even if it was at National level.

Reminiscing his childhood, Lanil said that he inherited his love for sports from his late father John Tennakoon who represented St. Anthony’s College Katugastota at boxing and cricket and later the Police.

Lanil had to move from Trinity College, Kandy to Kalutara Vidyalaya when he was nine years old as his father was poted as HQI of the Kalutara South Police Station. He recalls, playing with a rugger ball and kicking the ball in the compound of the HQI’s quarters at Ferry Road, Kalutara North during the two years he was at Kalutara. On being re-admitted to Trinity College he attended rugger practices religiously but never made it to the College first XV.

Captaining his house rugby team was the highest achievement during his school days.

Lanil joins the select band of Trinitians who donned the Sri Lanka jersey without representing the school. Others are Willie Ratnavale, Dr. Tony de Sylva and Y.C. Chang.

The burly second rower said that he was not the only Trinitian to don the Sri Lanka jersey without representing the alma mater.

Lanil received his baptism to club rugby after he was chosen to play for the leading planters club, Dickoya Maskeliya Cricket Club team in the hills, led by Bede Johnpullai in 1971 and later represented Dimbulla, Uva, Kandy SC, Havelocks and CH & FC. He also captained the Up Country XV against visiting foreign teams.

He was known for his bone jarring tackles, and brilliant place kicking and he was a regular in both the national XV and 7’s rugger teams.

Lalin with wife Sandra.

Lanil a place kicker with a bull’s eye has contributed with his boot for many a victory during his long rugby career and he celebrated 50 years as a rugby player last year. His crowning glory came when he was appointed as captain of the Sri Lanka XV and 7’s in 1980. He led the Sri Lanka teams that year at Hong Kong Sevens and Rugby Asiad in Taiwan.

Many sports enthusiasts are unaware that Tennakoon was a fiery fast bowler and represented the CCC in the Daily News Trophy games. The team included former All-Ceylon cricket captain C.I. Guanasekera and former national cap Channa Gunasekera among others. He played cricket until the day CH rugby coach Darley Ingelton saw him bowling to the Sri Lanka poolists including Duleep Mendis practicing at the CCC nets where he had to attend rugger practices and read him the riot act and said “Young man you have to chose either cricket or rugby”

Lanil Tennakoon the sports star married his sweetheart, former Good

Sheppered Convent, Kandy athlete Sandra Bertus and they have three children Devaka, Yoshini and Devshan, the eldest Devaka following the father’s footsteps is also a tea planter.

Tennakoon had a 5 ½ year stint in Mozambique and Rwanda imparting his expertise to the plantation companies and now in his 70’s continues his tea planting career at Powysland Estate in Dayagama.

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