Ranga Led Isipathana to Win the 2001 Milo Knockouts
By Vimukthi Adithya
With Milo joining hands in 1995, the Premadasa Trophy which existed since 1985 was renamed Milo President’s Trophy. Since the inception of the Milo President’s Trophy, one school has featured in almost all the finals till 2001: 7 editions – Isipathana.
In 1995 Pathana lost to St. Peters in a close battle (6 – 3), but turned tables in 1996 by winning 15 - 7. In 1997 they won against Thurstan (they were also the Triple Champs). Call it destiny, for in the next edition (1998), the two schools met again in the final, and this time Thurstan had the last laugh. In 1999, the greens played the final against Ananda College and eased to victory. In 2000, Pathana boys could not feature in the final as the school from Randle Hills, Kingswood, booked a place along with the Thomians. Isipathana met their favourite opponents (the Peterites) once again in 2001.
In a close battle, the Greens led by Ranga Perera snatched a thrilling victory over Dilan Abeygoonawardena and his Peter’s boys (20-17).Isipathana could easily be tagged as the kings of the school rugby arena. No other school can match their record of ten President’s Knockout Trophies. They have also won the Triple Crown on six occasions – 1985/86/92/97/99 and 2014. This speaks volumes about their supremacy in the sport.
Born in Kotikawaththa on 3 January 1982, Ranga was the elder of two children (younger sister Roshani).His childhood was never boring. Ranga first attended Terrence N. de Silva Maha Vidyalaya in Kolonnawa and then moved to Isipathana College when he was in Grade seven. Ranga’s Father P.W. Perera was also a ruggerite who played for Navy SC, but the kid was first in love with the bat and the ball. Isipathana was a sports-oriented school and Ranga decided to try out almost all the sports the school had to offer. His cricket-playing days were cut short as he developed a liking towards the oval shaped ball.
At Isipathana, rugby was the first sport any kid would be influenced to try. Playing in the under-13 team, Ranga was very punctual and never missed a coaching session, even though he did not get to play many matches. He was in the Under-13 ‘C’ team and played a solitary game his first year. His coaches, having noticed his potential, not only decided to promote the boy to the under-13 ‘A’ team, but also made him the captain! Ranga also turned out for the Under-15 team and performed well, which saw him becoming the Captain during his final Under-15 year.The story was pretty much the same when he represented the Under-17 team too, even though he did not play many games. It was his leadership qualities and team spirit that made him skipper of the team.
Ranga’s brilliance saw him representing the first XV team for four seasons. He first played in 1998 and was a member of the team until he ended his school career in 2001.Having played in two knockout finals (1998/99), he had gained experience when the Greens started the 2001 season under his captaincy. The leadership trait was something that Ranga possessed for some time. Even though 2000 was not his final year, he captained the team against Thurstan in their big match and guided them to victory. He also guided his inexperienced side to a few victories in a couple of other matches too.
His love was for Rugby, but sports was his passion. Balancing three different sports is not an easy task at all. Ranga continued playing basketball and represented the team in a few tournaments. Even the scheduling of the two sports helped him, as many of the basketball tournaments took place at the end of the Rugby season, so, engaging in both sports and excelling in both was not a tough task for the dedicated teenager.
Apart from the two team games which centered around a ball, he was involved in more of an individual sport: Athletics. At the 1994 house meet he was placed 2nd in the 100m, 200m, triple jump and the 4 x 100 relay, and then placed first in all four events the next year. Going beyond the Sports Meet, he participated in a Provincial meet and was able to grab 2nd place. Ranga also showed his kicking skills playing football in the inter house meets. It was really amazing to see how Ranga balanced three sports full time in his last year perfectly, captained the college Rugby team to victory and continued well with his studies.
Coming back to the 2001 season, Isipathana became the league runner-up after losing to St. Anthony’s. “We lost the St. Anthony’s match by a small margin, and unfortunately, that made us the league runners-up.In 2001, we became the Western Province champs in the 10’s tournament, but since one of our teammates passed away, we withdrew from the All Island 10’s tournament. We came back well to win the Knockout defeating Peter’s in a close battle that ended as 20 -17,” remembered Ranga.
One of Ranga’s unforgettable memories was when he got the opportunity to represent the Sri Lanka School team that participated in the 1999 Junior Asiad. In the match against Hong Kong, the lads beat them thanks to a brilliant performance from Ranga, who effected four tries and became the Man of the Match. Unfortunately, for some reason, he missed out from the team that travelled to the 2000 Junior World Cup. Yes, politics is something that exists in almost all the sports.
Straight after finishing school, he joined Navy Sports Club in 2001. Since his father too played for Navy, opening the door at the club became easy for talented Ranga. Ranga focused on a professional career more than a sports-driven career and this made him follow a CIM course, where he became first in the island for stakeholder marketing.
His first job was at Asia Capital PLC,but continued to play a little bit of club rugby - this time he decided to switch to the Army. Having played in 2002 and 2003 for them, Ranga last played serious club rugby for Havelocks in 2004. Even though he was involved in Rugby from time to time after 2004, in his heart he had given up the sport that added so much to his life.
“Attending a school in the calibre of Isipathana and engaging in sports added so much to my personality. Sports made me someone who could easily accept any challenges and face any problem with confidence. I have worked in different industries, and each time I faced the interviews with so much confidence and ease. There is so much to learn while being engaged in sports.Almost all the things that you experience in sports happens outside in society; so, having first-hand experience of it is great,” Ranga added, indicating how sports has shaped his personality.
For Ranga it was easy to engage in sports as his father was a sportsman too, and the culture at his home was such that the kids were not pressurised. As Ranga says, his parents had never forced him to do anything, but only given him advice, life lessons and motivation when needed. ‘My father used to come and watch all of my matches; some days, without my knowledge.But he never spoke to me about it or tried to poke his finger into my matters and try to influence me. There were no barriers or restrictions. They gave freedom and that helped me to engage in three sports and excel in all of them,” said Ranga, touching on the support extended by his parents. Indeed engaging in three sports adds more work to himself and parents. Ranga used to go home late and he had practices almost every day.Because of his dedication, he made sure he attended training of all three sports, and the encouragement received by his mother, Manel Rohini and father was what made him a great sportsman.
Late Nilantha Lakshmiwewa, who captained Isipathana in 1987and who represented the National team, is one of Ranga’s role models. Ranga had never seen him in action, but loved his personality and considers him as a perfect human being.
“The COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult time for all of us and taught many lessons to many of us. Everything I learned in sports helped me to overcome it and to never give up. In sports, we set targets and somehow try to achieve it; we never fall down, always keep our head held high and we never let anyone down. So, yeah, something I practicsed while at the grounds helped me here too. One thing I strongly believe in is that we all should live in the present. Why should you think and worry about a past that is already over and think and be scared of a future that has not arrived? If we can live at the present moment and find solutions to it everything in life would be so smooth.” Ranga touched on how what he learnt in sports helped him to cope during the Pandemic.
His advice to young sports enthusiasts is not to give up, and to give 100 per cent to whatever you do; accept challenges, face it and live with it,until you find solutions to overcome them. He wants parents to give more freedom to their kids and never to pressurize or force them into anything, but guide them to the correct path by being a good facilitator, and divert them if they are going on the wrong track.
Ranga is now a Director of Silverline Exports (PLC), which exports cinnamon based products and is planning on launching a new product into the market, ‘Cinnamon Water’. Having married Devmi Gunarathna in 2007, the couple is now blessed with two girls, Senuthi Yuhansa and Chenaya Samithme,who attend Sirimavo Bandaranaike College.
Finally, he wanted to thank his first two coaches Sanath Asanjaya, Hyacinth Kumar, his final year coach Champika Nishantha, and everyone else who has helped him throughout his school and rugby career.