‘1976: BEST ROYAL RUGBY XV I COACHED’ - SUMMA NAVARATNAM

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By 2017-09-13

Members of the 1976 Royal College Rugby XV led by Hooker and Fourth year Coloursman Manik Weerakumar, will be elated and jumping in ecstasy and in celebration when they learn their Guru, Sumanthiran (fondly Summa) Navaratnam, made an unequivocal declaration on Monday night that Weerakumar's team was the best he coached all his life. That was the team which had the then Bradby series record of 36/0 and 25/6 against S.V. Ranasinghe's Trinitians. The yet unbroken record was 40/3 versus Isipathana. The team was also declared Joint Schools Champions with six foot burly Prop Stephan Da Zilwa's Thomians with the Michael Guneratne Trophy being gridlocked in a 6-all draw.

HOME SECRETS!

Summa revealed a closely guarded secret behind the success of the Royal Rugby XV in 1976 as far as the Bradby went. One of his best friends was the Trinity Coach Colonel Bertie Dias, Rugby and Hockey Double Lionsman and Sri Lanka Coach for the Colombo Rugby Asiad on the strength of coaching the invincible Trinity Rugby XV of 1974.

When Trinity Principal, the late Edward Lionel Fernando decided to replace Bertie Dias with Kavan Rambukwella, who had just returned to Sri Lanka after a stint in Japan, Dias was ballistic! Summa knew Kavan Rambukwella's methods of coaching as Summa had handed over coaching the Police team to Kavan soon after he took over the coaching of the CR and FC team. So, the first strategy that Kavan used in the CR-Police match was to immobilize the opposing Fly Half Irwine Howie (also Trinity Fly half and Lionsman in 1971), which was exactly what Royal did to the Trinity skipper and Fly Half S.V. Ranasinghe, who was a Fourth Year Coloursman himself! In the first leg at Longden Place, Royal Fly Half Skanda Fernando (younger brother of Jagath Fernando) ran through Ranasinghe, while in the second leg, it was Scrum Half C.C. Ching.

Summa's advise to the Royal Fly Half Skanda Fernando was, if he got the ball, to run through the Trinity line by the Royal threes, or otherwise Skanda would not have his neck!!

SUMMA, THE ROYAL DOUBLE COLOURSMAN
Summa was a member of the Royal Second XV Rugby team in 1940 and graduated to the First XV the next year at the tender age of 15, while winning his Royal Athletics Colours the previous year at the tender age of 14. He had the honour of leading the Royal Rugby XV in the second leg at Police Park in 1943, with the first leg at Bogambara led by Larry Foenander, the very year that the two leg series started, though the Shield was awarded in 1945.

Summa was appointed Vice Captain to Larry Foenander in the 1943 Royal side despite being more senior to Larry, having played in 1941 when Larry had not. Royal told him that he could not possibly have three captaincies! He was Athletics and Boxing Captain as well. In addition, he was a member of the Royal First XI Cricket team and had played a few First XI matches in the third term.

Royal won the first leg 6-0 at Police Park with two unconverted tries and the second leg 5-3 (a goal to a penalty) and albeit Trinity opened scoring. The try was scored by himself and with the conversion by Fullback Hugh Aldons against Trinity's solitary penalty.
Summa went on to play for the Combined Clubs in 1946 and 1947, which was a combination of CR, CH, Police and Havelocks, against the British Services. While the tradition was for most of the members of his 1943 Royal Rugby team to play for Havelocks soon after Royal, he went with two of his Royal team mates to the CR - brothers Fred and Hugh Aldons along with Trinitian Brian Aluwihare – on bicycles. A dispute arose about the CR Captaincy (to one of the Aldons brothers) and all three rode back to the Havies!

INTERNATIONAL ATHLETE
In 1945, two years out of Royal, Summa was a member of the Ceylon Athletics team and broke the 100 metres record at the Indo-Lanka Athletic meet.

Summa was also to be a member of the Ceylon Athletics team for the London Olympics in 1948, but missed the first trial due to the doctors saying he was medically unqualified with hernia.
Seeking a second opinion, there was a Dr. Jayasuriya who cleared him medically claiming that nothing was wrong with him and he could attend practices. He shifted to the Ace Athletics Club.

In the second trial he came second to ASP R.E. Kitto, while he beat Duncan White, Oscar Dissanayake and John de Saram. However, Duncan White (also Trinity Athletics Captain and Lion in 1937) won the 400 Metres Hurdles and the 400 Metres Flat. Eventually it was Long Jumper G.D. Peiris, John de Saram and Duncan White who represented Sri Lanka with White leading the Sri Lankan contingent.

ASIA'S FASTEST MAN
However, it was at the South Asian Games in Madras (Chennai for the benefit of Indian language chauvinists!) in 1953 that he broke the record in the heats in the 100 metres race with 10.4 seconds. The final was delayed by 30 minutes due to the pouring rain. He emerged joint first with Indian Ivan Jacobs after having broken the record, thus, emerging as the fastest man in Asia! There was some ambiguity however, as the official recorder was 25 miles away at the airport, he chuckled.

It was the same with Larry Pinto in Colombo where he emerged joint first. "These are photo finishes and one has to take the timing of the officials," he said.

INTERNATIONAL RUGBY SKIPPER

Summa was also Double International with Rugby as well. Playing in the national side (All Ceylon) from 1951, he captained the team against Calcutta in the All India Tournament in 1955 held in Madras, but Sri Lanka lost. He also represented All Ceylon against the British Lions and the Barbarians, where he was the only Ceylonese but there were two Britishers Leslie Ephraums and Clair Roelozfs. Most of the expatriates who played for All Ceylon were British planters and/or Servicemen who were in the Royal Ceylon Navy and the Royal Ceylon Air Force.

COACHING
Summa coached Royal in 1954 and 1957, the last of the five years that Trinity had the Bradby Shield in a row.
Summa took over coaching Royal Rugby again from 1971 and stepped down fourteen years later when Royal wanted to get professional and full time coaches in 1985. Lo and Behold! Royal decided to get Bilal Yusuf, whom Summa had coached as a player! Summa did not want Bilal telling him what he should be doing!
Summa is heavily involved in the coaching of the Royal Juniors.

FAMILY
His marriage to the subsequent world class author Rosemary Rogers in 1954 ended ten years later with three kids (a boy and two girls). He married another Sri Lankan Romaine Zilwa by whom he has a son and a daughter. Rosemary sponsored him and the new wife to the US when the July 1983 holocaust broke during which he got his Green Card. He is back in Sri Lanka but Romaine is in Australia, visiting Sri Lanka frequently. Of the two children by the second marriage – son Kendal is an Accountant and a qualified Pilot in Australia, while the daughter and son-in-law are in Sri Lanka employed by the national carrier, where the son-in-law is a pilot.

So, at 93, Summa relaxes at his Kynsey Road residence with rigourous physical exercises, but his legs are too tired for more than a one hour walk he did once upon a time till quite recently.

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