C.P. Abeygunawardena one of Sri Lanka’s finest scrum halves | Daily News

C.P. Abeygunawardena one of Sri Lanka’s finest scrum halves

Chandana Palitha Abeygunawardena
Chandana Palitha Abeygunawardena

Sri Lanka Rugby has produced some scintillating players who played a pivotal role in keeping the National flag flying at International level bringing honour and fame to the country. Chandana Palitha Abeygunawardena(C.P.) was one of them who turned out to be one of the top class players later becoming a successful coach in the schools, clubs and at National Level.

Chandana Palitha Abeygunawardena was a great product of Royal College, Colombo who excelled in Cricket in 1974 under Samuel Lawton and Rugby in 1973 and 1974 at school. Well known as ‘Ceepers’ among sporting circles, C.P. hails from a sports loving family His elder brother Metha Abeyagunawardena was a fine Cricketer and also took part in Rugby and Boxing in the Stubbs Shield, later representing Sri Lanka Schools in the same sport. He had two brothers and three sister’s one of whom is the mother of former National cricketer Roshan Mahanama.

C.P. joined the Royal primary school in 1961 at the age of seven years. His academic career was throughout at Royal. He had a liking for sports from a tender age and initially he took up Cricket at College when he was at the primary school at the age of 12 years in 1965. While playing cricket he was a great admirer of rugby which motivated him to step into the Rugby arena in 1968 as an under-15 player. He recalled his memory of Sari de Sylva one of CR and FC finest players, who C.P. followed for a long period of time as a hero, which also influenced him playing the oval shaped ball. After transforming into a top player in the rugby circles at the age of 16 years in 1971, he came to the limelight in making his debut against Zahira College, Colombo in a first XV match at Longden Place, which they won comfortably playing as a flanker, where he got injured under Mahesh Rodrigo’s coaching. After the completion of that game, Mahesh monitoring his performance advised C.P. to change position from flanker to scrum half due to his build and the body structure. He then heeded his coach’s advice and went onto play in the senior team continuing as a scrum half, in his first appearance in the first XV in 1973 under Michael Muller, in 1974 under late Brumoon Abkar. Soon after leaving school in 1974 he walked into CR and FC and donned the CR “Bees” jersey to play in the ‘B’ division. One year later he was fortunate enough to be called for the senior team to represent the ‘A’ division. He continued his rugby career with CR from 1974 to 1985 before he embarked to the United States of America as a rugby coach He was the skipper of the CR team in the inaugural R.Premadasa knock out tournament in 1984 which they won under lights 16 -13 at Sugathadasa Stadium beating CH and FC. CR was then coached by Mahesh Rodrigo, Summa Navaratnam, Ajith Abeyratne and Malik Samarawickrema.

In 1978, he was called for National duty to make his Rugby Asiad debut in Malaysia under Irwin Howie. He went to play three more Asiads for the country in 1980 in Taiwan under Lanil Tennakoon, in 1982 in Singapore under Saman Jayasinghe and in 1984 in Japan under his Captaincy. He also was a regular member of the Sri Lanka sevens team at the Hong Kong sevens from 1981 to 1985, where he led them in 1983. In 1984 he was instrumental in scoring the match winning try against Thailand, which enabled the Lankans to clinch the ‘Bowl Championship’ which was a historic achievement under Hisham Abdeen’s Captaincy.

He would like to recall the win against Papua New Guinea in the semifinal of the same tournament which they won 8-0 was a nerve tingling win that later turned out to be the biggest upset in that tournament. In the same tournament Sri Lanka was listed with Fiji and Japan in the same group. Eventually, Fiji went on to win the Cup, Japan won the Plate while Lankans managed to win the Bowl Championship.

He would like to state some of his colleagues who played with him likes of Ronnie Schokman his first captain at CR, John Rudra, Dr. Indrajith Coomaraswamy, shiraz Fernando, Roy Balasuriya, Dr. Maiya Gunesekera, Rohan Siriwardena, Chula Dharmadasa, Hiran Muttiah, Dilroy Fernando, Sriyan Cooray, Rohantha Peries, Anura Gunathilake, Michael Matthysz, Zubair Doray, Christopher Jordash, Wimal Epparachchi, S.K.A. Karunathilake, Vipula Dharmadasa, Mangala Silva, Tikiri Ellepola, P.G. Martin Rienzie Fernando and Shyam Siddik He finally retired from all forms of rugby in 1985 and left for the United States to take over coaching at Vasser College in New York where Dennis Chanmugan, a former national cricketer was coaching.

His coaching stint there was a mere one-year contract and returned to the country. He opted to take up coaching and took over CR in 1987 and went on to coach them along with Royal for a few years.

He broke the shackles for CR by winning the Rugby League, after 22 years in 1996 under Viraj Prasanthas Captaincy. He is the winning coach of several Bradby Shield matches for Royal including scoring a 42 points to 11 in 1998 under Shanaka Perera and 2004 under Dr. Lakshman Dissanayake 41-6.

He later travelled to Kandy to take over coaching in 2001 and 2002. He also served as a national selector under Gamini Fernando and later coached the under-19 national team and the senior teams too.

During his tenure as National assistant coach along with George Simpkin, Sri Lanka lost by a narrow margin to Kazakhstan on their home soil and on the return fixture Lankans won here in a World Cup qualifying game.

He joined Aitken Spence after his school career as an executive and then went to the United States for a coaching stint and then joined the apparel Industry.

His wife Subashini was very close to him and remained as a pillar of strength in the ups and down of his career. He has two daughters Maheeka in Australia while Dishnika is with him.