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Archibald Perera: The small giant of Peterite rugby

Posted on 08 December 2019 by admin

Old boys and players of St. Peter’s College regroup for a tribute on December 29:

22 December, 2019 – Sunday Observer

Archibald Perera

Archibald Perera

Old boys and ex-rugby players of St. Peter’s College will team up at the college ground on December 29 in tribute to Archibald Perera the legendary scrum half and coach of the school who also represented Sri Lanka.

Sharm de Alwis and Archibald’s son Sunil Perera pay a glorious tribute to the mentor in the following article.

They called him the “Small Giant” of Peterite Rugby. In those days when bigger giants bestrode the rugby scene, Archibald Perera took them on, head on and squarely. No wonder then that one of the bigger giants, Queen’s Counsel Noel Gratiaen, the CR & FC captain, decided that if you can’t beat ’em, recruit ’em!

Such was the genesis of Archie being inducted into the winning CR side of the late 1930s. Archie was truly the mythical Hermes of Ceylon rugby, as it was then known. One of the finest fly halves in the country and being one of the first Ceylonese to play in what was an exclusive preserve of the British.

As the opposing Forwards and Threes approached him, Archie would transform himself and sell that dummy. Here was Archie looking one way, feinting and leaning one way and instantly accelerating another way, pretending to pass rightwards but doing so leftwards.

When he captained St. Peter’s, the school won all their rugby matches and beat even the clubs they played against. At his side were such stars as Stanley Livera, Percy Perera, Fred Keller, Roy Reimers and Ray de Zilwa. That was when Noel Gratiaen spotted him and stole him to CR.

But it was as a coach of St. Peter’s that Archie became the legend and institution that he remains to this day. The fabled Ago Paiva was one of Archie’s prize players. So were Didacus de Almeida, Jeyer Rodriguesz, Darrel Wimalaratne, the Patternott brothers, Jeffery de Jong, Rohan Wiratunga, Frank Hubert, Hadji Omar and Angelo Wickramaratne to name a few.

What players learnt from him was not only the basic techniques but refinements and craft that can only come from proven experience.

It was in 1972 that St. Peter’s, coached by Archie, was so dominant in the skyline of school rugby that teams feared the encounters. They emerged school champions under Jeffery de Jong and in 1973 under the late Rohan Wiratunga St Peter’s were joint champs and such were their accomplishments that a special celebration was arranged at the school.

A life-sized cartoon sketched by the famous Times of Ceylon cartoonist James Bulner was commissioned. It depicted a small guy, thin legs and carrying a massive rugby ball with the caption. “To Sir with Love!” He was a Hero, Friend, Teacher and Coach.

When Archie, who had crossed countless goal lines, was called upon by his Creator to cross the Great Divide, he did so only after a rugby coaching session where in the evening of that day he succumbed to an attack of asthma.

As his wife, Audrey Perera (nee de Silva) a netballer from St. Paul’s Milagiriya would tell us, such was Archie’s passion for the game and sad as his passing was, he would not have asked for a more fitting ending.

Tribute from son Sunil Perera

The little man much dreaded who could spot and go through the slightest opening with his eyes closed. This is what the Press of that time called him. Archie had the habit of doing the unexpected and making it appear the most natural thing in the world. He was one of the finest stand-offs ever produced I am told, as I did not have the opportunity to see him play.

Archie captained the Ceylon Barbarians in 1950 at the All India Rugby Tournament held in Madras. He held the Ceylon record in the Half Mile and One Mile from 1936 to 39. He was a classics scholar and his pet subjects were Greek mythology and astronomy, in fact the horoscopes of our family members were all drawn up by him.

He was a Captain in the army and stationed in Malaya as it was then known in charge of a POW camp during the Second World War. Archie started coaching college from 1952 till his untimely death in 1982. He produced champion teams and champion rugby players too numerous to mention.

In 1960 Archie joined the staff of St Peter’s, his forte being Mathematics and English. The rest is history and I am sure there are many present here today who could relate many a story. Time does not permit me to relate some great stories of his teaching career. To me yes, he was my father and mentor, but to all of us he was a great coach and teacher who not only taught us rugby but prepared us for the outside world.

I for one succeeded in life because of his influence and guidance. I am sure most of us present today will agree that Archie did play a part in their lives and success. Archie and I are the only father and son to captain College at rugby. (1936 & 1969). My mother’s brothers Kenneth de Silva captained in 1940 and Harold de Silva in 1949. My cousins Brian, Maurice, Rex and Len de Silva all represented College. Brian, Maurice and Rex represented College at cricket.

In conclusion on behalf of the family I wish to thank St Peter’s in naming the Stand after my father as a lasting monument, in recognition of his dedication and service to the school and the organizers of this commemoration event of the Archibald Perera Pavilion Stand at St Peter’s College ground on December 29.

The ceremony was specially initiated by Frank Hubert who is visiting from the UK and with the blessings of Fr. Rector Rohitha Rodrigo. Special thanks to Stewart Schneider-Loos, Nigel Forbes, Rohan Paulas and Dilan Abeygoonewardena for coordinating the event and other aspects within a short period of time.

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