Leonard-the cricketer turned ruggerite | Daily News

Leonard-the cricketer turned ruggerite

Leonard de Zilwa
Leonard de Zilwa

St. Peter’s College, Colombo is one of the pioneer Catholic institutions in the country which has a proud history of producing several outstanding persons both in education and sports who have reached the pinnacle in their respective fields. Leonard de Zilwa was one of them who made his ‘Alma Mater’ proud by engaging in the game of rugby gradually transforming to be the cynosure of all eyes as a player and coach.

Leonard was born in 1974 and his father was Melvin de Zilwa also a Peterite who worked as a Pharmacist while Chithra de Zilwa is his mother who is a housewife. He has three other siblings with two elder sisters Rochelle and Rozabelle who schooled at Holy Family Convent, Dehiwala are housewives while his elder brother Lucian who is also a Peterite is a Pharmacist living in the USA.

Leonard gained admission to St. Peter’s College, Colombo primary in 1981 and excelled in his studies and completed his higher education in 1993. His first passion as a sportsman was to play cricket and went on to represent the college in the under-13 and 15 cricket teams.

While playing cricket, he was drawn towards handling the oval shaped ball at the age of 12 years. It was his junior rugby coach B.K. Ramachandran who was handling the under-13 who encouraged him to take up rugby,to which Leonard responded positively. From his younger days he was a great follower of rugby witnessing the college matches hosted at college grounds. He then enrolled himself in the under-13 team and mingled with some top players until he played in the first XV team in his favourite position of scrum half. He became a key player and the link man between the forwards and the back division imbibed with tactical moves and kicks from the base. He was finally rewarded for his indefatigable efforts to lead the college side in his final year which was an unforgettable moment in his school rugby career. in 1993.

He was blessed to have a coach with values and determination retired senior DIG Nimal Lewke, who transformed him and the team to reach some milestones like defeating S. Thomas’ and St. Joseph’s Colleges and obtaining several championships after a lapse of six years which enabled him to receive the prestigious college colours in rugby. He played under the captaincy of Manoj Bakshani in 1991 and was coached by Angelo Wickremaratne while in 1992 under the leadership of R.D. Fredricks they were coached by Orville Fernando.

Soon after his school career, he was given the opportunity to represent Havelock Sports Club from 1995 to 2002. His mentor and club coaches were Ana Saranapala and Y.C. Chang. He was fortunate enough to obtain the advice of some legendary rugby players like Michael Jayasekera,brothers Roger and Ronald Rodrigo who are his first cousins who really inspired him. While donning the Park Club jersey he was a key player of the winning team in 1995 and 1999 of the Club Sevens Championship. He was elevated to captaincy of the team in 1999 and received the ‘Best Sevens Player of the Tournament’ award. He represented several champion sides under various captains at Park Club for which he is very honoured and privileged while sticking to one club during his tenure at club rugby. In 1992, he was called for National duty and locked horns against Chinese Taipei in the fifteen-a-side tournament. He represented the Sri-Lanka team in 1997 at the Asian Quadrangular Tournament beating Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Some other achievements were playing in the Dubai International Sevens in 2012, Captaining the Sri Lanka Sevens team on various occasions, at the HSBC Asian Rugby Sevens Series at Brunei Sevens and emerged Bowl champions at the 15th Asian Junior Championships in Sri Lanka in 2012. In the XV-a-side competitions he played in the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester in the United Kingdom in 2012. Represented the Sri-Lanka rugby team when they were ranked fourth in the ‘Plate’ Championship.

With his illustrious career as a player he took up coaching and obtained the following qualifications including the IRB Coaching level-2, IRB Coaching sevens level-1, IRB Officiating sevens level-1 He was contracted as head coach of Navy Sports Club in the year 2021. He launched the junior rugby development programme at S. Thomas’ College in 2019 . He assumed duty as Rugby Coach of Sri Lanka Air Force Sports Club in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He was promoted as head coach of Sri Lanka Air Force sports club from 2013 to 2015, Head Coach of Sri Lanka Navy Sports Club in 2012, Assistant Coach of Sri Lanka National Rugby sevens team from 2008 to 2012, Head Coach of Havelock Sports Club sevens team, assistant coach at Havelock Sports Club in the XV-a-side team in ‘A’ division in 2011. He also coached the Western Warriors team at Carlton Super Sevens from 2010 to 2013. He coached the MAS rugby team and guided them to annex the Mercantile Rugby Cup Championship from 2007 to 2009. He was the Head Coach of S. Thomas’ College under 17 rugby team.

He served as the General Manager-Marketing and Merchandising Eskimo Fashions from February 2017 to June 2019, General Manager - Customer Service Manager / Sales & Marketing /Merchandising, BAM Knitting (Pvt) Limited from 2008 to 2017.