Flanker Herathge Karunaratne did Army and Sri Lanka proud | Daily News

Flanker Herathge Karunaratne did Army and Sri Lanka proud

Herathge Karunaratne
Herathge Karunaratne

Some of the yesteryear sportsmen who became prominent figures in their respective sporting disciplines never had an opportunity of gaining any sort of exposure during their school days. No sooner they joined a club, they eventually matured as prolific players, learning the basics of that particular game. Herathge Karunaratne was a player who never had the basic idea of handling a rugby ball, who hailed from an underprivileged family and later turned out to be an icon in the game of rugby in Sri Lanka.

Karunaratne was well known as ‘Karu’ in the field of sports, especially in the rugby circles. He is 53 years old and hails from Aunuradhapura in North Central Province. His father was Herathge Premaratne, a driver by profession. M.D. Chandravathi his mother is a housewife. He has four other siblings with sisters Premalatha a housewife and Chandarani has her own business. His two brothers are Seneviratne, a retired Army officer while H. Jayartane worked for the Navy.

He completed his school career with Galenbindunuwewa Maha Vidyalaya, Anuradhapura from 1971 to 1984. At school they had only football as their main sport, where he was an active member. Due to financial constraints and family burdens, was forced to seek employment to take care of his family. When he was only 18 years old, he applied for a job with Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Police Special Task force (STF), where he faced the interviews at both places.

Subsequently, Army was quick enough to respond and he joined them as a soldier in 1985. While he was under training there, he was granted permission to engage in football, Volleyball, badminton and table tennis in inter regiment matches. In 1998, he underwent a Physical Training Instructor course later had to spend most of his time in Jaffna with the Singha Regiment. In 1991, he got a placement at Kotelawala Defence Academy as a Physical training Instructor to train cadet officers. Two years later, he rejoined the Army with the same regiment which he served in Ambepussa.

In 1993, he was transferred to Colombo to play football and was then asked to join the rugby team by J.K. Shanthikumar who taught him the basics and the laws of the game, which he never knew until then. After being selected in 1993, he locked horns with the Army ‘B’ team. In 1994, after playing only five matches, the rugby administration opted to move him to the ‘A’ division pool as a prop forward to play in the ‘Pack’. His first skipper was retired Major General Sathyapriya Liyanage and the team was jointly handled by P.G. Gunawardena and Brigadier Japana Jayawardena as coaches. In 1998, the Army team was fortunate enough to obtain the services of Kelvin Farrington, a New Zealander as their coach. Karunaratne disciplined himself to wake up by 5.30 a.m. every day. With an intention of swapping to the position of flanker, he met Kelvin and sought his advice, where he had a negative response. After some time, one day, Kelvin drew up a plan and requested Karunaratne to play in his favourite position of flanker. As per the instructions, he geared up for the match against CH and FC, which amused him and was determined to put up a belligerent performance.

He went on to score the first four tries out of their final score of 51 points to 5 against the lads from Maitland Crescent led by Nazeem Mohamed He donned the Army rugby jersey from 1993 to 2010 as a player under several captains.

While playing for Army in 1998 he received the National call and his first coach was Nimal Lewke. He competed for the National team from 1998 to 2004 occupying the flanker’s berth in XV’s and as a hooker in sevens format.

He made his debut against the visiting Northern Territory team in Kandy and Colombo, where he scored his first International try. He retained a regular spot in the National team and toured Malaysia on several occasions to compete in the Triangular tournament commencing from 1999, which they won under Asoka Jayasena’s captaincy.

He also toured for the Asian Games in 2000 in Osaka, Japan, in 2000 with the sevens team led by Sudath Sampath, in 2001 against Kazakhstan at Osaka, Japan, in 2001 in Malaysia, in 2002 in India in a sevens tournament, in 2002 in Malaysia Sevens, in 2002 at the China Sevens tournament. He also played in the Hong Kong Sevens from 2000 to 2002 under Asanga Seneviratne’s coaching. He also played in the Rugby Asiad in 2000 in Japan under Asoka Jayasena’s captaincy followed by 2004 Rugby Asiad in Korea under Pradeep Basnayake’s captaincy.

Karunaratne was a great follower of Haris Omar who became his role model and was very fortunate to be associated in his team, whom he rates as one of the best players and human beings, he mingled with during his tenure as player.

After he hung up his boots, he wanted to focus on players physiology and joined CH in 2011 to play a dual role as their trainer plus player under Lakala Perera. After one year, he was recruited by Isipathana as their trainer in 2012/13 seasons. From 2013 to 2017 he served at Zahira as Sports Physical Trainer, Rugby Trainer and in charge of Junior Academy for which he was grateful to Trizvi Marikkar the Principal.

He would like to extend his sincere gratitude to the persons who supported him during his career retired Brigadier Japana Jayawardena, retd. Senior DIG Nimal Lewke, Tony Amit, Tavitha Thulagesi(Laga), C.P. Abeygunawardena, Asanga Seneviratne, P.G.Gunawardena, J K Shanthikumar, retd. General Sathyapriya Liyanage, retired Major General Nimal Krishnaratne retd. Brigadier Sunil Wanniarachchi, retd. Brigadier. Mohan Ratnayake, retd. Col. D. K. Ekanayake, retd. Brigadier Sunil Ranasnighe, retd. Brigadier Thantiriwatta, retired. Col. Dhammika Gunasekera, and retired. Major Srimal Vitharana few to be named.

Nirosha Sanjeewani is his wife and has three children Priyanga Lakshan, Hashani Taraka, Sarindu Dilshan who are living in Bandaragama.