This week’s highlight was an unusual occurrence not seen in many years in local rugby. It was a wardrobe or kit malfunction. Apart from that, a few cracking games were followed by soda pop and a party cracker which found up with some degree of tension. All in all, a full diet of schools season proper rugby was on show for a well-attended audience both on and off course– on and offline to be specific.
Kingswood vs St Peter’s @ Nittawella
This game was played at Nittawella on a very heavy and irrigated surface, reminiscent of the Ellerslie racecourse at a wet winters meeting. There was an easy, two and a half inches penetration with the player’s long studs sinking into the surface. Mudlarks were going to rule. It wasn’t pretty and a big dry-cleaning bill was in order.
It was hard to get a line on the form so early up, but St Peter’s were risking another banana Skin, having been bounced out by S Thomas’ a week ago by a single point. Kingswood at home is a very difficult proposition but in this case, they were their own worst enemy. It was a disappointing finish for what was a courageous outing by them. An inability to turn almost 72% possession and trying to carry at close quarters– one out, one back hits off the ruck in all the wrong areas, sapped their energy when it mattered. Instead of kicking and pushing the Peterites back to their goal line, it was an intense and gut-busting effort with little reward. Don’t get me wrong, it was admirable but not a smart strategy. When they did start to kick, it was far too late. A cross kick in the 60th minute didn’t go where intended, underscored their tactical misfire.
St Peter’s, on the other hand, was a bit lucky but they made their own luck, using some speculative kicks in play which came off and got them an early 14-0 lead. That is all they needed as they shut out Kingswood. They got ahead and then defended like Donald Trump’s proposed wall. It was a splendid effort.
What an arm wrestle it was and there were some massive collisions. It was an intense game and old school slog in the mud played in great spirit. Respect to both teams and this game deserved its Saturday feature status. A game for its physicality, putting most club premiership games to shame.
Footnotes: there were some stellar counter rucking and “jackalling” to steal possession at the breakdown but were pinged and deemed as illegal play. Marginal calls.
Result: SPC def. Kingswood 14-7
Trinity vs Isipathana @ Pallekelle
This was the weekend’s most anticipated game and boy did it deliver. Isipathana is like a pit bull terrier, caged and ready to be unleashed. As it happened, they regain possession from the kickoff and look to go thrill a minute. Their backs and forwards know exactly what their roles are and my VIDEO WATCH player of season 2019, Manilka Ruberu orchestrates well-rehearsed attacks. It is unrelenting. Pathana is all class.
Trinity looked shell shocked but didn’t throw in the towel. They hung in for dear life and a few unforced errors from the Green machine saved them serious trouble. For 21 minutes, Trinity did NOT enter their opponents 22. A staggering stat and an incredible quarter of pulverizing rugby. A lesser team would have conceded 30+ but this team didn’t. An artistic break on a kick return by skipper Reshan Bandaranayake set his outside backs in motion between the touch and 5-meter line with four sets of hands handling the ball, at pace. Then, winger Geeshap Kulathunga injected his jet shoes and blitzed his opposite on the outside. This brought the game to life. It was highlight reel stuff. Trinity, too, was all class.
What was great about Isipathana was their ability to present fast, clean ball– front foot-ball and release their back division at pace. This caused the defensive line to play catch up. Fracturing the gain line at will. Only handling errors and dropped balls set them back. Twice inside the first 3 minutes. It lived up to the billing as the game of the weekend with Pathana, defining my early mail where I found them as the one to watch out for. They are firming up on the tote board and nearing into a three way-favoritism for this seasons league title.
Result: Isipathana def. Trinity 27-15
S Thomas’ vs Royal @ Mt Lavinia (Micahel Gunarathne trophy)
This was hyped to be a corker after last week’s Thomian upset and strangely enough, involved a bit of pseudoscience. That of how STC’s win in their big match-cricket win over Royal, a couple of days before had some co-relation to this rugby match. Well, such are some of the matrix of local sports science and life in general.
The ref loved his whistleblowing, so much so, it broke and had to be replaced halfway through. An extraordinary job of blowing so hard, in windy conditions and regular noise of passing trains. A highlight of this game, an absolute minority was when Royal went 17 phases and picking up 3 penalty advantages to finally score over the left-hand corner. They covered well over 51 run meters on a zig-zag and dotted down. The epitome of Royal’s ruck recycle game. Both teams having much-vaunted line outs made this set piece messy and woeful to watch.
Apart from that, there wasn’t much to write home about. Perhaps the extended break on the back of the annual “big match”, caused a negative effect on the teams to drop their performance.
The game fizzled out from stoppage to stoppage and was largely uninspiring. In comparison to the rest of the weekend’s card, this was a hard watch. Both sides will need to be far more clinical as they roll into the season with higher rating teams to come.
Result: Royal def. S Thomas’ 17-10
Play of the week:
TCK winger Geeshap Kulathunge’s sideline sprint which beat his opposite number for pace as he pricked his ears back and dotted down to set the turf alight. Speed and class on the back of a Reshan Bandaranayake counter attack.
Hero of the week:
St Peter’s skipper Bilal Hilmy who led his team’s defensive effort. It was gut-busting, mud grinding stuff as he led from the front in a blue collar win. They were up against it and got the job done one way or the other.
A thrill a minute start to the week ended in a whistle-a-minute ending. A strange anomaly for the schools 1st XV season proper, especially with two marquee schools involved. It’s one of those games where you put a line through it. Maybe extended breaks are not the way to go. Playing on a 7-day rollover is what the league knows and what it should stick to.
Read more: Schools rugby week 1; Blue on black Thursday