The Sri Lanka Rugby team on the back of some bad luck and inconsistent rugby, finished runners up in the Asia Rugby Division 1 Championship behind hosts Malaysia for the second consecutive year.
The Tuskers started off the tournament well with a controlled 24-13 win over the Philippines Volcanos, before putting in an exceptional second half performance in their second game to thrash the UAE 33-17. Unfortunately, the Fijian-riddled Malaysia was simply too strong and took down the Tuskers 22-09 in the final game in Ipoh last Sunday.
As with any test, Sri Lanka Rugby will have a lot of positives as well as negatives to take away from the tournament. The only way to move forward for Sri Lanka is to analyse the performances at a microbial level and pick on every positive and look for ways to improve them. Following which the administration needs to go through the negatives of the tour and find a means to fix those issues both on and off the field.
The biggest positive for the Tuskers is their vast improvement in and around the contact area. Although not perfect the Tuskers were rarely over-powered around the breakdown, and were able to hold their own when competing for possession. The technique as well as attitude in contact was always positive and the hesitancy to compete physically, that has been synonymous with Sri Lanka rugby was not evident anymore.
Sri Lanka can also take heart that several young players stepped up and showed their metal in the face of adversity. The likes of Nishon Perera, Taariq Salih, Richard Dharmapala and Thilina Wijesinghe all made their debuts for the Tuskers XV’s side gaining some much-needed exposure to test rugby. All the debutants showed a lot of heart and pride in the jersey which means the Tuskers have a bright future. A lot of the other young players in the side were also spectacular with Omalka Gunaratne and Jason Dissanayake perhaps being the top performers of the tournament. Sri Lanka’s high performance director will certainly look to develop the third-row combination of Dissanayake, Salih and Gunaratne for the future while adding the expertise of Sudarshana Muthuthanthri into the mix. Thilina Wijesinghe was also a revelation for the Tuskers, having knocked over penalties from anywhere within 50m. He displayed nerves of steel collecting a whopping 36 points in three games becoming the highest scorer of the tournament. Wijesinghe was also spectacular under the high ball and showed ability to counter attack from anywhere.
The decision making and leadership on the field is most certainly a positive for the Tuskers with skipper Roshan Weeraratne leading the way. The coordination between him and Marija was spot on, as was the communication between Weeraratne and goal kicker Thilina Wijesinghe.
There was a consistent, inconsistency throughout the tour for Sri Lanka. The Tuskers played some spectacular rugby at times and then fell back into a lackadaisical stride and this was ubiquitous in every aspect of the game, especially the set pieces. Sri Lanka would front up for a scrum brilliant holding off the opposition and retaining possession, only to be marauded over in the very next scrum. The Lineouts were similar with the combinations working perfectly in one lineout and then we would see downright confusion in the next.
Dhanushka Ranjan’s injury was also another major negative for the Tuskers which was a result of a superfluous, flamboyant dive over the goal line in the second game of the tour. His injury cost Sri Lanka their most threatening attacker and perhaps the title. In addition to the Ranjan injury, the Tuskers also lost Richard Dharmapala to a suspension. Dharmapala was cited following the second game for a tip tackle, and was handed a 6 week ban which meant the Tuskers were minus another attacking back.
Sri Lanka also need to develop their game control, the lack of patience in attack was certainly an issue. On numerous occasions when the Tuskers had the numerical advantage against all three opponents, they failed to score significant points. In the games against the UAE and Malaysia the Lankan’s had a 2-man advantage with the opposition having 2 players in the sin-bin, however they failed to capitalize on both occasions.
Sri Lanka vs Philippines
Although the Tuskers did come away with a 24-13 win over the Volcanoes, it was nowhere near a perfect performance. Having got off to a dream start with Wijesinghe getting into the game early on with a penalty, the Tuskers were on their way after Dhanushka Ranjan scored a brilliant individual try. Sri Lanka put on an excellent defensive effort in the first half of the game throwing themselves into tackles and winning possession around the contact area. They stuck to a set pattern in defense and held on to possession well in attack. The Tuskers also did well in managing a tough situation for the last 10 minutes of the half when they were playing with 14 men.
However, Sri Lanka did have a few concerns in the second half. A slew of penalties and some sloppy defense saw the Philippines fight their way back into the game. Fortunately for the Tuskers the Volcanoes were not organized enough to capitalize on the lapses in concentration.
Sri Lanka vs UAE
Once again, the Tuskers got off to a decent start, Marija’s try in the first half was a result of Thilina Wijesinghe’s injection of pace into the line and his excellent running angles, followed up by some great support from the rest of the back line. Unfortunately, the defensive effort minutes later was not as impressive. Whilst defending a 5m scrum the Tuskers were shoved on to the back foot by the UAE whose number 8, Glen Moore strutted over with ease. Whilst the scrum was on the back foot, Lee Keegal who was defending at first receiver on the blind side drifted up leaving the space for Moore while half back Weeraratne was defending the open side.
Unlike in the first game however, the Tuskers failed to control the second match when they were down to 14 men with Prasad Madushanka in the bin, UAE capitalized and go in for another try. Sri Lanka however, did rack up 8 points towards the end of the game when Josh Ives was sent off with a second yellow card.
Sri Lanka vs Malaysia
Sri Lanka were unlucky in the opening 20 minutes of the game when winger Asyraf Norudin offloaded with a foot in touch to center Mawara Nasalo to canter in under the posts. The Tuskers were also extremely uncertain in attack with both Ranjan and Dharmapala out of the line-up. Sri Lanka butchered their opportunity to strike back minutes later failing to score any points when they found themselves deep in the Malaysian half with a 2-man advantage on the paddock. The Tuskers also had a try disallowed after the referee called play back for a penalty instead of playing advantage.
The Tuskers did very well defensively in through the first 60 minutes of the game and were easily holding off a very disjointed and one dimensional Malaysian attack. The last 20 however saw everything fall apart for the Tuskers, the communication in defense was nowhere to be found. Malaysia ran in 2 soft tries to take the game and the tournament capitalizing on the Tuskers lapses in concentration.
Sri Lanka failed to score any tries against Malaysia who played some big players but really didn’t do anything too spectacular. Their attack was one dimensional, set pieces were average and defense was mediocre. Sri Lanka simply lacked the attacking prowess with Ranjan and Dharmapala off the field.
Overall the Tuskers had a decent tour, but were not a finished product, which is simply a result of a lack of match practice and time together. Had they trained together on a regular basis over the course of the season and had a few games to get in to a rhythm before going on tour, Sri Lanka would be playing top tier Asian rugby next year.