Published: Tuesday, 10 December 2013 13:39
The weekend saw two great matches of rugby football in the Dialog A Division League. We'll get to those two in a moment. But before that there was some other matches down for decision.
AF v Police
Police made it two wins in a row when they visited Ratmalana. They seem to have kept getting better, and are a team that is big and strong and fit. They will definitely pose problems for some of the bigger teams later on in the season when they gain some experience.
The 20-11 win for the Police is another body blow to Air Force who have properly had their wings clipped. Having drawn their match against the Sharks, it looks like they will only have the CH game to count on any wins coming their way.
Army v CH
CH travelled to Diyagama in serious turmoil. The Club had sacked its manager Anver Jayah and several of its senior players including captain Indika 'Lechcha' Udayakumara. This is a pretty drastic step to take at the start of the season, and how it pans out for CH in the upcoming games we will have to wait and see. It is pretty obvious that there have been tensions between the dismissed cadre and coach Sanath Martis. It's not hard to imagine as Martis is a no-nonsense coach and demands absolute commitment from his players.
Club rugby players in a culture of losing can sometimes be a little lackadaisic in their approach to training and that could have created the tension. Either way, Martis has been persisted with, and the 40-14 scoreline is certainly more flattering than the half century of points they'd conceded in every one of their games till then.
The match itself was one which frustrated Army, with several penalties being awarded and the game never really flowing in any sense of positivity. They would have expected to score more than the 6 tries they did score, and coming into a game they will expect to win next week, would have liked to run the ball a bit more.
Army have been improving and they will continue to be very physical. With 150 strong squad to pick your match day 23 from, coach Ben McDougal will be hoping he can sneak a few wins against more fancied opposition.
UCL v Sharks
The Upcountry Lions are the team that has not really fired this year. Despite having some big name players and good facilities, they have not made the sort of noise that a team of that calibre would be expecting.
They laboured to the bonus point on Saturday, against a Sharks team that did well to keep the score to 30 points against a much better side. The 30-06 win does not contain any terrors for opposition teams and the Lions afte their losses to Army and Navy, will have to play well to ensure they finish in the top four positions.
Havelocks v CR
Unfortunately, the scheduling and venues mean that I can almost always watch only one match for the week. But if so, this was definitely the one to watch.
Buoyed with some decent performances in their last two games CR visited the floodlit Havies hoping to pull off an upset. The defending champs were confronted with their previous coach and best player, except they were wearing different jerseys this team. Similarly Havelocks sported several ex CR players in their ranks in the form of Henry, Walpola, Sharo, Lema, Niroshan, Sherriff, Karthelis and Dhiren Warnakulasuriya.
The two rival clubs have a lot more in common when competing for the Matthysz Trophy than they'd like to admit, and the healthy camaraderie is always good to see. There was also an unusual moment for Royal College with three captains taking the field with Zulki Hameed, Shehan Pathirana and Rimzi Jamaldeen all playing with and against each other.
Both teams had strong forward packs, but Havies had the edge on talent and experience. With only Dimithri Wijethunga the stand in skipper for CR, and Dushanth Lewke having enough club rugby experience in the starting eight for the visitors, the Havelocks pack did not dominate until the end of the game speaking volumes for how well CR put their bodies on the line. Henry, Walpola, Fernando, Pathirana and skipper Muthuthanthri are all national players and their set piece experience really told in the last few minutes of the game.
Havelocks began brilliantly and CR absorbed the pressure and maanged to score the first try completely against the run of play, through the lightning reactions and footspeed of Vishwamithra Jayasinghe. In a similar situation, Havies turned defence into attack, when CR's pressure on the line turned into a disorganised runabout. After a quick turnover, Havelocks moved the ball quickly to the danger man on the wing and Sandun Herath ran 90m for Sherriff to miss an easy conversion. Mubarak extended the lead to 10-5 with CR dominating the fringes, but Havies were excellent in the line out through their big Tongan no.8 and, Pathirana and Fernando. A beautiful rolling maul sucked in CR's defence and from the ensuing phase burly Afeaka Havea rolled over the line with four defenders on him. The try showed how important it is that foreign players sometimes have more brute force than actual skill as it was pretty much the centres only contribution in the game.
CR came back with a another penalty through the reliable Mubarak but failed to capitalise on Havies being a man down with Sharo Fernando in the bin for a shove on Rahul De Silva. In the circumstances the 1 point defict at half time was not enough, and there was nothing in it.
Havies came back strongly and after an exchange of penalties, the danger men kicked into action and Dhabare started off on the left wing in his own half, and Herath finished off with aplomb on the right wing for Havies to extend their lead. More indiscipline gave CR some urgency and they scored a well fashioned try in the corner for Mubarak to convert at a tight angle to take the came to two points at 22-20. The next kick from Mubarak scraped over the bar for another one point lead to the Reds, but the full back missed a crucial kick later in the game to extend their lead from 23-22.
Havelocks player coach at the back of the scrum marshalled his big pack brilliantly and ended up scoring after exerting tremendous pressure on the CR line, to win the game 29-22. It was clear that the foreign players for Havelocks were far more influential than for CR with Nissan Atui coming on in the second half not being able to dominate as the rest of his forwards were tiring. CR's injury worries to Hasthike Bandaranayake, Hafeez Adhahan and Ishan Noor made a huge difference in the front five where CR could not compete later in the game.
It was however, an exciting game of rugby, which brought the passion and intensity back to the CR v Havies encounters.
Kandy v Navy
This match I thought was going to be a title decider, and indeed it was. It was always going to be dominated by penalties and the Kandy team conceded a few early on which Nuwan Hettiarachchi inexplicably failed to punish. Kandy went into a 9-0 lead when Fili took his chances at the other end for Kandy and the Nittawela crowd which was considerably diluted by visiting Navy fans, took heart.
Nevertheless, the famed Kandy line never really got going, with Gayan Weeraratne looking a little out of sorts from his usual solid presence in midfield. Marija is not as dangerous when the ball is not in his hand, and Fili seemed to be doing the right thing by turning the big Navy pack around. However, despite setting the platform Kandy were not able to capitalise.
Like in the CR v Havelocks game, it was the foreigners that decided the match with Setefano Cakau slicing through the Kandy defence for two tries that sealed the game. The Fiji sevens captain has been the man to watch this season and has settled in nicely behind a pack that is doing much better work than they have for Navy in the last few years. Podi Swarnatillake has been the form prop this year, with Achala Perera and Namal Rajapakse joined by Soyuru Anthony and Sajith Saranga in the front five. That is a very dominant scrum and the third row includes the likes of the big foreign no.8, Bilal Hassen, Danushka Perera, Jason Dissanayake and Rohitha (Chichi) Rajapaksha in whatever order they are played. So while Cakau and Lutumailagi are breaching defences the forwards are softening them up nicely. Namal seemed to be making most of the onfield calls and communicating with the referee despite his brother being the captain on the team list, and his leadership, was as always par excellence.
The atmosphere could be cut like a knife with the Kings of Kandy out to protect their reputation and Navy adamant to win the title that has eluded them for so long. The pressure also led to Kandy thinking they had scored twice when referee Cader disallowed the tries for offences before the scoring. More on that when I've seen the tapes.
Whatever the decisions may have been that will be obviously unpopular with the Kandy crowd, it seemed that Kandy were the second best team on the day. Their incisive backline just couldn't get moving, and their third row lacks the sort of balance a side of championship aspirations will need. Also the experience in the front row is not as good as it used to be, and unless a team turns ball over Kandy may not score except on the counter attack. This is something they have to work on against defensively well organised teams. Also a few tactical issues, with Tonga's touring full back David Halaifonua on the bench, it might have been better to have brought him into midfield and shifted Marija to fly half earlier in the game, or started that way.
With that combination 9, 10 and 12 would have been tried and tested and Halaifonua would more than adequately have made up for the loss of Liyanage. Could've, would've should've for coach Neil Footie.
Clearly not enough coaches are reading the papare!