Army Sports Club were made to work extremely hard but ran out surprising winners 23-22 against the defending champions Kandy Sports Club in terrible conditions at Nittawela Stadium in the Dialog Rugby League’s 8th week fixture.
The game was very scrappy, in part due to the torrential rain, with errors aplenty making for a stop-start encounter. However it was Army who on the day surprisingly made the lesser mistakes. Kandy piled up a record number of 12 penalties conceded to add to the 10 handling errors. Kandy also missed the experience of Buwaneka Udangamuwa, Suhiru Anthony and Heshan Kalhara in defense. However the grit and intensity shown by the Army needs to be duely applauded.
Veteran Coach Nihal Gunarathne will be delighted with their sides’ defensive resilience in a determined display against the defending champions at their own fortress Nittawela which was sloganned impenetrable.
However, there will still be concerns about the Army line-out, which had seen them win only half of their own throws prior to the game. Kandy clearly dominated the game in the line-outs. The Army scrum was dominant throughout the contest – and certainly much-improved from their display in Rathmalana a fortnight ago – while their new-found offloading philosophy, though clearly still a work in progress, made for some exciting viewing.
The opening exchanges was clearly an arm wrestle with few point scoring opportunities but neither side scored any points during that period. Army got the initial lead in the 14th minute, when Uchitha Jayasuirya infringed at a ruck, Isuru Madagedara’s penalty bisected the posts from a 27m distance.
However, the champions Kandy were not going to lie down and started playing some of their usual best rugby. Winning advantage after advantage and taking the ball through about 5 to 6 phases which saw Nigel Rattwatte sniping through the gap sending Danushka Rajan to be rewarded with a try in the 20th minute before he produced the usual classy finish in the left-hand corner. Thilina Wijesinghe produced the extras from the left corner flag.
The visitors however continued to defy the odds, enjoying possession and territory, yet could only muster one try for their efforts in the second quarter.
Kandy did not take long to respond again as four minutes later, Ganuka Dissanayake barged over for their first try from close quarters after both Uchitha Jayasuriya and Dimitri Wijethunga impressed with strong carries in the build-up. The conversion went astray.
Normality in the game resumed as the soldiers began to reassert control of the game while the defending champions were uncharacteristically wasteful with their opportunities and this favored Army as Kandy were unable to get any momentum going and the visitors would have been delighted that they managed to thwart Kandy with some brilliant defending.
Turning things around in a flash, seconds before the interval Prabath Kumara went over the white wash from close quarters after Sudaraka Dikkumbura had brought the ball into the Kandy red zone going into the interval trailing at just 12-10.
Half Time; Army SC 10 (1T 1C 1P) – 12 (2T 1C) Kandy SC
Army were fastest out of the blocks after the restart with seconds into the second half the line-out ball let loose was pounced on by Nalaka Maduranga who crossed for the second try after sprinting for a good 20m. (Army 15-12 Kandy)
Danushka Rajan soon left his stamp on the highest try scorer table with his second try. A high ball gathered by Thilina Wijesinghe midway between 22 and the halfway mark was set off towards the visitors’ try-line. Wijesinghe still had work to do but did well to find Wishwamithra Jayasinghe into contact before the recycled ball found Rajan through a long cut out pass as Rajan dived with the ball before sprinting across. (Army 17-15 Kandy)
Kandy did well to keep Army at bay with a solid defensive effort but penalties given right in front proved too much when Isuru Madagedara decided enough was enough and added his second penalty of the day getting back the lead of the game which was swinging like the pendulum. (Army SC 18-17 Kandy)
Kandy did themselves no favors as Oshan Perera was sent off for a high tackle on Sudaraka Dikkumbura out wide. Taking advantage of the 1-man numerical advantage Army scored through Gayan Salinda. The Army forwards were patiently putting in phases knowing space was opening with the void left. Mohommed Rizvi punished Kandy’s high rush as he sent Gayan Salinda away into the corner. (Army 23-17 Kandy)
And in the 78th minute, Anurudda Wilwara sold the defence a dummy before crossing for his side’s third try. Wilwara under pressure decided to run at the box kick of Roshan Weerathne who was precisely on target. Wili stepped past almost all the backline before finishing off in grand fashion. (Army 23-22 Kandy)
Kandy dearly missed Thilina Wijesinghe’s contribution of the boot due to lack of luck hitting the post twice in the game. Kandy fans and the players surely thought they had made the best comeback ever when Rizvi’s extra time kick was charged down pounced on, kicked and gathered before going in for a brilliant Rajan classic. But the referee’s had other ideas as they brought play back awarding Army with a penalty where Rajan gathered for a deliberate knock-on by Nigel Ratwatte which only they seemed to have seen out of the blue moon.
Salinda held onto his nerves as he tapped the ball out defeating Kandy in Nittawela after 5 long years and ending their 33 record unbeaten streak.
Full Time; Army SC 23(3T 1C 2P) – 22 (4T 1C) Kandy
ThePapare.com Player of the Match – Mohommed Rizvi (Army SC)
Tries by Nalaka Maduranga, Prabath Kumara and Gayan Salinda
Conversion by Isuru Madagedara
Penalties by Isuru Madagedara (2)
Tries by Ganuka Dissanayake, Anurudda Wilwara and Danushka Ranjan (2)
Conversion by Thilina Wijesinghe