As the Tuskers attempted to qualify for the 7s World series via the qualification tournaments worked off in Hong Kong last weekend, it was clear to see that Sri Lanka rugby is not yet where they would like to be. The Sri Lanka national rugby team went down to Chile, Hong Kong and Namibia respectively in their 3 pool games.
The Chileans ran rough shod over Sri Lanka’s much smaller players with a 38-00 drubbing, while Hong Kong piled on 31 points and conceded just the one try to the Tuskers. As for the Namibia encounter, the Tuskers were unfortunate to have come up short 26-14 even though they were possibly the better team.
In their opening face-off, the Tuskers started on the backfoot with Chile piling on the pressure keeping them pinned inside their own 22. Even when Sri Lanka were in possession they were unable to get out of their own half without conceding possession. The Tuskers kept attempting to break the Chilean line out wide by using Dhanushka Ranjan’s pace and power. Unfortunately for the Lankans it appeared they had misjudged the Chilean wide men who closed-down Ranjan with ease and brought him down with very little effort. In fact, the Chilean winger had Ranjan beaten for pace as he simply ran around him to score Chile’s second try. Their first try however, came after Fazil Marija had broken the line for the first time in the game and gotten himself isolated in the opposition half. The Chileans pounced on the opportunity and ran in a 60m try.
In the second half Chile ran riot, scoring 26 points, mostly by exploiting the unfit Tuskers. Chile forced Sri Lanka to commit numbers to the breakdown and tackle area in defense and as a result could exploit the space to use their speedsters. Sri Lanka were simply over powered defensively and had to bring in two and sometimes 3 defenders to make the tackles. Chile was also getting offloads away with ease because the Lankans struggled to bring them down in one attempt.
Chile merely outmatched the Tuskers, who were completely out of their element in every aspect of the game. The Chileans had the edge when it came to speed, power, size, strength, fitness, technique and ball skills and were undoubtedly the better team.
The Tuskers went from a completely new opponent in Chile, to a somewhat familiar adversary in Hong Kong for the second game of the pool. Sri Lanka and Hong Kong have gone toe to toe in numerous Asian competitions over the last five years. Whilst the Tuskers 7’s team has tested Hong Kong time and again they have consistently struggled to match up to the Asian giants.
Sri Lanka started promisingly, holding on to possession and managing to swing the ball from left to right and back while looking for gaps in what was a solid Hong Kong defense. Once Hong Kong got a hold on the ball however, Rowan Varty carved through the Tuskers defense after a few phases to open the scoring. This remained the trend all throughout the game as Sri Lanka played well in patches and looked good defensively for a few phases, but Hong Kong repeatedly broke through at regular intervals to keep the visitors on the back foot. The Tuskers could contain the hosts for a couple of phases before they either fell off a tackle or conceded a penalty which gave Hong Kong the upper-hand as well extended periods of possession. Sri Lanka’s one consolation came in the last minute of the game when Anurudda Wilwara beat his defender on the wing and sprinted 95m to score.
Sri Lanka’s biggest set-back in this game however was their discipline, they conceded numerous penalties, at the breakdown especially which allowed Hong Kong to dominate possession. The most common penalty the Tuskers were called on was for not releasing the tackler quick enough. All the Sri Lankan players were unable to roll away or release the tackled player prior to competing for the ball, which is likely a result of poor refereeing standards in Sri Lanka. As none of the Sri Lankan players are familiar with the laws being enforced domestically they are unable to cope with the intensity of the refereeing internationally.
In their final game of the weekend, the Tuskers hoped to come away with a win against the favored Namibians. Sri Lanka came out looking good, they were creating space and retaining possession well in the first couple of minutes. Regrettably for the Lankans they were unable to put the finishing touches to some excellent breaks. As the game progressed however the Tuskers began to struggle as they were late to several breakdowns which resulted in turnovers for Namibia. Even though Sri Lanka conceded a try halfway through the first half they held their heads up and fought tooth and nail and finally got on the board. It started with Wilwara and Ranjan linking up out wide, deep in their own half and ended with Jason Dissanayake scoring on the opposite corner several phases later. The Tuskers did well to build up the phases and create the space for Dissanayake to score.
The half time message from coach Peter Woods was, to reduce the number of little errors. All through the game Sri Lanka repeatedly lost control of the pill through unforced errors. A few knock-on’s, bad passes and missed tackles meant the Namibians were never under severe pressure. In the second half, the Tuskers, again conceded a turnover whilst in the attacking 3rd of the field, the Namibians capitalized by scoring following an excellent kick chase. Sri Lanka then responded with another great try as Srinath Sooriyabandara (Soori) beat his opposite number for pace out wide and went under the posts to equalize.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, they were on the wrong side of a few questionable decisions by the referee in the 12th minute which resulted in the Namibians going over for the tie breaker. With that momentum, Namibia ran in one more try and sealed the game sending the Tuskers home.
All in all, Sri Lanka had a decent tournament against opponents that are far more developed in terms of rugby. The Tuskers have a few minute details to work on before they can hope to seriously compete at the global scale. However as Asian competitors they are on the right track. A bit more work in the gym, coupled with some time on the training pitch together along with a little match practice should have the Tuskers giving teams like Hong Kong and Korea severe competition in the Asian seven’s series scheduled later this year.