Rugby is too often associated with strength. A rugged and at times “rough” sport. If it was 6 century B.C– in times of the mythical Greek Wrestler Milo of Croton. This, however, is 2018 and the Saints of Colombo using the power of thought and common sense (kicking at goal) doused the fires of any upsets as Kingswood and Wesley both lost. It must be noted, on tenacious terms.
MILO made the Delphi his own as have both these Saints, the stadium of many finals. As he,
they did, almost burst a band about their brow by simply inflating the veins of their temples. For what it’s worth, they made it count by booking a date for next Saturday’s finals.
There was no shortage of excitement and willingness to give the ball air through the hands of many. There was, however, a shortage of spectators, especially in the open terraces. It was well disguised with sponsors MILO signage. Perhaps, a few freebies and cups of MILO would have attracted an artificial or rent a crowd– for the time being. It is after all thirsty work.
St Josephs had the perfect preparation as they progressed past a tricky Maliyadeva at the quarter mile. They were tested in areas you need to be tested, so as far as knock out rugby goes. St Peter’s brushing past a mundane St Anthony’s.
Having learned valuable lessons from how to slow and dictate the pace on their terms, Kingswood who could have easily undone the favorite, faltered in predictable areas but prospered alike for a few highlight reel plays. A number of their players including their big front-rowers putting in an eye-catching display. Don’t be surprised at all to see them in Kandy SC shirts for the future. They seem like they are built for entertaining in a gladiatorial arena, that being Nittawella. That said, they would be disappointed in being the bridesmaid at their semi.
SEMI FINAL #1
ST Josephs Vs Kingswood @ Sugathadasa stadium
For two weeks running, rugby returned to the stadium albeit with empty terraced areas. In an eventful and exciting seventy minutes of knock out footy. Kingwood came ready to throw everything they had at the defending champions (of sudden death rugby and it looked like), at least initially, it looked like my prediction would be undone. Kingswood was here to play. They looked incredible with the ball in hand, enjoying their rugby and confidence which comes with scoring tries.
Their unpredictability and uncanny nature of attacking from unstructured, fractured play– especially from kick returns gave Joes some serious headaches. Understanding the value of width and pace out wide, which they had in bucketfuls, threw caution to the wind and attacked at every given opportunity. Resulting in two brilliant widths of the field movements, one on the open side and the other on the shorter side which sparked the game into life. Low and behold, they were 10-0 up! Were we in for an upset?
Not quite yet.
Joes to their credit held their nerve and resisted an urge to panic. They contested the breakdown at every opportunity. This was to be the undoing of Kingswood. They did not have the technical ability to make this area their own. Instead, coughing up plenty of penalties, out of which three were converted in the first half, keeping SJC afloat. Santush Algama proved to be an eagle-eyed sniper, nailing them from far out-wide. Again, if you fell back on my Saints and Mavericks review, clearly, Nilufer Ibrahim is reading the memo. Take your kicks at goal, every time!
What’s more, by taking your penalties on demand in a KO game, you allow your team to regroup, kill the clock and nullify a “maverick” like attacking side, embodied in Kingswood– so any potency is slowed down and make them work for broken plays. This to me is smart coaching/analyses and of course reading #Straight up certainly proves to be a useful, free and open source coaching tool.
It was a significant penalty count and certainly stifled the game into opening up and fully, entertaining the crowd. Kingswood was far too often, in isolation, looking for an extra meter or so, poor in ruck recycle. Turning the ball over. Joes understand this pattern and allowed them that meter, standing back to jackal the Gilbert.
What Kingswood should have done was keep the play as unstructured as possible and look to feed their passes flatter–wider as opposed to deeper and closer to their forwards. Given that this was a pattern which didn’t suit them, it only resulted in more turnovers when isolated. Going flatter–wider would have allowed their backs to run more threatening lines and open up a compressed Josephian defense. Essentially turning it into a game of touch rugby.
The Darley road school had enough skill and thought in storage– struck when the openings presented themselves. It was always going to be the case with a side like Kingswood, chancing their arm and being inaccurate at the breakdown.
Now, in the second half, with no shortage of possession and penalties, the game was controlled and dictated by Reshan Gunawardena who grounded and smoothed the pace of the game.
To make matters worse, an unfortunate yellow card on big man Pathuma Weerasinghe, for an innocuous nudge at absolute worst. A miserable calamity, further hampering Kingswoods cause. To his credit, without a word or sign of dissent, like a large teddy bear told off at the playpen– he removed himself to the sin bin. You couldn’t help but feel sympathetic to his plight. This was a travesty of justice, a call from the AR– in comparison to a WWE swinging arm from Kavinda Keshan, which saw yellow but could have and should have seen Rosy-red. Somedays, the rub of the green is either with or against you. It is what it is.
In the end, more experience, technical tenacity and a touch of lady luck saw St Josephs move to the finals with some comfort. Saving their blushes and my prediction of a win. They will, however, want to brush up on their tackle technique. Given that the final will have a TMO, upon referral, a swinging arm may possibly have a different color. Not that they aren’t used to playing and winning with fourteen men (versus the same opposition). It just helps to have fifteen on fifteen.
It was an entertaining tussle played in good and fun loving spirit. Enjoying the aggression from the get-go, Joes delivered the KO sending and ending Kingswood’s adventurous and thrill a minute twenty eighteen.
SEMI FINAL #2
ST. Peter’s V Wesley @ Sugathadasa stadium
Prior to this game kicking off, there was a real aura of optimism from the Wesley camp. Reason being, they seem to have found some crucial late-season run on form. St Peters, not to be outdone made several positional changes– looked optimistic as ever, as they ran out for the kickoff. Most notably, Kenneth Wimaladasa at first five eight (fly half). This was to be a stroke of genius.
Furthermore, with initial kicking duties changing hands from the season proper, highest points getter Shehan Liyanapathirana to stand in skipper Wimaladasa, they were spoilt for choice and had certainly learned their lesson. It was all too obvious as the game progressed, opting to kick for goal which eventually proved to be the bridge too far for Wesley.
The initial stages were interesting times for St Peter’s. Receiving a number of penalties in their half, opting for touch, only to lose almost every single line out on their own throw. It was extremely dysfunctional and fair to say, incredibly disorganized. Strangely, they kept persisting and miraculously scored a seven-pointer after spinning it out wide (an error, turnover from Wesley).
The highlight though was a stunning kick, chase and regather try by Wesley skipper and stand out full back Mushin Zubair. His vision to size up the field and kick exactly into space which favored their oncoming traffic was magical. Following up a pass on the inside, and having the skill to fend off and dot down was equally special. Straight up, he is the best number fifteen in season twenty eighteen.
St Peters technically were far superior in skill at the breakdown. This would eventually be the difference. On the back of very sound ball presentation and recycled ruck ball, their slick back division moved freely to eat up ground. Defensively, as the game opened up, it looked like they would be in for a big score. However, an atrocious set piece and resolute tackling from Wesley kept things in check.
Kenneth Wimaladasa, stand-in captain and placekicker elect for the day had a stunning game. A man of the match performance and a delight to watch. Much the conductor of the orchestra, his perfect kicking record justified him as the first choice goal kicker. What’s more, rather than opt to tap and go into a rabid frenzy, they wisely (and putting a smile on many faces) chose to take the three points majority of the time.
In the process of the game, a crucial yellow card against Wesley, skipper Sabah was quite the game changer, that for a high tackle. In this period SPC took the full toll and finally made the extra man advantage count to score through prop Faiz. Colombo weather being what it is changed in a heartbeat and the heavens opened. In what should have been game slowing rain, it only ignited the fuse to what could have, almost, been a powder keg. But then it happened.
The moment of the match. Playmaker and architect of any potential upset, Zubair suffered a bad ankle injury and had to be subbed off. A crushing blow to Wesley’s cause and putting out the spark in their back division. That was a crying shame. Just imagine Chloe Kardashian, biting her pillow and wailing away.
Wrangling back and forth and in a frantic search for possession, Wesley ended up gifting a penalty right in front of the uprights. Wimaladasa stepped up, took his time and sealed the deal to what was a clinical performance. Peters didn’t do anything overly complicated or different. Apart from shooting for goal and the obvious counterattacking, they, by and large, stuck to their blueprint of close in phase play. It worked and worked well against this opposition.
It was a case of better-exposed form doing a number on pick up, run on form. Afterall, you only have to play whats in front of you to progress.
The Bamba team knew how better to handle this style of run on the play as they have done so, several times during the season proper. Drawing on previous game experience to which they were EXPOSED. The clear-cut definition of my exposed form.
Upon the final whistle, there was some hint of emotion from the Wesley camp, understandably so. They may have felt they came close but it wasn’t going to be enough. On a beautiful note, after what seemed like an eternity, the time-honored tradition of the clapping tunnel was back. Both sides clapped, congratulated and hugged each other in a Kardashianesque moment. It was lovely to see and whats more, there was no post-game riot, chair throwing blah blah. The stadium and its suppressive layout may have had something to do with it or maybe, just maybe, everyone realized the futility of brawling over a schoolboy rugby game. It’s easier to hug than scrap.
It ended the way it was supposed to. Peacefully.
Final score: St Peres by 23-10
Play of the day:
Kingswood’ stunning short side try. Beautiful hands, attacking wide at pace, ended up burning the fancied defense as Hirusha Sampath dotted down, far corner, left hand- downtown. Mushin Zubair, kick- chase and regather an equal best. It was destined for YouTube, search under “brilliant tries” or better still #Papare.com highlights.
Hero of the day:
Kenneth Wimaladasa for taking it upon his shoulders — astute game management and doing what was required at the right time, kicked a perfect one hundred percent to give them a shot at redemption. He looked like he enjoyed himself with a celebratory fist pump to go. Fully deserved.
Watch out for:
Gemunu Chetiya, who has had a quiet run up to now and had little to do as he watched his esteemed teammates do the business. Too good a game breaker to be kept out of the spotlight, maybe a hat trick in waiting? there you go, I just said it.
The lack of whinging over officiating. Apart from a few calls which went against whoever, the refs were by and large “very consistent”. Young Mr. Jamaldeen gave another tremendous account of himself, being on the spot on almost every call. Might I add– correctly.
As expected, both first and second lines of favoritism have prevailed.
St Josephs to successfully defend their crown with some difficulty. Looks the best side in this competition given that Royal is not in it.
Tipping Joes to win by 7+ and Gemunu Chetiya to score at least ones, possibly twice, and maybe a magical hat trick to remember. It will be a very open game and a high scoring thriller. Petes have every chance of winning but the form points to the favorite.
Just like MILO and the bull he wrestled, uplifted and tamed. Question is, who will be MILO and who the bull? Both questions will be answered next Saturday.