The Avengers return: Round two, week one

3192
 

For those of you at work, doing your day job– it felt like the first week back after a long and anxious holiday. You are thrilled to be back and keen enough to get on with it. You’re not at your sharpest but the top of the class are always on their game. Mostly. As we saw, during weekend gone by at the Singer Schools’ Rugby League which commenced its second round of games.

The second round started with a bang with a Friday night feature between St Joseph’s and Wesley. Almost every single team, showed their hand with the playmakers putting a marker on the field. Much like the cast of the Avengers.

So, what do we know after week one of the championship round?

St Joseph’s vs Wesley @ Havelock park- Friday

Hat-trick hero sinks Wesley

Josephian Gamunu Chethiya was the highlight of the day scoring a hat-trick of tries

On a hot and humid day, a dubstep and a twerk– we were away. St Joseph’s and Wesley traded some crisp rugby in both attack and defense. SJC was slightly better at finishing their sweeping movements and half breaks with some quality offloads. What shone through was individual brilliance. Wesley, for their part, was like a Rottweiler defending its turf.  This was a real dogfight. No one gave an inch and the asking price came at a premium for possession. However, in the end, they lost by about a foot and a half, 26-16 to be exact.

Joes were very apt at slowing the attack down with what seemed like at times, deliberate tactics which included a few, “not rolling away” in the tackle. In any case, they were pinged a few times to pay the price as Wesley converted three points on demand.

Despite all the endeavor and will to win, Wesley just couldn’t help themselves in letting themselves down. Nothing exemplified this more than a gifted kick right into the hands of Gemunu Chethiya, who duly collected, kicked ahead, collected his own and blitzed away to score one of three, great individual tries.

That being said, a forward pass called which looked anything but, may have denied the Campbell park team a possible shot at upsetting the apple cart but it wasn’t to be. It was crucial momentum and it was swinging in their favor– at that point in time.

Fortune favors the brave, mostly. That would be true for 364 days of the year but (just) on this day, Wesley wasn’t so lucky. Then again, when you’re up against an Ironman-like Chethiya, no amount of luck would be enough. Much thanks to him, St Joseph’s, who at times were scavenging for points, are very much in the title hunt.  It was a bonus point win.

Trinity vs St Peter’s: Denis Perera trophy @ Pallekelle

Sleeping Lions awoke but too little too late…

A quintessential game of two halves, maybe even one and a quarter against a final quarter, where Trinity, who looked like they were in hibernation, woke up in a hurried frenzy and made St Peter’s look less than average.

Peterite Shehan Liyanapathirana(R) was in complete control of the game from the fullback position and was the architect for the opportunities they created

Right up till two-thirds of the game, the Bambalapitiya school were in complete control. To be more specific, Trinity basically handed over the reins of the game to their opponents through lethargy and almost disinterest in playing any constructive rugby. It was static, standing stuff until the fumble came along. Handing over possession and putting their fans out of their misery.

Pouncing on the dazed and half-asleep hosts, making use of their errors to score 3 unanswered (converted) tries. There you have it, so we thought, the game was drifting away to a predictable finish. St Peter’s were cruising home to an emphatic victory.

Then it happened. Like a teen wolf on a full moon poya day, Trinity awoke from their slumber, kicked into gear and cut open St Peter’s like a can of sardines. Two beautiful back to back tries brought the game back to life.

Sakalasooriya’s late cameo was not enough to prevent Peterites making it 4 back to back wins in the fixture

The Run-a-raja factor with Sakalasooriya, flash Gordon in waiting was fed quality ball by Warren Weerakoon and it was game on. However, a crucial turnover against the run of play gifted SPC seven points to put it at 28-14. That was the story of the match. All this on the back of Antman like work from Peterites Jason Karunarathne and Shehan Liyanapathirana.

Then in the dying stages, TCK hauled it back but it was just, too little too late and ended the game just like they started it. Conceding a turnover, hot on attack and probably missed an opportunity to draw this game. The significance of all this was Petes were freshened up from a fortnight and the Lion’s battered and bruised from the shield game, just one week apart. Maybe it exposed a chink in the Sanath Martis trained teams armor and a renaissance for Lote Raikabula’s men?

That being said, all it meant was that St Peter’s –just–hung on to their unbeaten tag. Trinity, condemned to another defeat at home, four in a row against SPC. They are starting to make a habit of it.

Royal vs Zahira @ The Complex, Reid Avenue

Slip, slop and stop, start

Royal arrived in style, post-Bradby and looking to take Zahira apart. They didn’t quite do that, and in the initial stages at least, the Maradana school were game and came ready to fire their shots. They were brilliant at the breakdown and outgunned their far superior opponents, who had rested their regular skipper and a few more after capturing the shield.

Thulaib Hassen’s hat-trick propelled Royal past 30 points and kept the unbeaten tag alive

Truth be told, these “shots” just didn’t cut it. Their air rifles were no match for Royal’s paddle guns. Simply put, the home team structure and patterns eventually crushed Zahira. Despite their game face, they conceded 31 points to their hosts in the first 35. No surprises there.

There were plenty of turnovers and unforced errors. Combined, it could not outdo the number of times we heard the refs whistle. Turning it into a stale and at times, hard game to watch. This did give me the opportunity to focus on my other LIVE feed, the game from Kandy (TCK V SPC).

Zahira would have hoped to catch Royal on the hop in their post-euphoria from Bradby. It was more a case of Royal catching themselves out and tripping over their untied shoelaces, or so it seemed.

 Perhaps assuming they would drop their guard. This Royal side don’t and didn’t but they were very inaccurate. A well-coached and disciplined outfit, sniffing blood in the water, went in for the kill like a great white shark when the opportunity presented itself. For they are ready and willing to apply their jaws and sharp teeth to anyone who gets in their way. Re-affirming their status at top of the food chain. This was very much the case in the first half before they went to sleep in the second.

So, it was so. A misfiring but at times, ruthless display. The star of the show was Himantha Hirushan, very much the Black Panther in hunting mode. His bump and fend offs were reminiscent of the Killmonger Hyperloop scene. Apart from that, Royal, by and large, was slow to support their ball carrier and found wanting and isolated. None of this mattered though with the end result. That was always going to be inevitable.

The pattern of this game though was the reigning champs being sloppy and Zahira brilliant in the breakdown– but that was it.

Despite the slipperiness, there was no banana skin.  It was much ado about nothing; if only Zahira knew what to with the 8 turnovers they earned. Final score 41-05 in a very stop-start affair.

Kingswood vs Isipathana @ Nittawella stadium, Kandy

Green Machine trumps Kingswood, just.

I couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous prior to this game with the potential of anything and everything happening. That is a very broad statement, so make what you will of it.

Anyhow, Isipathana looked like they had been training day in day out and prepped well for this game. Kingswood, no different. With the kickoff, the heavens opened up and it looked like a torrential downpour will “slow” the flow. As if it never occurred, both sides went at each other with flowing, beautiful rugby. Then the rot set in. It turned itself into a dour, stop-start affair which was dominated by the referee’s whistle.

The game was a stop start encounter with both teams struggling to hold on to possession

Both teams committed numerous handling errors, silly infringements and failed to stay on their feet at the ruck with a slippery surface. To make matters worse, aimless kicking dominated the game. It was highly inaccurate stuff but the closeness of the score-line kept everyone interested.

Then it happened. Just out of nowhere, Isipathana in desperation, scored a brilliant individual try through Ashan Gunasekara to spark a dormant volcano, erupting cheers from the gallery which made for a highly tense last 5 minutes. This was fairly typical and indicative of how this round had progressed and is about to end. It was a bit of everything rugby.

With time running out on the clock, Kingswood decided to throw everything they had with the ball in hand and moved it side to side. Then an intriguing break takes place which was really, one clean recycle away from (shifting it again and) scoring a match-levelling try (and kick to come) but they were denied by a penalty for an alleged holding on offense by ref Dinka Peiris– with it the final whistle. The green machine takes the game 10-5. You would think that was it and everyone goes home happy. Well, not in Sri Lanka.

This is when everything happened and all hell broke loose. Firecrackers were thrown into the playing field and as the ref was being escorted to the safety of the change rooms, he was pelted with what seemed like water bottles and other objects. An utterly disgraceful way to end an exciting game and a real waste of mineral water.

There were “some” nice touches in this game and some incredible hits in contact. Kingswood prop, Weerasinghe– reminiscent of the incredible hulk, a big lump of a schoolboy was enterprising and forthright in his collisions. I thought the Kingswood forward pack really landed some telling blows but their inability as a team to back this up and terrible handling cost them dearly. Eventually, the game.

Kingswood’s Milan Weerasinghe gave all out in his school colours despite the losing cause

Isipathana would be glad to have won and made it back to Colombo with the win. Their bus (I hope) intact and most importantly, still in the running for the league title as things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

Play of the day:

Gemunu Chethiya’s solo effort to go with his two other tries. Top of the list and 10 tries with 3 more weeks to go! The “Wolverine” has got his claws sharp and ready. Looks like he’s only yet scratching the tip of the iceberg!

Hero of the week:

Zahira captain and No. 8. A clear-cut Steve Rodgers, ala, Captain America. The only difference, he was on the losing side which copped a 36-point hiding. Brilliant in contesting the breakdown and brave in making tackle after tackle. If only his foot soldiers could know how to ride a wave on his star embossed shield.

Zahira skipper Muammer Deen (R) was the highlight in the Royal game but could not get his team over the victory line

Looking forward to:

A clash of styles and a mix of all out running rugby versus methodical, muscle flexing phase play. We will have our wishes shortly as the front runners eventually cross paths.

The Verdict:

All favorites who were supposed to win, won, with varying degrees of authority. It’s somewhat excusable being the first week back after the term holiday and some of the teams showed what fatigue, overindulgence of kavum-kokkis and the effects of daydreaming can do. Trouble is when you are a top tier team it’s almost as if your obligated to win and win very well every week, in the eyes of perfectly behaved supporters.

Whatever the cause, given that it’s out of their system, we can look forward to a more compelling (lesser, error-strewn) second week of the championship footy.  Let’s hope that one black mark of post-match thug life behavior against officials ends now and we DO NOT see a repeat of this.

What really caught my eye though was the Josephians, almost as if their fans said– “get a plan of attack”…, to which their Tony Stark replied… “I have a plan. ATTACK!”. That, of export quality!

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ThePapare.com