At the half way stage of the Dialog League Rugby Tournament, Kandy SC continues to set the pace, challenging the other teams to step up to the plate and dislodge them from their perch. Confidence is not a thing that the Kandy players usually lack. The ‘Perfect Seven’ must have given them swing satisfaction. The [...]


Kandy still at the helm at the halfway stage

Dialog League Rugby Tournament

It's mine or not your's -- Kandy SC has had some bad patches but ended on top unbeaten - Pic by Amila Gamage

At the half way stage of the Dialog League Rugby Tournament, Kandy SC continues to set the pace, challenging the other teams to step up to the plate and dislodge them from their perch.

Confidence is not a thing that the Kandy players usually lack. The ‘Perfect Seven’ must have given them swing satisfaction. The race is not over yet but it looks increasingly as though it will be a one-horse affair. This thought is reinforced by the fact that the Havies, who have a slim chance of over hauling them, will be facing the music at Nittawela in the return leg.

Gayan Weeraratne, the skipper, may have been a touch surprised by how easy it was. There were a couple of wobbles but, in the end, the all round strength and talent of his team triumphed.

CH was brushed aside 23-6 in rain and gloom. Three easy games followed in which the Police, the Army and the Air Force only seemed to be making up the numbers. CR ran them reasonably close, losing 12-24. Navy played sterling rugby at Nittawela, and the final 19-33 margin was a little unjust. Then to the Havies who led 6-0 early on. However, the inability of their backs to conjure up a try made the difference.

It goes without saying that Kandy’s dazzling back division – Richard Dharmapala, Roshan Weeraratne, Danushka Ranjan and Anuruddha Wilwara, Fazil Marija set up the victories. But that is to take away credit from their hard-working pack.

The Havies were set back a bit by that early 14-25 loss to the Navy. Then came the final frontier which proved to be uncrossable. The Park Club was without that terrific number eight Sudarshana Muthuthanthri for all their games. His return, as well as that of Kevin Dixon, will make them a more formidable outfit. The calm, guiding hand of Coach Sanath Martis was evident, but they will need more than that to pass the ultimate test.

Players such as Dulaj Perera, Hirantha Perera, Rahul de Silva, Lasindu Ishan and Sharo Fernando were prominent in their matches. However, one suspects that it will be a case of being the bridesmaid and not the bride, once again.

The Navy, who suffered an exodus pre-season, overcame all that to stay in touch with the leaders. They overcame the Havies, but suffered a shattering loss to CR who came from behind to stun them by a 15-point margin. They also lost 24-27 to the CH in a game that was agonizingly close.

Skipper Danushka Perera seemed to thrive on responsibility. Hooker Wijesinghe, Mohamed Absal, Mushin Faleel and Adeesha Weeratunga served their teams cause well. This is not to forget the excellent place-kicking of Thilina Weerasinghe and the spirited play of that young speedster, Buddima Piyaratne.

The Army surprised many by a third place finish. That probably was on the cards when they signed up Nilfer Ibrahim as coach. His success with back division players in particular is a given. Hitherto, the Army had been a rugged gung-ho unit whose play was characterised by players such as Asoka Jayalal, Gayan Salinda and Manoj Silva.

All that changed. The back division has run the ball more and, with fly half Ashan Bandara being quite outstanding, the Army has totted up the points. Even a 19-29 loss to the Havies was no disgrace. In one of the closest games all season, the Soldiers held their nerve to beat the Airmen 33-32.

Along with the halves combination of Bandara and Rizvi, players such as skipper Thusitha Senanayake, Dikkumbura, Maduranga and Hapugaskumbura have all relished their roles. Prop Asoka Jayalal continues to be a thorn in the flesh of opposing defences. Prop Sugath Nanayakkara has been a revelation.

Not short of talent, yet the great under-achievers. That about sums up the first half of the season for CR. They lost more than they won, with the four defeats coming in succession.

Playmaker Tarinda Ratwatte’s fall from grace on some occasions was one possible reason, while skipper Kavindu Perera’s unavailability for some games was another. Strangely, at times number eight Omalka Gunaratne did not start. Ratwatte had one glorious hour against the Navy when he turned impending defeat into glorious victory.

Winger Reeza Refaideen, a cross-over from the Police, had a good season, going over many times. With Kushan Indunil, Chamod Fernando and Harith Bandara (all of the green shirted variety) in their ranks, the CR, one of Sri Lanka’s oldest and proudest clubs, will be hoping for a turnaround in fortune in the second round.

Having suffered 30 odd defeats on the trot, there was a sea-change in CH’s fortunes. There were some shrewd signings – Sathya Ranatunga, Sajith Saranga, Lee Keegel and Yositha Rajapaksa – were all ferried across to Maitland Crescent. Sasanka Ariyaratne came across the border, as it were. Along with Samuel Maduwantha, all these players contributed in a combined show of strength. They beat the Navy by three points, but lost to the Havies and the Army by five. You could say that they were never totally outclassed.

Seventh placed Air Force belied their position in the table with some good performances. They lost to the Navy 0-10 at Welisara, while their game against the Army was oh’ so close. Scoring 31 points in a loss to the CH must have been a satisfying experience.

Bereft of the best talent, the Air Force (like the Police) made do with what they had. Charith Seneviratne provided the inspiration. Gayantha Iddamalgoda, together with Jehan Seelagama, Ishara Madushan, Pabasara Hewage and full back Rumesh Ramdas did much to improve their performance.

The Police did not win a single game in the first round. Yet, they are one team that seems to improve from match to match. The 21-all draw against the CH must surely have been gut-wrenching. Navy, too, beat them by only 7 points.

The Police’s decision not to get players from other clubs must be lauded. They bucked the trend, but surely Police’s rugby will benefit in the long run. Fly half and ex Peterite Sandesh Jayawickrema played an influential role. Others such as the speedy Sujan Kodituwakku, Utpala Edirisinghe, skipper Rasith Silva and Saumya Wagith gave hundred per cent in a losing cause. It will be no surprise if Police put together a win or two in the next round.

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