Fancied sides win as spectator interest remains at low ebb
Sri Lanka’s dream of becoming an Asian Rugby powerhouse was encouraged by the ambitious goal of travelling to the 2019 World Cup in Japan. That has faded away. More on local Rugby and what the world thinks can be read on Fox Sports in an article I stumbled upon titled “Sri Lanka’s Rugby dreams in tatters after string of controversies”, posted in November 2016.
The club season kicked off last week. Crowds, particularly the club followers, have dwindled. Yet, whenever the Police, Navy, Air Force and Army take the field the respective personnel fill the stands to cheer their side. The impression is that, there is a crowd, even if it happens to be a captive audience.
The opening match was between Kandy and CH which Kandy won, but had little to be satisfied with. Indiscipline was evident in both the manner of play as well as in acts not connected to the passage of play. A key issue was the lack of respect for the game, which ended in being cited and suspensions imposed, as informed by reliable club sources.
The second match under lights was Havelocks hosting Police. Police opting to play without contracted players, will have to settle down, and 2017 will be a testing ground. Without much match experience, the players were prone to make unforced errors. Havelocks made use of the opportunity they had on a wet surface, to win convincingly. They will have to tie up their loose ends, as they progress to meet better teams. The Backs ran the ball at every opportunity, scoring two good tries by running the ball. Old war horse Riza Mubarak proved his worth with four conversions and also scored a try. Young Kevin Dixon proved that, when the ball moves down and into his hands, there is little stopping. This was the last try in the dying stages, which was good. The overall penalty count was 35 in this match. At the top level of Rugby World we talk of the count at an average of 21.
It is in this background that the opening week match between Navy and Army comes into focus. The game was a physical tussle, as both teams went to contact play, with close to 150 rucks and mauls. The average ruck and maul count in the 2017 Six Nation was 209. Is Sri Lanka following the overseas style of play? Both teams opted to play close and kept the ball in play, with a number of continuous phases. While ball was in play and the phases continued, a little opening up would have made the game more exciting. Both teams will be a challenge to others in this area, which they do well. Yet, it is not tidy as in Six Nation’s Rugby, and a quicker ball will steady the ship, which will be a threat. This goes with other aspects of the game such as the average scrums being 12 in the 2017 Six Nations
CR beat Air Force 21-9. There is a lot CR has to do as they progress. Air Force did have opportunities and led for a major portion of the 1st Half. Being messy is what they need to overcome as the season continues. The repeated infringements caused a penalty try to be awarded. There was one tip tackle which earned a yellow card, but on a citing report, the sanction has been turned to a red and a stiff match ban enforced. CR will need to brush their coat, as they progress into the next few weeks.
Dropped passes, missed collections and tackles are make-beliefs that has to be polished, as the four teams which won in Week one, continue. Players being penalized for unwanted offenses have to be curbed. All of the above results in losing ground to the opposition.
It was good to see two referees on debut, getting about their job without trouble on the field. They are learning the ropes, but the problem is when the ape entertains the monkeys. What is important for the game is for the stakeholders to set the environment for more referees, as, at the top end, it is an ageing population.
Players and coaches should note there is a third-eye looking at foul play. Even if the referee misses or, has given the lower sanction, the judiciary can enhance the punishment. This happened in the CH-Kandy match, where a player was seen stamping on the head of a player on the ground. This went unnoticed during the match. There was also a third man in a punching situation, where the on- field decision was a 'yellow'. Both had been seen and cited, and resulted in a four-week and three-week suspensions. This was in the CH-Kandy match, and another 'yellow' in the Air Force-Police for dangerous play was cited and received greater punishment. World Rugby, being more concerned about player welfare, there is zero tolerance for foul play. The referees too should not hesitate to shoot where necessary, than the issue to be cited and punished. Apes, even if they cannot read and write, are good at mimicking. Probably, the referees take the least path of resistance, as they do not know what the ape will say. Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, Coach and an Accredited Referees' Evaluator IRB
(From left): Kusal Chamin Jayasundara (Manager), Suranga Salinda (Vice Captain), Dewni Himansani, Anura Prasad Dias (Captain), Thariq Faiz, Buddika Tennakon, Umesh Silva