Fan­cied sides win as spec­ta­tor in­ter­est re­mains at low ebb

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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