Needing just a bonus point to qualify for the top tier of Asian international rugby, Sri Lanka got more than that, when they won the Asian 5 Nations Division I title with a smashing 49 points to 18 win over Kazakhstan at Havelock Park yesterday.
Sri Lanka needed four tries or a defeat of less than seven points to qualify for the A5N Top Five – the top tier which offers an automatic and play-off berth for the 2015 Rugby World Cup – but unwilling to settle on minimal, they ran in six tries, with full back Riza Mubarak converting five of them and adding three penalties.
The home team have been reputedly shaky in the opening periods in this tournament, and exploiting that, the Kazakhs drew a penalty on the first possession of the game, which fullback Maxin Lifontov put over, to give his team the early lead.
This sparked an excellent response by the Sri Lankan players, who on the ensuing possession, their first drive of the game, ran in a try, which exhibited the potency of Sri Lanka’s back line, with the ball being played out wide on the right to Sandun Herath who broke two attempted tackles to score. Full-back Riza Mubarak tacked on the extra points.
Mubarak put over two distant penalties, awarded for a high tackle and a breakdown infringement, to give Sri Lanka a 13-3 first quarter lead.
Sri Lanka continued playing the exciting rugby they had also become synonymous with, and the reward was soon forthcoming, as fly-half Fazil Marija kept play alive making a well-time offload in his own half to Chamara Dabare, who in turn passed it to lanky Senal Dias to speed and broke through past the Kazakh scrum-half and full-back to score an exciting individual try – running 50 metres and planting the ball between the posts, giving Mubarak an easy conversion.
Mubarak put over his third penalty in the 37th minute, which cancelled Lifontov’s effort shortly before.
In the ascendency, Sri Lanka managed one further score, the third try, before the break when, fed the ball after a scrum, Marija was again in the act making a line-break and dishing the ball to Gayan Weeraratne, who passed it to his fellow centre Pradeep Liyanage to make the score. Another easy conversion and Sri Lanka led 30-6 at the break, the game virtually in hand.
Soon after the break, Sri Lanka’s qualification was guaranteed when Sathya Ranatunga pushed his way through to touch the ball down following a well-worked line out that saw Sri Lanka with the ball just short of the goal line. Mubarak missed the conversion, the only blot on an otherwise flawless kicking display.
For all his hard work, Marija had a try to his name, when he picked up a loose ball following a chip kick from Weeraratne, scoring under the posts. Another easy conversion for Mubarak gave Sri Lanka a 42-6 lead.
Sri Lanka’s final score was again instigated by Marija who, seeing an empty back-field, chipped the ball, with a lucky bounce going the way of Sajith Saranga, who passed the ball out to his left to Dabare who in true form dashed into the goal area. The ensuing conversion was the final points Sri Lanka scored for the day.
With qualification confirmed and the game out of reach for the opponents, Sri Lanka eased the intensity, allowing some of the reserves to have a run, and the two tries by Daulet Akmbekov and Alexandra Zolotukhin proved nothing but consolation, with Lifontov scoring one of the two conversions as the game ended 49-18.
Meanwhile, relegation-threatened Chinese Taipei, who lost their previous two games of the tournament, rose to the occasion to beat Thailand 52-23 and leapfrog their opponents and secure safety in the Asian 5 Nations Division I, at Havelock Park yesterday.
Requiring a bonus-point win to hold onto its place in the tournament, Chinese Taipei were trailing by two points at half-time (16-14), but an over-powering second half saw them do what was necessary.
No. 8 Hsieh Pin-yi scored a brace for Chinese Taipei with Lu Wei-fan, Chuang Po-yao, Ho Ming-hsien, Yeh Tai-ting, Chiang Cheng-hsien and Pan Chih-hsiang adding tries.
Thailand will play in the Division II tournament next year.
Pics by Indraratne Balasuriya