Sri Lanka is Asia’s newest Top 5 team after winning HSBC A5N DI Final
[Singapore, April 17 2010]: Sri Lanka has climbed close to the top of Asian rugby’s totem pole after beating Singapore 23-16 in a thrilling final of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I tournament played. In the 3rd/4th place play-off, Malaysia achieved its primary objective by retaining its Division I status after winning the relegation match against a young Chinese Taipei XV, 35-3.
After being pushed to the limit against Malaysia in Wednesday’s Semi Final, the hosts and top seeds Singapore could not withstand a second charge from Sri Lanka. The visitors turned in a comprehensive performance in wet and humid conditions at Singapore’s Yio Chu Kang stadium to emerge as Division I champions for the first time in three years. Sri Lanka will now be promoted to the elite Top 5 competition in Asian rugby starting in 2011.
Singapore never looked entirely comfortable this evening, particularly in the back three as a wet ball and clever kicking from Sri Lanka helped keep the hosts on the back foot and negated the superior size of Singapore’s forward pack. Matters turned for the worse for Singapore in the 20th minute as inspirational captain Matt “Rhino” Ryan limped off with an injury further depleting the team of leadership after their first choice captain Jonathon Lee was sidelined in a trial match in Darwin two weeks ago.
From the earliest moments of the match, Sri Lanka’s kicking strategy and ability to involve its speed and superior handling out wide had the Singaporeans under pressure. The home side still managed to get out to a 6-nil lead behind Tom Burns who had another strong match from the stand-off spot. Burns nailed two penalties in the first quarter to stake his side to an early lead as they capitalized on some crucial errors from the Sri Lankans. Among those committing the errors was eventual man of the match scrumhalf Roshan Weeraratne who was sin-binned in just the sixth minute.
Burns calmly converted that penalty and made full use of the man advantage for ten minutes to score 6 early points on the way to a 12-point day from four penalties. Sri Lanka replied in the 19th minute with a successful penalty from fullback Saliya Kumara before Roshan Weeraratne made amends for his sin-binning by knocking over a crucial drop goal (the only one of the tournament) to level the sides at 6-all.
Sri Lanka struck first after the halftime interval with a second penalty from Kumara edging them ahead 9-6 in the 43rd minute. Five minutes later, Weeraratne again popped up, this time finishing off a great roving forward movement to touch down in the corner for the first try of the game, pushing Sri Lanka ahead 16-6 after Kumara’s conversion.
Full credit to Singapore, as the team finally started to find its feet in the second half exerting periods of pressure and enjoying sustained possession for the first time. The reward was a beautiful break away movement by Singapore’s backs which was capped off by winger Desmond Wee who took the ball with work left to be done and managed to tiptoe down the sideline for the home team’s only try of the day and most importantly to get back to within striking distance at 13-16.
Sri Lanka seemed on the verge of fading as it conceded another penalty this time from 40m which was beautifully converted by Burns despite the baying of a very strong and loud contingent of Sri Lankan fans in the stadium. At 16-all with 20 minutes on the clock the action seemed a reprise of Singapore’s earlier match against the Malaysians where Singapore found just enough to keep their opposition out of the win column. But this time it was not to be for the Rugby Lions as the Sri Lankans simply refused to lose.
The two teams traded possession for the final moments as both sets of partisan fans in the crowd of nearly 2,000 ratcheted up the volume and fervour on the sidelines. With overtime looming rapidly on the horizon, the Sri Lankans broke through into scoring position after moving Singapore around the park with some cagey positional kicking. On the last play of regulation time, the Sri Lankans crashed through a tiring Singapore defence in a straightforward movement that saw centre Chamara Vithanage charge over in the corner for a try that broke the hearts of the home team.
Sri Lanka now becomes the 7th team to take part in the elite Top 5 competition since the inception of the HSBC A5N in 2008. The Sri Lankans will have a year to prepare for this ultimate test of continental rugby as promotion will take effect in 2011. The 2010 Top 5 features Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Hong Kong and the Arabian Gulf (who replaced Singapore as the promoted team from the 2009 Division I) and kicks off next weekend (April 24) with matches in Hong Kong (v. Korea) and Kazakhstan (v. Arabian Gulf). At stake in 2010 is Asia’s sole direct entry to the IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. The runners-up in the Top 5 competition will play an inter-continental repechage with the first test against Uruguay in July.
In today’s 3rd/4th place play-off, the Malaysians, who were narrowly defeated by Singapore 22-20 in the semi finals, achieved their ultimate objective beating Chinese Taipei 35-8. The win not only sees Malaysia take 3rd place in the tournament but also ensures that they avoid relegation. Chinese Taipei will be relegated to Division II in 2011 and replaced by the winners of the 2010 Division II championship in early June in New Delhi at the site of the Commonwealth Games sevens competition. That tournament features top seeds Thailand, China, India and Philippines.
After blooding 12 new caps in the squad of 24 in Wednesday’s semi-final against Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei put in a much improved performance today, particularly defensively as they managed to hold Malaysia’s powerful backline to a respectable 35 points. Malaysia fielded seven IRB eligible Fijians in their squad today including the entire backline outside of the fly-half. The result was a brace of tries to winger Nacani Seniu and centre Timoci Nacokula as well as another from Isoa Turuva at fullback. Chinese Taipei answered through a penalty converted by fly half Lu Wei Fan and a try from flanker Chen Kuo Lun.
This afternoon also witnessed another A5N milestone in the first ever women’s test match played as a curtain-raiser to an A5N event with Singapore hosting their Malaysian counterparts. An entertaining match that saw Singapore take an early lead into halftime (5-0) but then concede two quick tries to Malaysia in the second half, had to be abandoned due to a lightning storm. Under the tournament’s abandonment procedure, the match score stands as it was in the second half, giving Malaysia a 10-5 win.
Earlier in the day, HSBC A5N coach and former Scotland coach Frank Hadden conducted a special clinic for children of local HSBC staff at the venue. It was the last activity in three days of HSBC A5N Youth Rugby Festivals held at Yio Chu Kang and the storied Padang rugby ground in Singapore’s Central Business District.
HSBC aims to bring positive social change to different cultures and communities through its diverse rugby sponsorships across the world. As title sponsor of the Asian 5 Nations (A5N), HSBC is committed to the development of the game throughout Asia. This year as part of the Asian 5 Nations, HSBC and the Asian Rugby Football Union are hosting a series of HSBC A5N Youth Rugby Festivals. The commitment to grassroots development will continue throughout the duration of the tournament with HSBC A5N Youth Rugby Festivals reaching over thousands of youth in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Dubai, Bahrain, Indonesia, India, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal in the next few months.
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