Sri Lankan Sevens rugby team celebrated their first ever third place victory in the Cup championship of the top division in Asian Rugby Sevens history in the final leg played at the Racecourse International Stadium in Colombo last week with victory over Malaysia. However the same cannot be said of the women’s team who ended up with a miserable performance to be placed last in eighth position.
Coached by South African born England 7’s international Matt Drew Turner, Sri Lanka swept aside Malaysia 45-12 in the third place play-off for the Cup championship, repeating their victory over the Malaysians in Saturday’s preliminary round where they beat them by 40 points to nil.
Wins over Philippines (38-7) and Malaysia (40-0) in the pool stages saw the gallant Sri Lankan Tuskers through to the quarter-finals where they disposed the Asian second seeded Korea 19-12 with a last minute try by speedy winger Anurudda Wilwara, after a closely fought out battle.
The semi-final against Asian number one ranked Japan was a much tighter affair for Sri Lanka. First half try awarded to Japan off a clear forward pass which went unnoticed by the referee and an important try scored by former Fiji (4 Tests) and Australian Wallabies (69 Tests) veteran winger Lote Tuqiri off a hapless missed tackle by winger Sandun Herath, proving enough for Japan to make it through to their third consecutive Cup Championship final with a hard fought 26-19 victory.
Despite going down to the Asian giants Japan, the rejuvenated Sri Lankans were a completely different kettle of fish in this tournament where they dished out a magnificent brand of sevens rugby very similar to the run and pass style of play which world champion’s Fiji play. Sri Lanka gave some bone-crunching tackles against big made opponents with sheer dedication and commitment.
The Tuskers really worked out and tightened their defence and it was pleasing to watch them play in this manner.
“I am proud of the entire Sri Lankan team for achieving third place and we broke the barrier where we raised ourselves and went to the next level by beating Korea,” Sri Lankan coach Matt Turner told The Nation.
“If not for the first minute injury to Lema (Shehan Pathirana) as well as some important missed tackles here and there, we almost did it against the champions Japan.
“I am waiting anxiously to put this fantastic bunch of lads to the highest level in seven’s rugby in the days to come. The guys played like professionals and broke the jinx by minimizing the errors. This is the effort and commitment I really expected from the entire squad of players.
“The team deserved to secure third spot. I told them before the game if they play as they had all weekend, then they would win. We didn’t need to pull a rabbit out of our hat or anything else, we just needed self-belief.
“Our boys believe they can win now. I am not sure they had that before, but now we do,” Turner added. “We stayed strong, played well and we won well. Now we will go back and start preparing for the Olympic qualifiers in November.”
Turner also had a word of praise for outgoing skipper Fazil Marija who stepped down as Sevens captain.
“A word of praise to our fabulous skipper Fazil Marija, he’s an amazing player and a great leader on and off the field. He’s really committed to rugby. We will miss his leadership for sure, but I’m happy he’s around as a player,” said Turner.
Marija who led the Sri Lankan sevens team for the final time in his rugby career to third place received a thumping ovation from the entire crowd present at the Racecourse for the Malaysian game.
“The entire team played very well right throughout this tournament and we only lost to Asian number one and Cup champions Japan 26-19. The difference was only a single try. I’m happy that we at least won third place, because I wanted to give something back to the entire country,” said Marija who thanked the spectators who had turned up for the two days to see him play his final tournament as captain.
Hong Kong defeated Malaysia 38-7 in the last four to set up a final showdown with Japan who had progressed through the knockout rounds with a comfortable victory over China 31-5 and a hard fought 26-19 win over Sri Lanka.
Japan won the Men’s Cup championship beating Hong Kong 29-22 to win all three legs of the Asian Rugby Sevens.
Their women also proved as good as their men winning the final against China 33-12.