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Sri Lanka never lived up to expectations against Hong Kong in the third leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series in Colombo | (Pic by Chamila Karunaratne)

Hong Kong bags third leg in Colombo and sees  Sri Lanka as the ‘bridesmaid’ who will join them for the World Series Rugby Sevens

Sri Lanka paid the penalty for lack of enthusiasm and purpose at the third and final leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series which helped Hong Kong crown themselves as overall champions.

The islanders built a sense of superiority about themselves by entering two Cup Championship finals, but their efforts in Colombo weren’t good enough to take them beyond the semi-finals. A much looked forward to clash on the second day of the third and final leg of the tournament between Hong Kong and Sri Lanka looked so lopsided. ‘Little’ Sri Lanka paid dearly for not being energetic enough against the heavier-made Hong Kong side, losing 19-7 in the end. Hong Kong surged ahead after this tournament and overcame a vastly-improved South Korean outfit 24-19 in the Cup final.

There were much improved sides in the tournament like Malaysia (overall fifth) and China (overall fourth), but it was Hong Kong and Sri Lanka that progressed to the Hong Kong leg of the World Series Sevens.

As Sri Lanka licks its wounds following the battering it received at the hands of Hong Kong and China, there are stories doing the rounds that the SLRFU is attempting to sort out an issue regarding the availability of players for the next national rugby sevens assignment. These matches of the World Sevens Series will probably clash with the domestic 15-a-side league tournament and clubs are bound to have problems releasing their players for an unexpected tour of this nature.

Unlike during some of the past tours, Sri Lanka fielded a strong side, perhaps the best the islanders could compile, for an Asian Rugby Sevens Series. Recent newspapers reported that the SLRFU was going to make every attempt to get the clubs to release their players for national duty. This issue highlights an old problem Sri Lanka’s rugby is faced with and that is players giving preference to serve the clubs which pay them handsomely as opposed to doing national duty in an honorary capacity. SLRFU president Asanga Seneviratne has been quoted in national newspapers saying that players can be paid for representing the country in future if there is financial support from the government.
At the time of writing, the domestic rugby scene is hotting up and a club in Colombo, that has won the hearts of rugby fans, is trying to come to terms with losing some of its key players to a club situated in the central hills.

Dhanushka Ranjan retained the captaincy despite the return of appointed skipper Sudharshan Muthuthantri in the third leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series. Ranjan has elevated himself to being a hardcore professional and was seen leading from the front. Sri Lanka’s chances at the tournament were also supported by other players and the foreign coach Matt Turner. But the decision taken in the Tuskers’ camp to thrash Singapore 66-0 late in the night on the first day of the tournament and expel all energies makes fans wonder whether this was the right thing to do. Sri Lanka clearly looked jaded on the second day of the tournament. When a set of players finished two legs of a tournament and are into the final one, it doesn’t need experts to explain that energies need to be conserved!

Sri Lanka were up against China in the playoff for the third and fourth places of the tournament. Sri Lanka seemed to have had the game in their bag running up a score of 21 points to 7 with less than three minutes to go. When the first two Sri Lankan tries came so easily in this game, a fan at the grandstand was gutty enough to make the witty comment, “China, don’t mess with Sri Lanka.”

China’s second try after half time brought them back into the game. But what sent chills up the spines of the host team members was the signal that the Chinese gave to indicate that they would not settle for anything less than winning this game. This they did by refusing to take the conversion for the second try. The next two tries by China came swift like the left-right combination used by famous boxer Muhammad Ali. It knocked the daylights out of Sri Lanka! The three-try blitz by the Chinese was a reminder that complacency in sport can send you skidding to a watery grave. Overall, the final leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens is one that Sri Lanka would love to forget.