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Both the players from the park club and Air Force did well in a game of mud rugby

A burst of rain before the Havelock SC versus Air Force Sports Club rugby match last Saturday made the ground at Ratmalana rather yucky to walk on. Everything went well at the entrance gate and spectators were spared of checks and even being touched in some of the most sensitive parts of their bodies. The latter was a feature in the dark past where watching a game of rugby was associated with routine activities which tested the patience of spectators.

Earlier that Saturday, the gates at the Air Force camp in Ratmalana were swung open resembling the face of a smiling child. But that smile was taken away when the quick downpour left both the spirit of spectators and the picturesque venue in a state of dampness.

The intense atmosphere present in both the dressing rooms gave a wrong signal that the second game in the first week of the Dialog sponsored domestic league rugby tournament would be close. Havelock SC ran away with the game, crossing the Airmen’s goal line on four occasions. If the winners tapped into their energy reserves and posted 29 points, Air Force could manage just a solitary try for all their efforts.

The sloshing sound of mud and the heavy thud of boots indicated that the players were destined to exhaust their leg power. The prowess in playing mud rugby was going to come in handy more than skills. The need of the hour was to step on the mud-filled deck with their boots and pull them out as fast as possible while running. Havelocks did this better than the host team, who should have known the ground like the back of their palm.

The game got off to a laboured start, but Havies centre Nishon Perera showed the art of running on a mud field when he took a pass from Niroshan Fernando to the try line. The try had the effect of a path in the wilderness being made clear after grass is cut. Third row forward Sharo Fernando was the next to find his way over the Air Force try line when he touched down 30 minutes into the first half. Full back Dulaj Perera was spot on with the kicks as the visitors went into half time leading 17-3.

You have to put up with one thing when inside an Air Force base. There is no canteen for spectators to grab a bite and a drink despite tempted to do so by seeing the two teams refresh themselves with oranges and energy drinks. The second half was eventful as both teams played better rugby.

The only thing in the game that was untidy other than the mud-soaked shorts and jerseys was the scrum. This writer observed that both packs were guilty of showing up when the rule specifies they shove straight. Havies had big men in the scrum like skipper Priyadharshana, Prasath Madusanka, Jason Melder and Sharo Fernando, but they were checked when in their strides. Air force had lesser known players, but they attracted attention by putting up a spirited show. Much is expected of the Airmen who are coached this season by Leonard de Zilwa.

The sun came and stayed during the entire second half. Fly half Niroshan Fernando knew, however, that the ground was still wet beneath and sent a grubber, so that Hirantha Perera could follow, collect and score.

Perera once again rose to the occasion and punched the fourth hole in the Air Force defence with a solo run.

In the curtain-raiser to the tournament at Police Park, Navy Sports Club beat Police Sports Club 29-8.

In the two other games played over the weekend, Kandy Sports Club smashed CH&FC 96-0 while CR&FC edged out Army SC 25-24.

The spectator interest in some of the club rugby matches is diminishing like some small islands in the Pacific being washed into sea. There can’t be a magic formula that ensures school rugby prospers, which is not available to club rugby. The rugby that schools produce is entertaining and has finesse. These factors are often present in club rugby when the SLRFU allows clubs to strengthen themselves by recruiting expatriates.