Air Force had a surprise awaiting the visiting team from Nittawela at Ratmalana | (Pic by Mushtaq Thasleem)

Air Force show champs Kandy they can soar high this season

The spectators at a makeshift hut at the Air Force Ground in Ratmalana were full of enthusiasm. There was one thing striking about the crowd seated here. All were women and they were in full spirit to witness this Diolog sponsored inter-club Division 1 rugby encounter. They were clad in tee-shirts which suggested they were Air Force fans. These poor lasses probably knew nothing about the strength of the opponents Air Force was taking on: Kandy Sports Club. In the end, it turned out that the pundits were wrong. If someone bothered to ask these girls what they wished, they would have said they wanted Air Force to win. In the end, the Airmen triumphed by 24 points to 21.

This writer was one of the lucky ones to witness this game which any rugby pundit will jot down in his notebook as a shocker. But what really shocked the sparse crowd was the manner in which Air Force played the 80 minutes of rugby. The Airmen tackled hard, ran straight and played with one purpose; not be disgraced.

There were no signs of rain that day. The only signs visible were that Air Force would not entertain anything negative. Just the other week, Kandy SC had smashed the daylights out of CH&FC by recording a 96-0 win. If there was anything big to be taken notice of in Air Force in the first quarter of the game it was their speed. Full back Rumesh Ramdas found his way to the try line off a backline move with the game just three minutes old. Charith Seneviratne showed a safe pair of boots by slotting in the conversion.

Air Force showed they wanted to play a physical game very early in this encounter. Kandy SC skipper Roshan Weeraratne was tackled hard in the first half and was even replaced briefly by substitute player Srinath Sooriyabandara. But Weeraratne made his way back into the game, the manner in which he was  treated suggesting it was a blood injury.
Kandy SC played with determination and produced their first try of the match through third row forward Danush Dayan which was converted by Arshad Jamaldeen.

Air Force maintained their try scoring rhythm and produced their second try with the game 20 minutes old. The Airmen applied pressure at the right junctures of the game and Kandy’s best efforts failed to halt these onslaughts. Lahiru Udayanga joined a forwards drive and scored. Senewiratne was spot on with the conversion. Air Force went into half time leading by 14 points to 7.

Air Force was contesting the ball well during loose play and also in the set pieces after ‘lemons’. A deep kick into the Kandy half put the visitors under pressure. Ramdas following collected the loose ball and scored. Twelve minutes into the second half Air Force was leading 21-7.

This was the time when an uneasy feeling was experienced by most spectators. The Airmen were on top, but for how long could they hold on? Was Kandy really out of this game or could they turn the game on its head? It goes without saying that the majority of the spectators were Air Force fans. Kandy made it clear that they were not waiting for Air Force to commit errors. The rugby players from the hill capitol were still determined to pull off a win through their try-scoring abilities.

The visitors scored 15 minutes into the second half through number eight Shashika Jayawardene. Jamaldeen’s kick sailed through the uprights and Kandy SC were just seven points behind.

This was the time when the Air Force defence hung on stubbornly. But they paid for lapses in discipline and gave away two yellow cards close to the end. There was a 20 minute period in the second half when they played with 14 players and still dominated the game.
With the clock ticking fast, Kandy SC got their act together and scored through replacement centre Fazil Marija to level scores 21 all.

It looked like anybody’s game now. Kandy SC played hard, but their last ditch efforts didn’t produce that match winning try.

Air Force surged ahead in the dying moments of the game through a penalty which came off the boot of Senewiratne.

Air Force this season has the services of players in the likes of skipper Gayan Iddamalgoda, Ashok Wijekumar, Lahiru Udayanga and Dinesh Weeraratne. The side is coached by Leonard de Zilwa.

In the other matches played over the weekend, Havelocks SC beat Police SC 37-12, Army SC beat CH&FC 39-12 and Navy SC beat CR&FC 21-13.