The victorious Sri Lanka XV celebrates their Division I title. PHOTO: Mark Cristino.
Sri Lanka beat the hosts Philippines Volcanoes 24-14 last night at the Philippines Sports Stadium in Bulacan to claim the Asia Rugby Championship Division I title. Kazakhstan won the 3rd/4th place play-off beating Singapore 32-12.
It was a commanding performance for Sri Lanka, who along with co-finalists Philippines were both relegated from last year’s Top 5 championship to align with the new top three Asia Rugby Championship format.
Philippines finished ahead of Sri Lanka in the last ever Top 5 ranking after handing Sri Lanka a 27-26 defeat in front of their home audiences in Colombo. This time, the Sri Lankans returned the favour but with a much more comprehensive result.
Sri Lanka only trailed the hosts for a minute in the match after conceding an early penalty to the Philippines, which was converted by fullback Alexander Aronson, the reserve who came on in the semi final to save the Philippines hopes of reaching the final scoring XX points in the last 20 minutes including the game-winning penalty in the second period of extra time versus Singapore.
After getting the first points on the board, the Sri Lankans, paced by their flyhalf and captain Fazil Marija, never looked back. Marija broke some lackluster tackles by the defence to meander 40 metres after the re-start of the Philippines penalty to dot down in the corner.
Fullback Riza Mubarak added the first of two penalties in the opening half moments later to push Sri Lanka to an 8-3 lead. That slim margin looked in danger when flanker Sharo Fernando was sent to the sin bin giving the hosts a man advantage.
Sri Lanka's Danushka Ranjan was voted man of the match. PHOTO: Marc Cristino.
But Philippines heads dropped when just two minutes into their advantage they conceded a second try to Sri Lanka through dangerous centre Danushka Ranjan, who brilliantly fended two tacklers to collect his third try of the tournament to finish as the top try scorer in Division I in 2015.
The Philippines replied with a second penalty from Aronson to close the gap to 13-6 but then saw centre Tim Bweheni yellow carded for tripping. Mubarak converted the resulting penalty for Sri Lanka giving stretching the gap to 16-6.
Fazil Marija in action from the cup final. PHOTO: Mark Cristino.
Moments later, Sri Lanka captain Fazil Marija proved his ability to break down any defence once again when he showed great pace to cut the ball back inside and leave the Philippine defence flat-footed, offloading to centre Kanchana Ramanayaka to give the Tuskers a 21-6 lead.
The Philippines kept in range with a try in the 40th minute to winger Jefferey Gregson to close the gap 21-11 at half.
The Volcanoes tightened ship defensively in the second half but couldn’t muster the offensive firepower to close the gap, managing only a single penalty in the second half to Aronson in the 51st minute.
Sri Lanka’s Mubarak notched two late penalties to bring the final score to 27-14 and send Sri Lanka home as champions.
“I’m very pleased with the win and the style in which we won. Our guys come from a sevens background. We came into this match wanting to avoid contact and we achieved that today,” said coach Johan Taylor.
“The loss is a bitter one at the moment but I’m really pleased with the effort the guys have put in. I thought that today we really put it all together in the second half, particularly in our attack, but our defense was wanting and we took some wrong options on the pitch,” said Philippines coach Stuart Woodhouse.
“It’s disappointing of course but I think the loss will be good for Philippines rugby in the long-run. We are still learning and developing as a team and the guys will go back and review what we did right and what we didn’t, so I am sure we will come back stronger. It is a good division, the teams are really balanced and all have different styles. So now we can prepare ahead for next year and come back stronger,” Woodhouse added.
In the 3rd/4th place play-off Kazakhstan outpaced Singapore 32-12 to ensure their place in the Division I championship next season.