Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Test Result: Sri Lanka and Singapore Draw Opening Match of HSBC Asian Five Nations Division I

Match action from today's HSBC Asian Five Nations Division I clash between Sri Lanka (white) and Singapore (dark jerseys) in Tainan.
Singapore (dark jerseys) prepare for the match against Sri Lanka with the National Anthem. Captain Chris Gilbert is at far left, No. 8 Ben Wheeler is 8th from left.

Tainan, Chinese Taipei, Nov 11 2008
From Sean Moore, Asia5Nations Press.

Sri Lanka and Singapore have drawn the opening match of the round robin HSBC Asian Five Nations Division I tonight in a game played in cool, blustery conditions at the Tainan Rugby Stadium.

A strong crowd of nearly 500 people that assembled for a match played on neutral ground between two visiting teams was thrilled with the see-saw encounter that saw two tries scored in the 40th minute of both the first and second halves. The latter try brought Singapore back from the brink to level their opener against top seeds Sri Lanka 20 – 20.

The two teams were evenly matched throughout with Sri Lanka looking more dangerous in the backline but Singapore, led by captain Chris Gilbert in the second row and hard-charging Ben Wheeler at No. 8, dominant in the forward pack particularly in the opening interval.

As the end of the first half approached, the score was seemingly settled at 3 – all, the result of single successful penalties from several attempts by both kickers, Sri Lanka winger Riza Mubarak and Singapore fly half John Forrester. But in the 38th minute Singapore lock Steve Horsfall was sent to the bin for hands in the ruck by Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union referee Scott Herbert, creating a crucial bit of daylight in Singapore’s forward defence which was cannily exploited by Sri Lankan fly half Ashan De Costa whose scything run cutting back against Singapore’s defensive line resulted in the game’s first try on the stroke of the 40th minute. The try was successfully converted by Mubarak to bring the halftime score to 10 – 3 Sri Lanka.

The excitement continued in the second half with both teams sharing the lead and enjoying long stretches of possession. Singapore No. 8 Ben Wheeler, a familiar face to Asian rugby fans from his commentary work for regional broadcaster ESPN, continued his man of the match worthy performance wreaking some creative destruction on the Sri Lankan defence in what must have been double digit carries that invariably dragged defenders along behind him. Wheeler was everywhere around the park frequently popping up in mismatches against the Sri Lankan backline and threatened to score several times during the game.

In the 18th minute of the second half, Wheeler did what every good No. 8 should do, picking up and running strong side from a Singapore scrum 10 metres out from the Sri Lankan sticks. Finally pulled down at the 5-metre marker, Wheeler popped up perfectly to Singapore lock Chris Gilbert who finished the move for a fantastic captain’s try. After Forrester’s conversion the score was level at 10 all.

Conceding the try finally fired the Sri Lankan forwards who turned the tables yet again by exerting continuous periods of pressure and ball retention against Singapore. In the 30th minute the pressure told as Sri Lanka scored from a beautiful flowing move that saw hooker Achala Perera pop into the backline for a perfectly timed crash ball before dishing to centre Lasintha De Costa who then offloaded to flying winger Chula Susantha. Despite having plenty of work yet to do, Susantha ducked and dodged from just past the Singapore 22 to put Sri Lanka back in the lead 17 – 10.

Four minutes later, a successful penalty by Sri Lankan substitute Saliya Kumara brought the score to 20 – 10 and seemingly out of Singapore’s reach. The game seemed to be on course for a stately finish with Singapore earning a bonus point for a loss within seven points when fly-half Forrester nailed another penalty to claw back to 20 – 13.

In the 38th minute Singapore began a wide sweeping move from a successful lineout that petered out when the Sri Lankan defence conceded a penalty in the tackle. Singapore opted for the touch finder and won the lineout channeling it into a driving maul. Sri Lanka brought the maul to ground but ball was recycled quickly and strong crash play from Mohammed ‘Izzy’ Ismail A Kadir straightened the line for Singapore. Another Singaporean half-break forced the Sri Lankan defence to concede another penalty, this time for hands in the ruck.

Singapore called for the scrum with Wheeler taking the pick up but being stopped just short of the line. Quick recycled ball ended up in the hands of fullback Gareth Pritchard who dove over the line for another 40th minute try bringing Singapore to within two points of the draw at 20 – 18. The pressure was squarely on fly-half Forrester but he calmly slotted the conversion to bring the game to the 20 – all draw.

The exciting finish delighted the crowd but must have left the Chinese Taipei XV, who were watching from the stands, knowing that they will have their work cut out against both teams. The draw leaves both teams level on the Tournament table with 3 points. Matches on Thursday (Chinese Taipei v Singapore) and Saturday (Chinese Taipei v Sri Lanka) are yet to come.
The winner of the Division I Tournament earns automatic promotion to the elite HSBC Asian Five Nations Top 5 competition alongside reigning champions Japan, as well as Korea, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan. The Top 5 competition is a Home and Away series that takes place every weekend from the last weekend of April throughout May 2009.

My Note: China withdrew from the tournament.

Thursday 13 Nov. China Taipei v Singapore
Saturday 15 Nov. Sri lanka v China Taipei

So the question is where does this leave China. Do they get a further opportunity to participate?

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