Round II of the HSBC A5N Division I / Rugby World Cup 2015 Asian Qualifiers set for kick-off in Sri Lanka
[Hong Kong, April 2, 2013]: The second round of the 2013 HSBC Asian Five Nations (HSBC A5N) Division I championship kicks off tomorrow at Havelocks RFC in Colombo, Sri Lanka as Kazakhstan take on Chinese Taipei and hosts Sri Lanka face surprise first round winners Thailand.
Thailand upended Kazakhstan 33-10 in the opening match of this year’s HSBC A5N Division I raising the stakes for the top seeds in this year’s tournament Kazakhstan.
The world was a different place back in 2007, the last time Kazakhstan visited Sri Lanka for the former Asian Rugby Football Tournament. The island nation was struggling to put down the separatist Tigers, one reason why Asian powers like Japan stayed away from the last edition of the biennial Asian Rugby Football Tournament, which has since been supplanted by the annual HSBC Asian Five Nations now in its sixth year.
“We won that last Asian Championship and we will forever be known in history as the last team to do that,” said a proud Timur Mashurov, coach of the class of 2013, but captain back in 2007.
“Yes, Japan stayed away, but a win is a win,” Mashurov grinned cheekily. “We are happy to be the last champions.”
If only life was as simple for his team today. Kazakhstan face a do-or-die battle against Chinese-Taipei on Wednesday at the Havelocks Sports Club, a position they are in thanks to their opening day loss to Thailand in the four-team competition in Colombo.
Playing in searing hot conditions, Kazakhstan stumbled to a shock defeat at the hands of un-fancied Thailand who defeated the Central Asian team for the first time in their history.
“The heat was the problem and it will be our biggest obstacle against Chinese-Taipei too,” Mashurov said. “Against Thailand, my players were making mistakes simply because they were exhausted. Twice we knocked on the ball inside the Thai try-line area. All we had to do was to touch down and we could have sealed the result. But we were tired and made mistakes.”
The stark change in conditions is underlined by the fact that it is presently minus zero and snowing in Kazakhstan, who were demoted from the Top Five competition last year and are desperate to get back into the company of the big boys for the final stage of Asia’s Rugby World Cup qualifiers which will be contested in the Top 5 in 2014.
“We came from one extreme to the other. No wonder my players struggled,” said Mashurov.
Although the conditions are likely to be overcast, Mashurov can expect the heat to be on again. As such Kazakhstan will change its game plan for Chinese-Taipei.
“We will do our arm-up inside the dressing room and try to keep out of the sun as much as possible. We made the mistake of warming up for 30 minutes before the Thailand game out on the pitch and that sapped our energy levels,” Mashurov said.
Kazakhstan, who is fielding eight debutants in the 23-man squad, will also try and keep the game with their heavier forwards, keeping it as tight as possible.
“We have to win this match with a bonus point, and then everything can be solved against Sri Lanka on Saturday. We haven’t lost to them in recent years and I’m confident we can win again. I will remind the boys of our win here in 2007,” said Mashurov still hopeful that the early setback hasn’t dented his team’s chances of winning this tournament and winning promotion to the Top Five next year.
Kazakhstan will be hoping that Sri Lanka, who secured a bonus point in their 39-8 win over Chinese-Taipei last Saturday, will knock off Thailand on Wednesday. And if Kazakhstan wins handsomely against Chinese Taipei, it could all point to a titanic battle for top honours on the final day between the hosts and Kazakhstan.
But Sri Lanka will have to be wary of the buoyant Thais with skipper and No. 8 Chatree Wannadit confident of another giant-killing act.
“We are a fit and young side, our average age is only 23. Most of the players come from the Armed Forces and take pride in their fitness. The heat is not a problem, it is even hotter in Thailand, so we will be up for it against Sri Lanka,” Wannadit said.
Thailand will once again rely on their terrier-like defence to hound out mistakes and then use the speed of their backline to make inroads. But the biggest danger for Sri Lanka will be Thai fullback Warongkorn Khamkoet, one of five players from the Thai Navy in the team, whose goal-kicking is a huge threat.
“He is our key,” said Wannadit. “He can kick penalties from anywhere on the field.” Khamkoet’s left foot knocked over four penalties and two conversions in the victory against Kazakhstan. Sri Lanka will have to watch out for him.
The hosts overcame a dreary first-half against Taipei in their opener before turning on the style by running in five tries. Fly-half Fazil Marija was the pick of a dangerous backline scoring a couple of opportunistic tries.
It was the first competitive game for the Sri Lankan players in five months. The country’s domestic season would have been in full swing but the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union has pushed back the start to later in the year – September – so as to fall in line with other Asian teams like Japan and Hong Kong who come into the HSBC Asian Five Nations charged up following the end of their own domestic seasons.
With one game under the belt, and a good result too, Sri Lanka with the crowds behind them, will be keen to make it two from two.
“Our goal is very simple. To play in the Top Five next year and be part of the World Cup qualifying campaign,” said skipper and openside flanker Yoshitha Rajapaksa.
Tomorrow’s matches will see Kazakhstan and Chinese Taipei face off at 14.00 followed by Sri Lanka v Thailand at 16.00.