Thursday, May 7, 2015

ASIA RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP: Division 1, Day 1 Results

Sri Lanka 35, Kazakhstan 14 in Manilla (ARC Div.1, Semi-final 1)
Philippines 20, Singapore17 in Manilla (ARC Div.1, Semi-final 2)-After extra time

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The Philippines and Sri Lanka booked their spots in the Asia Rugby Championship Division I final after opening wins over Singapore and Kazakhstan respectively today at the new Philippine Sports Stadium outside of Manila.

The Philippines and Sri Lanka booked their spots in the Asia Rugby Championship Division I final after opening wins over Singapore and Kazakhstan respectively today at the new Philippine Sports Stadium outside of Manila.

Sri Lanka were made to work hard for their 35-14 win over Kazakhstan, despite having a man advantage for most of the match after Kazakhstan hooker Rustam Kurbanov was shown a red card for stamping after 20 minutes.

Sri Lanka had opened the scoring with two quick tries. Wing Lavanga Perera scored in the 7th minute followed by centre Danushka Ranjan two minutes later. Fullback Riza Mubarak converted the first to push the second seeds to a 12-0 lead after ten minutes.

Kazakhstan rallied for a massive effort despite being reduced to 14 men – and later 13 – when flanker Daulet Akymbekov was sin-binned moments after Kurbanov was ejected.

Sri Lanka could only manage one more try in the first half with Ranjan crossing over to complete an early brace. Mubarak added the conversion to bring the score at the break to 22-7 after Kazakhstan captain Serik Zhanseitov pulled his side back from the brink with a try from in close in the 30th minute. Fullback Ivan Olkhovskiy added the extras for his side.

Kazakhstan struck first in the second half with prop Ruslan Galiyev again scoring off of set piece play where the bulky Kazakh forwards gave them a natural advantage over the fleet Sri Lankans. Olkhovskiy’s conversion closed the deficit further to 22-14.

But the experienced Sri Lankans maintained their composure better in the second half, making Kazakhstan pay for any indiscipline. Sri Lanka slotted two penalties late in the half through Kanchana Ramanayaka and Dulaj Perera to push ahead to 28-14. Perera crossed over for a final try in the last minute. Ramanayaka’s conversion brought the final score to 35-14 and sent Sri Lanka on to the final.

Sri Lanka coach Johan Taylor commented on the result saying, “It wasn’t perfect but the main goal was to win and we achieved that, so we will look at the positives and erase the negatives from this afternoon.

“I thought our handling was pretty good and we did reasonably well in our scrums and lineouts against a bigger Kazakhstan pack. We did well in those three areas and I’m fairly happy with our performance,” Taylor added.

The second semi final was a thrilling encounter with fourth seeds Singapore pushing the hosts and top seed Philippines through two ten-minute periods of sudden death extra time before the result was finally confirmed.

Singapore enjoyed the early run of play, posting a 10-0 lead at halftime after tries from flanker Alexander Cook and winger Tom Child. The hosts meanwhile left several scoring opportunities begging as their handling deserted them for large stretches in the first stanza.

The Volcanoes first try didn’t come until early in the second half when flanker Terry Carroll capitalized on a man advantage after Singapore centre Graham Harkness was sent to the sin bin. Captain Oliver Saunders added the conversion to close the gap to 7-10.

But the Volcanoes then conceded their brief advantage as no 8 Ashley Heward was binned for failing to wrap in the tackle. Harkness returned from his spell in the bin to help spark Singapore’s first try of the second half, figuring in a nice flowing move that eventually put prop James Robertson over for the try. Scrumhalf Suhaimi Amran added the extras to push Singapore out to 17-7 with 20 minutes remaining.

The game came into its own in the last quarter with both sides pushing desperately for the win. Reserve wing Alex Aronson entered the match in the 60th minute for the home side and would prove to be the difference maker.

Aronson coolly slotted his first penalty in the 32nd minute to close the gap to 17-10 and was again on the spot in the 40th minute to cap some good work in close by the Volcanoes with a nice jinking run that brought the hosts to within two points of Singapore. Aronson converted his own try to level the scores as regulation time expired, sending the game into extra time.

Singapore attacked furiously in the first ten minutes of extra time but the Philippines defence held fast, leaving the score still drawn through 90 minutes and pushing the match into a second ten-minute golden point period.

Inspired by a large and vocal audience, the Volcanoes finally found some space against a brave Singapore defence with a series of sustained attacks that forced Singapore to concede a penalty. Aronson converted the penalty from just outside the Singapore 22 metre line to give his side a memorable win and send them through to the final against Sri Lanka on Saturday (18.00 Philippines time).

Although Singapore staked its claim today and were in contention to the last the final will be a fitting affair as the Philippines and Sri Lanka were both part of the former Asian Five Nations Top Five format last year.

In 2014, the Volcanoes pipped Sri Lanka 27-26 – benefiting from successfully being able to re-take a conversion of another last-gasp try after Sri Lanka had prematurely charged a failed first attempt to eke out an away win in Colombo and finish fourth behind Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

In 2015 both Sri Lanka and the Philippines were relegated due to the revamped format where the premier Division is now reserved for the top three sides - Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, playing on a home-and-away format.

Fittingly the two sides will again face off to see who can claim boasting rights as the top Asian team outside of the premier competition. ... division-i

Saturday’s Fixtures
Sri Lanka v Philippines (Final)
Kazakhstan v Singapore (Playoff 3rd-4th)

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