September 30, 2022
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    Sri Lanka Tuskers aiming to bounce back on home turf

    September 28, 2019

    Sri Lanka will be gunning for a top-four position playing on their home turf in the third leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series at the Racecourse grounds in Colombo this weekend.Kick-off is at 1.30 p.m. on Saturday and 10.00 a.m. on Sunday as the region’s best men and women rugby teams aim to put their best foot forward in the final leg of the series.Sri Lanka have been drawn in pool A with Hong Kong, Korea and UAE while pool B comprises China, Japan, Chinese Taipei, and Philippines.

    Plate winners in the first leg (Korea) and placed fourth in China a fortnight ago, the Sri Lanka Tuskers as the national rugby team is known around the world, have injected young blood to offset injuries to key players in a bid to evolve as a potent unit with an eye on the next Asian Games in 2022. Humbled twice by Japan (37-0 and 40-0) and Hong Kong (55-0) in China, Sri Lanka aim to bounce back with a vengeance when they take on Korea and Hong Kong on the first day of the competition in Colombo. “Our confidence level is very good because we will be playing on our home turf. We are a little bit excited because we are playing in front of our home fans. This will be a big advantage for us as well. We have a good opportunity to showcase our talent and skill,” said Sri Lanka skipper Dansha Dayan buoyed by the return of Nishon Perera and Buddima Piyaratne from injury though missing the services of former captain Srinath Sooriyabandara and Thilina Wijesinghe.
    The two newcomers in the 13-man squad Kavinda Keshan and Chathura Seneviratne, are both former junior internationals. Havelocks winger Keshan will play as sweeper while Navy fly half Seneviratne will bear the tough role as a ball carrier. “We hope to give our 100 percent,” said the debutants.“We are missing several experienced players but we have a balanced side. All are fit and raring to go. They need to step up in the Colombo leg,” said Kandy SC winger Dayan.
    The key to Sri Lanka’s success despite having flyers such as Reeza Raffaideen and Janidu Dilshan, top scorers in Korea and China respectively, is their ball retention ability after being denied by Japan and Hong Kong on a try-less second day in China.“I think these top sides, they have seen us playing for a long time. They have learnt how to shut us down and deny us the ball. We have very good attackers but without ball, you can’t do anything. So Japan and Hong Kong have mastered that strategy. I hope the team has trained and come up with all kinds of ways to ensure that we retain ball and contest. That’s where our strength is – in attack,” said chief rugby selector Rohan Abayakoon.
    “We are playing with a young side due to lack of experience. Also when we play against Japan and Hong Kong, I think we need to up our mental side also. That was a factor that contributed to poor losses against those two sides. Mentally we have to up our game to compete against those two sides,” said Abayakoon, a former Sri Lanka Sevens captain.Abayakoon said rotating the squad and including new players was a part of their strategy.
    “Since we are building towards the next Asian Games, we are rotating the youngsters and giving everybody a run to see how they go. That’s why Chathura Seneviratne and Keshan Kavinda have been brought in,” he said.Asked why Sri Lanka were losing by almost cricket scores against top-ranked Japan who narrowly won the Asian Games semifinal clash 12-10 against the Islanders last year, he said: “From the squad of 12 that played against Japan, only about two players are here. Even Srinath Sooriyabandara is not here. We had Omalka Gunaratne, Tharinda Ratwatte, Kavindu Perera and Sudharshana Muthuthantri. That side had vast experience. They had played together for about four years before they got to the Asian Games tournament. So now we are trying to keep this group together for the next four years. So come Asian Games, we will be able to compete like that,” he explained.
    “It was a good experience that we got to play Japan twice in one day and Hong Kong because we don’t get to play that sort of quality opposition often,” said head coach Matt Lee who is looking for consistent performance. “I’m just looking for good performance and consistency. We beat Korea (in China) and our consistency just drops off against Chinese Taipei who have improved very much from the first tournament. We had chances that we could not finish off. We could have put them away in the first half but it showed the character of the team. The second day we had a chance against Hong Kong but execution-wise we did not get the ball,” said the New Zealander.
    “Our focus on Colombo has been kick-off and line-outs. We have done a bit of work on that. Again I am reiterating patterns we are going to play, especially with the new boys coming in. It’s an opportunity for the two new players. It’s again building that base around where we can get more experienced players. Obviously, with the loss of Sooriyabandara and Thilina (Wijesinghe), we have to build that playmaker role around Kevin Dixon,” he said.
    “We are hoping to again make the top four. Anything can happen. Hopefully, the home crowd will get behind us and the boys will lift their game,” said Lee. Sri Lanka’s wins have comes against UAE 21-17 and Chinese Taipei 42-0 (Plate winners) in Korea, and Korea 28-5 and Chinese Taipei 26-17 in China.Squad: Dansha Dayan (captain), Jason Dissanayaka, Buddima Piyarathna, Dinuk Amerasinghe, Janidu Dilshan, Iroshan Silva, Kevin Dixon, Nishon Perera, Kavinda Keshan, Chathura Senevirathne, Reeza Raffaideen, Sudharaka Dikkumbura, Anuradha Herath. Officials: Rohan Chinthaka (manager), Tharaka Vithanage (physio), Mathew Lee (coach).


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