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Sri Lanka one step closer to Rugby World Cup qualification

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irb.com and James Mortimer     08 Apr 2013     Getty Images

With their rugby-loving president Mahinda Rajapaksa proudly watching his two sons – captain and flanker Yoshitha and prop Namal – an inspired Sri Lankan outfit quickly dispelled all the pre-match fears that tournament favourites Kazakhstan would be able to pull off a bonus point win and win back their place in the Top 5.

The boot, instead, was on the other foot as Sri Lanka ran in six tries with a sizzling display of open rugby from a lethal backline with fly half Fazil Marija orchestrating the attacking rugby sweetly.

The potent Sri Lankan attack accounted for 16 tries over their three matches on home soil at Havelocks RFC in Colombo, all but three coming from the backline.

“We played our hearts out. We thought Kazakhstan would be a danger but they failed to turn up,” said an elated Yoshitha Rajapaksa. “This win is a huge step for the Game here and not only have we won promotion but the added bonus is that we will be playing in a World Cup qualifying year.”

Winning it in style

The victory will see Sri Lanka take their place alongside the region’s elite nations with a place in Pool B at RWC 2015 the prize for the 2014 Asian 5 Nations champions. They will replace the side finishing bottom of the 2013 Top 5, which begins later this month and involves Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates.

Kazakhstan, who were stunned by Thailand on day one, were left shell-shocked in the first half after a commanding display by their hosts, who ran in three tries from wing Sandun Herath, second row Shenal Dias and centre Pradeep Liyanage to lead 30-6 at half-time.

That advantage grew with another three tries from prop Sathya Ranatunga, Marija and wing Chamara Dabare as the capacity crowd were treated to a dazzling display.

“The important thing was to win and to win in style and we did it,” said Sri Lanka’s South African coach Ravin du Plessis. “All Sri Lanka is proud today and these guys deserve all the credit.”

Former England Sevens captain Ben Gollings, who coaches the Sri Lanka Sevens side and has been helping out with the team’s backline play, added: “There has been never any doubt that Sri Lanka can play rugby. It was all a matter of consistency and bringing it together and they did it.”

Kazakhstan opened the scoring with a penalty from Maxim Lifontov, but from then on it was all Sri Lanka. The important first try was initiated by the quick thinking of Namal Rajapaksa, whose quick tap sent Herath over by the right corner flag.

A learning game

Full back Reza Mubarak, who contributed 19 points with his accurate boot, knocked over two penalties before Dias made the three-quarters look pedestrian as he covered 50 metres for the second try.

A lovely break by Marija created the third try for Pradeep as Sri Lanka all but ensured victory at half-time. Soon after the break, loosehead prop Satya Ranatunga touched down for the fourth try to start off wild celebrations among the fans who knew there was no way back for Kazakhstan as Sri Lanka had assured themselves of a bonus point.

Sri Lanka ended the tournament top of the standings with a maximum 18 points and will return to the top tier for the first time since 2011.

“It will be tough at the top, but if we plan properly, I’m confident we can give the big teams a run for their money,” du Plessis said. “What I’m pleased about was that despite knowing they had the match in the bag, they did not let off and kept their focus. They are learning.”

Marija had a hand in the last two tries scored by Sri Lanka, touching down and then creating the other with a delicate chip over the defence which was collected by number 8 Sajith Saranga, who offloaded to Dabare to score.

Kazakhstan scored two late consolation tries through fly half Daulet Akymbekov and sub Alexandr Zolotukhin, but their dreams of an immediate return to the Top 5 had already ended long before.

Quick return for Thailand

In the relegation battle, Chinese Taipei overcame a gutsy Thailand outfit to secure their place in Division I next year with a 52-23 victory.

Chinese Taipei entered the game winless and needed to score a bonus-point victory. They did it in style with barnstorming number 8 Hsieh Pin-yi leading the charge, grabbing two of his side’s eight tries.

Thailand had led 16-14 at half-time thanks to the metronomic kicking full back Warongkorn Khamkoet, who knocked over three penalties.

Khamkoet also converted the opening try scored by flanker Chatree Wannadit, who was on hand to complete a lovely break down the middle by fly half Klin Laksanasompong.

Chinese Taipei came back strongly with tries from Hsieh and captain and centre Lu Wei-fan, which were both converted by full back Chou Po-yen to cut the deficit to just two points at the break.

First for coaching tour

They then cut loose in the second half with Hsieh completing his brace and further tries from Chuang Po-yao, Ho Ming-hsien, Yeh Tai-ting, Chiang Cheng-hsien and Pan Chih-hsiang piling on the agony for Thailand.

Thailand added a late consolation try from Khamkoet but it was all in vain as the deficit was too much to overcome and they will return back to Division II in 2014.

The final day of Division I in Colombo marked the official start of the Asian Rugby Football Union’s 45th anniversary year and the IRB Regional Association unveiled a new logo with help from nearly 1,000 youngsters who had taken part in the HSBC ARFU Coaching Tour over the last week.

The tour, for the first time, covered an entire nation in one trip with clinics conducted for more than 6,200 youngsters in all nine national provinces of Sri Lanka.