Tuskers put their hands up for the future
Posted on May 5th, 2014

Written by Sachin David- Courtesy The Papare.com

The Sri Lanka XV’s rugby team really challenged one of the big two Asian Nations for the first time in the longer version of the game this weekend when they went down to Hong Kong 41-10 at the Colombo Race Course grounds. 

Although many would say 41-10 is quite a hiding, Sri Lanka really did make a mark against a much more structured and professional outfit. Unlike the Tuskers the entire Hong Kong team is a fully professionalised unit. They train together on a regular basis and have a well-organized training regimen in place, therefore for Sri Lanka to hold them to just 41 points as well as to put up a double figured score is quite a noteworthy achievement.

Sri Lanka had a very good game overall but they were much better in the second half. The humidity seemed to get under the skin of the Hong Kong players which saw them really struggle to get anything going. The second half score was 12-10 in favor of Hong Kong and had they not sealed the game early on they may have struggled to contain what were fired up Tuskers on the charge.

What the tuskers did right- 

For the first time ever in Sri Lankan history we did not hide in defense and get bumped off tackles. Even the smaller backs were up and in the face of the Hong Kong attackers and more importantly they made bone crunching tackles behind the gain line. Through most of the game Sri Lanka had a very structured defensive line. It is not often we see any Sri Lankan squad having a structured and disciplined defense. The team made over 73 tackles in 80 minutes of footy which is quite an impressive number.

The stars of this defensive effort was the undoubtedly the loose forwards. Gertha, Yo and Lewkhe were absolutely phenomenal. All three of them had exceptional work rates and were repeatedly causing trouble for the Hong Kong forwards around the contact area. It was also great to see the youngster Muthu fit seamlessly in towards the end of the game when he came on in place of Rajapakse. He carried on from where Yoshitha left off with a livewire performance. In addition to these three the Sharo also had a good game in the second row. He had an excellent work rate all through the game and was a good support to his loosies.

In the back line the tried and tested halves combination of Weerarathne and Marija was spot on defensively. They were very good at controlling the defensive line and supporting the loose forwards by coming up and making the tackles first time.

Sri Lanka was defending for probably 75% of the game and to have held a powerhouse team like Hong Kong to just 41 points is a solid effort. The rush defense along with the dew creating a wet ball made Hong Kong really struggle in the second half. Kudos to the coaching staff for creating a fearless Sri Lankan defensive unit for the first time!!

The contact area was another positive for Sri Lanka, especially in the second half. The tuskers were methodical and physical around the breakdown. The forwards had a really good second half as they were matched the much bigger Hong Kong lads pound for pound.

On to the bad-

Sri Lanka may have put up a good performance overall but there were a few mishaps in patches which is what cost us dearly. Firstly the back three were constantly out of position. The two wingers were absolutely horribly placed and time and again left Hetty isolated at the back which forced him to kick. What this did was take away one of Sri Lanka’s most powerful weapons which is a counter attack. So often we see the likes of Hetty run back at a defensive line and carve it up which he was unable to do because he didn’t have support.

It also looked like he had been instructed to kick which was possibly a tactical error. A full back like Hetty has to be given a license to run if he can. That unpredictable flair is one of Sri Lanka’s strengths which must be used.

Sadly it looked as if Sri Lanka’s tactic in this game was to contain and not to win. Which is understandable but in all fairness the Tuskers should have thrown everything at Hong Kong in attack. It is also possible that as the team was so invested in their defense that they didn’t have anything left the few times they did get the ball.

Another tactical error was keeping the ball in the forwards. Sri Lanka’s strength lies in their speed and skills in the backline. As to why they repeatedly kept going for the pick and drives around the fringe is a mystery. It is possible they hoped to catch Hong Kong off guard and unleash the back in the 4th or 5th phase but that would never work because the Hong Kong forwards will always turnover the ball sooner or later.

Against a well-structured unit like Hong Kong Sri Lanka cannot hope to just use brute force. Interestingly the one time Sri Lanka used the backline, Dhanushka Ranjan threaded the Hong Kong defense. It would be nice to know what may have happened had we used the likes of Ranjan, Herath and Dhabare more often. Unfortunately we cannot speculate as to the mindset of the Tuskers coaching staff but it would be interesting to know what made them play a tight game and if it was the game plan to begin with. So often we see teams practice one thing and get onto the park and do something completely different.

Another issue was a high penalty count. In the first half Sri Lanka conceded 8 penalties in key areas. It can be argued that the high penalty count was due to an eager defense but discipline in and around the breakdown must be maintained. Having a good defense means being able to hold a defensive line of multiple phases whilst maintaining discipline. On many an occasion the Tuskers held of four or five waves of Hong Kong attacks and then released the pressure by conceding penalties.

A big factor in this is the refereeing standard in Sri Lanka. Majority of the ref’s in the domestic leagues and both school and club level do not know how to police a tackle situation which leaves our players vulnerable when they are in international competition.

The most important area Sri Lanka needs to work on is the set pieces. The lineouts in the first half were atrocious. Why they kept going for the hail-Mary long throws is dumbfounding. The tight-five should have simply secured clean ball in front and built a platform. In the first half alone Sri Lanka lost 3 out of 5 lineouts on their ball and by full time the Lankans lost 6 lineouts of 12. Loosing 50% of your own lineouts is something Sri Lanka just cannot afford. This also shows that Sri Lanka struggled without their premier jumpers Sajith Saranga and Shenal Dias. Inability to secure your own lineout is simply inexcusable at this level and it is something the coaches will have work on this weekend.

Sri Lanka were also guilty of making the wrong calls at line-out time. For example mid-way through the first half they made the cardinal error of going for a number 6 throw 5m away from their own goal line. It is mistakes like this the Tuskers cannot afford to make and it is something the senior players have to address.

The scrums were also dismal, unfortunately Sri Lanka has a long way to go before we can compete with the more powerful sides like Hong Kong and Japan and that was displayed at scrum time. The tight five were utterly man handled up front and the back row didn’t do a good job of getting the ball out quickly. Sri Lanka lost 8 off 17 scrums on their own feed which cost them dearly. Having 17 attacking scrums is a testament to the solid defense as they forced Hong Kong to make that many errors, unfortunately due to the Tuskers weak scrummaging they were unable to capitalise on that pressure.

When a forward pack is so heavily out matched you have to work on getting the ball out as fast as possible, there has to be a quick hook channeled through the locks and out through the #8. You cannot afford to try and set it up and launch from the back of scrum. Sri Lanka should look at bringing in some bulk in their tight five. The likes of Kishore Jehan upfront and maybe a bigger lock like Saranga or Sumedha Malawana might help Sri Lanka steady their scrums.

Overall it was the disorganisation in the set pieces that cost Sri Lanka big time. Had the tuskers been able to compete in the set piece and secure good ball it could have been a whole different outcome. In the loose Sri Lanka were right up there with Hong Kong and in some instances even better. It was relatively bad day for Hong Kong as well who didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders which gave Sri Lanka the perfect opportunity for an upset, but it was not to be.

Aside from a few tactical errors and a shortage of size and power in the forwards it was a noteworthy performance by the Tuskers and it gives us fans a warm glimmer of hope for the future.


One Response to “Tuskers put their hands up for the future”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Our TUSKERS are doing very well.

    We need HEAVIER players, better coaching, more MONEY in the game and MORE aggression. SL RUGBY UNION games should be regular and expose our guys to SA, AUS, NZ, Wales, ENG, IRE more.

    SL WILL BE in rugby WC within a decade. ALL THE VERY BEST TUSKERS!

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