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When Sri Lanka hosted the Rugby Asiad 16 years ago

RUGBY: The most spectacular event in the Asian rugby calendar - the Rugby Asiad will be worked off in Colombo from November 17 to 25 this year.

Twelve top rugby playing nations of Asia will vie for honours in the Singer Rugby Asiad which will be played at three venues - Sugathadasa Stadium, CR and FC grounds, Longden Place and the Royal College Sports Complex.

Asian rugby heavyweights South Korea and Japan will battle it out with Hong Kong for the Cup Championship while host nation Sri Lanka along with Arabian Gulf, Chinese Taipei, China, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Malaysia and India will vie for the Plate Championship.

It was sixteen years ago (in 1990) that Sri Lanka last hosted the Rugby Asiad. Sri Lanka was drawn into Group 'A' along with defending champions South Korea, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei while Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore were slotted into Group 'B'.

The Sri Lankans led by Double International Priyantha Ekanayake confronted the third ranked team in Asia - Hong Kong in the curtain raiser of the tournament at the Sugathadasa Stadium and gave a gallant display to go down fighting by 13 points to 21.

The Sri Lankan forwards came up with a power-packed display to match upto to the bigger-made Hong Kong 'eight'. Skipper Priyantha Ekanayake was a source of inspiration to his team-mates with his fiery loose play.

Norman Silva, Sheham Siddik, L.V. Ekanayake, Asoka Jayasena and Ajantha Samarakoon also gave a terrific display in the loose.

Centres Rohan Abeykoon and Graham Raux stood out with some bone-crunching tackles while full back Chanka Jayaweera who was making his debut in international rugby was a tower of strength with his safe collections and booming kicks to touch.

In addition he joined the line to form the overlap on several occasions and had the honour of scoring the solitary try for Sri Lanka while fly half Nizam Jamaldeen dropped a peach of a goal and also fired across two penalties.

Fly half Gary Acheson was Hong Kong's hero. He put over five penalties and converted the solitary try scored by Steven Peacock which gave the lads from Hong Kong a face-saving 21-13 win.

Two days later Sri Lanka came up with another stupendous performance to score a sensational 9.6 win over Chinese Taipei.

Once again it was the Sri Lankan forwards who played a key role in their success. Norman Silva, L.V. Ekanayake, Shyam Siddik, Asoka Jayasena, Niranjan Abeywardena, Lasitha Gunaratne (who replaced Smarakoon for this game) and skipper Priyantha Ekanayake played like terriers to outplay their famed counterparts in the loose while the three quarters especially fly half Nizam Jamaldeen and centres Graham Raux and Rohan Abeykoon 'nailed' their opposite numbers with some fierce tackling.

Burly Lasitha Gunaratne scored Sri Lanka's match winning try while fly half Jamaldeen added the extra points and fired across a penalty to give the Lankans a historic win. The Sri Lankans confronted the mighty South Koreans in their last Group 'A' match and gave a marvellous display to go down fighting by 16 points to 26.

Once again the Sri Lanka forwards gave a plucky display to match upto the power-packed South Korean 'eight' in the loose. The three quarters especially centres Raux and Abeykoon and wingers Imthic Marikar and Aruna de Silva made some daring runs before being brought down in the nick of time by their opponents.

Winger Imthie Marikar scored the solitary try for Sri Lanka when he put the finishing touches to a classic three quarter move by diving over by the corner flag while fly half Nizam Jamaldeen fired across four penalties enabling the Sri Lankans to end the tournament on a high note.

The man who transformed the Sri Lankans into a fighting outfit was Jeff Matheson of All Blacks fame.

He was brought down from New Zealand six weeks before the Asiad to assist National coach Anton Benedict and the duo took great pains to mould the Sri Lankans into a formidable outfit.

The Sri Lanka team comprised Norman Silva, Sheham Siddik, L.V. Ekanayake, Asoka Jayasena, Ajantha Samarakoon / Lasitha Gunaratne, Ikram Odayar, Niranjan Abeywardena/Hector Gunatilleke, Priyantha Ekanayake (Captain), Sudath Sampath and Nizam Jamaldeen, Aruna de Silva, Graham Raux, Rohan Abeykoon, Imthisham Marikar, Chanka Jayaweera.

The mighty South Koreans went onto clinch the richest prize in Asian rugby - by beating Japan by 13 points to 9 in the final played before a mammoth crowd at the Sugathadasa Stadium.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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Produced by Lake House Copyright 2006 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

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