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Airmen - a force to be reckoned with

RUGBY: A team which has once again emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the club rugby scene is the Sri Lanka Air Force. The Airmen who were promoted to segment one of the Caltex ‘A’ Division League this year came up with a fine performance in their first two matches this year and went down fighting to the formidable CH (0-19) and the mighty CR and FC (10-23) and should fare even better as the season progresses.

Air Force’s rugby resurgence began last year. They emerged runners up of the segment two of the Caltex ‘A’ Division League by winning 13 matches out of 14 and came up with a stupendous performance in the semi-finals of the Clifford Cup knock-out tournament in which they went down fighting to eventual champions CR and FC by 13 points to 21 after leading 13-11 at the breather. They also emerged runners up to CR and FC in the cup championship of the second leg of the Singer Professional Sevens losing the final by 29 points to 36.

The man who has brought about this remarkable change in the Airmen’s fortunes is former Thomian and CH and FC prop forward Hafeel Wasil who has taken great pains to mould them into a fighting outfit.

Lanky Pradeep Kurukulasuriya a fine line out jumper and a tireless player in the loose has been entrusted with the task of leading the Airmen this season. Pradeep who started his rugby career as a lock forward shifted to the flanker berth last year and had a successful season. He will occupy one flanker, berth with Sri Lanka poolist Sirej Niranga filling the other position. Former Trinitian Dinesh Weeraratne who has stood out in both attack and defence will be the number eight.

The experienced Prasanna Soysa and fresher Pradeep Kodagoda will be the lock forwards. The Airmen boast of a formidable front row. Seasoned campaigners Kosala Ranasinghe and former skipper Saumya Silva will once again occupy the prop forwards berths with Duminda Vithanage as the hooker.

With last year’s scrum half Ajit Herath having left the Air Force young Radeesha Seneviratne will operate from the base of the scrum and will pair off with Nalin Sirisena who is also a reliable place kicker.

Two hard runners and solid tacklers Rushika Fernando and young Charith Seneviratne will be the centres. Air Force will have the services of two powerful runners - former Sri Lanka poolist Suranga Arunashantha and Gayan Heenkande to man the wings with former Vidyartha player Roshan Ratnayake and Deepal Chathuranga making a strong bid to oust one of them.

The last line of defence will be manned by last year’s skipper Rohan Fernando who had an excellent game against CR last week. He has been a tower of strength with his safe collections and booming kicks to touch and has made some daring runs by joining the line to form the overlap.

The players are receiving all the encouragement and assistance from Chairman of Air Force rugby Air Commodore Saranath Raumbukwella and the Commander of the Air Force Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke who turned out for the Air Force with distinction as a flanker from 1979 to 1983.

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