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Royal - Thomian match should be a thriller

RUGBY: One of the most looked forward to confrontations in the schools rugby calendar - the encounter between traditional rivals Royal and S. Thomas’ for the Michael Gunaratne Trophy at Longden Place today should turn out to be a thriller.

Both teams have enjoyed mixed fortunes this year. Royal which began the season on a high note with three successive wins over Wesley (35-12), Thurstan (25-7) and Ananda (19-0) suffered two humiliating defeats at the hands of Kingswood (12-29 and St. Anthony’s (12-26) before bouncing back into recognition with a glorious 20-12 win over Trinity in the Bradby Shield first leg seven days ago.

The Thomians who were off to a flying start with a stunning 19-15 win over Trinity to regain the De Saram shield suffered three successive defeats at the hands of St. Peter’s (15-23), St. Anthony’s (0-32) and Kingswood (7-48) but came back storming to beat Thurstan (23-12) and Ananda (29-11) in their last two outings.

Royal are the holders of the Guneratne Trophy having won last year’s game 35-0 while the Thomians last won the trophy in 2005 with a 20-5 win.

The series tally stands at 22 wins to Royal and 17 to S. Thomas’ with five games ending in draws with the 1979 match not being played due to a dispute between the two schools regarding the dates of the match.

The highest score in the series was registered by the Zulki Hamid’s all conquering Royal Team of 2002 when they won 39-3 while the highest for the Mount Lavinia school was recorded in 1991 when Charya de Serams’ Thomians thrashed Royal by 22 nil at the Sugathadasa Stadium.

The forte of both teams are their power-packed forwards. Royal’s eight led by No. 8 bilal Hassan gave a marvellous display against Trinity with Senanayake, Rajapakse, Thushan Perera, Bandaranayake, Abeyratne and Hassen giving a terrific display but today they will be given a torrid time by the Thomian forwards spearheaded by Sri Lanka youth player Rohitha Rajapaksa who has been a source of inspiration to his team-mates with his fiery loose play and has been ably supported by Leelananda, Hettiarachchi, Hallock, Romesh Perera, Mendis and skipper Johann Fernando.

The Thomians have a superior back division. The halves combination of Asela and Sanka Tennakoon have hit it off smoothly while Kapuwatte, Kalupathirana, Samarasinghe and Gunaratne are hard runners who will test the Royal defence to the hilt today.

It is left to be seen how Royal’s new halves combination of Vinod Malwatte and Naren Dhason will fare today. It they click then the Royalists too should be able to make maximum use of the possession which comes their way as they have two powerful runners on the wings - Duminda Attygalle and Asiff Hussain (who had an excellent game against Trinity last week.)

The teams:

Royal - Manil Abeyratne (Captain), Ayesh Rajapakse, Nikira Senanayake, Thushan Perera, Janith Samarasinghe, Hasthika Bandaranayake, Eranjan Punchihewa, Bilal Hassen Vinod Malwatte and Naren Dhason, Duminda Attygalle, Suvinda Lenaduwa, Sujith Adhihetty, Asiff Hussein, Shailendra Chandrasekera.

S. Thomas - Charith Hettiarachchi, Johann Fernando (Captain), Rehan Leelananda, Romesh Perera, Devaan Hallock, Harshana Mendis, Udara Illukkumbura, Rohitha Rajapaksha, Asela Tennekoon and Sanka Tennekoon, Suresh Samarasinghe, Shaveen Kapuwatte, Savith Kalupathirana, Heshan Gunaratne, Manjith Thamanagama.

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