Friday, 7 March 2014 00:00
The stage is set for the knockout finals this weekend. Navy who are unbeaten will take on the Havies on Sunday. The road to the final has been contrasting for both teams.
For Navy it has been plain sailing with easy wins that were both clinical and convincing. Havies on the other hand have made it the hard way with tough games against Army and Kandy. In the league games, Havies have had close games against Navy and on their day have looked capable of beating Navy. In the last meeting the difference was a single score and that can be attributed to a moment of madness by the Havies in not being able to find touch but kicking midfield.
Last year while Havies won the league, Kandy was supreme in the Knock out stages. This year Navy has reigned supreme in the league and have looked a very composed and settled outfit delivering the knockout punch when it matters. As the games are being played at the race course neither team can boast of any home advantage, although Navy will have huge ground support courtesy of the vast numbers that will be brought in by the bus loads. Add the papare band and the formal Navy Band and one could think that Navy will be at home.
From a pressure perspective Navy will have the most as they strive to remain unbeaten champs. In their support staff they have the services of a fitness trainer and a three quarters coach who were with last yearâ€™s league champs. Hence they are well aware of the trials and tribulations that are associated with being in the knockout final.
Between the two sets of forwards there is very little to differentiate but, Havies have time and again been unable to retain possession upon contact and have lost the ball on contact. Navy on the other hand are quick to the breakdown point and are considered a tad fitter, and they counter ruck very well. Their record on winning turnover ball is high.
It is interesting that of the referees on display in the knockout stages, some have been very strict at the breakdown point, whilst others have been a little more relaxed in this regard. This if the referee on the day is strict, Havies could have the better of the exchanges although two of the Havies forwards have perennially given away penalties thereby easing up on the pressure built. Navy on the other hand have been guilty of some overzealous play and have given away penalties.
In the line outs, if Havies can consistently get their throw in straight they should have the better of Navy. However they need to use their front jumpers as Navy is quite good at stealing the ball at the back of the line out.
Conceding a penalty within a 50 yard radius is fraught with risk as the Navy full back is in sublime kicking form. Thus the margin of error in this regard is quite small for the Havies. The Navy three quarters are quite penetrative runners and appear to have the edge over the Havies, and thus for the Havies getting their man the first time is of paramount importance. The Havies wingers are quality players but getting the ball to them consistently against quality opposition has not been a strong point of the Havies.
It all points to a blockbuster and only the brave will forecast the result. Those who would like to witness a quality game should be at the grounds nice and early so that the parking hassle and the expected pat down do not take away too much of your time. All roads will lead to the Race Course on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
If Navy wins, the roar will be deafening as it will be their first. If the Havies win, the march back to Havelock Park will be sweet and colourful with yet another trophy to adorn the cupboard. Despite the outcome of the tussle, may rugby be the eventual winner.
(The writer can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.)