- The Rugby Game of Thrones
The utmost flamboyant Superstar teams of this season, improved their games further to persevere and fight the ultimate battle at the Dialog Schools Rugby Knockouts 2023. Knocking out Zahira and St. Joseph’s respectively, Isipathana and St. Peter’s are all set to engage in yet another clash for supremacy, this time around at a neutral venue, and hopefully everything concerned neutral as well. Anyone expecting the gameplay and tactics to be a dull repetition of the league final, should continue to read to find out why it isn’t so, and how the two teams have evolved since they last met.
St. Peter’s vs Isipathana at Sugathadasa Stadium on 10 Sep:
Even though Isipathana showed immense composure and multitude of solid skills evenly distributed across all aspects of the game in their season opener, they solely utilised their Backs from the second game onwards, that weakened their Forwards game. Back then, the Greens were capable of wreaking havoc by exclusively using their Forwards, even though the flashy skills of their Backs took the centre stage. They never needed their Pack to dominate or win games in Round 1, but later realised that they needed their Forwards to fend off Royal in the Super Round. They did rise to the occasion and managed to hold Royal off to prevent them from demolishing the Pathana defence; however, the failure to curtail their infringements actually cost them that game.
Although Pathana corrected all its shortcomings including high infringements, and improved its Forwards attacking game slightly, it wasn’t quite enough for the league final. Royal and Peter’s have the best defences this season, and their respective coaching staff should be commended for consistently maintaining it throughout the season without a single lapse. Peter’s defence in particular has been designed to contain or trap swift runners like Isipathana, and based on the track record, it wouldn’t have been possible for Pathana to breach this defence on more than a few occasions using their Backs alone. As the Greens’ defence was comparatively weaker, they needed a few more Tries to reduce the deficit, thus they required some other tactics to penetrate at least the first few lines of the Peterite defences, yet the Isipathana camp did not have any plan whatsoever to accomplish this.
Now that they have acknowledged this huge deficiency, their Forwards have been fully revamped into the unit that they were at the beginning of the season, and they demonstrated complete dominance over a stronger Zahira Forwards Pack last weekend. This equips them with a new critical armament that they could use to penetrate SPC’s defence. Although picking the kicking game could be quite tricky against the Peterites, Isipathana has no option, but to play the kicking game carefully and selectively to gain territory. They should frequently opt to find touch, and use their superior contesting skills at the lineouts to win back possession. Intentionally kicking into Peter’s territory is chancy and could backfire, hence an adequate defence structure should be in place. Attempting to run the Ball from wherever it was received, spelt disaster for Pathana at the league final, and they should never repeat this mistake again. To top it off, the Pathans have maintained consistency in following the laws of the game, that should prove advantageous to them in this close and final encounter.
The defending champions and top dogs of this encounter, will take the field brimming with confidence and determination to seize their second Throne, with a surprise waiting for Isipathana’s revitalised Forwards.
The Bamba Brigade was able to bank on their Backs to win the Super Round games easily, although they were tested slightly by the Pathana Forwards. However, the impotency of their Forwards in defending pick ‘n drives was completely exposed in their QF game against Trinity. Since they were up against the mighty Joes Pack in their SF game, they had to learn to deal with pick ‘n drives, which they did pretty well conceding only a solitary Try. They had perfected the skill so well that often they gained yards while defending pick ‘n drives against the burly Joes, hence one needn’t be an expert to speculate the outcome of similar offensives launched by the Greens, which could be a party spoiler for the latter.
The Brigade’s mauls are still weaker compared to Pathana’s as of last weekend, yet their ploy to disrupt an opposition maul from forming has worked quite well for them, as no Coach has been able to come up with a counter strategy all season, which has been rather frustrating from a neutral spectator’s perspective. Can Saliya and Dhanushka cook up something that could activate mauls close to SPC’s line of prestige? If they succeed, then they shall possess a key skill that could earn them the much required extra Try or two.
Aside the frontend game, Pete’s reign supreme over Pathana at the Backs game, both in offense & defence, and there were no signs of either side improving in this aspect, leaving SPC at the helm. Pete’s also continue to dominate the kicking game to gain massive real estate that their Backs capitalise on gleefully, which makes them extremely lethal overall.
Can Pathana skill-up, smart-up and level-up to threaten the league Champs, is what left to be seen on Sunday the 10 September at the very venue where it all began in 1985.