Royal College Captain Bhanuka Gamage
Isipathana Captain Omalka Gunaratne
The schools rugby league draws to a close this weekend. It could not have been scripted better, with two classy unbeaten teams clashing to claim the title of league champions. A quick look at both teams during the past weeks shows certain similarities as well as certain stark contrasts.
Royal College has been hyped with their thumping win in the second leg of the Bradby, which incidentally does not count towards the league, against the backdrop of a slender win in the Lion’s den. Apart from this sterling performance against quality opposition, their wins have been very businesslike, with the forwards using the rolling maul to good effect.
The bulk of the opposition over the past few years have failed to come up with a definitive and effective game plan to counter the rolling maul and as a result they have been steamrolled in the bargain. Collapsing the rolling maul is not the solution but has been resorted to, by many teams, more through desperation than as a conscious policy.
As we review the coaching staff of various school teams, it is apparent that whatever ploys discussed and practiced have not been executed by the players on the field of play where it really matters. If we critically examine the points scored by Royal during the season, the bulk of them have come as a result of the rolling maul, pushover tries, etc. indicating their reliance on a heavy and committed set of forwards.
The St. Peter’s College ploy of not engaging the rolling maul immediately had limited success, marred to a degree by inept and inconsistent refereeing. Thus the question on everybody’s mind is whether Royal will be permitted to freely use their forwards or whether Pathana will be able to devise a counter strategy. The mind games that will be on display will be as fascinating as the actual play itself.
Isipathana have been a hard nut to crack over the years and this year has been no exception. They play a different and refreshing brand of rugby, which at times borders on high-risk to outrageous moves. This stems from their never-say-die attitude that appears to be instilled in them from the junior levels, as they have very little imports in their side.
They have consistently won quick, clean lineout balls and that has led to the backs making use of it to optimum levels. There is a belief that Pathana are reliant on a few key players and over-reliant on the skipper, who without doubt is a playmaker.
There is a school of thought that if the opposition is able to engage the Pathana skipper into making a series of tackles, he becomes ineffective and lying on the floor he is unable to direct traffic. Pathana also uses the rolling maul to good effect, but it has not been their main weapon and hence they have used it judiciously.
A small difference is that Pathana tends to use a second phase of the rolling maul, where two or three players positioned ahead of their skipper, who is the ball carrier, break away and drive forward with the ball carrier still bound. Thereafter on occasions other players join from behind the ball carrier permitting him to slowly work his way to the back of the rolling maul. As to whether this is legal has been debatable as the referees have not been consistent in their views.
Both teams possess some quality and street-smart coaching staff and the game plan of each of them will be fascinating in both its thought process and execution. At the end of the day, as much as the coaching staff can impart their expertise and guidance, the players on the field of play must be able to execute and change to plan B if the initial plan does not have its desired effect.
Whilst I can understand the passion and intensity of the coaching staff, they must not be permitted to be over involved during the game itself, as on many occasions we have seen them barking orders and at times confusing the youngsters further.
Two of the ingredients required for a good game of rugby are that conditions underfoot are good and the man with the whistle realises that everybody has come to witness the game and not see him perform. Thus the interpretation of the rules must be consistent, the frequent reset of scrums must be avoided and the advantage rule must be administered well. If so, we are in for a blockbuster game and let’s hope that the weather gods stay kind.
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