Sri Lanka’s rugby pedigree will be tested again as they look to break into the top tier of Asian Rugby by winning the Asian Rugby Championship Division One tournament in Malaysia.
The Division One tournament features hosts Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and, the defending champions, Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka will play Philippines on Saturday, likely to be the deciding game in the division — if the two teams win their games against Malaysia and Singapore respectively as expected on Wednesday. Sri Lanka overcame a two-point first half deficit to beat Singapore in their tournament opener, while Philippines beat Malaysia 15-10.
The defending champions are being led by Havelock SC flanker Sudarshana Muthuthanthri in this year’s tournament, as regular skipper, Kandy SC captain and Flyhalf Fazil Marija was ruled out due to an impending surgery for an injury he suffered during the recently concluded club rugby season. The squad is also missing several Kandy SC players — either due to injury or personal reasons — who were triple club champions this past season including the likes of Shehan Pathirana, Richard Dharmapala, Vishwamithra Jayasinghe, Nigel Ratwatte, Gayan Weerarathne and Srinath Sooriyabandara.
The team is being coached by South African Johan Taylor, who twice previously led Sri Lanka to victory in the same tournament, in 2010 and 2015.
In last year’s tournament the Tuskers, led by Marija, beat Kazakhstan and then Philippines to win the division, which was played in a knock-out format, as opposed to the robin format conducted this year.
The winner of the Division One tournament will be eligible to qualify for the top tier — the Top Three — when they play a two legged tie against the team that finishes at the bottom of that division. Sri Lanka were eligible for this last year, but financial constraints saw that play-off game being cancelled.