Royal College smothered a second half recovery from a lively St. Thomas’ College outfit to retain the Michael Gunaratne trophy 34-24 for the seventh consecutive year at Royal Complex in Colombo yesterday.
Both sides had been in dreadful form coming into this annual encounter having lost important matches and after a long time it wasn’t between two ‘A’ Division sides since St. Thomas’ had relegated to the ‘B’ Division last year. The favourites Royal gave a hard time to the Thomians in the first period but their second half woes appeared again and the visitors somersaulted into a foray that had the holders in a raid with action-packed fleet-footed play.
Royal opened the scoring through a Nimshan Jayawardena try which was converted by Rimze Jamaldeen. Banuka Gamage and new addition Sachin Unamboowe found access to the Thomian try line to take the total to double figures before Devin Jayasinghe addressed the zero on the scoreboard with a penalty. Royal pressured further amidst some lazy ball control from Thomians and Ravishan Dassanayake went over in the stroke of half time to breathe easy at the breather having secured a protectable 24-3 lead.
Thomians came back knowing they had nothing to lose and began to express themselves with some fine running play which had Royal in a pickle. Royal improved the lead to 29-3 almost immediately after the interval as Shuayb Muthalip put the exclamation mark to a purposeful move which was started by Ijaaz Bohoran. Then Supun Hasthimuni put to bed Thomian fears of having to go back to Mount Lavinia without a five-pointer and apart from a Royal try by Eroshan De Alwis which came off a familiar rolling maul, it was all St. Thomas’ after that.
They lacked cool heads in the final phases which brought play back and cut short invaluable time but inspired by stunning play by Aalij Jawwa, they had Royal in dire straits for most of the final twenty minutes to the vibrancy of jubilant visitors. This was expected as Royal Achilles heel of the season has been this dicey time frame. Jayasinghe continued to provide heavy punts and Randhika Alwis assisted his fly half’s work by going over.
Jawwa was in full flow by now and it was his expressive run which gained over 30 metres that was the foundation for the third try. Hasthimuni took a quick tap from referee Pradeep Fernando’s whistle to shock Royal defenders who had no time to move and Jayasinghe put over a magnificent kick to keep Royal at bay. The game was having its full effect on Royal as lot of players went down injured and with three key players playing no part in this match due to injuries, it was about hanging on which they did.
The Michael Gunaratne trophy was presented by Tissa Gunaratne in a wheelchair which added a nice touch to the presentation.
The Island Link-Royal Cling On To Finish On A High