What a fantastic opener to the 2018 Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League. Kandy SC hosted Bahrain RFC in the first round of competition in a fiercely contested encounter where both sides gave it their all in their first hit-outs of the 2018-19 campaign.
Bahrain having visited Kandy SC in 2017 were well prepared for the fixture and included 4 new players to their starting line-up. Both sides stated they wanted to win the opening game with intention of staking a claim on the title over 2017 champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins but both sides came with changes and the intention of rotating the squad and giving players opportunities was apparent. Kandy SC had 5 players away at the Asian Games 7’s competition giving some new exciting players the opportunity to play in such a prestigious competition.
Bahrain took the early dominance with an impressive lineout drive on the right side of the field – some impressive play from the pack led to a dynamic move by the Bahrain backs leading to new centre Jack Phillips to go over in the corner in the first exchange – some great determined defence by the Kandy fullback held up Jack Phillips over the line preventing a certain score. The subsequent set-piece led to another great lineout drive taking 2017-18 skipper Lindsey Gibson over for the first score. Bahrain showing their intentions to take on Kandy SC up front in the forwards was very clear and a tactic they would not waver away from for the entire match.
Some Kandy SC pressure on the resulting kick off led to a penalty where the Kandy fullback slotted a penalty making the scoreline 3 – 5 after 8 minutes of play. Further forward pressure and some excellent defence by the Bahrain side helped outside half Luke Radley kick 3 penalties to take the Bahrain tally up to 14 points at the interval against a Kandy SC score of 3 points.
A rallying call at halftime by both changing rooms raised the tempo and standard of play in the second half with a forward and backward battle. Another period of pressure on the Kandy line led extremely well by rejuvenated captain Adam Wallace led to an impressive solo effort by Tongan prop Sunia Fameitau carrying 3 Kandy players over the line with him.
The Bahrain defence stood strong for the whole game until an impressive try from Kandy off a scrum in the Bahrain half saw their number 8 and blind winger flying down the blindside with extraordinary pace to score a superb try and one the Bahrain players could do little about. The danger of this Kandy SC backline was apparent at this point and Kandy had their tails up for the following 5 minutes throwing huge intensity and pace at the Bahrain defence. An unforgiving tackle and rip from new flanker Jordan Viggers setup a fantastic solo effort and perhaps the highlight of the match by lock Tom Bell as he flew through the Kandy defence sprinting 40m for a try – showing superb and surprising pace for such a big man. Bahrain at this point brought on a fresh set of props and ultimately proved to be the difference with a number of Bahrain scrums on the Kandy line leading to constant infringements and subsequently a penalty try. This killed the Kandy momentum and set up a sure victory for Bahrain and a crucial 4 try bonus point going into the 2nd round. Kandy 13 – Bahrain 31 going into the last 10 minutes.
However, Kandy weren’t finished and took a well-placed try off a fortunate kick that bounced away from 3 Bahrain defenders on their try line and falling into the hands of the Kandy back. Kandy SC 20 – Bahrain 31 and this went on to be the final score in front of a raucous crowd at the Nittelawa stadium in Kandy.
Huge positives to take from this game for Bahrain were their spirit in defence – after only 4 weeks of preparation for this game the Bahrain side showed the spirit equal to that of the WAP playoffs last season and is exciting for the young team moving forward. Adam Wallace the leader played exceptionally well and showed glimpses of his previous best which is hugely exciting for the Bahrain side. The new players showed up well and made strong contributions and Rich Muncaster returning from a long-term injury was exceptional at scrum time when he came on. Bahrain now look forward to the next challenge which will be the reigning WCCL champions Abu Dhabi Quins coming to Bahrain on Sept 14th @ 5pm in what could be the winner takes all final match.
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