Patana win Lanka Lions Sevens title in UAE for first time

Isipathana old boys come out firing to bag Roger Rodrigo Challenge Cup

Isipathana emerged champions at the 11th Lanka Lions Inter-School Tag Rugby Sevens tournament bagging the Roger Rodrigo Challenge Cup for the first time at the Sharjah Wanderers Club ground on Friday.

They beat four-time winners Trinity College, Kandy 14-7 in a thrilling Cup final to end their decade-long wait for a trophy named after one of the finest rugby products of Isipathana Roger Rodrigo.

One of the most looked forward to sporting events by Lankan expatriates in UAE, this annual rugby tournament attracted a record number of 21 schools and 24 teams.

It was a dream come true for the 'green shirts' after success in this tournament eluded them despite being runners-up in the inaugural event in 2005.

Defending champions Trinity were favourites going into the final having topped Group A by edging out Isipathana 7-0.

The Kandy side drew first blood in the title clash with a sweeping move resulting in Lanka Lions veteran Azarath Deen cantering across in the right corner after receiving a long pass.

Patana hit back when skipper Dulanka Gunasekera sent Chinthaka Pothupitiya through a yawning gap for the equaliser.

Kavindu Anjana Costa scored what turned out to be the matchwinning try shortly before the break with a spectacular dash from midfield to give Isipathana a 14-7 lead.

That scoreline remained unchanged with both sides defending grimly in a tightly contested match refereed by D Nimal, one of four officials flown in from Colombo.

Former Sri Lanka and Arabian Gulf scrum half Rodrigo was overjoyed after Isipathana won the plum.

"My trophy is coming back to the school," said Rodrigo who has been running rugby at Lanka Lions for over two decades.

"We practiced for a short time but played well as a team. It is a big achievement," said Costa, one of several foreign players flown in by schools for this tournament.

"We trained for three weeks. I'm very happy because players worked very hard. Old boys (in UAE) got together and gave their support. The boys were really motivated and were determined to win this time," said Isipathana coach Milinda Seneviratne.

It was also a result of taking the event seriously and eagerness to prove they are still the kings of rugby.

"We were really expecting to come to final. We put our everything this time. That's why we played one team. Back home we are kings but unfortunately, none of them took it seriously until now. With Costa's experience, the young guns did it, ofcourse with Roger's help," said Shyam Anver, a member of the newly formed Isipathana Old Boys Association in UAE. 

Isipathana swept through the pool stages with wins over Carey 15-7, Wesley 21-7, St Anthony's 40-7 and Zahira 21-0 apart from their blemish against Trinity.

Trinity buoyed by the presence of UAE star Imad Reyal rolled past all opposition until the final.

They trounced former champions Zahira 31-0, Carey 66-0, Wesley A 49-7 and St Anthony's 56-0 before winning the Cup quarter-final 14-12 with a controversial late try against Wesley 'Blues'.

Wesley were leading 12-7 until the final minute through tries by skipper Zalique Jayah and Lahiru Prasad.

However, Trinity's Hilmy ‘Bebo’ Mohammed, conjured a try in the dying seconds of the game to dash Wesley's hope of an upset.

Isipathana beat traditional rivals Thurstan 14-0 to coast into the semifinals where a solo effort from Pothupitiya saw them edge out Lumbini 7-0.

Reyal gave a sizzling display in the semifinals scoring a try and sent Saliya Kumara through with a sweet pass to help Trinity beat Mahanama 14-5.

However, Reyal could not replicate his magic in the finals as Isipathana shut him out and Trinity to bask in glory.

Former champions St Peter's won a thrilling Plate final against Thurstan which went into double extra time.

Ameen Jamail scored a superb breakaway try for Thurstan while Ronald Clerny touched down in the corner for the equaliser after Rizwan Meedin had put the Peterites ahead 14-7.

Lanka Lions skipper Madisha Silva scored the golden try in the second period of extra time to seal victory for Peterites.

Earlier, St Peter's had to claw back after Mahdi Samat scored twice to put Wesley ahead in the Plate semifinals.

Meedin kept the Peterites in the hunt with a spectacular try.

Skipper Madisha Silva got the equaliser with a last-gasp effort and scored the winner with a brilliant dash.

Lumbini produced the Player of the Tournament Thusitha Dushan, who scored 11 tries in the pool stages.

Zahira won the Bowl and Dharmaraja the Spoon.

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