By Harsha Amarasinghe and Sandun Kodithuwakku
Army Sports Club have already shown clear signs of a turn-around this season, following their sixth-placed finish last season.
Despite not signing any big names coming into the season, Army are confident of improving their standards with a team that has been playing together for few years now.
The Soldiers earned a hard fought win on the opening day of the Dialog Rugby League Tournament when they held CH and FC – one of the title contenders – to an 8-all draw.
Their head coach Radhika Hettiarachchi, who himself was a high quality rugby player, appears to have had an instant impact on the squad.
“We started practices about two or three months ago and since then the boys have been training really hard and I am pleased with their efforts,” Hettiarachchi told Daily Mirror.
The former utility back who also had a coaching stint with the Nepal national team claimed that the Western Province Rugby Tournament helped him identify players better.
“We had the Western Province Tournament and it was a good experience for us because I was able to rotate the players and give them opportunities which helped me identify their talents. There were issues technically that we needed to sort out and we did, so I am very happy with the progress the squad has made."
Hettiarachchi also insisted that he hopes to improve their standings from last season.
“Last season Army finished sixth and we certainly want to improve that. We had a few injuries. The thing with Army is that as soon as the season ends they go on and play in the inter regiment matches so there is very little recovery period, but I am confident the boys can change things around,” added the head coach.
Army has recruited five school leavers from Vidyartha College, Kandy while they already have senior players such as Ashan Bandara, Rizvi Mohamaed, Gayan Salinda, Madushanka Chandrasekara, Upul Abeyrathne and Nalaka Maduranga.
Unfortunately one their best players from last, season prop Sugath Nanayakkara, will miss the first one and half months of the season due to an injury.
Captain Manoj Bandara who impressed at scrum-half in their 8-all draw against CH and FC believes that they could beat any team on their day.
“We don’t underestimate any team in this competition as all the sides are good, but we as a team believe that we could beat anybody on our day,” said Bandara.
Daily Mirror Prediction
Army looks a very compact team and they will continue to surprise teams just like they did in the opening match. They may not have giants in their pack but after all these are well and truly products of Sri Lanka Army, so there is no doubt about their strength. Should settle into a mid-table finish!
Player to watch out for
Ashan Bandara – the fly half has been quite sensational for them over the last few seasons. Although rugby is a team game this is one player who could have huge influence in their results. Having also represented Sri Lanka, Bandara could only get better this season.