By Harsha Amarasinghe
Army Sports Club is enjoying their best season in years as the Soldiers finished the first round of the Dialog Inter-Club League Rugby Tournament securing third place, but their head coach Nilfer Ibrahim has urged his players to fight for a top-two finish come the second round.
"Well, initially our target was to win the title, but at this moment as we all understand, the title is nearly won by Kandy. They are unbeaten and have a lead of 11 points which is huge going to the second round. However, my team has done incredibly well. We have only got one national player in Asoka Jayalal, but others have been playing very well which is why we are third in the table. I have now told them that they must make sure Army finish second at the end of competition," Ibrahim told the Daily Mirror.
The Soldiers were able to seal four victories out of the seven matches they played including stunning wins over a star-studded CR and FC as well as CH and FC.
"CR and CH have got at least seven or eight national players, they are of course difficult teams to beat, but we were able to do so during the first round which gave us a lot of confidence moving forward," added Ibrahim who guided Isipathana College to triple titles in the inter-club tournament.
Army were beaten fair and square by Kandy in Nittawela while they went down fighting against Navy and Havelocks.
"I think we could have won both the Navy and Havelock matches. The team played exceptionally well, but minor errors cost us the games," stated the former Kingswood rugby star.
Despite three defeats, they finished off the first round on a high note when they overturned a 5-22 deficit to eventually win 33-32 against Air Force.
"The boys didn't play according to our plan in the first-half of that game, so during the half-time interval all I told them was ‘the lead is not a problem but execute our plan’ and I am happy they came up with a win,” he said.
Army has one of the biggest rugby pools which has over 50 members, which according to Ibrahim is a huge advantage his team has.
"I must give my players the credit for the great commitment they have shown. Some of the players have not even gone home because of rugby, but besides this I think we are very fortunate to have a massive pool of 52 players. What it does is, those who are playing games understand that if they under-perform, they could well be replaced by someone who is equally good. This has brought in a competition within the squad which is very good for the club," revealed Ibrahim.
Despite all their heroics one problem the club is facing is not having a ground to carry out their practices.
"We don't have a permanent place at the moment. We practise either at Panagoda or Race Course, but the club is working extremely hard to sort this out and I have my full faith in the club," said former fly-half.
Army's second round campaign will get underway next week against the CR and FC.
"We beat them in the first round, so they will be desperate to take revenge, but we will take it a match at a time and at the moment our full focus is also on that game," Ibrahim said.