Malaysia and Sri Lanka are one win away from the Asia Rugby Championship Division I title and keeping their dream of qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019 alive.
Both teams are unbeaten in the round-robin tournament and their meeting on Saturday at Ipoh Padang will decide top spot and the team promoted to the Top 3 in 2018 to battle Hong Kong and Korea for a play-off with the Oceania Cup 2017 winner on the road to Japan 2019.
Defending champions Malaysia currently top the table with 10 points, one more than Sri Lanka, after claiming their second bonus-point win with a comfortable 40-8 defeat of the Philippines on Wednesday.
Sri Lanka had to dig deep to overcome last year’s Division II champions UAE, scoring two second-half tries to turn a one-point half-time advantage into a 33-17 victory in the day’s opening match.
Malaysia, winners over UAE on day one, opened the scoring in the 18th-minute through centre Sakiusa Terence Gavidi’s try, only for the Philippines to cut the deficit with a penalty by winger Timothy Bweheni.
That would be their last score of the half, though, as Malaysia took control of the match with three tries in a 10-minute spell from flanker Syarif Nurhidayat Muzhaimey, hooker Amirul Sani and winger Wong Wye Wye giving them a 25-3 advantage at the break.
SRI LANKA DIG DEEP FOR VICTORY
An early Wan Mohammad Asyraf Norudin penalty increased that cushion and, while Justin Coveney touched down for the Philippines there was no way back with tries from replacement prop Mohamad Aiman Jamaluddin and second-row Dinesvaran Krisnan wrapping up the win.
"I am very happy because the boys won the game convincingly, cut out all the individual mistakes and capitalised on the opposition's mistakes to post a big score," said Malaysia coach Lee Nyuk Fah. "I would say the game with Sri Lanka will be a touch and go game. In the rankings, Sri Lanka are ranked 39th whereas Malaysia are 55th, but we are playing on home ground and the boys are in high spirits and determined to win this championship for the second time in as many years."
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, could not have asked for a better start than a try for fly-half Fazil Marija after just 50 seconds and two penalties from Thilinia Wijesinghe Gurukandure Gedera an 11-3 lead.
A yellow card for their second-row Sharo Fernando Kurukulasuriya Selvadoruge gave UAE a man advantage and by the time he returned the deficit was down to one after number eight Glen Moore touched down.
Danuska Ranjan Wijekoon-Mudiyanselage scored to give Sri Lanka a little breathing space, but even when UAE were reduced to 13 men with two yellow cards in quick succession they were unable to stamp their authority on the match, only able to add another penalty to their tally.
Instead the UAE, coached by former Samoa international Apollo Perelini, pounced through centre Andrew Powell with Andrew Stevenson’s conversion making it 18-17 at half-time and keep alive their hopes of springing an upset against a side ranked 42 places above them.
It wasn’t to be, though, as tries from Lee Keegal and Jesan Dissanayake made sure of victory for Sri Lanka to set up the title decider with hosts Malaysia.
Rajeew Perera knows that won't be an easy encounter for his side. "I think it is going to be difficult for us, we will be coming up with a different structure and game pattern because they have some quite speedy guys in the backline and their forwards are much bigger."
Photo: Asia Rugby / Tigers Super Sports Media
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