Sri Lanka touched by McCaw magic?

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James Mortimer     03 Apr 2013     Getty Images

Accepting the invitation, McCaw met with SLRFU President AsangaSeneviratne and Vice President LasithaGuneratne and praised the growth of rugby in Sri Lanka.

A few days later, Sri Lanka turned on a show in front of their country’s president and First Lady on day one of the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Division I, beating Chinese Taipai.

Perhaps McCaw's carefully chosen words has inspired the small rugby nation.

The Asian Five Nations Division I is arguably the most important qualifiying tournament in the Rugby World Cup, for the winner will be promoted to the senior Asian Five Nations, and chase an elusive Asian qualifier spot for 2015 in England.

With Division I forming part of the region’s qualification process for Rugby World Cup 2015, the four teams knew that only winning the title would keep them in the hunt for a place at England 2015.

Sri Lanka only led Chinese Taipei 6-3 at half-time, but ran in five tries in the second half to overpower their opponents, much to the delight of president Mahinda Rajapakse and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakse at Havelocks RFC in Colombo.

The home team fielded two sons of the First Family in Yoshitha and elder brother and parliamentarian Namal Rajapakse, the former scoring one of Sri Lanka’s tries in the second half.

“We haven’t played Test rugby for a long time and it showed in the first half. But we settled down after the break and stuck to our game plan and it worked,” said captain Yoshitha Rajapakse afterwards.

The only points in the first half came from Sri Lanka full back Riza Mubarak and Chinese Taipei fly half Wang Chi-pin, but the crowd came alive when wing Chamara Dabare began the second half by powering his way past two defenders to score Sri Lanka’s first try.

Yoshitha Rajapakse then added a second from close range, burrowing over to extend the lead before fly half Fazil Marija added a scintillating brace and Sri Lanka took total control with replacement Sumedha Malewana scoring the fifth try.

Chinese Taipei’s only repost in the second half was a late consolation try from Chuang Ming-che and captain Lu Wei-fan admitted they “made too many mistakes at the breakdown” and “it was disappointing”.

Sri Lanka’s South African coach Ravin du Plessis said: “We played well in patches. I thought we left too many points on the park in the first half in particular as we were dominating territorially. A win is a win but we have plenty of work to do.”

Sri Lanka, who top the table as the only side to score a bonus point for four tries on day one, will next face Thailand, the Division II champions in 2012 who stunned Kazakhstan, the side relegated from the Top 5 last year.

Kazakhstan were pre-tournament favourites with hosts Sri Lanka to clinch promotion to the Top 5 for 2014 when the Asia 1 qualifier for RWC 2015 will be confirmed, but struggled to cope with the searing heat of a Colombo afternoon.

However, coach Timur Mashurov refused to blame the conditions for the loss. “We made too many errors, especially our ball handling which was very poor. We were naive with the ball in hand and our decision-making was very poor. The conditions were hot, but we can’t use that as an excuse for it was the same for Thailand too.”

The top seeds created a number of clear opportunities but spurned them through poor handling and instead it was Thailand who led 17-0 at half-time after two tries against the run of play from centre Sirichai Daothaisong and wing Topong Boonlon.

Wing Pichit Yingcharoen added a third try midway through the second half as Thailand extended their lead and with full back Warongkorn Khamkoet in impeccable form with the boot the fourth seeds punished the frequent errors by Kazakhstan.

“This is a great win for us. It is the first time we have beaten Kazakhstan in the Asian 5 Nations and coming in the first game of the tournament, it is a massive boost for our confidence,” said Thai coach Tanyavit Kuasint.

Division I continues at Havelocks RFC on Wednesday when Kazakhstan meet Chinese Taipei at 14:00 local time, followed by Sri Lanka’s encounter with Thailand at 16:00 local time.