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Bahrain start Champions League with impressive win against Kandy

Bahrain are competing alongside the Sri Lankan champions as well as Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the pre-season Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League tournament

Matt Jones 2018/09/02

Louie Tonkin praised the impact of his new players as well as a handful returning from long-term injuries as Bahrain beat Kandy to put themselves in the driving seat to claim the maiden trophy of the 2018/19 season.

Bahrain are competing alongside the Sri Lankan champions as well as Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the pre-season Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League tournament – which has acted as the traditional curtain-raiser to the Gulf rugby season since 2015.

The West Asia Cup champions won 31-20 in Sri Lanka, with Tonkin all the more pleased as it was his side’s first run-out of pre-season, having been training for just a month.

“I’m very happy with the win. It was a great performance considering we’re only four weeks into the pre-season,” said the Welshman, who led the club to their first trophy in eight years as they beat Dubai Exiles in last term’s West Asia Cup final.

“The most pleasing thing was the new boys who were making their debuts had a good performance. We had three long-term injuries back too and they played extremely well.

“Adam Wallace missed most of last season and came back in and led us exceptionally well. We had three yellow cards so there was a lot of leadership needed and he was immense for us in the middle and carried a lot of ball.

“We also had Ross Preedy and Rich Muncaster off the bench. Munky’s been out for almost a year so it was very pleasing to get him out there.

“He played very well and got us a penalty try that got us the bonus point late on, so very, very happy and looking forward to the next challenge which is (Abu Dhabi) Quins in two weeks.”

Kandy travel to Abu Dhabi this weekend before Bahrain host Quins on September 14 in what is likely to be a showdown for the trophy.

“The guys’ intent to win was excellent,” added Tonkin.

“We spoke about making sure we win the battle of the effort. It was huge to go there and start with a win and build some momentum.

“I was pleased with the defence. The guys worked hard for each other. We were defending 13 or 14 phases which is pretty unheard of in our league.

“In attack we wanted to strangle them and play very direct and I’m happy with the way that went. It was the right thing to do for the first game. We thought we would be more physical than them but we’ll try and open that up now as we go forward.”

Lindsey Gibson went over at the back of a driving maul to open the scoring before Thilina Wijesinghe’s penalty made it 5-3.

Luke Radley made it 8-3 when he added a three-pointer midway through the half, and another two made it 14-3 at the break to Bahrain.

The visitors exerted their dominance further after the interval when Suna Famitao crossed wide on the left, Radley failing to land the touchline conversion, as Tonkin’s men led 19-3.

Kandy’s efforts were finally rewarded as Buwaneka Udangamuwa found himself in space and did well to get a pass out to Wishwamithra Jayasinghe, who touched down in the left-hand corner to score their first try of the game.

Wijesinghe’s conversion made it 19-10 and his penalty then cut the gap to six.

Two tries in just two minutes killed Kandy’s comeback though, Tom Bell and a penalty try taking the men in red clear. Burnwell’s effort came after he burst through two tackles before impressively outsprinting the cover defence on his way over the line.

Repeated scrum infringements led to the fourth, bonus point score, with Lahiru Daulagala’s late try only a consolation as Bahrain left the Nittawela Stadium in confident mood as they look to end Quins’ two-year reign as champions.

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Abu Dhabi Harlequins Abu Dhabi Quins Asia Rugby Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League Bahrain Kandy louie tonkin Quins West Asia Cup Western Clubs Champions League