Kandy require a bonus point win at home to Bahrain next week if they are to be the first non-UAE team to lift the Western Clubs Champions League after an entertaining 29-29 draw with Abu Dhabi Harlequins in Sri Lanka.
It could have been victory for Sean Wijesinghe’s side after Lavanga Perera dived over for a try in the final minute but Arshad Jamaldeen’s touchline conversion struck an upright to leave the sides level.
It means Quins are in the driving seat to retain the title they won last year, but Kandy can join them on eight points with a try-scoring bonus point win at home to visiting Bahrain next Friday.
It is a position Kandy coach Wijesinghe thought was not possible for his side.
“I’m looking forward to the next game and we have a good chance to win and with it the title, which would be the first time,” said the Kandy coach.
“It would be a great thing for the club and country as we have never done this before. I think it will be a good game and with a better crowd too as people think we have a chance and will start believing in us. I don’t think they ever thought we would do this well.”
Kandy trailed throughout the game, down 29-17 at one point near the end, but Wijesinghe was proud of his squad – who featured five schoolboys and were depleted by a number of senior players away with the national team.
“I was happy with our debutants, especially the schoolboys we had playing,” added Wijesinghe.
“Out of our 23-man squad, 15 were on the bench last year so it was good to give them game time. They showed heart and guts to go up against a bigger side. I’m happy but we have a lot to improve on.
“Quins had a great start. Out boys took a lot of time to settle down. But a try and a penalty gave us a bit of confidence and after that we started playing our natural game.
“We gave Quins a few easy tries though and we have to look into that and see what part of our systems didn’t work well. I’m happy with the result but we have to work on our systems.”
Mike McFarlane’s visitors scored first straight from kick-off in Nittawela when Kandy made a mess of collecting the high ball. Eventually a scrum was awarded five metres out and scrum-half Andrew Semple fed fly-half Joe Teasdale who went over the whitewash to score.
Semple potted the extras and then a pentalty to make it 10-0 before Thilina Wijesinghe reduced the gap with a three-pointer.
Anurudda Wilwara got Kandy back in touch with a try in the left corner and the scores were tied up when Wijesinghe converted impressively.
Captain Ben Bolger finished off a forwards move just before the break to re-establish Quins’ lead – Semple converting to make it 17-10 to Quins at the break.
A superb run from Wilwara early in the second half drew the hosts level again – stepping three defenders on his way to the line, with Wijesinghe making no mistake from the tee.
Two quick tries though for Quins put them in control. Former Abu Dhabi Saracens man Sean Stevens finished off an excellent move with Semple’s conversion making it 24-17 and it was soon 29-17 when full-back Jona Marshall exploited a gap to dive over at the left corner – Semple was just wide with his kick.
A penalty try gave the hosts a glimmer of hope inside the final 10 minutes to leave them five points adrift. It was beyond 80 minutes when Perera dived over out wide in a final flourish, but Jamaldeen’s kick, although it had the distance, came back off the right post to leave Kandy content with a draw.
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