THE Bandar Blacks stormed to a 34-17 win over Brunei Senior Rugby League (BSRL) titleholders Belait Pythons yesterday to put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat in the race for this season’s crown.Winning both of their games since the league started two weeks ago, two-time champions Blacks are now shoe-ins to clinch their third title come next month putting them tied on league trophies with the Pythons.
A shadow of the side which has dominated the league for the past few years, three-time champions Pythons trailed 29-0 at the break and allowed the hosts who were powered by a fierce forward pack to cross the line for the sixth time before coming back with three unanswered tries, though they still weren’t able to escape their second loss in as many matches.
Asan Timbang’s hat-trick paved the way for the victory, scoring all his tries in the first half at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) Sports Complex in Tungku Link.
Older brother Azahar, Charlie Longstaff and Nobel Lee also contributed to the Blacks’ scoreline with Murray Thompson converting two of the tries.
“We have to be favourites now, especially with the bonus points we have (after scoring more than four tries in their games,” declared Blacks’ captain Owen Martin, who knows that there are only two more games to be played in the three-team league.
“We have 10 points, Pythons have four and the (UBD) Sharks are on zero.
“I think they (Pythons) underestimated us … Our forwards were immense. We had run the gamut in the first half, but credit to the Pythons, they played better in the second half.
“We were tired (but) in the end we realised what we had to do to run the game out,” added the inside-centre.
The loss of fly-half Longstaff to the sin-bin for backchat at the start of the second half also played into the Pythons hands’, though the Belait-based team’s stand-in captain Muhammad Ziyad Hj Ramlee felt their weak forward line-up meant the game was as good as over after the first half.
That the team’s captain Petrus Tuan only played in the second half due to injury and the side were second-best in fitness also made matters worst for the visitors, who were playing with several young players.
“We didn’t have a stable forward and back line-up … a few of our backs had working commitments, so this is really a second string side who don’t train together a lot,” said Ziyad.
“Our forwards were losing on the scrums (but) we played better in the second half with Ratu Conkanasiga coming in and Habib Waliyuddin going to second row,” he added.
Asan put the Blacks ahead after capping off a free-flowing move in the sixth minute which ended on the left and Azhar scored in the 24th minute after taking advantage of a quick line-out, with Thompson’s boot making it 12-0.
Asan exploited the left-flank once in the 30th minute to grab his second and set the score at 17-0.
Not playing to the whistle cost the Pythons five minutes later as Asan ran down the middle to cross the line, and Thompson converted to give the Blacks a 24-0 lead.
Enjoying play and possession, the Blacks had their opponents on the back foot and bullied a weak forward pack which lost the ball in a scrum to score their fifth try through Longstaff just before the break which couldn’t have come any faster for the Pythons.
Their half-time team talk seemed to do the trick, with the Pythons producing a few fierce hits which got their fans on their feet.
That didn’t stop the Blacks from scoring five minutes after the restart through, Lee crossing the line in what was their first real attack of the half.
Some good forward play finally saw the battering Conkanasiga score in between the posts, and the conversion which made it 34-7 give the Pythons a much needed boost in the 50th minute.
With a new-found edge in possession, the Pythons clawed back to 34-12 with a try from Ak Muizuddin Pg Ismail, who nearly ran the entire length of the left flank to score in the 68th minute.
The visitors now started playing better, linking up wisely and stringing more phases which led to Column John scoring.
But with only three minutes left, it was too little too late.
Despite the loss Muhammad Ziyad felt the Pythons’ charge for the crown isn’t over yet.
“Noone knows. We play the same two teams again in the second round (and) we play at home so we need to win those games.
“We’re not going to be the same (then),” he promised.The Brunei Times