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Knights end Garudas' reign

PSE Garudas had their dreams of a fifth straight Cambodian Rugby Premiership title shattered by the Sisowath Knights, who won Sunday’s grand finale 20-17

THE Sisowath Knights overcame injury and a late scare to rewrite the history books by winning the Cambodian Rugby Premiership in fine style, beating defending champions PSE Garudas 20-17 Sunday.

“How good was that?” asked Sisowath halfback and captain Luke Wilkie, after a game in which they dominated early and led by as much as 10 before a foot injury to fly-half and enforcer Kain Stewart and a sin bin to winger Ben Ryland threatened to allow the Garudas back in with just five minutes left.

Garudas fullback Phorn Raya touched down out wide and was tackled high in the process, allowing Vannak Vireak to convert from in front and bring his team within three points to set up a frantic finish.

The Knights declined a chance for a penalty conversion down the other end of the field, instead electing to run and take valuable minutes off the clock. It almost backfired, as Phorn Raya again made a swerving run and a break down the right wing off a loose ball before the final pass went to ground in a dubious call by the referee. Wilkie kicked the ball into touch on the next play to seal the win.

“I thought the boys were going to lose it a bit there after we lost Kain,” Wilkie said. “But we dug deep, and, it’s a bit of a cliché, but I’m so proud of the boys.”

The Garudas had won the last four premierships and were heavy favourites heading into the game, but a slow start proved costly. A penalty goal before the first drinks break to Knights fullback Stewart Granville opened the scoring, and Kain Stewart used brute force moments later to carry three defenders over the line to touch down under the posts, with the conversion bringing up a 10-0 lead.

Several breaks later in the half by the Garudas yielded no results, as their scrum started to dominate and turn the challengers. It was left to PSE-captain and flyhalf Pich Ratana to weave his magic. A low percentage chip-and-chase play near the line was fumbled by several Knights defenders before the number 10 managed to get a hand to it. The conversion scraped in from out wide to cut the margin to three at the half, with the reigning champions starting to assert their dominance.

However, a further penalty goal and a darting try from a scrum by Wilkie after the second drinks break ensured an amazing finish, with the Garudas just falling short of their fifth successive title.

“They’re a great team,” Wilkie said of his opponents. “I really felt like we were going to drop our heads there at the end.”

Losing Stewart to a foot injury, which saw him carried off the field in the back of a ute, was almost the turning point in the thrilling finale.

“You could see it in [PSE Garudas] eyes, when he was on the field. No one wanted to run at him,” Wilkie noted. “When he went off, they kind of perked up.”

Nevertheless, the Sisowath Knights showed true resilience to overcome their 39-3 drubbing earlier in the season against the competition heavyweights, and clinch their first Premiership title since the competition switched to its current 15-a-side format.



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