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All Blacks win but fail to impress

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

47,000 plus fans at Auckland Eden Park for Aaron Smith’s 100 appearance for the All Blacks in the first of 3 Bledisloe Cup games against Australia. A greasy ball and not-so-dry conditions underfoot. Most of the first half was a penalty shoot-out as the All Blacks chose to score through the boot of Ritchie Mo’uanga whenever they got into range. The Wallabies retaliated but sadly missed the services of a reliable placekicker. In fact, the entire game would have had a different result if the Aussies had been able to convert the many penalties awarded to them and slot their kicks at goal. The inclusion of Damian Mackenzie at no15 was not to take the kicks as assumed. Mo’uanga still missed a few kicks from far left of the field and converted some beauties especially from long distance but D’Mac’s real role seemed to be at first receiver off the break downs with Mo’uanga occupying more attacking positions in the backline. The first half was meandering (an Aussie tactic seemed to be to slow the game down) its way to a 9 – 8 score until a good bit of on-field thinking by Sam Whitelock called for a kick to touch instead of taking another kickable penalty. The Blacks were able to score off the resulting line out. Half-time score reading 16 – 8 to the New Zealanders.

Ritchie Mo’uanga who was lurking on the wing, intercepted a long pass by the Wallabies and ran 80 meters to score under the posts showing his class and absolute superiority to anyone else who wears the no10 jersey these days. Shortly thereafter Reiko Ioane made an incisive run, threw a wild pass as is his penchant (and a reason why he is not in the centers) which was collected brilliantly by Aaron Smith who then passed to his skipper Whitelock who activated his three-quarters for a try which was disallowed by the TMO for what was deemed to be a forward pass from Smith to Whitelock. This non-try was the highlight of the game, and the pass was marginal if at all. Points denied, but wonderful spectator entertainment all the same. There was a similar pass during an Aussie try which drew no action from the TMO. Selective involvement from the TMO and the fact that the conversation between the TMO and the on-field referee is broadcast live is something that must be looked at very closely. The current situation leaves the on-field referee who is the person best able to make these calls unable to have his say on marginal decisions.

At this stage, the All Blacks were threatening to run away with the game, but the Aussies were not finished! Some great tactics using long throws and throws to the front of the line out caught the Blacks napping on occasion. There was also a three-quarter move involving a close formation and some quick passing that created a hole in the Black defence. Students of the game may wish to have a closer look at that, undoubtedly signs of some good thinking from the Aussie coaching staff. The All-Black forwards were not getting involved enough at the breakdowns and one wondered if their on-field leadership failed to take the greasy conditions underfoot into account. If they had played the game with more emphasis on the forwards, they may have made a bigger impression on the scoreline. They definitely gave away far too many penalties as they were found offside almost on every occasion that the line came up in defence inside All Black territory.

The Aussies scored twice in the closing stages of the game. All in all, four tries to each side with the Wallaby full back Tom Banks getting two possibly to compensate for the lack of distance of his touch finders. The final score 33 -25. It should be emphasised once again that if the Wallabies had a decent placekicker, they may have changed the result of the game! New Zealand’s tries came through Seevu Reece, Ritchie Mo’uanga, David Havili, and Damian Mackenzie. The All-Black bench did not make the expected impact and in fact, the winning margin was reduced after the substitutions happened. Beauden Barret had a forgettable game with a bad decision resulting in a clearance kick being charged down possible resulting in one of the last-minute Aussie tries. The Ritchie Mo’uanga – Aaron Smith combination as well as their individual brilliance remains unchallenged for superiority in today’s game. No bench player can better that. However, the non-involvement of forwards at the breakdown, particularly in wet and muddy conditions leaves this writer wondering if Rugby Union is looking more and more like Rugby League and if there is room for two such similar codes in the minds of spectators. Or is this the new face of Rugby Union and are we old school thinkers being too conservative?

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Kohli: Skillsets of Hasaranga and Chameera will be of huge help in UAE

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Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli believes that the additions of Sri Lanka duo Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera, especially in the UAE conditions, will be a “huge help” for the team’s campaign in the second leg of IPL 2021.

Kohli said that missing the likes of Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson should not have that big an impact on the team, considering they have roped in players who have a significant understanding of subcontinent conditions.

“Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa who were with us in the first leg for a bit, were an integral part of the team, they made a decision not to play in the second leg for reasons which are absolutely understandable,” Kohli said during the unveiling of the team’s blue jersey on Saturday. “The replacements we have got for those guys are two players who know these conditions. The conditions in subcontinent this time of the year are pretty similar. Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera are two guys who have played so much cricket for Sri Lanka and they understand how to play on pitches like these and their skillsets will be of huge help for us playing in Dubai. Understanding how hot and humid conditions can be and how the pitches will play out, they know everything.

“The guys coming in blend into the team culture and the plan of the team very well. The core group is also motivated. We haven’t focused at all on what we’ve missed out on but we feel stronger as the new additions have given us few other dimensions.”

Legspinner Hasaranga could straightaway slot into Royal Challengers’ first XI – that’s the sort of impression he has made in recent times with his bowling smarts coming to the fore especially during Sri Lanka’s recent series against India. He has played 17 of his 25 T20Is in the subcontinent, and he also has numbers to show how impactful he has been in these conditions: 26 wickets at an outstanding average of 14.65 and an economy rate of 6.60. During the tour of England, he also showed off his batting skills, contributing some handy runs from the lower order.

Seamer Chameera, who made a comeback into the Sri Lanka side in all three formats earlier this year after missing out on selection for two years, has also been among the wickets, particularly impressing in England in June and then against India at home. He has picked up 15 wickets in 12 matches at a 17.86 average and 6.51 economy rate since his return to the T20I side this year.

Kohli, along with his India and Royal Challengers team-mate Mohammed Siraj, flew to the UAE from England following the postponement of the Manchester Test last week. He spent six days in mandatory quarantine, following which he joined the rest of the squad in the bubble for his first practice session on Friday. He found the team to be in great spirits during training despite meeting them after months.

“After quarantine, I stepped out to practice yesterday for the first time,” Kohli said. “I did not feel that we went away at all. I felt like this is just an extension of where we left. The camaraderie was the same, there was excitement in the air, players understanding what they work hard for at the start of the IPL in the first leg. It was a high-intensity practice that we had and everyone was giving everything they had. I was very pleased to see that and very happy to finally be out of quarantine and get into the groove of the IPL.”

Royal Challengers are currently third on the table, having won five out of the seven matches during the first leg. Kohli said that the team was keen on playing with the same kind of passion and commitment as they begin their second leg on September 20 against Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi, when they will be wearing blue jerseys to pay tribute to frontline workers.

“We’ve had a great start to the campaign and that is our value factor and our motivating factor knowing that we can play a certain brand of cricket which we have shown in the first leg, with really strong and consistent performances and every player chipping in somewhere or the other, and people standing up and making impact performances for the team.

“Having played this game for so long at this level we understand that whether you have seven wins in the row, you have to start the next game with the same passion and commitment. And if you have no wins in five games which we have experienced as a team, you still have to find motivation. You just cannot afford to take things for granted. The reason why we played that way was because we were not looking beyond the day that we were part of – we never looked at how many games are left, how many points we need to qualify. We did not focus on that at all. What we focused on was the culture of the team, enjoyment among the players.”

(ESPN)

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‘Boks’ fail to impress and the Black juggernaut rolls on

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

The current “world champions” trying to save face after the two-point defeat last week, took on the resurgent Wallabies in front of over 35,000 fans at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Great playing condition with the temperature in the mid-twenties and dry conditions underfoot. Michael Hooper the Australian skipper captaining for the 60th time! Dave Rennie the Kiwi-born and raised coach of the Australian side, had made a few changes and among them not playing Hunter Paisamy at no12 and replacing him with Len Ikitau, the “human cannonball”, hooker Taniela Taupo also got a start. The change in the center was justified with Len Ikitau forcing his way over the line in the 12th minute to score mid-left and Quade Cooper sullied his impeccable record by hitting the upright with his attempted conversion. 5–0 to the Wallabies. Handre Pollard got three points back for the Springboks with a penalty converted from 35 meters out and mid-right. 5–3 was the score until Taniela Taupo displayed his great strength and low center of gravity by making good ground and allowing Ikitau to ground his second try. This time QC made no mistake 12–3. Pollard did his thing again literarily shaving the right upright and in the 25th minute, the score read 12–6. The Wallabies reliable full-back Tom Banks suffered what is now thought to be a broken hand and was replaced by Reece Hodge 30 minutes into the game. Quade Cooper slotted another penalty taking the Wallaby lead to 15–6 until another ludicrous TMO intervention resulted in a yellow card for the Australian no 6 Lachlan Swinton. The Boks could only manage two penalties during the period in which they had numerical superiority taking the score along to 15–12 at halftime.

The South Africans were the first to score in the second half with their playmaker and nov9 Faf De Clerk kicking ahead to allow their no13 Lukhanyo Am to score far right. Pollard was unable to convert 15–17 and the Boks ahead for the first time in the game. Quade Cooper rectified matters converting a penalty from right in front of the posts and putting the wallabies back into the lead 18–17. Marika Korombeiti decided that it was time to show his skills, dotting down twice in quick succession once off a great pass from his skipper Hooper which QC converted, and then from a great turnover by Reece Hodge which Cooper couldn’t add the extra points to. 30–17 and the Wallabies convincing in their dominance of the World Champions who definitely seem to be fortunate to have the title. This win takes Australia to number three in the world ranking the computation of which seems to be understood only by the mandarins of the IRB and also gaining the Nelson Mandela trophy.

The crowd had swelled further for the second game of this week’s doubleheader. The Argentineans playing the NZ All Blacks for the second time inside seven days. Quinn Tupea wearing the no 12 black jersey for the first time due to injuries and Reiko Ioane very much a makeshift no 13 were the only perceptible areas of weakness in the NZ Line up. Santiango Carreras coming in at no10 for the Pumas was expected to make a difference. Ethan Blackadder at no 6 and Hoskins Sututu at no 8 showing the depth of selection available to the All Blacks. Damian Mackenzie starting at no 10 for only the second time in his All-Black career. That too probably due to Beauden Barret nursing a calf injury. Patrick Tuapoletu the Auckland Blues skipper playing in the second row led the way with the first seven pointer of the game in the fifth minute and the Pumas pulled one back three minutes later converting a penalty from right in front of the posts when Ethan Blackadder was pinged for being offside, 7-3. The ABs gave Jordie Barret the ball as he was doing the kicking for this game in the 11th minute to add further three points off a “gimme” penalty right in front of the posts, 10–3. In the 16th minute, Jordie Barret went over the line but was denied a score due to a forward pass, this was one of four occasions on which the ABs went over the line and were denied for infringements. The New Zealanders scored two more tries in the first half once off no 9 T.J. Peranara and again when a chip ahead created by Ardie Savea was picked up by Hoskins Sututu who passed to Topu Vaa’I in the no 5 jersey. Jordie Barret completed an impeccable first half of kicking duties with a penalty taking the score to 24–3 at halftime.

The Pumas came back roaring in the second half and scored first through a penalty 40 meters out but right in front. 24–6 Ethan Blackadder continued his hard unrelenting Mahi (Maori word for work) showing great handling skills, combining with Will Jordan, and sending Samisoni Taukeiaho over the line. Jordie Barret struck the left upright with his attempted conversion from the right touchline. 29–6 until Emiliano Boffelli in the no 11 jersey for the Pumas broke a three game drought of tries against the All Blacks and scored off a perfectly weighted cross-kick by their no 10 Santiago Carreras. This seven pointer took the score to 29–13. The All-Black bench came on and it must be said the Finlay Christie the Auckland no 9 looked a little out of his depth but the Canterbury Crusader no 8 Luke Jacobsen who had scored twice in the last game fitted right in. The Argentines’ found another gear and attacked relentlessly retaining 70% of possession but the NZ defence stood firm. The Black forwards began dominating the scrums and Taupo Vaa’i got his second from a great offload by Scott Barret his fellow second-rower. The conversion took the score to 36–13 where it remained until full time.

This completes nine wins in a row from the New Zealand All Blacks and unless the algorithms and permutations used in calculating the IRB world rankings have another unfathomable calculation, should result in the All Blacks regaining their well-deserved place at the top of the rankings.

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Former St. Peter’s cricketer Berenger on the cusps of representing third national team

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by Reemus Fernando  

First, he played for Sri Lanka Under-19, then moved to Dubai and found a place in the national team there and now at the age of 30, the former St. Peter’s College cricketer Andri Berenger is on the cusps of representing a third national team, Qatar.

According to sources close to Berenger, the former Sri Lanka Under-19 wicketkeeper-batsman is about to be picked in the Qatar national team which will compete in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia ‘A’ qualifiers starting next month.

The hard-hitting batsman’s success with the United Arab Emirates attracted many budding cricket clubs in the Middle East but Berenger opted for Warriors, a team in Qatar. He has completed more than three years in the country to be eligible to represent that nation, a source close to the cricketer told The Island.

In 2020 Berenger was the key to Warriors’ title triumph in the Qatar Premier Division T20 tournament. As the batting opener, he hammered 109 not out in just 56 balls to help Warriors reach a target of 185 runs with five balls to spare in the final. The right-hander had an outstanding season in 2020 where he averaged over 65.

Consistent performances have helped him secure a place in the team which will first encounter Bahrain in the first match in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Asia ‘A’ qualifiers on October 23.

His success in Qatar has also attracted several T20 leagues that have shown serious interest in signing him.

Berenger who first started playing cricket in UAE played for St. Peter’s when he was in Sri Lanka and his aggressive batting and safe hands behind wickets found him a place in the Sri Lanka Under-19 team. He was a member of the Sri Lanka Under-19 team for the ICC Youth World Cup in 2010 where St. Peter’s teammate Chathura Peiris was the captain. In Sri Lanka Under-19 team Berenger formed a strong batting line-up with the likes of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Kithruwan Vithanage and Dhanushka Gunathilaka who later went on to represent the senior national team.

He made his first class debut for Seeduwa Raddoluwa Cricket Club before joining SSC and later moving to CCC.

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