by Rajitha Ratwatte
Under 10,000 spectators at Bankwest stadium in Sydney. Argentina undercooked said the experts, they had not played as a team for 13 months (since the last World Cup) 12 players had caught the virus and even the coach had been a victim. Argentina would have watched the last game played by the Wallabies and also the world cup semi-final and learned that the All Blacks are beatable, if their plan ‘A’ is disrupted, they don’t seem to have a plan ‘B’. The general opinion of all the experts with the exception Andrew Mhertens, the former All Black no10 was that the All Blacks would win easily, and the reason was that Argentina hadn’t played for over a year. What about fresh legs, I thought to myself and doesn’t commitment and attitude have anything to do with it?
Argentina kicked off with Angus Gardiner refereeing. Right from the start it was obvious that the Argentina Pumas had come to play, and they meant business. A deliberate knock on by All Blacks no11 Caleb Clark in the second minute could have been yellow carded by a lesser referee, but a penalty was awarded instead. The Pumas no10 Sanchez tried an early drop goal in the third minute but missed. Argentina was giving no quarter and in fact they tackled relentlessly and gave no room for the All Blacks three-quarters to run with any room throughout the match. The rough house tactics paid off, a penalty was awarded against the All Blacks in the fourth minute on the 50-meter line right in front of the posts. No problem for Sanchez and the Pumas straight into a 0- 3 lead. Another deliberate knock on but this time well inside the Argentina territory was awarded just a penalty (no yellow card) and since it was right in front of the posts Ritchie Muanga kicked it over 3 – 3, 13th minute.
The rough house tactics and untidy play continued with penalties awarded willy-nilly. In the 18th minute an Argentinian attacking move resulted in a try and they were playing under a penalty advantage as well. As soon as the referee’s hand went out giving the penalty advantage, Sanchez the brilliant Puma stand-off, chip kicked over New Zealand line, picked the ball up and scored under the posts. No question of missing maximum points and the score 3 -10.
A penalty awarded to the All Blacks was reversed when their hooker slapped an Argentinian player right under the referee’s eyes! This reflected the extent to which the All Blacks had been rattled by the Argentinian tactics. Totally unprofessional behaviour from Dane Coles, of all people! Penalties were being milked by both sides, in the 14th minute Aaron Smith in the no 9 jersey for the All Blacks, deliberately passed the ball onto an Argentinian player who was trying to get onside, Argentina retaliated with a player running onto Jodie Barret of the All Blacks after a challenge in the air. Again, this second incident could have been escalated to a tackle without arms and even resulted in a red card, but good sense prevailed. Angus Gardiner is one of the better referees around, but I wish he wouldn’t try to tell the props how to bind in the front row. He has obviously never been anywhere near a front row when playing the game and theory alone, doesn’t suffice in the front row!
All Blacks’ mistakes continued and in the 25th minute another kick able penalty was awarded, mid-left around 32 meters out and Sanchez obliged 3 -13 to the Pumas. The intensity was such that Pablo Matera of the Pumas and Lennert – Brown of the All Blacks both went off for HIA checks in the 28th and 30th minutes. Lennert- Brown’s departure saw Ricco Ioane come on at center for the All Blacks much to my dismay.
It was proved to be a mistake with Ioane dropping a vital pass on a move that looked like a certain try at a crucial stage of the game. In the 36th minute, Argentina crossed the New Zealand line once more but desperate defence from Aaron Smith and Ritchie Muanga saved the day. It took 32 minutes before the first scrum was held and Argentina gained a very kick able penalty straight away, 3 – 16 to the Pumas. At this stage it was clear that the All Blacks were being upstaged by the sheer determination and commitment of the Pumas. It was only a question of if they could handle the pace of the game for the full 80 minutes. Half-time came with the Pumas leading by the same margin of 13 points.
The scrappy play continued as far as the All Blacks went but it seemed to be a carefully orchestrated plan by the Pumas. A penalty was awarded to Argentina 35 meters out and mid-left and the lead was extended, score reading 3 – 19.
The All Blacks started to bring on the bench in the 48th minute with Codie Taylor at hooker, Ricco Ioane (this time officially at center, he was on earlier briefly as Lennert- Brown went for a HIA) and Hoskins Sotutu in the third row.
In the 52nd minute, the All Blacks after two successive penalties scored far left. A straight throw to Aardie Savea standing at the front of the line out caught the Pumas defence napping and Sam Cane the All Blacks skipper scrambled over the line. Muanga converted brilliantly and the score was 10 -19. Ritchie Muanga was caught off-side in the 56th minute and the result penalty was converted by Sanchez 10 -22. More changes from the bench for the All Blacks, Brad Webber came on at half -back for Smith and Damien McKenzie for Goodhue. This was the point at which Ricco Ioane dropped the ball at center from a move that looked like certain points and would have made the margin much smaller and possibly even changed the result of the game. Ritchie Muanga joined in the mayhem and tried a chip kick that resulted in giving the ball straight back to a blue and white player.
In the 69th minute, a kick able penalty was awarded to New Zealand and this was the first sign of lack of on field thinking and ability to adapt showing its ugly face, something that has dogged the All Blacks in recent times. At this stage the on field thinkers, or ‘brains trust’ (yes, such things do exist in Rugby Union!) in the team should have realised that this game was no cake walk. The margin was such that multiple scoring was needed, three points should have been taken. However, a kick for touch was the preferred option.
Two more kick able penalties were also discarded for a scrum and a short tap respectively. Argentina’s defence was unyielding and of course in retrospect it was obvious that all kicks should have been taken to keep the margin at reasonable levels.
Hoskins Sotutu made a nice break from no 8 off an attacking scrum but threw the ball wide without running for the line. Argentina was dominating at this stage and turnovers in loose play were almost par for the course. A penalty against the All Blacks around 55 meters out, with the angle to the posts was kicked over by Sanchez and the score read 10 -25 and Argentina was poised on their first ever victory over the All Blacks in the history of the game.
The full-time hooter sounded and just afterwards, Caleb Clark scored his first try for the All Blacks after back to back penalties. A tough kick was missed by Muanga and the full-time score read 15 – 25, a historic win for Argentina, against all odds and thoroughly deserved.
One thing for sure, there is no such thing as an expert in the game of Rugby football. Undercooked they said, All Blacks to win by 40 points said John Kirwan, to use an Argentinian beef-based analogy, underdone they may have been but it was still a prime rib eye steak.
Steyn to play LPL, but could miss early games
By Rex Clementine
Lanka Premier League received a shot in the arm after it was confirmed that pace sensation Dale Steyn will be arriving in the island shortly and will turn out for Kandy Tuskers. However, he will miss the first two games of the competition due to the mandatory isolation period that players have to go through.
Players who had been arriving in Sri Lanka from a bubble had been given a three day isolation period before they could resume training while others had to stay in isolation for seven days. Accordingly, Steyn will be unavailable for the Kandy Tuskers first two games.
However, sources close to the organizers told The Island that negotiations are being made to make exceptions and South Africa’s premier bowler could get into action straightaway if he gets two negative PCR tests, one before departure to Katunayake and one on arrival.
Guidelines have been issued by health authorities to follow strict quarantine guidelines after two players tested positive after arriving in the island. They are now receiving medical treatment and by the time they recover and finish quarantine, the competition would have reached the tail end.
Galle Gladiators received a major boost yesterday after Shahid Afridi confirmed his participation. However, Afridi tweeted that he had missed his flight to Colombo but said will be joining his team mates soon.
The players, support staff and television crew have been in isolation at various hotels in Hambantota for the last several days.
The tournament gets underway on Thursday with Colombo Kings captained by Angelo Mathews taking on Kusal Perera’s Kandy Tuskers.
The tournament was postponed on several occasions as the pandemic posed many challenges for the organizers. But to their credit, they have addressed most of the issues in putting through the event involving five franchises.
Sri Lanka Cricket will earn US$ two million in the first year and the five year deal will bring them a sum in excess of US$ ten million.
Dambulla Viikings gear up to conquer
While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage.
Hard work, innovation, team work. These are the three pillars on which the Dambulla Viiking franchise has sought to build their squad for the upcoming inaugural Lanka Premier League. As such their 21-man squad, led by head coach former England cricketer Owais Shah, sees a truly competitive blend comprising the cream of Sri Lankan talent, international experience, and youthful exuberance.
While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage. This strong leadership base is supplemented by the considerable international experience of players such as Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Afghanistan duo Aftab Alam and Samiullah Shinwari, and veterans Anwar Ali from Pakistan, India’s Sudeep Tyagi and Englishman Samit Patel.
The team’s collective of promising Sri Lankan youngsters will no doubt benefit from rubbing shoulders with players of such international stature. Ashen Bandara, Kavindu Nadeeshan, Ramesh Mendis, Sachindu Colombage, Dilshan Madushanka and Pulina Tharanga, may not yet be household names, but given the right opportunity and guidance they are poised to flourish.
Strong Sri Lankan base While possessing a wealth of international talent, the team nevertheless is built around a strong Sri Lankan spine. In Shanaka, Dickwella, Oshada Fernando and Tharanga, Dambulla have four batsmen who have delivered at the highest level, while the big-hitting offered by the likes of Stirling, Patel, Shinwari and Lahiru Madushanka, provide punch in the middle and lower order.
In Angelo Perera and Mendis, Dambulla can also lay claim to two immensely talented players hitting the peak years of their careers; notably, Perera recently became the first player in history to hit two double centuries in a first-class game, while Mendis earlier this year hit an unbeaten first-class triple hundred.
The pace department meanwhile is led by the express Kumara and the precise Rajitha, who are fast becoming mainstays in the national team setup. Supported by bowlers the calibre of Ali, Alam and Tyagi, who are capable of swinging and seaming the ball, Dambulla’s pace attack boasts many strings in its fast-bowling bow.
In the spin-bowling department, it’s Malinda Pushpakumara that will likely lead the way, the veteran left-arm spinner who has taken an astonishing 793 first-class wickets in his career.
Aiding him will be a plethora of spin options, namely the wise old heads of Shinwari and Patel, who will also no doubt play a major role in guiding some of the raw spin talent in the squad.
Crucially many of Dambulla’s bowlers are more than capable with the bat, which will give head coach Shah a pleasant headache when putting together the team.
“We have a great blend of youth and experience, with a lot of complementary skill sets. Once the tournament starts and each teams strengths and weaknesses become clearer, we’re confident of being able to field a strong XI in every game,” said Shah.
Dambulla will play their first match of the LPL on 28 November against the Kandy Tuskers
Wallabies vs Pumas – Stalemate!
by Rajitha Ratwatte
This match was played in Newcastle, Sydney, between two teams who are getting a reputation for playing rough and tumble rugby rather than the silky-smooth running and passing game that is what rugby union is about, at least to this writer!
The Wallabies kicked off deep into Puma territory and were obviously looking for an early penalty to bring their placekicker Reece Hodge into the game. The Pumas’ (and the referee) duly obliged and in the second minute a gift penalty right under the posts was converted. Wallabies into the lead 0 – 3. The lead didn’t last very long and in the fifth minute, the Pumas got a slightly more difficult penalty mid-right and around 25 meters away from the post. Sanchez who scores almost all the points for the Pumas these days did the needful and 3 – 3 it was in the sixth minute.
The first scrum of the game was in the 12th minute and it was a rather messy affair, but the Aussies got the ball out and worked the line. Hunter Paisamy at no12 saw a hole in behind the Puma line – a kicked left-footed grubber that had Jordan Patai, the 20-year-old no13 haring after the ball. However, he didn’t quite make it and managed to touch down only when the ball was on the dead-ball line. This was the one and only occasion that anyone from either side (except for once when the Aussie winger went over from a forward pass) came even close to crossing the try line, in the entire game! Now, this event has been described as a tight game and even a bruising encounter, yeah sure but what was the sport? Was it boxing, wrestling, or even a new game called baiting the ref?!! It sure wasn’t rugby football that I would pay money to watch.
The Australians continued to dominate, had most of the possession (around 70%), and played most of the first-half in Puma territory but were unable to threaten the Puma line or even come close to crossing it. Fierce, uncompromising defence from the Pumas was evident for sure, but do top-class rugby union sides spend the best part of 40 minutes inside enemy territory, have 70% of the possession, and remain unable to score a try?
Argentina was able to steal the odd line out by tapping the ball with one hand away from the Aussies, but the Aussies continued to dominate the scrum. The Wallaby number three Taniela Tupou, more like a battle tank than a human was the deciding factor. However, his loose play showed a lack of discipline and control and a tendency to punch anyone near him that was unbecoming of a professional rugby player. One wonders if he was obeying orders, and all this was part of the plan? The Aussie captain kept chirping away at the referees and even got a line out call changed by his insistence. The referee kept asking Michael Hooper if he was satisfied with the referee’s decision, I never heard such a question been directed to the Puma skipper even in English, let alone Spanish!
Three quarters from both sides managed the odd break, the Aussie no 13 Jordan Pataia’s run ended in a defensive penalty but the Pumas managed to get a penalty off their no14’s, run into Aussie territory. Nicolas Sanchez slotted the kick amidst loud boos from the partisan crowd and the Pumas inched ahead 6 – 3 in the 30th minute. This didn’t last too long and in the 33rd minute, Rees Hodge made the ball come back from the left of the posts, using the wind, and gained 3 points from around 38 meters out. Scores level again 6 -6.
So, we had a kicking contest on our hands and the whim and fancy of the referee would dictate the fortunes of the game. In the 38th minute, we saw the aforesaid human tank tight-head prop Taniela Tupou take a swing at Argentina’s most valuable player (this is the sort of thing that makes one wonder and should be analyzed further by world rugby to decide if these are deliberate tactics). Nicolas Sanchez, tiny man that he is succumbed to his Latino temperament and retaliated ( like a fly against a bull) and the wise all-knowing referee decided to reverse the penalty that should have been awarded to Argentina in favor of the Wallabies. Maybe he thought that Sanchez was a tsetse fly and could cause irreparable damage to the bull?!! The resulting touch kick and the line out, saw Aussie winger Korobiete go over the line, but the last pass was blatantly forward and although the referee awarded an on-field try it was overturned by the TV official. Of course, a long advantage was being played and the Aussies got to go back to the spot and try again for touch. The Aussies were desperate for points at this stage and a series of brawls led to an easy penalty being awarded to the more skillful brawlers, the Aussies, mid-left. The gift of three points was accepted and 6 – 9 Aussies in front. At this stage, the Pumas had been warned for excessive foul play and could have a yellow card issued if and when the next offence was so deemed.
This took us into half-time in what can only be reiterated as a brawl in which an oval-shaped white ball was used as a prop of some sort! To call it Rugby Union would be to bring down the wrath of ages upon the sayer. To describe it as a “gripping contest” in which the so much superior Aussie team had been dogged by bad luck and let down by the rub of the green, was the prerogative of the Aussie commentary team. Luckily the mute switch is a feature on modern TV sets!
The Aussies started the second-half with a very deep kick into Puma territory no doubt hoping this created an incident that would trigger the warning that the Argentina team was under. Initially, they got a kickable penalty, but Tom Banks chose to go even deeper into blue and white territory with a touch kick. Lo and behold out came the yellow card and the Argentine Hooker was off for ten minutes in the sin bin. Aussies deep in Argentine territory playing against 14 men. Textbook situation and the stuff of dreams for the “lucky country”! The awarded penalty could have been kicked over even if Reece Hodge had been blindfolded and 6 -11 it was, Wallabies leading.
The Puma skipper who is such an inspirational leader chased down a kick brilliantly and forced a penalty. It was mid-right and around 25 meters out, should have been bread and butter for Sanchez but he missed amidst loud boos and the beginning of a drizzle. We were now in the 46th minute was this going to be the crucial kick? The Wallabies cleared with a massive dropkick that propelled the ball from their 22 into the Argentine 22.
The play progressed with Argentina showing fantastic line speed and an impregnable defence. Another brawl with a penalty reversion this time in favor of the Pumas. At this stage, another skill of the players indulging in this sport which was hard to describe as rugby was displayed. Artistic dives like those employed in soccer to gain penalties, where the player writhes in agony until the penalty is awarded and then recovers miraculously, were employed. The Oscar-winning effort gained a sitter of a penalty for the Wallabies and the score raced ahead to 6 – 15.
With the awarding of a scrum penalty to the Pumas in the 58th minute, we saw a change in the game. Great up and under from Sanchez saw the Pumas go into the Australian 22 but a knock-on saw a scrum with Wallabies having the put in. Another scrum penalty for the Pumas, easily kickable this time saw Sanchez duly oblige 9 – 15. Pumas a goal away from victory.
In the 65th minute, another penalty was awarded to the Pumas. This was around 47 meters away from the posts but dead in front. It was raining now, and the ball was greasy. Would Sanchez kick? He did and brilliantly too, taking the score to 12 – 15. The game was into the 65th minute or so and the Aussie starting halfback Nick White was subbed off. In the 69th minute, the Wallabies were deemed off-side and a penalty awarded on the 50-meter line, slightly left of center. Sanchez stepped up and over she went! Scores level 15 – 15.
At this stage, the inspirational Puma leader and number seven had to go off the field for an HIA. Blatant obstruction by Aussie players who do not bother to make any effort to get onside when one of their players have collected the ball behind them and are running forward, was totally ignored by the match officials but another Puma infringement was spotted and with less than two minutes to go a penalty was awarded to the Wallabies, 40 meters out, mid-left. Bread and butter for Reece Hodge? Easy Mate! Not to be, rugby has some Gods and sometimes they step in to allow fairness to prevail, kick missed, and match drawn.
No one deserved to win that brawl that passed for a game of rugby football and if this is how the game is going to be played in the future, there may not be a future. Certainly, from a spectator’s point of view.
The so-called Rugby Championship tournament is now wide open with all three participating countries level with six points each. Argentina plays the All Blacks next Saturday and the Aussies the Saturday after that. It looks to me that the silverware may have to be shared unless the points of the winning margin are taken into account.
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