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Argentina creates History

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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.



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‘I have accomplished my job’ – Yupun on his sub 10 seconds  

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by Reemus Fernando   

Sprinter Yupun Abeykoon who became the latest member of the exclusive sub 10 seconds club in the men’s 100 metres said that he has accomplished the target he had set himself and all achievements from here on would be bonuses.

Speaking to his fans on a social media platform, the first South Asian athlete to run the men’s 100 metres under 10 seconds said that running sub 10 seconds in the athletics’ glamour event was what he was working hard on and he felt a sense of accomplishment after stopping the clock at 9.96 seconds in Switzerland on Sunday. His first sub ten seconds feat and the 10.16 seconds performance he achieved in 2020 to get the Sri Lanka record under his belt will always remain special to him.

Abeykoon smashed his own national record and became the first man from South Asia to run the men’s 100 metres under ten seconds when he clocked 9.96 seconds to win the men’s 100 metres at the Resisprint International.

It is also the fastest performance by an Asian this year overtaking the two Japanese sprinters Ryuichiro Sakai and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown who are yet to clock sub 10 seconds this year.

“I am really happy to have accomplished the target. I knew that I could do it this year. It was not a coincidence. It was a result of a three year plan with my coaches. No one can perform magic in this sport. By last year we knew that we could reach the target this year,” said Abeykoon beaming from ear to ear when he came on live on Tuesday.

“I tried to reach the target from the start of this season. I missed the opportunity on a number of occasions. I was waiting for the ideal condition.

“I do not know how you will take this. I have finished my job. From now on what I achieve, my victories will all be bonuses,” the 27-year-old said.

He said that the 10.16 seconds and 9.96 seconds will remain special to him.

He said the plan for this year was to win an Asian Games medal, reach the Commonwealth Games final and to feature in the semi-finals of the World Championships in Oregon.

The 9.96 seconds result proves that the training schedules had gone according to plan as he tops the Asian 100 metres sprinters list and is placed among the top 15 athletes in the world in his pet event.

Commenting on the photo he published recently with Yohan Blake on facebook he said that he was shocked to hear that Blake had watched and followed his races.

The Jamaican who had run 9.69 secs (-0.1 in 2012) is considered the second fastest man ever to have competed in the men’s 100 metres behind compatriot Usain Bolt.

“Generally competitors would not wish his opponents but Blake wished me for my race. He had watched some of my previous races.”

Yupun said that he would try his best to do well at future events to bring a smile to his followers.

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Spin legend Warne’s  legacy lingers long after Sri Lanka tsunami

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Shane Warne’s brother Jason greets locals at Seenigama during a visit early this week. Philanthropist Kushil Gunasekara, who runs the Foundation of Goodness is also in the picture

No foreign cricketer is likely to ever capture the hearts of Sri Lankans quite like Shane Warne did.

Yet, of all the heartfelt tributes paid to the spin great on the island he had helped to rebuild from its worst ever natural disaster, the late spin great might have been most touched by a quiet moment in the small village of Seenigama this week.

Back in early 2005 at the urging of Muttiah Muralitharan, Warne had visited the seaside community on Sri Lanka’s south coast, one of many that had been flattened by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

Among the most memorable vision captured by a 60 Minutes film crew during his visit was four-year-old Dilini Wasana kissing Warne on the cheek as he handed out food and toys.

On Monday, four months after the sudden death of the Victorian, Dilini was in the same spot where she had met Warne seventeen years ago.

This time she greeted his brother Jason, who was visiting the Foundation of Goodness; the embodiment of Shane’s contribution to the country.

“It’s been pretty emotional,” said Jason Warne, standing on a small cricket ground the Foundation built in the aftermath of the tsunami.

“We’re here because of what Shane did in 2004. It’s been great to come over here and get a sense of why he wanted to do it.

“(From) the footage that came out of Shane’s visit, there was one little girl (Dilini) who gave him a kiss on the cheek, you could see she was so happy.

“She was saying she would love to be able to say thank you one more time. To go there today and see her, was pretty special.”

The spin legend’s visit back in 2005 to Sri Lanka shone a light on the destruction to lives, homes and the Galle cricket ground where Warne had taken his 500th Test wicket less than a year earlier.

It prompted a wave of donations from Australia and his continued efforts in the ensuing years have not been forgotten.

Kushil Gunasekera, the long-time manager of Murali who runs the Foundation of Goodness, has used the proceeds to build community facilities across ten sites in rural Sri Lanka.

One of the graduates of the Foundation’s educational programs was Ramesh Mendis, born in nearby Ambalangoda and whose off-spin saw him take four wickets against Australia in last week’s first Test.

“He was the first one to come,” Gunasekera said of Shane on Monday, as he gave Jason and his wife Shay a two-hour tour of school, health, dental and sporting facilities in Seenigama.

“What Shane did when he came with 60 minutes, and because of the way he presented the case, it went all around Australia.

“And as a result Master Builders came, the Victorian Government came, and we were able to get help from so many people.”

Since his brother’s passing, Jason Warne has heard countless stories, tributes and messages of gratitude from around the world about the leg-spinner’s impact on other’s lives.

For the first Test in Galle, the ground the late Warne had helped raise $1 million for, posters with his and Murali’s faces were stationed around the ground while seven members of Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup winning team were on hand for a commemorative plate presentation before play.

“It was hard not to notice the Warnie portraits up all around the ground,” said Mitchell Swepson, one of the few leg-spinners to play Test cricket for Australia since Warne.

“All the work he did for the Sri Lankan tsunami fund, he’s had a massive impact on this country with his cricket and off the field as well. It was great to see them pay tribute and see how much they respect the man

“I’m in no way shape or form trying to be Shane Warne, he is the best we’ve ever had … but when people ask me what I do, I tell them I bowl leg spin it’s ‘Oh, like Warnie”.

“That’s just the mark he left on the game, he’s a legend.”

Some tributes have even surprised Jason Warne, most notably the announcement from the United Nations at the MCG memorial service that a wildlife conservation grant would be named in the late cricketer’s honour.

“It’s sometimes hard to get your head around that my brother, who I used to just go up to the nets with and have a bit of fun, has left such a legacy,” said Warne.

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Sri Lanka men’s and women’s teams ready to contest FIBA Asia Tournament

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by a Special Sports Correspondent

The Sri Lanka Men’s and Women’s basketball teams took flight to Singapore on Tuesday for the FIBA Asia 3×3 Basketball tournament.

The two teams have been in preparation since April and are being coached by Ajith Kuruppu.

The men’s team has to first prove its worth against China and Tonga and one more team before qualifying for the main tournament. “It’s going to be a tough tournament, but the men’s and women’s teams have been practicing well. Our preparations were good and we want to make an impact at the tournament,” said Kuruppu. According to the Sri Lanka teams’ coach China will be a tough challenge in the men’s segment of the tournament.

“We’ve been gelling together as a team during training and the players have a good understanding when playing as a unit,” said Sri Lanka’s Mens’ Team skipper Shehan Fernando.

Sri Lanka’s women’s team has made a direct entry into the tournament. Sri Lanka Women’s team skipper Anjali Ekanayake said that the ranking of the players in the national 3×3 team is good. “These players have got much exposure playing in this format of the game. We’ve been focusing on nutrition and shooting over the past few months. Training went well for the tournament,” said Ekanayake.

Coach Kuruppu took this opportunity to thank Vaaj Fitness for sponsoring the two national teams to Singapore and for making their gym available for the players to do strength and conditioning training.

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