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Fijian forwards hold their own against All Blacks



by Rajitha Ratwatte

The first of two tests All Blacks vs Fiji played in the dead of winter in Dunedin at the Forsyth Barr Stadium with the roof up. At least that meant dry conditions underfoot, but the temperature remained below 10 degrees Celsius! Fiji missing just three of their players (two halfbacks) who were trapped in Australia due to Covid 19 but having all their European players back in the fold. The AB’s captained by Aaron Smith with Brodie Retallick back in the second row and Beauden Barret starting at no10. The Fijians had come to PLAY and Retallick soon found that this was a different level to the rugby he had been playing in Japan, having the ball ripped away from him in the loose and the Fijians opening the scoring with a penalty earned in loose play right in front of the posts. 0-3 inside five minutes. Three minutes later the Blacks retaliated off a line out, having had their rolling maul stopped, the left-winger joined the line and a series of great passes by the three-quarters saw Jordie Barret who was in the number 15 jersey score mid-right. Duly converted by his brother Beauden 7–3 NZ ahead. Fiji came right back earning another penalty and having Volavola convert with ease 7-6 with just over 12 minutes played. David Havili playing his first home match for the ABs in the number 12 shirt showed his skills scoring twice in quick succession, once stepping nicely off his left foot and the second time breaking three tackles. Barret senior was able to convert both 21–6. 23 minutes into the game Beauden Barret collected a nasty injury to his eye and face by getting in the way of a flailing boot and had to go off for repairs. The Fiji forwards were playing very well and actually getting the better of the ABs in the loose. The Fijians had the services of the Crusaders forwards coach and he had obviously done a great job. So much so that they scored an unconverted try in the 27th minute and kept many determined attacks by the Blacks at bay until halftime to finish the scoreline reading 21 – 11.

The Abs scored first after the break with George Bridges going over the line from another great move by the backs. David Havili again looping around from first center and forming the overlap. Only a five pointer as Barret senior who was back on the field but looking bruised and battered missing the kick 26–11. Fijians pulled off a great move in front of the line out and caught the ABs blind side defence napping scoring another unconverted try and taking the score to 26–16. At this point around 50 minutes into the game, the ABs replaced their entire front row and Dan Coles came in at no2. Coles went straight into the limelight scoring in what has become his trademark method, off a rolling maul starting off a line out inside 10 meters in opposition territory. Scoreline 31–16. The Fijians continued to put the ABs defence under severe pressure and earned themselves a penalty and a yellow card for David Havili (collapsing a maul with a “hot” ball) who had played an exemplary game up to that point. 31–21 in the 63rd minute and the Blacks one man short. Dan Coles was not intimidated however and scored another of his trademarks that Beaudie was able to convert taking the score to 38–21. Will Jordan who had five tries in last week’s annihilation of Tonga came on off the bench and strolled over the line off a great long pass by Beauden Barret who was coming into his own and realizing that this level was different from the rugby he had been playing in Japan! Barret couldn’t convert, however, and the score read 43–23. The last stages of the game had been reached and the ABs put on their famous spurt with Dan Coles scoring twice more, one “trademark” and the other by pouncing on a loose ball well inside Fijian territory. Coles became the first ABs forward in history to score four tries in a test match and Beauden Barret converted both tries to take the final score to 57–23.

The ABs had always scored over 60 points against Fiji in the past and the Fijians had never scored 23 points against the Blacks.

A much more closely contested game than what was seen last week and even a different level of rugby. Fiji is going to make a welcome entry to the first level of xv a side world rugby. This may also serve as a good call to the coaches and selectors of the stronger sides not to succumb to pressure from the press and choose weaker sides for what is deemed “lesser opposition”. Some sections of the press insinuated that the NZ teams were almost guilty of sin, by winning so comfortably last week against Tonga and Samoa!

The Samoans who gave much better opposition to the Maori All Blacks last week showed their superiority over Tonga by beating them 42–13 earlier in the afternoon after leading by only 6–3 at halftime.

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Making Olympic dream a reality



After Duncan White won an Olympic medal in 1948 in London, Sri Lanka had to wait for 52 years to end their medal drought. Susanthika Jayasinghe in Sydney in 2000 became the second Sri Lankan to win a medal.

by Rex Clementine

After Duncan White won the nation’s first Olympic medal in London, it took Sri Lanka 52 years to win their second Olympic medal in Sydney. If you believe in law of averages, our next medal should come somewhere in 2052. If you are over the age of 40 now, there is a good chance that you would be dead by the time the nation wins the next medal in Olympics. But then, there’s also something called if there’s a will there’s a way.

Perhaps, you don’t have to wait for as many as 52 years to win an Olympic medal if you can come across a genius like Susanthika. It is a well documented fact that she was a rare talent and she was destined for greatness from the moment her skills were spotted as a teenager. All what you need is someone with immense skill to break all the barriers and she remains an inspiration to millions of Sri Lankans.

But you tend to remember Arjuna’s words. Some players come along once in 50 years; Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan are the examples that he gives. The same is true with Susanthika.

However, some countries seem to be doing it with limited resources. Look at New Zealand. Despite a population of five million, they are among the top ten in the medals tally having already won six golds. Well, they have the sporting infrastructure, one may say. Fine, but what about Philippines, a developing country like us. They have already won two medals including a gold. Well, they have over 100 million population another may say. Then what about Cuba? With a population less than us (11 million), and an economy not so great, they have so far claimed 11 medals including four golds! Fabulous.

What prevents our athletes from reaching greater heights is an interesting question our readers may ask. One of the main issues that sportsmen in our country face is that the games they play are not professional. Except for cricket, all other sportsmen are amateurs. A good majority of them, thanks to their sporting skills find employment in the private sector and then instead of fine tuning their sporting skills, they do 8 – 5 jobs as business establishments are under pressure to perform constantly.

Businessmen who loved sports like Rienzie T. Wijetilleke, Hemaka Amarasuriya and late R. Rajamahendran are a rare breed who wanted their employees to train morning and evening and told them not to turn up for work. They will of course have an axe to grind if their sports stars didn’t perform up to expectations.

This is where the Sports Ministry needs to step in. Usually, the Ministry steps three months prior to a competition requests mercantile establishments to free the athletes to compete in global competitions. But sportsmen and women in other parts of the world are training six hours a day on a daily basis for four years.

Is there any possibility that the Sports Ministry identifies around five sports where there are medal prospects – ideally individual sports – and then offer these athletes annual contracts and ask them to train without worrying about earning a living. Surely, it’s not going to cost them an arm and a leg.

There’s three years for the next Olympics and with expertise coaching, the nation can have some hope of not waiting for half a century to win an Olympic medal. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

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How lending a bat to Murali landed Flintoff in trouble



Muttiah Muralitharan and Andrew Flintoff were team mates at Lancashire. During a tour of Sri Lanka in 2003, Flitnoff lends one of his bats to Murali, a gesture that would get him in trouble with England hierarchy.

by Rex Clementine

Spin icon Muttiah Muralitharan is a fiercest competitor in cricket, but he is also known for his friendly nature. He is hugely popular among both team mates and opponents. You would hardly come across someone who has something nasty to say about Murali; it’s like finding a needle in haystack. Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya gifting a bat to his Sri Lankan counterpart Chamika Karunaratne made headlines both here and across the Palk Strait. However, much before this, England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff lending Murali a bat made headlines.

Murali and Andrew Flintoff were great mates. They were team-mates at Old Trafford when Murali was Lancashire’s overseas signing.

In 2003, when England came to Colombo for their winter tour, Flintoff was a rising star. Three years later he would go onto become England captain. In his book ‘Second Innings’, Flintoff recalls his camaraderie with Murali.

“In that series, it panned out that I wasn’t bowling too much short stuff at Murali and he wasn’t bowling too many doosras at me. Which was a bit naughty, I can see that. I’d had dinner with him the night before one match. Murali said, ‘Fred, I haven’t got any bats left. Can I borrow one of yours?’ It was a bit tricky because Nasser Hussein had put a ban on us even talking to Murali. We were supposed to be freezing him out,” Flintoff recalls.

“Murali tried again on the morning of the match, asking for a word. Nasser was glaring at me from a distance, clearly very unhappy. So I said to Murali as quickly as possible, ‘When we go out to field, go into the England dressing room. Just nip in the back door and take one of my bats – but keep the whole thing under your hat.’

“Once the match was under way and we took a few Sri Lankan wickets, Nasser brought me on to bowl out the tail, as was the plan in those days. Out strides Murali, carrying my bat. Nasser, meanwhile, talks me through the plan. ‘I want you to go at him. Short stuff.’

“Hmm. Tricky one this, on lots of levels, especially given the status of bouncers and doosras for me and Murali.

‘Nasser, I think I can get a yorker through him, nice and full will do the job here,’ Flintoff tells Hussein.

But he doesn’t get an approval. ‘No, I just told you,’ Hussein says. ‘I want you to go at him.’

Flintoff doesn’t sour his relationship with Murali. So he decides to pin Sri Lanka’s number 11 with a yorker instead of a bouncer. ‘No, I’m going to try and bowl him. Hit the stumps. Job done,’ he tells himself.

“So, I ran in, trying to bowl a yorker, directly against instructions. Didn’t get through. In fact, it found the middle of the bat, my bat – good middle it had, too.”

“Nasser threw all his toys out of the pram. I was taken off. Then Murali started charging the other bowlers, smashing them.

“After one huge six, Murali walks between me and Nasser at the change of ends. I can see Nasser ready to explode. Murali has a huge grin on his face: ‘F****** good bat, Freddie.”

Sri Lanka won the match by an innings and 225 runs to seal the series. Any guesses about Player of the Series; Muttiah Muralitharan.

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Suresh who captained Thomians to President’s Trophy triumph passes away



The Thomians won the inaugural President’s Trophy Day-Night Tourney under Suresh Goonesekere’s captaincy

Former S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia cricketer Suresh Goonesekere who was the captain when the school won the Inaugural President’s Trophy passed away. He was living in the UK.

The S. Thomas’ Sports officials said that Goonesekere will always be remembered as a very good sportsman who brought honour to the school.

A batting opener Goonesekere played in the S. Thomas’ First XI team from 1990 to 1992, captaining the team in his last year. The names of both Suresh Goonesekere and his father P.N.W. Goonesekere are etched in the Battle of the Blues Big Match history.

The Thomians won when P.N.W. Goonesekere captained the team in 1964. When Suresh Goonesekere captained the school in 1992 the Thomians amassed massive 328 for nine wickets and restricted Royal to 145 runs in the first innings. While Royal had scored over 300 runs previously, it was the first time the Thomians had scored over 300 runs in the historic Battle of the Blues.

The Thomians were the winners of the Inaugurai President’s Trophy Day-Night Tourney when Goonesekere skippered team beat Ananda in the final in 1992.

Goonesekere also played for SSC in the Division I tournament.

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