by Rajitha Ratwatte
The Otago Highlanders after their record-breaking win over the Crusaders who looked unbeatable up to that point in the season, were up against the Waikato Chiefs who also seemed to have turned their season around after beating the Wellington Hurricanes. However, the chiefs were without their captain and All Blacks captain Sam Cane, who is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. It was going to be an even contest and a keenly fought match was expected.
15 minutes into the game the sides were inseparable with the score line reading 13 each. In the 15th minute a penalty awarded to the Chiefs, right in front of the posts saw Damien Mackenzie make no mistake and the Chiefs crept ahead 13 – 16. The next 45 minutes saw no change in the score line and typical robust forward play and strong unshakable defence from both sides. It was only in the 60th minute that the Chiefs were able to finish a number of phases and scramble over the line, close enough to the posts to enable 7 points 13 – 23. In the 69th minute, Josh Ioane one of the “bad boys” from last week (dropped with 7 others for breaches of discipline) joined the line and spotted a gap to go over the line mid left of the posts. He converted himself and the score line was 20 -23 Highlanders catching up. 4 minutes from the scheduled close, the ‘Landers completed the catch up thanks to a simple penalty and the score was even Stevens at 23 all with two minutes to go. The Chiefs were awarded a penalty on the 50-meter line at the full-time hooter and Damian Mackenzie stepped up, but his kicking record particularly over long distances was not convincing enough to leave the die hard ‘Landers fans, without hope. Sure enough he missed and we were in to the Golden Point, extra time for the first time in Aotearoa super rugby 2021.
Golden point is when the game is restarted with another toss and played for 10 minutes and whoever scores first wins. If no one scores the match is declared a draw. Highlanders skipper Aaron Smith won the toss and picked the side of the field that he wanted to start from. Two minutes into the golden point, the Chiefs line out was penalised for jumping early. Since this was only a free kick the ‘Landers called for a scrum, it was a good attacking position on the opposition 22-meter line. The ball was won and passed straight into the pocket with Josh Ioane well positioned for a drop goal. Josh Ioane would have celebrated his comeback in style if he managed to convert this drop goal attempt, but it was not to be. Four minutes into extra time Anton Lennert- Brown that hard working All Blacks and Waikato center three-quarter showed us that backs can also play like forwards by supporting his own weight over the ball and securing a vital penalty off a ruck. It was around 37 meters out and straight in front of the posts. This was the extreme limit of the range that the diminutive Damien Mackenzie could achieve. He stepped up and the X factor that exceptional players are able to call on when the going gets tough, must have played a part in the kick sailing over the middle of the posts and securing a desperately needed win for the Waikato Chiefs 23 – 26.
Sunday afternoons game was Wellington Hurricanes against the Crusaders. Wellington playing at home and 19-year-old schoolboy, Rueben Love making his debut at no10. Aardie Savea was wearing the no 7 jersey for this game. Joe Moody who mans the loose head slot for the All Blacks and Crusaders was playing his 100th game and auctioning his jersey after the game in aid of prostate cancer. He lost his father to this disease around 10 months ago.
The debutant Rueben Love got off to a great start picking up the ball inside his 10-meter line and making a great run and a chip kick that took the ball into the crusaders’ 22. Two minutes into the game the ‘Canes got themselves a penalty around 50 meters out and in front of the posts. Usually, meat and drink for Jordie Barret but he was kicking into what Ian Smith (tongue in cheek) described as a breeze. There is never a breeze in Wellington, it is either a force 10 gale or a typhoon! Jordie missed, no addition to the score. Ten minutes into the game the Crusaders conceded another much easier penalty around 28 meters out and in front. J. Barret was not going to miss that, and the Hurricanes went into a 3 – 0 lead. The Crusader retaliation came just two minutes later when George Bridge, that great finisher powered his way over the line but seemed to be held up until Ngani Laumape of the “canes dived on top of the players and allowed the ball to be grounded. Laumape displayed a weakness that some Pacific island players have in relying on brute force when rugby union is really about finesse. 3 – 7 and Crusaders leading. In the 23rd minute George Bridge went over again for a try in the extreme left corner and Mo’uanga converted brilliantly, 3 -14. Meanwhile the “canes got out of jail” with a penalty reversal coming off a captains challenge and what would have been a gifted 3 points to the crusaders, turned into a clearing kick due to a high tackle that had been missed by the ref. A great example of the new trial rule working to perfection. Meanwhile lineout throws from both teams were not working and turnovers from lineouts were rife. Wild passes and handling errors from the Crusaders continued, at one stage Crusaders handling errors were 5 to nothing from the Canes. The mighty Crusaders pack was losing scrums and conceding penalties. Big trouble in the workings of the juggernaut. The 27th minute saw some great tireless forward play from Dan Coles the Hurricanes hooker, he got involved in three phases of play out of sseven and finally got a great pass off to Laumape who powered his way over the line for a 7 pointer. 10 – 14 Crusaders still in front.
At this point in the game there was a flurry of scoring. First the Crusaders clawed three points straight back with a simple penalty and went back into a seven-point lead. 10 -17. Straight off the resumption, the younger Savea brother, Julian sprinted down the right touch line and scored for the ‘Canes. Jordie Barret kicking into the wind from the extreme right of the field was able to bring the ball back and send it between the posts. Score’s level 17 all. Mo’uanga showed his absolute brilliance with a beautiful chip kick after drawing the defence and sent Seevu Reece (the leaping prawn) away. However, Reece was pinged for foul play and the Hurricanes got out of jail again! It was almost half time, and the Hurricanes got a 60-meter penalty but chose to kick for touch as they were kicking into the wind and even Jordie Barret may have found this difficult. However, they gained good touch and got over the line but were unable to ground the ball.
At this stage we had an incident that has begun to typify the way the Crusaders play. Highly unnecessary for a side with so much talent and ability. Scott Barret the Crusaders captain raised a captain’s challenge (the half time hooter had gone) and got the ref to review an incident when Ngani Laumape displaying the aforesaid unnecessary force that is his penchant, kneed a player on the ground. Now in the “bad old days” when rugby was still a man’s game such incidents when missed by the ref, were duly noted and referred to the “hit men” of the team and revenge extracted at an opportune moment. However now, and especially the Crusaders cry out in anguish to the referees, throw in some acting skills and usually get a yellow card or even a red card against their opponents. The ref duly obliged (yellow card) with a faint air of embarrassment, that I could relate to, and this meant the Hurricanes would start the second half one man down.
Second half started with scores level and the Wellington team playing with the wind at their backs, this would obviously add range to the already massive kicks of the youngest Barret brother. Two minutes into the second half Aardie Savea made a great break off the back of the scrum (he played no 8 although he was wearing the no7 jersey) and sent his no 9 Brent Hall away who then passed to Westhuizen on the left wing who scored. Jordie Barret converted with another brilliant kick and the score line was 24 -17, ‘Canes in the lead. Aardie Savea seemed to have taken a big knock on his knee but soldiered on and continued to make a huge difference to the Hurricanes loose play. The Crusaders went into full attack mode and usually when they do this, they are clinical and perfect and invariably score. However, basic mistakes, pinged for obstruction, conceding scrum penalties and chip kicks going astray led to the Hurricanes not conceding points. The Crusaders were unable to score with the opposition one man down and in fact the opposition scored! Maybe the rugby God’s are still able to have their way! In the 55th minute the entire Hurricanes side was pinged for not bothering to get onside off a kick from their full back. It was a huge booming kick from Jordie Barret and the fact that the Hurricanes players did not wait for him to put them on side would have made little difference to the game, but we are told the referees have been asked to crack down on this infringement. The resulting penalty was easily converted by Mo’uanga. 24 -20 but the home side still ahead. Another penalty this time for the ‘Canes, around 30 meters out posed no problem for Jordie Barret and with those 3 points he became the highest points scorer for the tournament (overtaking Ritchie Mo’uanga) to date and took his team to a 27 – 20 lead.
At this point two players who had been playing their hearts out for the Wellington team, skipper Aardie Savea and hooker Dan Coles were subbed off the field. This proved costly but would have been necessary as a man can only do so much! 63 minutes into the game the Crusaders strung together seven phases of play and Seevu Reece went over the line from what initially looked like a forward pass but was later cleared by the TV ref. scores level once again 27 all. 71 minutes into the game, the Hurricanes got a penalty 63 meters out but Jordie Barret was kicking with the wind behind him, and the crowd was chanting JORDIE< JORDIE and left their team with no choice but to take the kick. Aardie Savea was moving his lips in prayer from the sidelines. Jordie missed but it was not due to lack of distance! two minutes from the end Ritchie Mo’uanga tried a drop goal and missed, scores level at full time and two golden point games in succession.
This is where superior coaching and complete coaching comes to the fore. The acting Hurricanes skipper looked lost with the decisions he had to make when he won the toss and the Crusaders pulled off a great one- two trick with Ritchie Mo’uanga who usually takes drop goals running with the ball and getting involved in a ruck and making the Hurricanes defence think that the danger of a drop goal was non-existent, only to have David Havili kick a drop goal from acting first receiver. All over red rover, with just two minutes into extra time.
The Crusaders did win but they should be rather worried because the usually well-oiled juggernaut is not functioning the way it should.
Bringing cricket’s glory days back
Rev. Br. Nimal Gurusinghe FSC
After several setbacks in cricket in recent years, the national cricket team is looking to regain past glories. I must congratulate the national selection panel headed by former fast bowler Pramodaya Wickramasinghe for some of the bold decisions they have taken over the past two months.
In the Caribbean, the selectors handed the first Test cap to Pathum Nissanka, who made a hundred on debut and then last week in the second Test against Bangladesh, the selectors blooded in Praveen Jayawickrama, who took 11 wickets for 178, a Sri Lankan record for a debutant. It is also the tenth best figures by a player on debut in the history of Test cricket.
There is no doubt that we have talent in the country and bold moves such as these throwing the players into the deep end will bring us desired results.
I would like to see continuity in selections and for this to happen the current lot of selectors need to serve for a longer period of time. Our present system where we change selectors every year simply doesn’t help.
One of the things that I would like to see is resource personal like psychologists being brought in to assist our players. The modern day game has changed so much and a psychologist will be able to help players meet modern day demands. I see that teams like Australia, England and South Africa make use of psychologists. Although we too have done so, there is no continuity in this vital aspect.
One of the modern trends that I have seen in Sri Lankan cricket is our tail is too long. We do not have many tail-enders who are able to contribute towards the team’s total. We need to emphasize a lot on the tail getting exposure during training sessions and as a result they will be able to contribute towards the team’s total.
I am also glad to see that the selectors emphasizing a lot on fielding these days. At the same time, I would like to see them giving equal importance to fielding. This vital area has been neglected so long and that is one reason why we do not do well at present in one-day cricket. Sri Lankan teams of the past were on par with teams like Australia and South Africa when it came to fielding. But not anymore.
When we stress the importance on fielding in selections, if players are able to take half chances and create run outs that is going to be so crucial in crunch games.
Another aspect that I would like to see improve is running between the wickets. I can not recall when the last time a Sri Lankan pair completed three runs was. Physical fitness is so vital for this to happen.
Another thing that I would like to see happening is our players doing well not just at home but overseas as well. We are yet to win Test matches in Australia and England although we have been a Test playing nation for 40 years now.
I wish Pramodaya and his team good luck and look forward to see them transforming Sri Lankan cricket. Pramodaya is a member of the World Cup winning team and he knows what is required to become a champion team.
National badminton players dominate Summer Season Tournament in the hills
The hills were alive with the swish of rackets and smashing shuttles as the popular Summer Season Badminton Level I Championships came to a close last week. What was noteworthy was the performances of Sri Lanka’s top shuttlers who left no room for contention by winning all the plums of the scintillating competition. With Olympic prospect Niluka Karunaratne away on the international qualifying circuit and brother Dinuka domiciled in the UK on an advanced training program, the rest of the Elite Squad were equal to the task.
Ranthushka Karunatilake, for long in the shadows of his more renowned exponents came out fighting to get the better of the seasoned Buwaneka Gunetileke. The hunger Ranthushka displayed was plain to see for after giving up the first set, he clawed his way back to surprise the senior partner with a nerve wracking battle that went to the wire with a 21-19 score in the two following sets. Earlier, he partnered Buwaneka to clinch the men’s doubles with an overwhelming victory against evergreen contenders Clarence Homer and Hasitha Chanaka.
In the Women’s Open, Dilmi Dias had no major opposition clinching the women’s singles with ease against the up and coming Ranithma Liyanage before taking the women’s doubles with her partner, Kavindika de Silva. Young Ranithma just 13 years of age, though beaten in the final, is certainly making an emphatic statement in the sport. Badminton fans are sure to hear about her in the not-too-distant future.
Other top ranked players to impress were Rasindu Hendahewa and Viren Nettasinghe in the men’s category, while Panchali Adhikari and Madushika Dilrukshi were notable in the women’s category. Many others in the elite squad were not present due to on-going examinations, the likes of Lochana de Silva and Thulith de Silva and yesteryear champions Thilini Hendahewa and Kavidi Sirimanage. Sachin Dias and Hasini Ambalangoda are nursing injuries following the Nationals and are expected to return to the courts in the Southern Open, late May.
Watching their charges keenly were the National Coaches led by Pradeep Welagedera assisted by Yukthi Perera, Rajitha Dahanayake and Subash Chanaka, while Chairman of the National Pools, Palitha Hettiarachchi had a good look at the National Pool players, especially those in the Elite Squad who have undergone a very high-level training and conditioning over several months.
SLB President Rohan de Silva who is always seen among the Badminton Masters winning several medals both here and abroad was at hand to witness the performance of est players in the country and also give the Summer Season event a big boost by ensuring all arrangements were fully supported to achieve a very high level of organization amidst the stringent Covid 19 protocols.
Bangladesh-Sri Lanka ODI series to be held in Dhaka
The upcoming three-match ODI series between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will be held at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Dhaka, the BCB has announced.
The matches, part of the ICC’s ODI Super League, will be held on May 23, 25 and 28, within a bio-bubble stretching between the team hotel and the ground.
Sri Lanka will arrive in Dhaka on May 16, shortly after the Eid ul Fitr weekend, and complete a three-day quarantine. Their first practice session will be on May 19 at the National Cricket Academy ground, adjacent to the stadium. The visitors will then play a practice match at the BKSP on May 21. At the conclusion of the ODI series on May 28, the Sri Lankan team will depart on the following day.
This will be Bangladesh’s third ODI series within the ICC’s World Cup qualifying campaign. They are currently in seventh place, having beaten the West Indies 3-0 at home in January, but lost to New Zealand 3-0 in March. Sri Lanka lost to West Indies 3-0 last month, are now in 9th place.
The two teams only last week played out their final World Test Championship series, which Sri Lanka won 1-0 after a 209-run win over Bangladesh in Pallekele.
Sri Lanka will become the second international team to arrive in Bangladesh since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The BCB successfully hosted West Indies in January-February this year, in a three-ODI and two-Test series in Dhaka and Chattogram.
This will however be a different situation, since Bangladesh are in the middle of a strong second wave of Covid-19 cases. The country has been under a lockdown since April 5. The international flight suspension ended on May 1, but the country’s lockdown has been extended till May 16.
Bangladesh will be without their fast-bowling coach Ottis Gibson, with the team opting to use a local coach instead. (ESPN Cricinfo)
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