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Hurricane force in dead rubber



by Rajitha Ratwatte

It was emphasised that the game between bottom of the table Hurricanes and the Otago Highlanders was not a dead rubber, in view of the trans-Tasman stage of the super rugby tournament that is due to commence in two weeks time. If the Highlanders won this, it would give their coach some satisfaction as it would mean that they had beaten all the participating Aotearoa teams at least once. The conditions started off perfect with no wind and great conditions underfoot. Rain was predicted later.

The first scrum was in the second minute of the game, it had to be reset twice and finally the Hurricanes conceded an easily kickable penalty due to their tight head prop Tyrell Lomax being pinged for collapsing the scrum. Mitch Hunt the Otago number10 made no mistake, 3 -0 lead to the visitors. A series of kicks for territory ensued, reminding one of the old days when Rugby Union used to be referred to by its detractors, particularly from rugby league as “kick and clap”! Seven minutes into the game Karefi of the Hurricanes in the no seven jersey broke through the ‘Landers defence and found that irrepressible playmaker Dan Coles who wears the no two jersey but plays more like an open side flanker and also spends a lot of time lurking on the wing, he then passed inside to the no eight Flanders who showed good speed to canter over the line and score. Jordie Barret converted 3–7 and the Hurricane gathers force. The ‘Canes were awarded two kickable penalties in the course of the ensuing play but chose the touch option each time. Meanwhile in the 15th minute Dan Coles who characterises his brilliant loose play with the occasional “push and shove” got into a brawl with the Highlanders no10 Mitch Hunt. The resultant TV replay saw both parties at fault and two concurrent yellow cards were issued to two key players in either side! The referee Ben O ‘Keefe gave a long-winded explanation and justified his actions.

The Otago team was able to take advantage of the 14 man per side game first, with Josh Dickson the brother of their captain scoring right of the posts in the 17th minute. Easily converted even in the absence of Mitch Hunt and the ‘Landers back into the lead at 10 – 7. Now it was the Highlanders turn to turn down kickable penalties probably due to their first-choice place kicker being in the sin bin and two such opportunities were disregarded for territory gains. The penalty count was reading 2 – 6 against the Hurricanes and at this point both yellow carded players came back on the field. Jonah Nareki that highly rated young winger from Otago who started his super rugby career with a bang scoring two tries on debut, streaked over the line to score mid left after some great phase play with the Otago no eight, Japanese international Kazuki Himeno participating on two occasions. Additional points for conversion added and the score reading 17 – 7 for the Otago boys. The 33rd minute saw a penalty right in front of the posts disregarded for a scrum and the 20-year-old Hurricanes no10 Rueben Love dropped the ball on the line! Rueben Love has loads of talent and will be a star of the future but right now straight out of school, he looks a little lost at this level of the game. This is a real case for taking the club game to a higher level from the sponsor ship money that will become available if the senior players in NZ rugby agree to the mega bucks sponsorship deal that is pending from an American organization.

36 minutes into the game a captain’s referral made by Aaron Smith the All Blacks and Otago no nine against Dan Coles who was up to his tricks again, went against the challenger and the penalty was reversed and Otago lost their right to challenge for the rest of the game. This penalty although easily kickable for points was not taken and territory was preferred once again. The weather decided to support its namesake the Hurricanes with a fresh breeze and some rain coming down at this stage of the game. Dan Coles continued his impact on the game scoring a try mid left off some bruising loose play. Jordie Barret was unable to convert, and the score read 17 -11 with Otago ahead. A long kick by Jordie Barret went over the goal (probably due to the wind and rain) and a simple touch down would have resulted in a goal line drop out but a brain freeze by midfielder Gilbert of the ‘Lander saw him slice the attempted clearance and give the ‘Canes just what they wanted, an attacking line out well inside Otago territory. A penalty was awarded to the Wellington side from the ensuing maul, right in front of the posts and with the half time hooter echoing across the ground Jordie Barret took the home side even closer to their opponents 17 – 15.

The first minute of the second half saw Nani Laumape of the Hurricanes playing mid field and making a real bid for a place in the national side, beating Aaron Smith with a sprint for the goal line off a chip kick and scoring far left. Barret converted from a difficult angle and the ‘Canes into the lead 17 -22. It looked like the Highlanders came back straight away, stringing together 13 phases of play and Smith with a great pass sending no14 Sam Gilbert over the line. However, a captain’s challenge from the canny Dan Coles pointed out a marginal knock forward by the attacking side and the try was disallowed. The wind and the rain started up in earnest and a rather messy and scrappy period of play ensued. We have been spoilt in Aotearoa this Autumn, having lovely sunshine and little rain. We have forgotten that most of our Autumn rugby is usually played in wet and muddy conditions with the forwards dominating play! 52 minutes into the game and Dan Coles was subbed off, as no doubt the coaches were satisfied with his contribution to the game.

One minute later Rueben Love decided to showcase some of his talent by hitting a gap, showing a fantastic turn of speed and passing to Karefi from the third row who scored within easy converting distance for their strapping full back and the youngest of the Barret brothers, Jordie. 17 – 29 Hurricanes blowing hard! The Otago lads were not done yet and in the 57th minute another possible 3 pointer was disregarded, and the ensuing line out saw their skipper Ash Dickson score far right of the posts. The conversion was missed 22 -29 Hurricanes prevail. There was a lot of aggression from both sides, uncharacteristic for a local derby and also a virtual dead rubber. In the 70th minute Nani Laumape made another great break and Braydon Iose wearing the no20 jersey and in as a substitute third rower scored after a long thrilling run, far left of the posts. Barret missed the conversion, 22 -34 Hurricanes surging ahead. Less than 3 minutes from the end Solesi Rayasi scythed his way through the Highlander defence for over 35 meters and scored mid left. This was converted and the final score read 22 – 41 with the Wellington Hurricanes finally living up to their potential even in the absence of their regular captain Aardie Savea.

An item that may have caught the readers interest could have been the mention of the pending Mega sponsorship deal pending from an American organization. New Zealand Rugby has received a $465 million offer from US technology investment giants Silver Lake for a 15 per cent share of commercial rights valued at $3.1 billion. All provincial and club rugby organizations have voted in favour of this deal. However the current All Blacks players have the final say as it may result in less money for them in the form of match fees. The sponsorship money is expected to flow down to the lower levels of the game and NZ rugby has never seen such sums before. The players decision is awaited with trepidation and anticipation.

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Himasha’s ban extended to six years



Himasha’s doping violation

by Reemus Fernando

The Appeals Committee of the Sri Lanka Anti-Doping Agency that heard sprinter Himasha Eshan’s appeal against his suspension, has decided to extend the ban against the former national 100 metres champion to six years.

SLADA has informed the athlete that the Appeals Committee had decided to extend the ban to six years after the appeal hearing conducted on November 3.

According to the letter sent by SLADA, Himasha will now be banned till 25th October 2027 which effectively closes the former national 100 metres record holder’s chances of competing for Sri Lanka again.

The 28-year-old was tested positive for a banned substance during a random test conducted by SLADA on October 26, 2021. The Disciplinary Committee of SLADA first banned him for four years from October 26, 2021 to October 25, 2025. That ban has now been extended by two years.It was the second time that the South Asian Games medallist has been found positive for a banned substance and he is also the only Sri Lankan athlete to be tested positive twice.

He was first found positive for a banned substances when he was 17 years old. He was slapped with a two year ban which was reduced considering his young age. The World Anti-Doping Agency introduced four years bans for first time offences in 2013. According to Anti Doping authorities any reduced terms are added to the suspension when an athlete is found positive for the second time.

This time Himasha was tested positive during a random test conducted by SLADA on October 26, 2021. The Anti-Doping authorities collected Himasha’s urine samples at the Army quarters at Narahenpita. He was involved in several impressive performances including a wind assisted 10.29 seconds feat to win the men’s 100 metres during the Army Athletics Championships which was held around that time.

Once the fastest man in the South Asian region, Himasha was coached by Chaminda Perera. He won the gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games and set a South Asian regional record of 10.22 seconds in 2019. He was also part of Sri Lanka’s 4×100 metres team that established the current national record in the 4×100 metres relay.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Al Nassr knocked out of Saudi Super Cup



Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr were knocked of the Saudi Super Cup on Thursday after a 3-1 semifinal loss to Al Ittihad in Riyadh.The 37-year-old Portugal international, five-times Ballon D’Or winner, had a couple of chances to score but was well shackled by the Al Ittihad defence for most of the match.

Anderson Talisca’s goal for Al Nassr in the 67th minute was not enough to turn around the deficit from two first-half goals for Al Ittihad from Romarinho and Abderrazak Hamdallah.

Muhannad Al-Shanqeeti added the third three minutes into stoppage time.Al Nassr next travel to Al Fateh in the Saudi Pro League on Feb. 3.


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Stefanos Tsitsipas beats Karen Khachanov to reach final of Australian Open 2023



Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas has another chance to land his first Grand Slam title after reaching the Australian Open final by beating Russian Karen Khachanov in the Melbourne last four.Third seed Tsitsipas, 24, won 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 against Khachanov, who was going for a maiden major final.Tsitsipas lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final and might have the chance to avenge that loss.

Serbia’s Djokovic plays American Tommy Paul in Friday’s other semi-final.Tsitsipas, who will become the world number one if he wins the title, eventually booked his place after recovering from Khachanov saving two match points in the third-set tie-break.

Another tight forehand saw a third chance disappear in what proved to be the final game, before he regained his composure to convert his fourth when a first serve was batted long by the 18th seed. Asked what he was thinking when the match went into a fourth set, Tsitsipas said: “I thought about how hard I’ve worked to get to this position.

“But if you stick around, dedicate yourself even more, and concentrate even more in the important moments it pays off.”

Nine-time champion Djokovic is the favourite to face Tsitsipas and takes on the unseeded Paul, who is competing in his first major semi-final, at 08:30 GMT on Friday.

The 35-year-old former world number one has won in Melbourne every time he has reached the last four and is aiming for a record-extending 10th title which would equal Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 major men’s titles. At a tournament with a hard-court surface on which he thrives, and in a city where he is warmly backed by its large Greek population, Tsitsipas has long appeared destined for success at the Australian Open.

The towering youngster announced his arrival there with a famous 2019 win over defending champion Roger Federer in the fourth round, only for a captivating run to be ended when he was crushed by Rafael Nadal in his first semi-final appearance.

Long-time rival Daniil Medvedev ended his dreams at the last-four stage in both 2021 and 2022, with another Russian – this time, the powerful Khachanov – standing in his way this time.

Backed by a vocal crowd who waved Greek flags after virtually all of his winning points, Tsitsipas started confidently against a player who he had beaten in all of their five previous encounters.

Khachanov could not cope with Tsitsipas’ pounding ground-strokes and dynamic athleticism as the world number four moved two sets ahead.

When Tsitsipas broke early in the third set and moved into a 5-4 lead which left him serving for the match, few on Rod Laver Arena expected anything other than a straight-set win.However, nerves kicked in for Tsitsipas, who suddenly looked unsure with his ground-strokes, and Khachanov cut loose to extend the contest.

After a bathroom break before the fourth set, Tsitsipas returned free of the weight of expectation and broke Khachanov’s serve at the first opportunity.Dominant service games from that point ensured there would be no repeat of the previous set as he finally reached the final of what he calls his “home” Grand Slam event.

“I feel blessed for the fact I’m able to play tennis at this level and for many years I’ve wanted to put Greek tennis on the map – Maria [Sakkari] and I have done that, I think,” Tsitsipas said.

“Coming from a small country like Greece I feel so grateful I get support like this.

“I never thought I would be treated so well here so I’m extremely happy I’m in the final now – let’s see what happens.”

(BBC Sports)

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