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Hurricanes and Highlanders both win with a bonus point

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

Hurricanes at home to the Queensland Reds at Sky Stadium in Wellington. Basically, a dead rubber with the finals now definitely between two of the Kiwi teams and the Hurricanes all but ruled out. The tournament also taking on an air of “much of a sameness” and only the Australian teams showing improvement, probably due to playing better opposition. The Kiwi teams getting sloppier and losing their discipline and professionalism as the tournament progressed. A notable feature was that this was going to be the last game in New Zealand for Ngani Laumape a great servant of Wellington rugby and the current incumbent of the no12 jersey and sometimes All Black winger. A lucrative contract from a French club and not enough certainty from the All-Blacks selectors, who seem to have their eyes focused elsewhere, being among the reasons for the loss of this great player to NZ rugby.

The Reds started off with a basic error by not kicking the required 10 meters and the centerfield scrum that resulted gave Laumape his chance to show just how good he is by scoring under the posts in the third minute. 7–0 to the hosts. A few minutes later Laumape went over again but the TV replay showed him to have dropped the ball over the line due to a great tackle by Dangunu on the Reds’ wing. The Reds had developed a nice tactic with big forwards gaining momentum from long runs in and getting the ball of their nippy halfback McDermott in the second or third phase and breaking through the “Canes defence. Number eight Wilson made a great break this way but lost the ball inches from the line. Another try was denied to the Hurricanes in the 25th minute when Jordie Barret who had a very physical game, went over the line but the TMO ruled a knock-on. The ball seemed to be greasy and there were plenty of handling errors and loose passes. The Reds’ forwards were dominating the set pieces and Tyrell Lomax the ‘Canes loosehead prop was yellow-carded in the 27th minute and this meant they lost Du’ Plessis Kirifi (temporarily) in the number seven jersey as well because another prop had to come on for the scrums. A minute later McDermott came off the back of an advancing scrum and scored under the posts for the Reds, 7–7. The ‘Canes took a penalty mainly to run the clock down during the Lomax yellow card and took the score to 10–7 at halftime.

Within three minutes of the restart, Dangunu was yellow-carded by Ref James Doleman who was to issue two more yellow cards and award a penalty try before he was done for the day. Rueben Love the 20-year-old Hurricanes fly-half scored his first try in Super rugby in the 45th minute and Jordie Barret managed a difficult conversion taking the score to 17–7. The Reds still playing with one man short scored through their dynamic hooker Amosa in the 48th minute and Bryce Haggerty their number 10 converted taking the score to 17–14. At this stage, the Hurricanes captain and number eight Aardie Savea went off the field injured, and the Reds may have seen an opportunity. It was not to be however as Dan Coles came in off the bench (What an option!) and inside his first three minutes in the game, scored what is now his trademark try off a rolling maul constructed at the end of a line out. Only a five pointer this time and the score 22–14. 62 minutes into the game one of the most experienced commentators in NZ was reduced to the single expletive “blimey” when the referee aided by the TMO awarded a penalty try to the Hurricanes and dished out a yellow card knocking the ball deliberately over the dead ball line (i.e., a professional foul in a scoring situation) in a bizarre interpretation of the rules. 29-14 and Nani Laumape was subbed off the field to loud cheers from appreciative fans. The Hurricanes duly achieved the bonus point in the 70th minute Through Devon Flanders (36–14) and did one better before the full-time whistle when Dan Coles got his second off another rolling maul. The Final score 43–14 a record win for the Hurricanes over the Reds.

The second game on Friday was the ACT Brumbies hosting the Otago Highlanders in conditions very familiar to the Highlanders, extreme cold, in Canberra. Mike Frazer was the referee, and the Brumbies went into an early lead scoring an unconverted try through their winger Len Ikitai. Brumbies skipper and loosehead prop Alalatoa had a “brain freeze” and was caught blatantly offside in the 16th minute. The resultant touch kick and line out saw Ash Dickson the ‘Landers hooker score off a rolling maul and Mitch Hunt their fly-half had no difficulty taking them to seven points over the Brumbies five. Jonah Nareki got into the game in the 26th minute making great territory off an advancing scrum and passing to Aaron Smith who helped himself to a seven pointer 14–5. Lachlan Lonnegan the Brumbies hooker pulled one back for his side scoring on the stroke of halftime taking the score to 14–12 at the break.

The Highlanders sustained an unrelenting attack in Brumbies territory from the start of the second half. First, it was Aaron Smith who scored off an attacking scrum (21–12) and inside the next 10 minutes two more tries, one from Billy Harmon, unconverted (26–12) and another from Tomkinson on the wing (33-12) ensured a win with a bonus point for the Highlanders who have a very good chance of featuring in the final next week.

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Sri Lanka’s contingent prior to the opening ceremony

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by Reemus Fernando 

When Sri Lanka’s Olympic contingent were entering the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo yesterday, Nimali Liyanarachchi who could have easily become the country’s flag bearer was taking a seat in the business class for the first time in a long career to take wing from Colombo to Tokyo. On the same flight, Sujith Abeysekara who identified the talent at a very young age and helped her blossom into one of the country’s most successful middle distance runners was seated in the economy class.

It was not long ago that Nimali and fellow track and field athletes slept on the floor during transit on their way to the last pre Olympic competition. The country’s sports authorities have decided to provide five star facilities to Olympic bound athletes and that paved the way for NImali to travel in business class for the first time.

A winner of multiple disciplines at National Level, NImali has represented the country at numerous international competitions. No other athlete in the Sri Lankan contingent in Tokyo has excelled at regional events like the athlete from Sooriyawewa. A gold medalist at the Asian Athletics Championships and South Asian Games, the 32-year-old received a wildcard to the Olympics after Nilani Ratnayake, who was in contention for qualification slid in the world rankings. Before the lack of competitions pulled her down in world rankings Nimali was one of the top three Asians in her discipline.  Though Nimali is a wildcard entrant at the Olympics her fellow track and field athlete at the Olympics, Yupun Abeykoon is not. Abeykoon qualified through world rankings and could be the only athlete who could go beyond the first round. Abeykoon, South Asia’s fastest man and badminton player Niluka Karunaratne are probably the only Sri Lankan athletes who are competition ready as Nimali’s preparation too was hampered due to quarantine procedures following their return from India’s Interstate Championship.

Athletics fraternity was curious yesterday as to why the honour of carrying the country’s flag had not been give to track and field athletes. At the time this story was filed, rooky gymnast Milka Gehani and judoka Chamara Nuwan Dharmawardena were scheduled to carry the flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Nearly one third of the countries that took part in the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had handed their country’s flag to track and field athletes. Some of them were legends of the sport. Many time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was scheduled to carry the flag of Jamaica at the time this edition went to press. For the first time countries could be represented by two flag bearers at the Olympic Games. Sri Lanka, a country that has won its only Olympic medals in track and field had a gymnast and judoka doing the duty.

Twenty years after Sri Lanka won its last Olympic medal has athletics lost its place as the premier Olympic sport of the country or has other sports come to prominence surpassing track and field as prospective medal winning Olympic sports? It is the first time a gymnast is representing Sri Lanka. She was ranked 114th at the 2019 World Championships but according to NOC, she has received a continental quota spot due to cancellation of the Asian Gymnastic Championship.

Now take a look at Sri Lanka’s track and field athletes. Forget about the two track and field athletes in Tokyo. There are more than half a dozen track and field athletes who were among the top 100 athletes in the world in their respective disciplines including one who produced the 15th best performance of the world this year. They could not improve their rankings due to lack of opportunities to take part in top ranked Championships.

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Sri Lanka on course for consolation win 

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Avishka Fernando anchored the Sri Lankan innings after the hosts were set a target of 227 to win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday.

 

By Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka looked on course for a consolation win the third and final ODI against India at RPS yesterday as they reached 92 for one at the end of 15 overs chasing a target of 227.  Avishka Fernando gave the hosts a solid start in the dead rubber and was unbeaten on 46 when this edition went to print.

Fernando played some exciting strokes and his pulled six off Navdeep Saini was the shot of the day. It reminded of the power hitting of another Moratuwaite – L.R.D. Mendis.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa was unbeaten on 28.

Spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya came up with outstanding performances picking six wickets between them as India were bowled out for 225 after being 157 for three at one stage. 

Sri Lanka did three changes to the side that lost the second ODI while India came in with six changes handing debuts for five players, virtually playing a third string team.

Sri Lanka’s fielding that was a huge let down during the previous game showed some improvement as they backed up the bowlers to reduce India to 225 in 43.1 overs. 

Dananjaya started off poorly conceding three boundaries in his first three balls on his return to limited overs cricket and exhausted a review too in his very first over. Sri Lanka had indicated that they were going to consider the off-spinner only for T-20 cricket but were forced to bring him back following injury to Wanindu Hasaranga.

Jayawickrama, who had claimed 11 wickets on his Test debut against Bangladesh in May, bowled superbly as he claimed the wickets of three middle order batsmen in his second ODI. With the left-arm spinner striking at regular intervals, India never got any momentum in their innings.

Dananjaya dismissed Suryakumar Yadav when he trapped him leg before wicket and claimed two more wickets towards the tail end of the Indian innings.

Skipper Dasun Shanaka, who had got his act woefully wrong in the previous game, had things very much under control yesterday with some clever bowling changes. He himself sent down eight overs and claimed the key wicket of Prithvi Shaw for 49.

Rain had stopped play for 100 minutes during the Indian innings and the game was reduced to 47 overs.

A win is crucial for Sri Lanka as they would gain ten points in the ICC World Cup Super League.

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Meet Harijan, the 400 metres hurdler at Sydney Olympics  

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Waiting for the next Olympic hurdler – Part VIII 

by Reemus Fernando  

The last Sri Lankan man to run 400 metres hurdles at an Olympics is Harijan Ratnayake. That was 21 years ago. He will be in Tokyo next month. Ratnayake who holds the national record of the discipline will not be running hurdles there. Instead he is accompanying his charge Kumudu Priyanga for the Paralympics. Asian Para Games medallist Priyanga is not a hurdler. She will compete in the 100 metres and the long jump in the T47 category.  

“I do not have hurdlers training under me,” says Harijan who alongside Asian medallist Asoka Jayasundara are the only men to know how it feels like to have run the event under 50 seconds.  

Rajitha Niranjan Rajakaruna who won the bronze medal in the 400 metres flat event at the last National Championship is trained by Harijan. He clocked 47.21 seconds at the nationals. According to Harijan athletes willing to take up the 400 metres hurdles and ready to work hard are in short supply. “When Rajakaruna came to me he was running 400 metres in 57 seconds or somewhere around that. To become a 400 metres hurdler you have to be a good 400 metres sprinter as well. When the base is prepared he could be trained for 400 metres hurdles.” 

“I see many future prospects. But I can train only if they come to me,” says Harijan who earmarks Asian Junior Championship (2018) medallist Pasindu Kodikara as one.  

Harijan too was not a hurdler initially. He reached the pinnacle of his athletics career, established records and went on to represent Sri Lanka at Sydney Olympics when he trained under S.M.G. Banda, who was among the best in the business then. Harijan was introduced to Banda by incumbent president of Sri Lanka Athletics Palitha Fernando, who had been in the athletics administration since 1979. Things have change dramatically within the last two decades as athletes have continued to remain with their school coaches even after reaching senior level.   

After Duncan White won silver in the 400 metres hurdles in 1948 Olympics it took Sri Lanka more than five decades to qualify an athlete for the 400 metres hurdles. A clue to the question why had it taken so many years to unearth someone like Ratnayake might lie in a stack of books in an iron cupboard in the department of sports at the Ministry of Education. The event results of all athletics disciplines of the All Island Schools Games are carefully stored according to their year in a steel cupboard at Isurupaya. Our search for the 400 metres hurdles results of all Schools Games found that the event had been only introduced in early 90s. According to Sri Lanka Athletics statistician the Public Schools meet which was the forerunner to the All Island Schools Games had only the 300 metres hurdles.  

Had Ratnayake competed in 400 metres hurdles in his last year, the All Island Schools Games results of mid 90s should have had his performances. The name Ratnayake is not there in the final of any meet in that period. However in one particular meet heats performances shows an athlete from Dharmadutha Vidyalaya, Badulla being placed third in a heat. “When the championship was held in Anuradhapura I went to see the ruins after the heats. I did not even see the final.”   

However it took only five years for him to be Sri Lanka’s number one hurdler and win medals at Asian level and represent Sri Lanka at Olympics. The right athlete training under the right coach can bring the best out of both.

 

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