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Juggernaut derailed and the Blues scrape home

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

It was expected to be a one-sided easy win for the Canterbury Crusaders. They were playing the lowly Otago Highlanders, top of the table against the near bottom. Furthermore, the Otago coach Tony Brown had dropped six of the stars or starting players, due to a breach of team discipline and ethics. Otago had Mitch Hunt was playing at no10 against the mercurial Ritchie Mo’uanga, both former teammates at Canterbury. A team of Wannabees from Otago against a team of superstars from Canterbury.

It was a frenetic start and the normally reliable George Bridge on the wing for Canterbury dropped a perfectly placed cross-kick and with it a chance for the Crusaders to get ahead early. 10 minutes into the game the Highlanders got a penalty far left of field and about 40 meters out. Mitch Hunt stepped up and converted, 3 – 0 to the underdogs. Seven minutes later Codie Taylor the Canterbury hooker was pinged for offside, 30 meters out and mid-right. Again, the Otago no10 converted 6 -0. Otago had learned from the Auckland Blues’ mistakes of not taking three points whenever Crusaders gave a penalty, as happened last week. The Highlanders continued their dominance with no seven Billy Harmon going over for a try within easy converting distance in the 23rd minute. 13 – 0 and a few punters who had taken the long odds, were beginning to smile. The Punters even began to buy drinks for their mates when another penalty was converted in the 31st minute and the ‘Landers went ahead by 16 – 0.

Crusaders were making many mistakes, dropped balls, wild passes, and even mistakes in the line out resulting in turnovers, and loss of territory was very “uncrusaderlike”. Otago continued to play well with Jonah Nareki one of my favorite up-and-coming young wingers in the tournament, pulling off an amazing turn-over off a defensive ruck and turning another Crusader attacking move to naught.

On the halftime hooter, the Crusaders forwards powered their way over the line from a rather scrappy line out. Codie Taylor the red and black hooker scored, and the conversion was simple for Ritchie Mo’uanga; 16 -7 at halftime.

Ten minutes into the second half Scott Barret the captain of the Crusaders was caught offside mid-right and inside their 22. Another three points for the ‘Landers and the score; 19 – 7. A good old-fashioned fly hack off a crusader’s dropped pass saw useful territory gained and 10 phases later Michael Collins of the Highlanders went over the line for another try which was converted. 26 – 7, where was the famed Crusader second-half spurt, even if it did come, was the margin too much? These were the burning questions around the long bar of the Ellerslie pub! The 68th minute saw David Haveli of the Crusaders score but Ritchie Mo’uanga missed a relatively easy conversion 26 -12 and into the last 10 minutes. It was all over in the 73rd minute when the Highlanders bench no12, Garden-Bachop picked up another dropped pass and scored a seven pointer 33 -12 and a half-strength (in theory) Highlanders team had achieved the impossible! Crusaders were beaten by what was possibly a record margin and against all odds. Committed, keen disciplined players are worth more than “superstars” to a coach – Is a theorem that has been proved time and time again; Kudos to Tony Brown, this is the stuff that great coaches are made of.

The Auckland Blues at home to the Wellington Hurricanes. Eden park the bastion of the Blues not as full as usual due to the Easter long weekend and the more affluent denizens of Auckland away at their holiday “batches” and on their boats. However, the Blues fan base are mostly pacific Islanders from the hard-working lower-income bracket of society, and they were probably also celebrating an increase of the minimum wage, brought about by the ruling Labour Government with effect from the beginning of April! The Auckland coach, Leon McDonald had made vital changes to the no 9 and no 12 positions in his team and the Blues skipper Patrick Tuapoletu was out of the game due to a shoulder injury. The ginger-haired Tom Robinson who had thus far been mainly a bench player started as the stand-in captain. A big job ahead of him, particularly as the usually wrong Sir John Kirwan of the expert panel backed the Blues to win!

The Blues kicked off and four minutes into the game the first scrum showed a bit of dominance by the home side. Two penalties 50 – 60 meters out but kickable for the giant Jordie Barret were not attempted and the Blues also disregarded a possible three pointer and chose the touch option. Jordie Barret can’t be kept out of the game and a huge 50-meter clearance kick from a defensive position may have woken his captain up to the fact that here was a kicking machine. In the 15th minute a penalty right in front of the posts, conceded by the Blues was a mere formality for Jordie Barret and the score read 0 – 3 to the ‘Canes. The Blues were pinged again, but the TV ref intervened, and the penalty was reversed, and a yellow card issued to Duplessis Kurefi of the Hurricanes for a high tackle. The 18th minute saw a great ruck by Aardie Savea the captain and no 8 of the ‘Canes, earning a penalty around 52 meters out and slightly left of the posts. Since the Hurricanes were a player down due to the yellow card and this was well within the kicking range of Jordie Barret, trying for the 3 pointer was a no-brainer. Barret missed but it was not due to lack of distance!

The Blues were not looking good. Basic mistakes, ball handling errors, forward passes, and bad line out throws plagued them to an extent that the fans started to wonder if it back to the bad old days. They were unable to take advantage of being one man up in the 10 minutes that ensued. In the 30th minute, a Blues rolling maul heading for the opposition line was apparently collapsed by Aardie Savea and a penalty try was awarded to the Blues and Savea yellow carded. Score 7 – 3. The general consensus was that Savea was hard done by, he will have to be careful however because if he wants to captain the All Blacks in the possible absence of Sam Cane the incumbent skipper, due to a shoulder injury, he has to reduce the number of times he is being sent to the sin bin. Savea is undoubtedly the best no 8 playing Super rugby Aotearoa at present, sometimes his over-enthusiasm results in too much attention from the referees!

The deficit was reduced four minutes later in the 34th minute when the Blues conceded another penalty in front of the posts and around 22 meters out. 7 – 6 with Barret junior doing the needful. However, the 37th minute saw the ‘Canes pinged in front of their posts and on the 22-meter line. Another “gimme” three pointer took the score to 10 – 6 in favor of the Blues. On the half-time hooter the ‘Canes got penalty 30 meters out from the Blues posts, in front of the posts and amid Jeff Wilson (Goldie) of the commentary panel waffling on about the Hurricanes needing to try and score a try, Jordie Barret took the three points. The score read 10 – 9 to the Blues at halftime.

Two minutes into the second half saw the Blues loose head prop Tu’ungafasi go off the field with a knee injury and another of my favorite players Alex Hodgeman come on. Hodgeman is very good in the loose and was soon showing his handling skills with a couple of great offloads. However, he was given a hard time by the ‘Canes tight head Alex Fidow and conceded a couple of “knee down” scrum penalties. He will no doubt learn not to get sucked in by these tactics as time goes on. Two minutes later in the 44th minute the Blues conceded one of those scrum penalties, it was around 55 meters out with the angle and mid-right. Jordie Barret stepped up and over it went, right down the middle. 10 -12 ‘Canes back in the lead and the youngest Barret brother making an emphatic statement as to why he should be a permanent member of the All Blacks. The ability to score three points from anywhere inside 60 meters of the opposition’s goalposts, surely assures a player of his place? Even in the All Blacks!

Around the 50th minute, the changes in the Blues three-quarter line began to pay dividends with a series of nice running breaks and great passes resulting in the new no 12 T.J. Faiane scoring mid-left. Duly converted and score reading 17 -12 for the Blues. The 64th minute saw Mark Telea score on the right-wing off a Ricco Ioane pass. A difficult kick was slotted by Otere Black, and Blue’s lead was extended to 24 -12. The Blues continued to show a lack of initiative on the field and probably missed the leadership of their injured skipper. A needless penalty was conceded in the 75th minute and Reed Princep went over for a try that Jordie Barret was unable to convert. 24 -17 was the scoreline until almost on full-time hooter when the Hurricanes scrum conceded another penalty 40 meters out and mid-right. Oteri Black who had a relatively quiet game but seemed to have regained his kicking form, put this one over too, to secure a 27 -17 victory for the Blues at home. This kick saw the Hurricanes lose their “losing bonus point” due to the increase in the winning margin.

A singularly unimpressive victory with shades of the “bad old days” of mindless, unthinking rugby that we had witnessed from the Auckland team in the past, raising its ugly head once again.



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When your best brains call the shots

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by Rex Clementine

There’s a feeling that the national cricket team has turned things around in white ball cricket after some humiliating experiences in the last seven years where there were whitewashes in plenty and failure to earn automatic qualifications for ICC events. Sri Lanka’s come from behind win in the Asia Cup in UAE is definite indication that the team has certainly made a leap forward. A few people were quick to take credit for the team’s success. As they say, victory has thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan.

There are some individuals who have enjoyed Sri Lanka’s recent success but haven’t gone onto claim credit. Former captain Aravinda de Silva and his Cricket Advisory Committee comprising Roshan Mahanama, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan certainly deserves much credit for revamping the cricket structure and introducing some drastic change.

One of Aravinda’s committee’s main decisions was to bring in youth for white ball teams. The young team wasn’t covering themselves in glory at the initial stages and the idea was even frowned upon. However, with constant exposure and with Dasun Shanaka chosen as the new captain, the team started to compete and earlier this month in UAE hit a purple patch. To win five games in a row was quite an achievement and when you think that three of those wins were against India and Pakistan, world’s number one and two ranked teams, you realize how special this was.

There was also a new fitness regime that was introduced around that time. It became a bone of contention with several players becoming ineligible for selections after failing fitness tests. It helped that Sri Lanka had a Head Coach in Mickey Arthur who valued fitness immensely. This resulted in players taking fitness seriously and the consequences of that were less injuries and improved performances.

Restructuring of the coaching department by depending heavily on local talents was another area that was done by the Cricket Advisory Committee. It was not only the national team that was looked at but dedicated coaching staff for under-19, development squad and the ‘A’ team were timely moves.

Another decision taken by them was introducing a new payment scheme for players whereby a performance based system was introduced. Although it was challenged at the start, the stakeholders bought into the new system as it was on merit rather than seniority. The Cricket Advisory Committee’s tenure was short lived but the structures that they put in place were vital in reviving the fortunes of the national cricket team.

Not all parties agreed with the changes that were introduced but they were needed. The Asia Cup win was Sri Lanka’s first major series triumph in eight years. If Sri Lanka wishes consistency on the cricket field moving forward, we need to make most of some of the best brains that we have in the game. Credit should go to Sri Lanka Cricket as well for agreeing to take a back seat and allowing their former captains to call the shots on vital matters in a bid to make the national cricket team competitive again.

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Junior Development Committee commences Youth Awakening 2026 ahead of next Youth Olympics

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The Junior Development Committee (JDC) appointed by the National Olympic Committee (NOC) is launching its operations under the program “Youth Awakening 2026” to identify and support young sportsmen and women of the highest caliber with a focus to produce star class athletes and increased success for the Sri Lanka National team in the international arena.

“Youth Awakening 2026” being the first of its kind looks to provide young athletes with consistent and continuous mentoring and training through a comprehensive threefold strategy adapted by the Junior Development Committee, by way of Programs, Direct Athlete Support and Funding.

“When it comes to high performance, we take the top athletes in Sri Lanka. Although they are top in Sri Lanka they are far below against the rest of the world and the strategy put together by the JDC would be the answer that would raise the standard of sports in Sri Lanka and allow our athletes to compete with the rest of the world” says Chairman of the Junior Development Committee of the NOC Shirantha Peiris.

Through Programs created and developed to promote fundamental principles and values of Olympians in Sri Lanka, Athletes could look forward to being connected with trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists who would play a key role in creating a healthy mindset and a positive approach towards their education, sports, and career.

Young High Potential players are offered a unique advantage with the ‘Direct Athlete Support Program’ designed to identify and provide opportunities aimed to facilitate their development and expose them to the next level of their chosen pathway through School Placement programs and holistic sports training. Two interesting developments of the program include a ‘Health cover’: where all JDC contracted athletes will be provided with a free of charge medical cover for the duration of their contract; as well as a ‘Medal incentive funding program’ that would promulgate state funded grants or corporate funded incentives to athletes who showcase true potential to win a medal in the international games.

The JDC takes pride in this unparalleled and one-of-a-kind program that is fully self-funded thereby reiterating its ethos which is to uplift athletics in Sri Lanka. Development of merchandise, marketing international competitions to attract sponsors, sustainability initiatives are a few steps taken towards direct funding.

While the JDC, through “Youth Awakening 2026” will truly awaken athletics in Sri Lanka to its true potential, Sri Lanka will see a continuity of top-notch athletes being produced making it an unceasing revolution. This movement is an ever advancing one, that would resonate throughout; in the face of Youth Olympics, Youth Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games etc. which presents itself as an excellent opportunity for corporates to add to their story and join hands with this exceptional initiative by dedicating themselves towards transforming the sports scene in Sri Lanka.

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Men’s Ashes 2023 to begin on June 16 at Edgbaston

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ASHES SCHEDULE

Men’s Ashes 2023 will get underway on June 16, with the first Test at Edgbaston. The last of the five Tests will begin on July 27 at the Oval, with Lord’s Headingley and Old Trafford hosting the three in between. These are the same five venues that hosted Ashes 2019. ECB also confirmed that the 2023 World Test Championship final will be held at the Oval in June, while the 2025 final will be hosted by Lord’s. The Women’s Ashes meanwhile, will begin on June 22, with one five-day Test match at Trent Bridge. Australia and England will then play three ODIs and three T20Is – the last of which will be played on July 18. Edgbaston, Lord’s and the Oval will host women’s Ashes T20Is for the first time.

“The Ashes series are among the most significant sporting events in world sport and we are looking forward to these highly anticipated contests in England next year, Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley said.

“There is no bigger challenge than retaining the Ashes away from home. There is huge excitement from our teams as they look to write themselves into Ashes folklore.

Australia will also travel to England for a T20I series early next month in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup Down Under. Following the multi-team event, Australia then host England for a three-match Dettol ODI Series in Adelaide (November 17), Sydney (November 19) and Melbourne (November 22).

“While these series are on the horizon, we’re excited for the cricket immediately ahead this summer as our men’s team host England across two highly anticipated Dettol T20I and ODI Series either side of the T20 World Cup.”

Before the Ashes, the men’s side will host Ireland for a Test match at Lord’s, starting on June 1, 2023. The two sides last played a Test at that venue in 2019. England will also play Ireland in three home ODIs – at Headingley, Trent Bridge and Bristol – from September 20 to 26.

“As a player, there’s no doubt that Test cricket is the absolute pinnacle of our sport. We were fortunate to play a Test against England at Lord’s back in 2019 – which was a memorable occasion for players and fans alike – so the news that we will be returning to play at Lord’s next year is very welcome,” Ireland Test skipper Andrew Balbirnie said.

“That match against England in 2019 was the last Test we have played, so we are excited to be returning to play the red-ball game next year. It’s one of four Test matches we are scheduled to play in 2023, which is so important for such a relatively young squad. There is no better place to really learn, develop and test your game as in multi-day cricket,” he added.

(Cricbuzz)

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