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Juggernaut derailed and the Blues scrape home



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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Dimuth, Mathews, Lakmal and others get pay cuts



Several Sri Lankan cricketers have refused to sign central contracts after significant pay cuts.

Dickwella and DDS secure US$ 100,000 contracts  

by Rex Clementine

Former captains Angelo Mathews, Suranga Lakmal and Dinesh Chandimal along with current Test skipper Dimuth Karunaratne and a few regulars will not sign contracts offered by Sri Lanka Cricket after they were forced to undergo significant pay cuts, The Island learns.

The biggest gainers in the new contracts that will be announced shortly will be wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva, who will each earn US$ 100,000. In fact, they are the only two players in the top category.

Mathews will lose as much as US$ 50,000 after his retainer was cut from US$ 130,000 to US$ 80,000. He will turn 34 next month and with the selectors indicating that they intend to move on with a younger crop of players for limited over games, there will be little motivation for him to accept the contract especially with Sri Lanka set to play just two more Tests for this year.

Dimuth Karunarante, who has made rapid strides in Test match cricket this year, will also receive a pay cut of US$ 30,000. Following his stunning hundred at the Wanderers in January and after finishing the Bangladesh series with 427 runs in three innings, Karunaratne, would have at least expected to stay on par with his previous contract of US$ 100,000, but his pay has been brought down to 70,000.

Suranga Lakmal will also get a pay cut of US$ 45,000 having been demoted to the second category from the first tier where he earned US$ 100,000 the previous year.

Everything about the contracts are not gloomy though with someone like Pathum Nissanka, who made a stunning debut in the Caribbean two months ago receiving a retainer worth US$ 55,000.

Kasun Rajitha would consider himself that he has won a lottery with him finishing with US$ 50,000. The quick from Matara, who recently shifted clubs, represented Sri Lanka in just two games last year across all three formats but he ends up with a lucrative pay package. Dinesh Chandimal is in a lower category than Rajitha earning just 45,000 US$.

Danushka Gunatilleke probably gets the unkindest cut of all having been lowered to the last category where he will earn a mere US$ 30,000. The left-hander has emerged as the most consistent batsman in white ball cricket in recent times having had a good tour of West Indies.



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Yupun clocks year’s third fastest time in Asia



Breaks national 100 metres record

Italy based sprinter Yupun Abeykoon improved his Sri Lanka National record in the 100 metres with Asia’s third fastest time of the season at the 10th edition of the Memorial Giulio Ottolia at the Fontanassa Sports Centre in Savona, Italy on Thursday.

Abeykoon clocked 10.15 seconds to break the national record in what turned out to be his first competition of the year at the northwestern Italian city.

Abeykoon bettered his previous record by 0.01 seconds. His previous record of 10.16 seconds was established in September last year.

Competing in Thursday’s final he was placed second behind Italian sprinter Lorenzo Patta who clocked 10.13 seconds to win in the absence of European indoor 60m champion Marcell Jacobs who stole the show early with a new Italian national record in the heats.

Jacobs clocked 9.95 seconds to break the Italian record in the heats but pulled out due to a calf cramp. Abeykoon too clocked a wind assisted faster time in the heats.

Abeykoon’s performance is just 0.10 seconds shy of the direct Olympic entry standard but it is the third fastest time by an Asian sprinter this year.

China’s Bingtian Su with a feat of 9.98 seconds (in April ) has the fastest 100 metres time in Asia this year. While Japanese sprinter Ryota Yamagata’s 10.14 seconds (also in April) is the second fastest time, Yupun’s time of 10.15 seconds is ranked third above Zhenye Xie (China 10.16 secs) and Tosin Ogunode (Qatar 10.21 secs).

Abeykoon’s feat is the second Sri Lanka record registered within days after US based high jumper Ushan Thivanka broke the national record in his event. While European and US training and competitions have helped the duo produce their best, lack of quality competitions due to the Covid 19 pandemic have held back the progress of a number of top local athletes who are on the edge of Olympic qualifying standards.


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KJP urges to play fearless cricket



by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s newly appointed ODI captain Kusal Janith Perera has urged his team to play without fear of losing in the lead up to his first assignment. The national cricket team will be heavily involved in limited overs cricket during the next two months traveling to Bangladesh for three ODIs on Sunday and then playing three ODIs and three T-20s in the UK. In July, they will be hosting India for three ODIs and possibly five T-20 Internationals.

KJP was named as captain with an eye for the 2023 World Cup as six seniors were axed following a string of poor performances in limited overs cricket.

“We have to play fearless cricket. Can’t be playing to protect your place in the side. When you do that you don’t give 100 percent. What I am telling the team is to give your best and that will work in crunch situations,” KJP told journalists yesterday.

“What I want is to create a winning culture. Fear of losing is not going to help us and we need to adopt a brand of cricket where we play fearless cricket. Personally, I have been successful batting fearlessly and I want the team to follow the same method. We won’t be hundred percent successful, but the important thing is that we need to be positive,” KJP explained.

KJP has struggled with fitness and injuries in recent years particularly hurting his hamstring too often. However, the reasoning behind the think tank of Sri Lankan cricket is clear as they want the team to adopt a bold approach without playing it safe.

One of the best knocks in Test match cricket in the history of Sri Lankan cricket was produced by KJP in Durban two years ago when he threw caution to wind batting with last man Vishwa Fernando and pulled off a stunning win against South Africa. His unbeaten 153 set the tone for the rest of the series as Sri Lanka became the first Asian country to win a Test series in South Africa.

However, he has not been able to hold onto his place in the Test side but the move has been criticized by some of the finest brains in the sport. His elevation to the captaincy seems to have come with their blessings.

KJP’s appointment is a bold move and it’s an indication that Sri Lanka need to cast away their traditional way of playing limited overs cricket.

Fielding has been one area that has been sloppy and has received little attention but with a new captain and a crop of young players in the side, this is an area that should improve vastly.

Exciting times are ahead for Sri Lankan cricket and it remains to be seen whether KJP with his attacking style is able to bring the team back to winning ways.

KJP is expected to keep wickets as well. It is the first time Sri Lanka have appointed a wicketkeeping captain since Kumar Sangakkara quit in 2011.

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