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Player unity stands tall despite rugby’s divisions

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Club rugby captains of Police, Kandy SC and CH & FC are seen seated in a friendly atmosphere during the launch of the Nippon Paint League Rugby Tournament, which is set to commence on December 1 in Colombo. (Pic by Kamal Wanniarachchi)

By A Special Sports Correspondent

The Inter-club Nippon Paint sponsored league rugby tournament is set to make an ambitious start on December 1 (Friday) for the 2023/24 season with Havelocks Sports Club hosting Air Force Sports Club at the Park Club under lights. The kick-off is scheduled for 6.30 pm.

Rugby is a game of nerves and knowledge more than a contest between muscled men as of now. Today one needs the knowledge to take the ball forward and enough of information about where the opposition is weak. We have to see what the coaches have to offer this season; especially young coaches like Dushanth Lewke (CR&FC), Saliya Kumara (Havelocks SC), Shamly Nawaz (Army SC) and Fazil Marija (Kandy SC). From the three mentioned above Lewke reads the game the best and has produced results. Under the latter’s guidance CR&FC won the knockouts and performed exceptionally well during the league tournament.

Kandy Sports Club has maintained its stature as a rugby ‘institute’ ever since a revolt by members in a leading Colombo club back in the 1990s; which sparked an exodus of players to Nittawela. Since winning the league for the first time in 1994 Kandy SC has won this piece of silver wear for a record 23 times; the last being during the 2022/34 season under the leadership of Damith Dissanayake. The strength of Kandy SC is that the club can make its match-winner sit on the bench and still win a crunch game. Does that leave the players in a position where they cannot bargain unnecessarily when the time comes to renew playing contracts? We hear of just one casualty at the club and that is Suhiru Anthony who has crossed over to CR&FC and leads them this season. The Nittawela club is led this season by the fast running Lavanga Perera, who has shone for the side in both the ‘sevens’ and 15-a-side versions of the game.

As much as the country is divided in politics, so are the rugby clubs, but not necessarily the players. That’s why players are able to freely cross over to other clubs. In this rugby set-up it’s the clubs that own the players and look after their interests. If there is any little grey area associated with the cream of players there among them a few who don’t give their heart and soul when representing the nation at overseas tournament. This was once confirmed to this writer last season by the chief rugby selector at that time Asoka Jayasena. For the record the divisions among the clubs and the animosity against the rugby administration was shown in no uncertain terms when some clubs followed the sports minister’s orders and ganged up against SLR; showing their will to serve a stabilizing committee which was put in place to see to a constitution change at the SLR. Another sour point last season was Kandy SC protesting against playing at a neutral venue for the Clifford Cup and eventually pulling out of the tournament.

But coming back to the inter-club season it’s a different ball game. This writer believes in the saying ‘there is no game without players’. This was the catch-phrase for an advertisement regarding a leading brand of cigarettes which once sponsored the domestic league rugby tournament in this country. Rugby in Sri Lanka is about player management and clubs must take a bow for doing that since the game in the island went semi-professional some years ago.

One of the clubs which couldn’t retain some of its best products was Havelocks Sports Club. The best examples for such loses are Sanjeewa Jayasinghe and Dhanushka Ranjan. Both players ended up in Kandy. But still, despite these episodes, the Park Club has been a force to be reckoned with and has given the best teams in the league a run for their money. The only real loss this season would be last season’s coach Sanath Martis who has taken up the reins at CH&FC. The Park Club this season is led by Azmir Fajudeen.

Another team to watch this season is Navy Sports Club; a team which in the past was an institute that served as ‘the rugby home’ for at least two out of the three boys of the Rajapaksa family. Navy started becoming a force when Namal and Yoshitha played for the ‘sea going force’, but then the Sailors lost their sting in rugby after one brother crossed over to another club and the other hung up his boots to take up serious politics. Still Navy SC produces good rugby and had with them players in the likes of Samuel Maduwantha, Dinesh de Silva, Radeesha Senewiratne, Gihan Madusanka and Thilina Weerasinghe last season. The latter leads them this season. The only notable casualty this season for them is Adeesha Weerathunga who has joined the ‘Red Shirts’ this season.

Some of the other teams that could be in contention of high finishes this season are Police SC (Led by Mohan Wimalaratne), Army SC (led by Ashan Bandara) and Air Force SC (led by Parkrama Ratnayake).

There is a solid team build up at the Gymkhana Club (CH&FC) with the side being led this season by Avantha Lee and coached by rugby veteran Martis. The side finished at the bottom of the points table in the league tournament last season, but surprisingly produced some exciting rugby and was featured in some closely contested games as well. A question that rugby critics pose is how Sri Lanka Rugby SLR) can motivate a team like CH&FC- which had a low finish last season- when there is no relegation system in club rugby when compared to the schools tournament? In the schools’ rugby tournament the last placed team in the points table is demoted to playing in a lower division the next season.

Matches of the Nippon Paint Inter-club league rugby tournament will be officiated by an elite panel of referees assigned by the Sri Lanka Society of Rugby Football Referees.



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Leave aside revenge, work towards common goal says Mathews

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Angelo Mathews was Man of the Match in the second T20 International at Dambulla on Monday.

Rex Clementine in Dambulla

There has been a remarkable turnaround for the national cricket team in 2024 with Sri Lanka recording five series wins inside two months and have won all six games so far in the bilateral series against Afghanistan. The team has played some attacting cricket, a far cry from their World Cup campaign where players were sloppy on the field, awful with the bat and indiscipline with the ball.

Former captain Angelo Mathews, who was the star in the second T-20 International on Monday with an unbeaten 42 and two wickets, credited the new selection panel for the change of fortunes.

“The team has turned things around not with the dawn of the new year but with the dawn of new selectors. They have given lot of confidence for boys. Seem they have proper plans rather than doing things haphazardly. You see a massive difference out there with boys playing with freedom. Communication is a key aspect in international cricket. Forget about agendas, forget about differences, forget about revenge. Get together and think of Sri Lankan cricket.”

“It is all about planning. In a cycle you get two years or four years to plan things out. With the new selectors they have planned well. The new captains are doing a great job. They are giving confidence to youngsters and senior players. The guys are playing with freedom and enjoying their cricket rather than worrying about things. We are in good shape.”

Mathews was a doubtful starter heading into the game and had to prove his fitness on Monday.

Sri Lanka were struggling at 121 for five during the 15th over of the innings and Mathews reserved the best for his last taking Sri Lanka’s total to 187 for six hitting Azmatullah Omarzai for three consecutive sixes in the penultimate over.

“The plan was Sadeera to bat deep so that I could bat with freedom. Last game we didn’t bat 20 overs and it was a disappointment. Glad we got our act together. Sadeera was superb today.”

Mathews praised young Matheesha Pathirana, who was making a comeback to the side during the series and bowled some unplayable deliveries. The former captain expected a bright future for the 21-year-old.

“Facing Matheesha Pathirana at the nets is the biggest challenge. He bowls consistently at 150. It’s difficult to bowl that speed when someone is bowling straight but to bowl with that action makes things tougher. He has gained experience in franchise cricket and at 21 if you tell him to defend 12 in the last over he will do the job in nine out of ten games. He is a disciplined cricketer. We have to look after him well.”

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CR sit on the rugby throne after 26 years!

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Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) team celebrates winning the men’s division in the inter-club league rugby tournament. (Pictures courtesy Sri Lanka Rugby)

By A Special Sports Correspondent

Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club (CR&FC) produced rib bruising rugby last Sunday (February 18) to end Kandy’s winning streak and be crowned as the new men’s champions in domestic rugby. The women’s tournament was won by Sri Lanka Navy.

Turn the pages of time to the launch of this tournament and there were predictions that the game would find a new winner in the men’s segment. And that’s just what the sport did. In a way these are the results that serve the game well; results that end a regime and usher in a new king. Kandy was winning it for too long and the educated spectator probably had to motivate himself to travel to the venue and catch the action when he can already predict the result while sitting on his sofa at home.

But the crowds came in their numbers to Longden Place; which is a good sign because the sport has lost a chunk of its spectators already. This is probably due to the fact that games are less exciting and ticket prices are so high. CR&FC must be lauded for many things. One is that they celebrated 100 years in rugby last year and were generous enough to open the gates free of charge for spectators at the final this year. If there are attempts to bring back the crowds to the venues and stop them from watching matches on TV or their mobile phones then CR must be given pat on their backs. Believe this writer! Nothing can beat the thrill you get out of watching a gripping rugby match through the naked eye.

Players in the likes of Adeesha Weerathunga, Lasindu Karunathilake, Manilka Ruberu, Gemunu Chethiya, Zubair Dooray, Raveen de Silva, Randy Silva and KushanTharinduhave raised their game to the next level. All these players have delivered in the try scoring department as well; apart from performing in their allocated roles without blemish. Weerathunga, a former Isipatana College schoolboy, has come of age. From his school at Havelock Town to Navy SC and at present with CR&FC he has reached a level in his playing which guarantees a berth in the national side as well as in any other domestic club side which extends him an invitation. This guy needs not be surprised if Kandy SC makes an offer for him to do a switch next season; given that the Nittawela side is struggling to put its forwards in order and is looking for a pack leader. Another player who caught the attention of spectators was Dooray for his breathtaking runs and quick thinking on the field. All on all the forwards combined well with the backs and produced a smashing 33-25 win in the Cup Championship decider against Kandy SC. In the first round game CR beat Kandy 38-26; which was by a bigger margin.

We have to talk about Dushanth Lewke, the CR&FC coach, for turning this side around. Lewke is now set to add more feathers on his cap as a rugby coach and what’s important is that he seems to have made the whole rugby set-up at CR listen to him. This probably has to be the case because when a coach gets all the support from the club and given that the players are both willing and able the result is a resounding victory. He is the son of a top cop and accomplished rugby coach Nimal Lewke, a former Senior DIG in the Police who also excelled in rugby, rugby refereeing, boxing, pistol shooting and spent the best years of his life in the war front. His son only has to concentrate on rugby. This writer doesn’t wish to compare the two individuals nor the different eras they were present in, but what has to be told must be told.

Kandy SC just couldn’t come to terms with how CR played the game in a fast, open and threatening manner. Many seasons ago they were playing this same form of rugby and had the opposition in shambles, but that was possible only with better and more accomplished players. It was Kandy’s speed that shattered the opposition, but not anymore. Take the Ratwatte brothers Nigel and Tharinda out of Kandy SC and you’ll see an outfit which can be beaten by any other side in the tournament. The Nittawela side played especially around Tharinda Ratwatte, easily the best player in the tournament and the country at present. He is an individual who has raised his game while being in a set-up which doesn’t know how to progress in 15-a-side rugby. If you analyze sides in the past like Police, CH, CR, Havies and even Air Force (during the times when a try gave a team four points and there was no lifting allowed in line outs) every side improved as the season progressed.

There were far less learning tools back then and the internet was unheard of. But people knew the intricacies of how common sense worked and also details of subtle communication methods; like the lines on the palm are read in the subject of palmistry. People or coaches were open to the ideas of others and thanks to human kind there was no smart phone to make you think you know it all. The Kandy side was not a bad side and even had one of the most experienced and seasoned campaigners in the game like Srinath Sooriyabandara. There were players like Jason Dissanayake, Dinal Ekanayake, Danushka Ranjan, Dange, Kavindu Perera, Shanushka Abeywickreme and Thilina Bandara to carry Kandy’s hope this season. But they collectively failed to lift this Kandy side one notch up. Coaches Marija and Viraj Prashantha (two rugby stars during their playing days) may be thinking hard, but hard work and application only produces a human result, not a miracle.

As for Kandy it’s now back to the drawing board for analysis and reviewing the season. Unlike in school rugby, Kandy Sports Club, which has buying power, knows how to strengthen the side when homegrown talent cannot keep the Kandy SC flag flying. It’s interesting to see how Kandy SC recovers from this big loss and looks to the future; the Clifford Cup Knockout tournament is next.

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Thomians rout Trinity to clinch Ranil Abeynayake Memorial Trophy

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Nathan Caldera bagged eight wickets.

Under 19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

S. Thomas’ registered crushing innings and 114 runs victory over Trinity as Nathan Caldera and Yatindra Siriwardene collected match bags of eight and seven wickets respectively to dismiss their visitors for meager totals in the traditional Under 19 cricket encounter at Mount Lavinia on Thursday.

The Thomians first win over Trinity since 2018 was achieved in dramatic fashion as they dismissed the Trinity batting line up within 19 overs in the second innings.

The win was sealed in the seventh over in the post lunch session as Thomians grabbed the last five wickets within that period. Trinity had only nine batsmen in the second innings as open batsman Dimantha Mahavithana did not bat due to an injury.

Paceman Caldera who bowled with fire in the first innings completed a match bag of eight wickets. It included an impressive five wicket haul in the first innings where he gave away just six runs.

Thisen Eheliyagoda was the star in the batting department as he top scored with 94 runs on a wicket where Trinity’s top score was Tharana Wimaladharma’s 23 runs.

Scores

Trinity

64 all out in 33.3 overs (Tharana Wimaladharma 23; Nathan Caldera 5/06, Yatindra Siriwardene 5/19) and 58 all out in 18.5 overs (Nathan Caldera 3/15, Yatindra Siriwardene 2/14, Ashen Perera 2/10, Kavindu Dias 2/18) and 58 all out in 18.5 overs (Nathan Caldera 3/15, Yatindra Siriwardene 2/14, Ashen Perera 2/10, Kavindu Dias 2/18))

S. Thomas’

173 for 7 overnight 236 all out in 76.2 overs (Mithila Charles 27, Sadev Soysa 22, Senadhi Bulankulame 23, Thisen Eheliyagoda 94, Ashen Perera 26; Tharana Wimaladharma 4/47, Malith Rathnayake 4/52, Thisal Yapa 2/53)

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