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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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Afghanistan elect to bat first in third T-20 International

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Afghanistan won the toss and elected to bat first in the third T-20 International against Sri Lanka at Dambulla on Wednesday. The Afghan captain won all three tosses in the series but this is the first time he has opted to bat first.

The game is a dead rubber with Sri Lanka having already secured the series 2-0.

Sri Lanka made four changes from the side that won on Monday to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three match series.

They left-out Dhananjaya de Silva, Charith Asalanka, Binura Fernando and Maheesh Theekshanka and brought in top order batter Kusal Perera, all-rounder Kamindu Mendis, off-spinner Akila Dananjaya and seamer Nuwan Thushara.

Afghanistan also made four changes leaving out Najibullah Zadran, Gulbadin Naib, Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq.

They brought in all-rounder Sharfuddin Ashraf, left-arm seamer Fareed Malik, right-arm quick Wafadar Momand and batter Mohammad Ishaq, who is making his debut.

The tourists are yet to win a game in the multi-format bilateral tour. They lost the one off Test match in Colombo and suffered a 3-0 whitewash in the ODI series at Pallekele before conceding a 2-0 advantage in the three match T-20 series in Dambulla.

Sri Lanka:

Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis (Wicketkeeper), Kusal Perera, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Kamindu Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dasun Shanaka, Wanindu Hasaranga (Captain) Matheesha Pathirana, Akila Dananjaya and Nuwan Thushara.

Afghanistan:

Ibrahim Zadran (Captain), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (Wicketkeeper), Azmatullah Omarzai, Karim Janat, Mohammad Nabi, Noor Ahmad, Hazratullah Zazai, Sharfuddin Ashraf, Mohammad Ishaq, Fareed Malik and Wafadar Momand.  

Umpires:

Lyndon Hannibal (SRI) and Ravindra Wimalasiri (SRI)

Television Umpire:

 Ruchira Palliyaguruge (SRI)

Match Referee:

Chris Broad (ENG)

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Sri Lanka teams reach tennis quarter-finals

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Dinara de Silva and Ganuka Fernando

The girls and boys teams of Sri Lanka reached the quarter-finals of the Billie Jean King Cup Junior and Junior Davis Cup Asia Oceania Pre Qualifying tournaments continued at the Sri Lanka Tennis Association courts on Wednesday.

The girls team beat Maldives 2-0, as Ivanka Samarasinghe (beat Nishan Naba 6-1, 6-2) and Dinara de Silva (beat Azim Araa Aasaal 6-2, 6-2) registered straight set victories in the singles.

The boys team edged out Iraq 2-1. Ganuka Fernando beat Shammama Faisac 6-1, 6-2 in his singles match before joining Lithum Jayabandu to win the doubles against Shammama Faisac and Bakr Akam 6-2, 6-1.

In the second singles Jayabandu went down to Bakr Akam (6-3, 6-2).

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Dialog powers Royal – Thomian for 19th time

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Lasantha Thevarapperuma – Group Chief Marketing Officer, Dialog Axiata PLC handing over the sponsorship to Rev. Marc Billimoria – Warden, S. Thomas’ College and Thilak Waththuhewa - Principal, Royal College. Also pictured (L) Rehan Gunasekera – Co-Chairman, Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee From RC, (R) Arjuna Waidyasekera – Co-Chairman, Royal Thomian Match Organizing Committee from STC.

Dialog Axiata PLC, Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, has extended corporate backing for the 19th year as official sponsor of the country’s blue ribboned cricket encounter, the ‘Battle of the Blues’ between Royal College, Colombo, and S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia on March 7, 8 and 9 at the SSC Grounds, Colombo. The limited-over ‘Mustang’s Trophy’ match will be on March 16, also at the same venue.

The 145th cricket encounter will be aired live on Dialog Television – ThePapare TV HD (Channel Number 126), live-streamed on ThePapare.com and the Dialog ViU App.

Further, Dialog initiated the ‘Play for a Cause’ charity initiative with a mission to uplift school cricket across Sri Lanka. Through a generous pledge of Rs. 1,000 for every run scored and Rs. 10,000 for every wicket taken, last year’s encounter raised a substantial donation of Rs. 1,128,000. The proceedings were distributed in consultation with the Principal of Royal College and the Warden of S. Thomas’ College. This commendable effort helped support and empower four deserving schools in the country.

In this year’s encounter, the boys from Mt. Lavinia will be led by Mahith Perera, while the lads from Reid Avenue will play under the captaincy of Sineth Jayawardena, the U-19 Sri Lanka skipper. The ‘Royal-Thomian’ series spans an impressive 144 years, making it the second longest uninterrupted cricket series in the world, behind the annual encounter between St. Peters College, Adelaide, and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Australia, which began just a year earlier.

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