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Suncorp Hoodoo!



by Rajitha Ratwatte

The Bledisloe dead rubber but a game with points for the tri-nations rugby tournament played at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. The Wallabies had lost only once at this venue and is there something in a venue that has an outcome on the result?

All blacks had rung in some changes and so had the Wallabies. A humid day in Brisbane and a rather hurried transit to the ground for the Blacks and Nick Berry refereeing a game expected to be an easy win for the NZ team. The Wallaby no1 James Slipper led the team out in his 100th appearance for Australia.

Within two minutes of the kick-off, a nice little chip kick from Reece Hodge playing at no10, combined with a favourable bounce of that ever so fickle rugby ball saw the Wallabies score the first try mid-left. A relatively easy kick was missed by the Aussie no10 and the Wallabies were off to a 5 – 0 lead.

Eight minutes into the game, a desperate attack by the All Blacks with equally resolute defence from the Yellow Jerseys culminated in Ricco Ioane getting over the line from his left-wing. The kick from the extreme left of the posts saw Jordan Barret, who had the kicking duties for the game hit the upright. The kick missed score 5 – 5.

Scott Barret the third of the Barret boys showed great skills in loose play and won the ball and his big brother Beauden made a great touch kick in the 13th minute. However poor positional play by the All Blacks no1 Karl Tu’inukuafe gave away a defensive penalty deep in Wallaby territory.

Around the 20th minute Seevu Reece who was playing on the right-wing and from whom great things were expected, seemed to be trying too hard and got pinged twice in succession for playing the ball when on the ground and gave away penalties, the second of which was mid-left and around 30 meters from the posts. Easily kickable for Hodge and over it went. Wallabies lead 5 – 8.

Then the card game began! Yet another microscopic analysis by the TV ref of a tackle reached a conclusion that the All Black no3 Ofa Tuungafasi while tackling had struck his Wallaby opponent on the point of his jaw with his shoulder. This was simply due to the different heights of the players and obviously had no malicious intent at all. There was plenty of malicious play going on from the Aussies as is their style but the Referees’ got it completely wrong and what should have been a simple penalty or even a yellow card at worst was declared a red card offence! In the 23rd minute of the game, the All Blacks were reduced to 14 players for the rest of the game. A vital lifter in the line out had been summarily dispatched from the game.

A scrum came up in the 28th minute and there was a problem as the no3 had been red-carded! Akira Ioane the elder brother of Ricco ( we had two sets of brother representing NZ in this game – 3 Barrets’ and 2 Ioannes’) who had a strong game had to be benched to get another prop on the field and midfielder Lennert- Brown had to bind at no6 in the scrum. Sam Cane who had been targeted for some foul play by the Aussies, unseen by all the referees, of course, intercepted an Aussie pass from the scrum with great skill that led to a kickable penalty in the 32nd minute. It was around 36 meters out but in front and Jodie Barret was not going to miss that. 8 – 8 scores level.

An almost identical situation that had led to the first red card of the game happened but was totally ignored by the on-field ref. However, the pedantic eye of the TV camera spotted it and the cards that seemed to be burning a hole in the referee’s pocket came out again. Red it was against Australia this time, establishing consistency according to the pundits! Both sides down to 14 players for the rest of the game.

The Customary and obligatory Aboriginal welcome speech at the start of the game saw an Aboriginal elder describe the game as a game of rugby league by mistake. Maybe the Ref was under the impression that there were too many players on the field!

The All Blacks attacked relentlessly and Aussie defence held up. But four penalties in a row inside the 22-meter line saw the card pack being shuffled again and out came a Yellow against the Aussie no11. Seven in a row on another occasion only resulted in penalties. Surely the option of a penalty try is available for so many professional fouls from inside the 22-meter line? The half-time score remained tied at 8 – 8. There were certain commentators describing the game as entertaining but only if you thought it was a brawl of some sort, not a game of Rugby Union!

The referee started the second half by missing a blatant forward pass that had to be pointed out to him by his touch judge. Aussies now had 13 players against the All Blacks 14. Four minutes into this half the Aussies were awarded a kickable penalty, exactly what they wanted with two players short and Reece Hodge made no mistake 8-11 Aussies in front. The 51st minute saw a forwards try off a line out for the All blacks with no2 Codie Taylor managing to ground the ball extreme right. A great conversion by Jodie Barret saw the All Blacks back in the lead 15 -11. In the 54th minutes, the Aussies were looking very threatening, getting the better of the Scrums and of course, engaging in what is now called gamesmanship – taking every opportunity to rough up their opponents and put extreme pressure on the referee. A blatant hand in the scrum was not seen by the referees and the All Blacks thought they got out of jail but it was not to be. A scrum penalty was to follow soon enough, it was around 40 meters out but straight in front and was duly knocked over by Reece Hodge who specializes in this sort of kick. 15 – 14 All Blacks just in front.

Ardie Savea made a few strong runs but the All Blacks forwards were feeling the humidity and showed it by not getting to rucks and mauls in time. Maybe the bench should have been used a little earlier due to the weather? The Linesman or the assistant referee as he is known these days spotted Scott Barret doing what was deemed playing the ball of the ground. What it looked like was a feeble wave of his hand at the Aussie no 9 who then dropped the ball while making a pass.

When the whistle went we all thought it was for a knock-on but lo and behold it was another time to shuffle the cards and a yellow to the youngest of the Barret brothers. So we had two red cards and two yellow cards during this brawl that has been described elsewhere as an “entertaining game of Rugby football”, which it wasn’t!

In the 74th minute, the Wallabies scored mid-left through their substitute prop wearing the no18 jersey. A veritable tank of a man who was totally unstoppable from five meters out. The goal was completed and the score read 15 – 24 All Blacks behind. AB’s were not giving up and in the 78th minute Tupou Vaa’I scored for them under the posts and the resulting kick saw the score move to 22 – 24. Brilliant and desperate defence from Korobiete on the wing for Australia resulted in the All Blacks being unable to score further and the match ended with a 2 point win for the Wallabies who had been trashed just a week ago in Sydney by 37 points.

All in all, it was a tight game but lacked any brilliant passages of play and the antics of the referee left one wondering if we were watching a game of cards or a game of rugby. However, the Aussies played to their strengths, they don’t have the three quarters to match the Kiwis and can not play the open running rugby that we saw in the past two games. However, the Aussies know how to spoil and how to stretch the rules and play the referee. They did this to perfection and got the better of a much superior side. This win will do a lot for Aussie rugby and probably teach the All Blacks never to get complacent against the Aussie battlers.

It is true that the Aussies won the game and it will probably result in some added interest from spectators who were getting tired of watching the Wallabies lose time after time. It may also allow the Wallabies to try and contrive a situation when they can secure the tri-nations trophy, or whatever this latest money-making scheme for the TV networks is called! Whoever won and whoever stands to benefit, it wasn’t the great game of Rugby union!

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Angelo Perera stars as Dambulla earn hard fought win



A change of tactics by Dambulla Viikings earned them a much needed win in the Lanka Premier League over Kandy Tuskers at Suriyawewa yesterday.

Dambulla had been relying on their big hitters to bat most of their overs in the competition but yesterday they promoted Angelo Perera to number three although he had batted at six previously. 

Perera was scratchy to start with not being able to time the ball sweetly but as he spent time at the middle, his knock gained momentum and soon he cashed in putting the loose balls and not so bad ones away.

Perera was eventually dismissed for 67 that came off 49 deliveries but by that stage, Dambulla were cruising needing only a further 22 off 23 balls. In the end, Dambulla won with four balls to spare. 

There was a scare as Perera and skipper Dasun Shanaka were dismissed in successive overs but chasing a mere 157, they could afford a few mistakes. There will be no lapses against stronger teams like Jaffna Stallions though and Shanaka admitted the need to for set to batsmen to finish things off.

Although Kandy managed only 156, there was some superb batting on display earlier in the day. 

In order to be meaningful in T-20 cricket these days, you need to at least maintain a strike rate of 100 plus. What is so special about Kusal Mendis is that he fulfills that requirement without having to slog. His elegant cricket strokes are finely timed, bisects the fielders and more importantly mighty effective as well.

Mendis has been the mainstay of Kandy Tuskers batting and he held the innings together posting a half-century with his 55 coming off 45 balls.

But Tuskers lost three wickets in the space of seven balls for the addition of four runs including Mendis and Brendan Taylor to hand Dambulla the initiative.

A target in the range of 170 would have made it a close encounter.

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Galle Gladiators problems compound after fourth straight loss



Game one of yesterday’s double header proved to be a stalemate with Jaffna Stallions proving their might and Galle Gladiators struggling to make an impact yet again. Jaffna continued their impressive run collecting their fourth win in the competition and despite them having four more games in the league stage, they are through to the semis. Galle meanwhile now have lost all four encounters and there’s not much indication that they can fix the problem.

Galle got a few things wrong in their campaign and selections is one of them. To quote Sanjay Manjrekar they have got too many, ‘bits and pieces cricketers’ and their over reliance on all-rounders has resulted in absence of a couple of solid batsmen.

Leading up to their game against the in form Jaffna side, Galle had to come out all guns blazing but they were dealt a heavy blow when captain Shahid Afridi flew back to Pakistan due to personal reasons.

They got off to a good start with Danushka Gunathilaka posting yet another half-century. But Galle depend too much on Gunathilaka and although a few batsmen chipped in with useful contributions nobody was able to take on the bowling and put pressure back on Jaffna.

Shehan Jayasuriya often said to be not being given enough opportunities by Sri Lanka’s selectors; despite his impressive shows in domestic cricket and here was a perfect opportunity for him to make an impact. But his seniority has not meant much in this competition and he was run out off the last ball of the innings for eight that came off 13 balls.

Then during a crucial stage of the run chase, Jayasuriya made a mess of a chance off Man of the Match Avishka Fernando not attacking the ball. The very next ball, Fernando was put down by the wicket-keeper with Dhananjaya Lakshan being the unlucky bowler.

Jaffna had a scare or two especially when they needed 18 off 12 balls. But they got home with four balls to spare.

Avishka Fernando was in red hot form. Together with Minod Bhanuka he added 99 runs for the second wicket as both batters found the boundary frequently.

Given Thisara Perera’s big hitting skills, often fans have wondered why Sri Lanka do not promote him up in the order to get them some quick runs. They have been very conventional limiting him to number seven or eight, but yesterday, Perera – with little pressure on his side – promoted himself to number four. He managed only nine off nine but the experimentation is commendable nevertheless.

Fernando was Man of the Match. He made 84 off 59 balls with seven fours and five sixes.


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Pandemic forces Sri Lanka Athletics to take unprecedented steps



Two banned athletes included pending Appeals Committee decision

by Reemus Fernando

The current pandemic situation has forced Sri Lanka Athletics to take an unprecedented step in including two track athletes, who are currently serving drug bans, in the list of eligible athletes to compete at the forthcoming National Athletics Championships.

Names of sprinter M.G.C.M. Jayasekara and 800 metres specialist S.K. Wedagedara, who were banned for failed drug tests appear in the list of eligible athletes published by Sri Lanka Athletics.

“The two athletes had been included in the list pending an Appeals Committee decision,” a senior official of Sri Lanka Athletics said in reply to The Island queries.

“The pandemic situation has forced us to limit participation. Only the top ranked athletes are allowed to compete. We have already published the top list to avoid confusion and only those who are in that list wiil be allowed to enter the Stadium. In the event the Appeals Committee take a decision within these few days to allow the two banned athletes to compete, they would not be able to enter the stadium if we do not include them in the list now. They are included, pending the Appeals Committee decision,” said the official.

When contacted in this regard the Sri Lanka Anti Doping Agency sources confirmed that M.G.C.M. Jayasekara and S.K. Wedagedara have both appealed their bans.

The senior official also said that the athletes whose names are not listed in the eligible list to compete at the 98th National Athletics Championship can appeal for their inclusion before December 8 as the sport’s governing body struggles amidst the pandemic to provide top athletes with the final opportunity to earn ranking points for this year.

“There is no need to panic if your name is not there. What you need to do is to make an appeal. Then we will consider including them,” said the official.

Sri Lanka Athletics released a list of top athletes who are eligible to compete at the flagship event following a series of cancellations throughout the year due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The track and field governing body took the decision to limit the number of participants due to the spread of the Covid 19 pandemic.

The eligible list includes the highest ranked athletes who are currently in Sri Lanka.

“All top athletes excluding those who are based overseas are included in the eligible list. There are a few athletes who had gone out of our radar during the last few months. They can appeal if they consider themselves fit to compete,” said the official.

The championship will commence on December 26 with only athletes, coaches and masseurs allowed inside the Sugathadasa Stadium.

Top athletes winning their respective National Championship events earn 100 ranking points which augur well for those aspiring to earn better World Athletics rankings and qualifying standards for the Tokyo Olympics.

If held as scheduled the 98th National Championship will be the first track and field event at which local athletes are taking part after the South Asian Games in Nepal in December 2019.

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