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Susantha reveals key to success of Ratnayake Central



by Reemus Fernando


Dilshi Kumarasinghe, the golden girl of the last South Asian Games had been permitted to stay in the hostel of Sports School Ratnayake Central College, Walala for months after completing her education until she found employment, because of the far-sightedness of Central Province authorities, both past and present, Susantha Fernando, who trained her to win three Golds at the regional event, revealed in an interview with The Island. That was a decision the authorities of other Sports Schools or seats of learning, bound by various rules and regulation, would hesitate to take, he said.

With the restructuring and reinvigorating of Sports Schools in the country being discussed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports, The Island interviewed Susantha Fernando, the coach behind the success story of Ratnayake Central Walala, the most successful Sports School of the country.

Fernando who culminated his three decades long coaching stint with t

he Sports School recently, revealed that the special place of prominence given to sports by the Central Province education authorities and the individualized training plans were among the reasons behind the unprecedented success of Ratnayake Central.

Ratnayake Central dominated track and field sports for more than two decades. If title victories are of any indication to the success of a Sports School, then there was no school that could even come closer to beat the records set by Ratnayake Central. There are three major Schools Athletics Championships conducted yearly, namely the Sir John Tarbet Senior, All Island Schools Relay and the All Island Schools Games Athletics. They won both the Boys and Girls titles together in these championships on an unprecedented 19 occasions. Under Fernando’s stewardship Ratnayake Central athletes have gone on to win at Junior Asian Athletics Championship (seven medals), Asian Youth Games, Youth Olympic (1000m B grade 3rd), South Asian Junior Athletics Championships (7 medals at the last meet), Asian Athletics Championships, Asian Schools Games, South Asian Games (four goalds at the last edition) and many regional international events apart from representing the country at many World Youth, World Junior, Asian Championship, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. Here are the excerpts from the interview The Island had with Fernando.

What makes Ratnayake Central different from other Sports School?

“Ratnayake Central was selected as a Sports School because we performed better than any other school in the Central Province. We are the only Sports School that is run by Provincial administration. When the school was established Palitha Elkaduwa, the former Secretary of Education of the Central Province played a special role. The central province circular on the Sports School was a very strong one. There were two other sports schools in the Central Province (Poramadulla Central and Weera Keppetipola NS, Akuramboda). But they were taken over by the Ministry of Education later. The officials who made the school a Sports School understood the importance of sports. Even today the Department of Education of the Central province has no hesitation in going out of the way to help Sports programmes. We were also lucky to have a sports loving Director of Education in Thilak Ekanayake,” said Fernando.

Asked to be more specific Fernando compared and contrasted Ratnayake Central with other sports schools.

“Generally Sports Schools provide scholarships and recruit athletes for grade eight. But if we identify a future prospect who is in a higher grade we could take the athlete for that higher grade if there is a vacancy. That is not so with the Sports Schools that are under the Ministry of Education. They are strict. Dilshi’s case is another example. We knew that she is a future prospect. We could keep her in the hostel for months after she finished her Advance Level until she found employment in the Army. She went on to win three golds at the South Asian Games. We could do that because the Central Province Education authorities understood the need. I don’t think that would be possible with any other Sports School.”

Media had been highlighting the absence of a 400 metres track at Ratnayake Central for years. How could the school still perform better than the schools which had facilities.

“I had a plan for every athlete. At the school we maintained files for every athlete. There were over 70 files every year. The individual training plans were the secret. When others take leave for three months during school vacations we continued training. We conduct special training. Go for high altitude training. We send home sports scholarship holders for only ten days during vacation. My recommendation for other Sports Schools too is to continue training with probably ten days of leave during the school vacation. True we did not have a proper track. Not even a proper 200 metres track. The 200 metres track at Ratnayake Central has a 55% bend which is harmful for athletes. From 2018 we could take athletes for training to Digana where there is a good 400 metres track.

How do you compare the financial support Ratnayake Central received with other Sports Schools?

“The Central Province department of education has been good enough to understand the need for funds to run a proper programme. We’ll just take the case of competitions. You have to spend a lot of money on transport and food during competitions. There was no restriction on funds for Ratnayake Central in meeting expenses on transport or food for athletes. The other Sports Schools are given only rupees 25,000.00 for the entire year for transport and food to take part in meets. You have to travel to three or four national meets per year. It is important that the athletes we train take part in these meets and they are provided proper transportation, food and lodgings. I have seen sports officials of Sumana Balika (Sports School) preparing meals for their athletes when they go for national meets to save funds. That is pathetic.”

Central Province also increased the allowance paid to sports instructors to encourage them and provide a substantial scholarship money for athletes, when the sports instructors under the Ministry of Education receive a meager amount of rupees 1,000.00 monthly as an allowance.”

The Central Province education authorities promoted Fernando to the Assistant Director of Education – Sports and Physical Education post of the Wattegama Zonal in 2003 and was also responsible for monitoring sports progress of the zone which became one of the best zones of the country. Here are his views on the monitoring process of Sports Schools.

“There should be a proper monitoring system for Sports Schools. Some of the Sports Schools in the country became defunct because there was no proper monitoring system. There should also be qualified individuals to do that. Qualified officials who can advise the coaches of the Sports School and who could make recommendations on their coaching programmes. At present I don’t think that the Ministry of Education has enough qualified individuals to do that part.”

Many scholar athletes passing out from Ratnayake Central have gone on to become physical education teachers. How did Ratnayake Central looked after the education of scholar athletes.

“We provided free tuition to athletes after school when it was necessary. And there was continuous monitoring of the progress they made in education. We hardly had disappointments when results of exams came. Many have become Physical Education teachers. Currently there are over 400 physical education teaches who had their education at Ratnayake Central. They are serving at different schools. There are also good number of athletes who have gone on to become bank managers, Assistant Directors of Education to managers of leading private firms. For those who persevere a career in athletics there should be a system to look after them after they leave Sports Schools. The future prospects who are identified at Sports Schools should be looked after. The Sports Ministry should take the responsibility of these athletes after they leave schools.”

Often there are administration deadlocks between sports officials and principals leading to sports being given secondary status at schools. Fernando said that there were no such impasses at Walala but insisted that sports instructors should have some authority at Sports Schools. “In my opinion the head or the sports instructor of a Sports School should have some authority for him to run a successful programme.”

Fernando had a long stint (30 years) at Walala with the school and the old students association continuing to insist on acquiring his service. He continued as the head coach of Ratnayake Central while also functioning as the Assistant Director of Education – Sports at Wattegama Zone. This is his opinion on transfers.

“Teacher service requires teachers to be transferred according to vacancies that exist. There should be some leniency with regard to sports instructors. You cant change heads and expect good results in sports. There should be continuity for a training programme to be successful.”

He also insisted on the need to recognise the achievements of coaches and the need to provide suitable jobs for those passing out from would be Sports Universities as there is lack of suitable jobs even for those passing out from Universities with Sports Science and Physical Education Degrees at present.

While he has received praise for the yeoman service he has rendered to the field of sports, some national coaches have directed criticism at him citing that his trainees who had excelled at school level had not replicated those performances at senior national level.

“A coach can only help an athlete improve 30% of his performance level. Good performances are a combination of natural ability and proper coaching. A wast majority of athletes Ratnayake Central recruited were average athletes. Ratnayake Central is not situated in a town. Parents will opt for schools in Kandy when there is a choice between Ratnayake Central and a famous school in Kandy. Most athletes when they first came to the Sports School, were just winners at inter house meets, Divisional or Zonal meets. Inoka (many time marathon champion and first South Asian Games marathon medalist for SL) was just an inter house meet winner. She competed at national level for 20 years. I can give many examples. If there were special talents they had been trained accordingly to reach international level. For example Dilshi Kumarasinghe is a special talent and I am working on to help her reach top level. Indunil Herath (current national 800 metres record holder) was a long jump winner at Handaganawa when he was recruited. All athletes who came to Ratnayake Central underwent talent identification tests and later introduced to suitable disciplines which they had not even witnessed before. Herath had to leave the school for reasons beyond my control. Hadnt he successful? Raju (Geethani Rajasekara- first Sri Lankan marathoner at Olympics, trained by Sajith Jayalal after she left for Colombo) went to Colombo after marriage. Numbers will answer the critics. If those critics can tell of a single school which had produced more athletes to Senior National Athletics teams than Ratnayake Central then there should be some truth in their criticism. Ratnayake Central is the school that has produced the highest number of athletes to National Teams.”

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When failures boast of success



by Rex Clementine

Former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, lamenting the sorry state of Sri Lankan cricket, has recalled how the game was run during his tenure as Sports Minister in 2014. His boastful claims reminded us how disastrous his tenure as the Sports Minister was.

One of the first things that Mahindananda did soon after assuming duties as Sports Minister was to pack the Cricket Board with his Royal College buddies – Eshana de Silva and Sarinda Unamboowe.

Aluthgamage has a remarkable ability to handpick square pegs for round holes.

SLC constructed a brand-new cricket stadium and extensively refurbished two other grounds ahead of the 2011 World Cup while Aluthgamage was the Sports Minister. Questions were raised over the manner in which funds were spent on those constructions. There were calls for a probe. Curiously, they fell on deaf ears. The computer hard disks at SLC went missing under mysterious circumstances. Mahindananda did not take action against SLC, for the Cricket Board was full of his or his political master’s buddies.

Mahindananda has bragged that during his tenure as the Sports Minister the national cricket team was ranked number two. If not for his unnecessary meddling with running of the sport, Sri Lanka could have gone on to become number one. Don’t believe us. Ask the then captain Kumar Sangakkara, who at one point claimed that Mahindananda was all out to discredit his reputation.

The then Head Coach Trevor Bayliss was known for maintaining a very low profile but not even he could help exposing serious deficiencies in the game, and publicly wished cricket administration were without political interference. Mahindananda was like a cat on a hot tin roof at that point. But a majority of Sri Lankans agreed with Bayliss’ well-observed comments.

Bayliss was replaced by Geoff Marsh, a fine sportsman and a coach who had the rare distinction of winning both the Ashes and the World Cup, first as a player then as a coach.  The Island covered both his assignments in UAE against Pakistan and the tour of South Africa in 2011. The way he developed the team, especially the young players, was quite remarkable,

South Africa is such a hard place to compete in. Usually, Sri Lankan teams would lose there, inside three days, mostly by an innings or other heavy margins. But Marsh made a complete turn-around and Sri Lanka won the Boxing Day Test match in Durban. The press hailed Marsh as the man who could bring back the glory days of Sri Lankan cricket. At the end of the tour, Mahindananda did something nobody expected. Guess what. He had Marsh sacked! The tough Aussie proved he was made of sterner stuff; he successfully sued SLC, which had to pay him a hefty amount by way of compensation. All this happened while Mahindananda was the Sports Minister.

Don’t forget that during Mahindananda’s tenure as the Sports Minister, Sri Lanka Cricket went bankrupt; it could not even pay players, coaches, employees and contractors so much so that the government had to bail it out. Thus, Mahindananda’s excesses became a burden on the poor taxpayer.

More recently, Mahindananda did what he is adept at—having egg on his face. He claimed that the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup had been fixed. The players were up in arms and wanted their names cleared.  It was a great game of cricket and the better team on that day – India – won. The ICC issuing a statement said that it had no reason to believe that the 2011 final was corrupt.  ICC Anti-Corruption chief Alex Marshall also refuted claims that Mahindananda had reported his suspicions to the ICC in 2011. A bull in a China shop is less troublesome than Mahindananda.

All in all, Mahindananda’s five-year tenure as Minister of Sports was a disaster. It is laughable that he is now offering unsolicited advice to SLC, which is at least a democratically-elected body. While he was the Sports Minister, his cronies were going places, and corruption and waste were rampant at SLC. Officials were spending money like drunken sailors hitting town. No wonder the board went bankrupt.

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Golden point and Crusaders scrape through in week 7



by Rajitha Ratwatte

The Otago Highlanders after their record-breaking win over the Crusaders who looked unbeatable up to that point in the season, were up against the Waikato Chiefs who also seemed to have turned their season around after beating the Wellington Hurricanes. However, the chiefs were without their captain and All Blacks captain Sam Cane, who is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. It was going to be an even contest and a keenly fought match was expected.

15 minutes into the game the sides were inseparable with the score line reading 13 each. In the 15th minute a penalty awarded to the Chiefs, right in front of the posts saw Damien Mackenzie make no mistake and the Chiefs crept ahead 13 – 16. The next 45 minutes saw no change in the score line and typical robust forward play and strong unshakable defence from both sides. It was only in the 60th minute that the Chiefs were able to finish a number of phases and scramble over the line, close enough to the posts to enable 7 points 13 – 23. In the 69th minute, Josh Ioane one of the “bad boys” from last week (dropped with 7 others for breaches of discipline) joined the line and spotted a gap to go over the line mid left of the posts. He converted himself and the score line was 20 -23 Highlanders catching up. 4 minutes from the scheduled close, the ‘Landers completed the catch up thanks to a simple penalty and the score was even Stevens at 23 all with two minutes to go. The Chiefs were awarded a penalty on the 50-meter line at the full-time hooter and Damian Mackenzie stepped up, but his kicking record particularly over long distances was not convincing enough to leave the die hard ‘Landers fans, without hope. Sure enough he missed and we were in to the Golden Point, extra time for the first time in Aotearoa super rugby 2021.

Golden point is when the game is restarted with another toss and played for 10 minutes and whoever scores first wins. If no one scores the match is declared a draw. Highlanders skipper Aaron Smith won the toss and picked the side of the field that he wanted to start from. Two minutes into the golden point, the Chiefs line out was penalised for jumping early. Since this was only a free kick the ‘Landers called for a scrum, it was a good attacking position on the opposition 22-meter line. The ball was won and passed straight into the pocket with Josh Ioane well positioned for a drop goal. Josh Ioane would have celebrated his comeback in style if he managed to convert this drop goal attempt, but it was not to be. Four minutes into extra time Anton Lennert- Brown that hard working All Blacks and Waikato center three-quarter showed us that backs can also play like forwards by supporting his own weight over the ball and securing a vital penalty off a ruck. It was around 37 meters out and straight in front of the posts. This was the extreme limit of the range that the diminutive Damien Mackenzie could achieve. He stepped up and the X factor that exceptional players are able to call on when the going gets tough, must have played a part in the kick sailing over the middle of the posts and securing a desperately needed win for the Waikato Chiefs 23 – 26.

Sunday afternoons game was Wellington Hurricanes against the Crusaders. Wellington playing at home and 19-year-old schoolboy, Rueben Love making his debut at no10. Aardie Savea was wearing the no 7 jersey for this game. Joe Moody who mans the loose head slot for the All Blacks and Crusaders was playing his 100th game and auctioning his jersey after the game in aid of prostate cancer. He lost his father to this disease around 10 months ago.

The debutant Rueben Love got off to a great start picking up the ball inside his 10-meter line and making a great run and a chip kick that took the ball into the crusaders’ 22. Two minutes into the game the ‘Canes got themselves a penalty around 50 meters out and in front of the posts. Usually, meat and drink for Jordie Barret but he was kicking into what Ian Smith (tongue in cheek) described as a breeze. There is never a breeze in Wellington, it is either a force 10 gale or a typhoon! Jordie missed, no addition to the score. Ten minutes into the game the Crusaders conceded another much easier penalty around 28 meters out and in front. J. Barret was not going to miss that, and the Hurricanes went into a 3 – 0 lead. The Crusader retaliation came just two minutes later when George Bridge, that great finisher powered his way over the line but seemed to be held up until Ngani Laumape of the “canes dived on top of the players and allowed the ball to be grounded. Laumape displayed a weakness that some Pacific island players have in relying on brute force when rugby union is really about finesse. 3 – 7 and Crusaders leading. In the 23rd minute George Bridge went over again for a try in the extreme left corner and Mo’uanga converted brilliantly, 3 -14. Meanwhile the “canes got out of jail” with a penalty reversal coming off a captains challenge and what would have been a gifted 3 points to the crusaders, turned into a clearing kick due to a high tackle that had been missed by the ref. A great example of the new trial rule working to perfection. Meanwhile lineout throws from both teams were not working and turnovers from lineouts were rife. Wild passes and handling errors from the Crusaders continued, at one stage Crusaders handling errors were 5 to nothing from the Canes. The mighty Crusaders pack was losing scrums and conceding penalties. Big trouble in the workings of the juggernaut. The 27th minute saw some great tireless forward play from Dan Coles the Hurricanes hooker, he got involved in three phases of play out of sseven and finally got a great pass off to Laumape who powered his way over the line for a 7 pointer. 10 – 14 Crusaders still in front.

At this point in the game there was a flurry of scoring. First the Crusaders clawed three points straight back with a simple penalty and went back into a seven-point lead. 10 -17. Straight off the resumption, the younger Savea brother, Julian sprinted down the right touch line and scored for the ‘Canes. Jordie Barret kicking into the wind from the extreme right of the field was able to bring the ball back and send it between the posts. Score’s level 17 all. Mo’uanga showed his absolute brilliance with a beautiful chip kick after drawing the defence and sent Seevu Reece (the leaping prawn) away. However, Reece was pinged for foul play and the Hurricanes got out of jail again! It was almost half time, and the Hurricanes got a 60-meter penalty but chose to kick for touch as they were kicking into the wind and even Jordie Barret may have found this difficult. However, they gained good touch and got over the line but were unable to ground the ball.

At this stage we had an incident that has begun to typify the way the Crusaders play. Highly unnecessary for a side with so much talent and ability. Scott Barret the Crusaders captain raised a captain’s challenge (the half time hooter had gone) and got the ref to review an incident when Ngani Laumape displaying the aforesaid unnecessary force that is his penchant, kneed a player on the ground. Now in the “bad old days” when rugby was still a man’s game such incidents when missed by the ref, were duly noted and referred to the “hit men” of the team and revenge extracted at an opportune moment. However now, and especially the Crusaders cry out in anguish to the referees, throw in some acting skills and usually get a yellow card or even a red card against their opponents. The ref duly obliged (yellow card) with a faint air of embarrassment, that I could relate to, and this meant the Hurricanes would start the second half one man down.

Second half started with scores level and the Wellington team playing with the wind at their backs, this would obviously add range to the already massive kicks of the youngest Barret brother. Two minutes into the second half Aardie Savea made a great break off the back of the scrum (he played no 8 although he was wearing the no7 jersey) and sent his no 9 Brent Hall away who then passed to Westhuizen on the left wing who scored. Jordie Barret converted with another brilliant kick and the score line was 24 -17, ‘Canes in the lead. Aardie Savea seemed to have taken a big knock on his knee but soldiered on and continued to make a huge difference to the Hurricanes loose play. The Crusaders went into full attack mode and usually when they do this, they are clinical and perfect and invariably score. However, basic mistakes, pinged for obstruction, conceding scrum penalties and chip kicks going astray led to the Hurricanes not conceding points. The Crusaders were unable to score with the opposition one man down and in fact the opposition scored! Maybe the rugby God’s are still able to have their way! In the 55th minute the entire Hurricanes side was pinged for not bothering to get onside off a kick from their full back. It was a huge booming kick from Jordie Barret and the fact that the Hurricanes players did not wait for him to put them on side would have made little difference to the game, but we are told the referees have been asked to crack down on this infringement. The resulting penalty was easily converted by Mo’uanga. 24 -20 but the home side still ahead. Another penalty this time for the ‘Canes, around 30 meters out posed no problem for Jordie Barret and with those 3 points he became the highest points scorer for the tournament (overtaking Ritchie Mo’uanga) to date and took his team to a 27 – 20 lead.

At this point two players who had been playing their hearts out for the Wellington team, skipper Aardie Savea and hooker Dan Coles were subbed off the field. This proved costly but would have been necessary as a man can only do so much! 63 minutes into the game the Crusaders strung together seven phases of play and Seevu Reece went over the line from what initially looked like a forward pass but was later cleared by the TV ref. scores level once again 27 all. 71 minutes into the game, the Hurricanes got a penalty 63 meters out but Jordie Barret was kicking with the wind behind him, and the crowd was chanting JORDIE< JORDIE and left their team with no choice but to take the kick. Aardie Savea was moving his lips in prayer from the sidelines. Jordie missed but it was not due to lack of distance! two minutes from the end Ritchie Mo’uanga tried a drop goal and missed, scores level at full time and two golden point games in succession.

This is where superior coaching and complete coaching comes to the fore. The acting Hurricanes skipper looked lost with the decisions he had to make when he won the toss and the Crusaders pulled off a great one- two trick with Ritchie Mo’uanga who usually takes drop goals running with the ball and getting involved in a ruck and making the Hurricanes defence think that the danger of a drop goal was non-existent, only to have David Havili kick a drop goal from acting first receiver. All over red rover, with just two minutes into extra time.

The Crusaders did win but they should be rather worried because the usually well-oiled juggernaut is not functioning the way it should.

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Caniston, Yasiru post big ninth wicket stand



Under-19 Cricket

by Reemus Fernando

A captain’s knock Pavan Ratnayake for Mahanama and a ninth wicket stand of 103 runs between Yasiru Rodrigo and Caniston Gunaratnam for S. Thomas’ were the highlights in the traditional matches which commenced on Sunday.

Rodrigo and Gunaratnam posted the big stand as S. Thomas’ batted the entire first day to post 344 runs against St. Joseph’s in the Gilmore Jayasuriya Trophy encounter which commenced at Darley Road on Sunday.

At stumps Rodrigo was unbeaten on 97 (152 balls) after having scored six fours and five sixes. The nineth wicket stand came off 122 balls.

Pavan Ratnayake played the main anchor role once again as he helped Mahanama post 169 runs. Ratnayake batted for more than two hours and his knock of 81 runs (in 130 balls) was inclusive of six fours and three sixes.

Match Results

S. Thomas’ V St. Joseph’s at Darley Road

S. Thomas’ 344 for 9 in 103 overs

(Anuk Palihawadena 54, Ryan Fernando 71, Thenuka Liyanage 36, Yasiru Rodrigo 97 n.o., Gunaratnam Caniston 53; Dunith Wellalage 3/111, Shenuka de Silva 2/12)

Mahanama V St. Anne’s at Kurunegala

Mahanama 169 all out in 71.2 overs

(Sadishan Chamodya 22, Pavan Rathnayake 81, Sachira Weliwatta 23; Pasindu Tennakoon 4/51, Manaan Muzammil 2/49, Kalindu Wijesinghe 2/28)

St. Anne’s 79 for 1 in 25.3 overs

(Dilhara Deshabandu 35n.o., Kavindu Ekanayake 29n.o.)

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