by Rajitha Ratwatte
For mysterious reasons that make sense only to TV executives and the governing body of world rugby, they have chosen to play the so-called “World Championship of Rugby” in Australia. Covid regulations decry that stadia can only be half full and social distancing must be maintained among spectators. Only 18, 000 tickets were sold, Of course, this means more people have to pay exorbitant rates and watch TV! NZ could have easily got around 40,000 people into the ground, on a day that made even the Gods’ cry. Pouring with rain all day and the Wallabies kicked off, fielding a side with 6 NZ born players and a handful of Pacific Islanders’ to boot. A much-vaunted 20-year-old no10 and 13, both not to belabour a point, born in Aotearoa! The All Blacks not giving a start to new discovery – loosehead prop Alex Hodgeman and sticking with Karl Tu’inukuafe to replace regular Joe Moody who was unable to play due to concussion protocols. Also, Hoskins Sotutu coming in at no8 as the incumbent was on paternity leave, on a day that would ensure a tough forwards battle.
Within 3 minutes the Wallabies displayed part of their game plan and committed a foul on the dynamic young Abs’ winger Caleb Clark. Filipo Daugunu his Pacifica origin opposite number, was immediately pinged by the referee who displayed his penchant for using the cards at his disposal and a level of undecidedness and reliability on the TV ref, by dishing out an early yellow card. So, Wallabies down to 14 players for the next 10 minutes. The Aussie skipper was spotted offside in the 5th minute and the resulting touch kick saw the new prop Karl Tu’inukuafe disregard a massive overlap and barely scramble over the line to score mid-left. If the no1 had not made it over the line he would have committed a Ricco Ioanisque type gaff (trying to touch down with one hand and dropping the ball!) that he would have found hard to live down! All Blacks 7 – 0 up in the 6thminute.
The referee decided to try to even things up for Aussies, and possibly continue with the illusion that he was refereeing a game of netball, by yellow carding Jodie Barret for what was deemed a dangerous tackle. 9thminute both teams down to 14 players each. In the 9th Minute Ritchie Muanga, who had an exceptional game even by his standards, Kicked cross-field for Dan Coles the AB hooker who was lurking in the wing and showed a great turn of speed to put himself onside and get across the line putting enough downward pressure on the ball to satisfy the on-field ref who signalled an on-field try. However, the TV ref soon changed his mind and the try was disallowed! The Blacks kept attacking and the first scrum of the game was held in the 11thminute with the Wallabies defending on their 5-meter line. The Wallaby no9 Nick White let down his debutant no10 by not kicking for clearance himself and passing the ball to the rookie who didn’t do a very good job. The resulting lineout still well inside Wallaby territory saw Sam Whitelock do his usual totally professional job of getting the ball back to his three quarters and Caleb Clark barrelled his way over the line, only to meet with superb defence from his opposite number, who put his body under the ball and stopped the ball being grounded. Great work and another possible 7 pointer disallowed. All Blacks looking ominously good.
At this point in the 13th minute, the Wallabies were back to 15 players and the AB’s still One short. The one-dimensional play of the AB’s no1 Karl Tu’inukuafe was exposed at this stage with a simple knock-on. This lack of skills and mobility has no place in the modern game and is what earned front-row forwards a bad name and much ridicule in the past! It took 19 minutes before Jodie Barret was allowed back into play and Ritchie Muanga decided to show the Wallaby coaches that a mere 20 year old (who probably grew up in NZ idolizing the All Blacks and had just faced a Haka) was no match for him and scythed his way through the Oz defence to score far right in the 20th minute. Now the conversion was difficult and the Blacks have two other kickers in the Barret brothers but a visibly tired Muanga was asked to take the kick and he missed. This is the lack of on-field decisions and the myopic thinking from the leadership and management of this great team that could lead to trouble in a tight match. 12 – 0 to the Blacks. In the 26th minute, Beauden Barret slotted himself into first receiver and a clever chip kick over the first line of Aussie defence saw Ritchie Muanga show his speed once more, a favourable bounce from the notoriously fickle and unpredictable rugby ball allowed Muanga to collect the ball easily and head for the line with no Aussie indigenous jerseys (Aussies were playing in green jerseys in honour of the 14 indigenous players who have represented them over the years) in sight! I wonder if a Black Stripe will be added to their traditional Yellow jersey to honour the NZ born players…In fact, there were only 3 black jerseys in the final frame before Ritchie Muanga touched down under the posts. 19 – 0 All Blacks ahead.
This was time to get worried for the Wallabies. Each AB player was showing consummate skill and professionalism and looked completely at home in his position. The AB’s skipper showed it off by winning a turnover and getting the ball out to Goodhue in the centre who showed just how important it is to think and assess when making decisions in this great game of rugby union and kicked ahead beautifully for his no11 Caleb Clark to make good ground and allow Dan Coles to get his long-elusive try. This time the referee and the TV ref could not find anything wrong and Muanga converted making it 26 – 0 with just a few minutes to go to half time. Muanga almost did it again in the 39th minute, showing a clean pair of heels, he was clear but a last-minute desperate ankle tap saw him lose his balance and the half time score remained at 26 – 0. 4 tries had been scored by the AB’s, two of those by no10 Ritchie Muanga and two more disallowed.
Whatever happened “discussion” wise and consumption wise in the Aussie dressing room at half time resulted in the two NZ born backs Noah Lolesio and Jordan Petaia (the latter played very well throughout) combining beautifully resulting in an Aussie try just 1 minute into the 2nd half. However a fairly straightforward kick was missed by the 20-year-old NZ born no10 Noah Lolesio, and the score read 26 – 5. This resurgence of Aussie play was acknowledged by the weather gods with a cessation of the rain. However, the conditions were still very greasy. In the 44th minute, the Wallabies had a kickable penalty but 3 points didn’t mean much at this stage and the touch option was taken. The Wallabies had their best phase of the game during the next 15 – 20 minutes and the Blacks resorted to their bench. Dan Coles (inexplicably) went off and Codie Taylor came on, so did my favourite no1 Alex Hodgeman. Sam Whitelock continued to do his thing, faultlessly and quietly and most of all SO reliably. Great loose play winning turnovers and even turning them into penalties but the Aussies were playing their hearts out.
In the 52nd minute, the All Blacks got a scrum penalty (my MAN at no1!) but lost the ball to a turnover deep in Aussie territory. A bad mistake and against the run of play. The 55th minute saw Scott Barret come on for Patrick Tuapoletu and TJ Peranara replace Smith at no9. The Aussie dominance needed to be reversed at a kickable penalty in the 59th minute was taken by the NZ team and the score moved on to 29 – 5. At this stage, it seemed like all the bench players were on for both sides. Wallabies wasted a possible touch finder by kicking too deep and sending the ball over the dead-ball line. Inexperience showing through and not the type of mistake a team can make at this level. The Aussies kept attacking and the Kiwi skipper Sam Cane won a great defensive penalty in the 64th minute but shortly thereafter, he took a bad knock on the head and left the field for a HIA. A setback for the Blacks but the ever-reliable Sam Whitelock took over the reins.
Whitelock took the decision to have a scrum off a 5-meter penalty awarded in Wallaby territory and we realised why shortly thereafter. Ricco Ioane was on the field (on the wing and NOT as a centre) and a carefully rehearsed move saw the no8 come out with the ball work the blindside and Ioane went over in a flash and even touched down with his characteristic one-handed move that had been such a disaster two weeks ago. He seemed jubilant when he touched down extreme right and Muanga slotted a difficult kick – 36 – 5.
In the 73rd minute Jodie Barret who had now moved to full back as his brother Beauden had been subbed off, joined the line midfield, broke through and sailed down the middle like a galleon under full rig or to use a more modern metaphor like the America’s Cup challenger under full sail and was completely unstoppable. He scored under the posts and Muanga made no mistake. 43 – 5 and the Bledisloe Cup was going to be retained for the 18th year in a row.
The referee, however, was determined to remain the centre of attraction, yellow carding Shannon Frazelle in the last minute of the game for what was deemed an illegal tackle of some sort that could only be deciphered in the convoluted permutations that had clouded his mind throughout the game. Even the TV ref exonerated the cited player but pedanticity (to use another “new” and polite word rather than the word I would REALLY like to use) prevailed.
The big silver trophy was retained, apparently, it holds 42 cans of the cold stuff and no doubt it was used as a worthy receptacle of the finest brew last night. Great game for the All Blacks and the biggest winning margin of the Bledisloe cup EVER.
Steyn to play LPL, but could miss early games
By Rex Clementine
Lanka Premier League received a shot in the arm after it was confirmed that pace sensation Dale Steyn will be arriving in the island shortly and will turn out for Kandy Tuskers. However, he will miss the first two games of the competition due to the mandatory isolation period that players have to go through.
Players who had been arriving in Sri Lanka from a bubble had been given a three day isolation period before they could resume training while others had to stay in isolation for seven days. Accordingly, Steyn will be unavailable for the Kandy Tuskers first two games.
However, sources close to the organizers told The Island that negotiations are being made to make exceptions and South Africa’s premier bowler could get into action straightaway if he gets two negative PCR tests, one before departure to Katunayake and one on arrival.
Guidelines have been issued by health authorities to follow strict quarantine guidelines after two players tested positive after arriving in the island. They are now receiving medical treatment and by the time they recover and finish quarantine, the competition would have reached the tail end.
Galle Gladiators received a major boost yesterday after Shahid Afridi confirmed his participation. However, Afridi tweeted that he had missed his flight to Colombo but said will be joining his team mates soon.
The players, support staff and television crew have been in isolation at various hotels in Hambantota for the last several days.
The tournament gets underway on Thursday with Colombo Kings captained by Angelo Mathews taking on Kusal Perera’s Kandy Tuskers.
The tournament was postponed on several occasions as the pandemic posed many challenges for the organizers. But to their credit, they have addressed most of the issues in putting through the event involving five franchises.
Sri Lanka Cricket will earn US$ two million in the first year and the five year deal will bring them a sum in excess of US$ ten million.
Dambulla Viikings gear up to conquer
While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage.
Hard work, innovation, team work. These are the three pillars on which the Dambulla Viiking franchise has sought to build their squad for the upcoming inaugural Lanka Premier League. As such their 21-man squad, led by head coach former England cricketer Owais Shah, sees a truly competitive blend comprising the cream of Sri Lankan talent, international experience, and youthful exuberance.
While a captain is to be officially named this team is not short on leadership; in Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga and Ireland international Paul Stirling, Dambulla boast three players who have captained their sides on the international stage. This strong leadership base is supplemented by the considerable international experience of players such as Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Afghanistan duo Aftab Alam and Samiullah Shinwari, and veterans Anwar Ali from Pakistan, India’s Sudeep Tyagi and Englishman Samit Patel.
The team’s collective of promising Sri Lankan youngsters will no doubt benefit from rubbing shoulders with players of such international stature. Ashen Bandara, Kavindu Nadeeshan, Ramesh Mendis, Sachindu Colombage, Dilshan Madushanka and Pulina Tharanga, may not yet be household names, but given the right opportunity and guidance they are poised to flourish.
Strong Sri Lankan base While possessing a wealth of international talent, the team nevertheless is built around a strong Sri Lankan spine. In Shanaka, Dickwella, Oshada Fernando and Tharanga, Dambulla have four batsmen who have delivered at the highest level, while the big-hitting offered by the likes of Stirling, Patel, Shinwari and Lahiru Madushanka, provide punch in the middle and lower order.
In Angelo Perera and Mendis, Dambulla can also lay claim to two immensely talented players hitting the peak years of their careers; notably, Perera recently became the first player in history to hit two double centuries in a first-class game, while Mendis earlier this year hit an unbeaten first-class triple hundred.
The pace department meanwhile is led by the express Kumara and the precise Rajitha, who are fast becoming mainstays in the national team setup. Supported by bowlers the calibre of Ali, Alam and Tyagi, who are capable of swinging and seaming the ball, Dambulla’s pace attack boasts many strings in its fast-bowling bow.
In the spin-bowling department, it’s Malinda Pushpakumara that will likely lead the way, the veteran left-arm spinner who has taken an astonishing 793 first-class wickets in his career.
Aiding him will be a plethora of spin options, namely the wise old heads of Shinwari and Patel, who will also no doubt play a major role in guiding some of the raw spin talent in the squad.
Crucially many of Dambulla’s bowlers are more than capable with the bat, which will give head coach Shah a pleasant headache when putting together the team.
“We have a great blend of youth and experience, with a lot of complementary skill sets. Once the tournament starts and each teams strengths and weaknesses become clearer, we’re confident of being able to field a strong XI in every game,” said Shah.
Dambulla will play their first match of the LPL on 28 November against the Kandy Tuskers
Wallabies vs Pumas – Stalemate!
by Rajitha Ratwatte
This match was played in Newcastle, Sydney, between two teams who are getting a reputation for playing rough and tumble rugby rather than the silky-smooth running and passing game that is what rugby union is about, at least to this writer!
The Wallabies kicked off deep into Puma territory and were obviously looking for an early penalty to bring their placekicker Reece Hodge into the game. The Pumas’ (and the referee) duly obliged and in the second minute a gift penalty right under the posts was converted. Wallabies into the lead 0 – 3. The lead didn’t last very long and in the fifth minute, the Pumas got a slightly more difficult penalty mid-right and around 25 meters away from the post. Sanchez who scores almost all the points for the Pumas these days did the needful and 3 – 3 it was in the sixth minute.
The first scrum of the game was in the 12th minute and it was a rather messy affair, but the Aussies got the ball out and worked the line. Hunter Paisamy at no12 saw a hole in behind the Puma line – a kicked left-footed grubber that had Jordan Patai, the 20-year-old no13 haring after the ball. However, he didn’t quite make it and managed to touch down only when the ball was on the dead-ball line. This was the one and only occasion that anyone from either side (except for once when the Aussie winger went over from a forward pass) came even close to crossing the try line, in the entire game! Now, this event has been described as a tight game and even a bruising encounter, yeah sure but what was the sport? Was it boxing, wrestling, or even a new game called baiting the ref?!! It sure wasn’t rugby football that I would pay money to watch.
The Australians continued to dominate, had most of the possession (around 70%), and played most of the first-half in Puma territory but were unable to threaten the Puma line or even come close to crossing it. Fierce, uncompromising defence from the Pumas was evident for sure, but do top-class rugby union sides spend the best part of 40 minutes inside enemy territory, have 70% of the possession, and remain unable to score a try?
Argentina was able to steal the odd line out by tapping the ball with one hand away from the Aussies, but the Aussies continued to dominate the scrum. The Wallaby number three Taniela Tupou, more like a battle tank than a human was the deciding factor. However, his loose play showed a lack of discipline and control and a tendency to punch anyone near him that was unbecoming of a professional rugby player. One wonders if he was obeying orders, and all this was part of the plan? The Aussie captain kept chirping away at the referees and even got a line out call changed by his insistence. The referee kept asking Michael Hooper if he was satisfied with the referee’s decision, I never heard such a question been directed to the Puma skipper even in English, let alone Spanish!
Three quarters from both sides managed the odd break, the Aussie no 13 Jordan Pataia’s run ended in a defensive penalty but the Pumas managed to get a penalty off their no14’s, run into Aussie territory. Nicolas Sanchez slotted the kick amidst loud boos from the partisan crowd and the Pumas inched ahead 6 – 3 in the 30th minute. This didn’t last too long and in the 33rd minute, Rees Hodge made the ball come back from the left of the posts, using the wind, and gained 3 points from around 38 meters out. Scores level again 6 -6.
So, we had a kicking contest on our hands and the whim and fancy of the referee would dictate the fortunes of the game. In the 38th minute, we saw the aforesaid human tank tight-head prop Taniela Tupou take a swing at Argentina’s most valuable player (this is the sort of thing that makes one wonder and should be analyzed further by world rugby to decide if these are deliberate tactics). Nicolas Sanchez, tiny man that he is succumbed to his Latino temperament and retaliated ( like a fly against a bull) and the wise all-knowing referee decided to reverse the penalty that should have been awarded to Argentina in favor of the Wallabies. Maybe he thought that Sanchez was a tsetse fly and could cause irreparable damage to the bull?!! The resulting touch kick and the line out, saw Aussie winger Korobiete go over the line, but the last pass was blatantly forward and although the referee awarded an on-field try it was overturned by the TV official. Of course, a long advantage was being played and the Aussies got to go back to the spot and try again for touch. The Aussies were desperate for points at this stage and a series of brawls led to an easy penalty being awarded to the more skillful brawlers, the Aussies, mid-left. The gift of three points was accepted and 6 – 9 Aussies in front. At this stage, the Pumas had been warned for excessive foul play and could have a yellow card issued if and when the next offence was so deemed.
This took us into half-time in what can only be reiterated as a brawl in which an oval-shaped white ball was used as a prop of some sort! To call it Rugby Union would be to bring down the wrath of ages upon the sayer. To describe it as a “gripping contest” in which the so much superior Aussie team had been dogged by bad luck and let down by the rub of the green, was the prerogative of the Aussie commentary team. Luckily the mute switch is a feature on modern TV sets!
The Aussies started the second-half with a very deep kick into Puma territory no doubt hoping this created an incident that would trigger the warning that the Argentina team was under. Initially, they got a kickable penalty, but Tom Banks chose to go even deeper into blue and white territory with a touch kick. Lo and behold out came the yellow card and the Argentine Hooker was off for ten minutes in the sin bin. Aussies deep in Argentine territory playing against 14 men. Textbook situation and the stuff of dreams for the “lucky country”! The awarded penalty could have been kicked over even if Reece Hodge had been blindfolded and 6 -11 it was, Wallabies leading.
The Puma skipper who is such an inspirational leader chased down a kick brilliantly and forced a penalty. It was mid-right and around 25 meters out, should have been bread and butter for Sanchez but he missed amidst loud boos and the beginning of a drizzle. We were now in the 46th minute was this going to be the crucial kick? The Wallabies cleared with a massive dropkick that propelled the ball from their 22 into the Argentine 22.
The play progressed with Argentina showing fantastic line speed and an impregnable defence. Another brawl with a penalty reversion this time in favor of the Pumas. At this stage, another skill of the players indulging in this sport which was hard to describe as rugby was displayed. Artistic dives like those employed in soccer to gain penalties, where the player writhes in agony until the penalty is awarded and then recovers miraculously, were employed. The Oscar-winning effort gained a sitter of a penalty for the Wallabies and the score raced ahead to 6 – 15.
With the awarding of a scrum penalty to the Pumas in the 58th minute, we saw a change in the game. Great up and under from Sanchez saw the Pumas go into the Australian 22 but a knock-on saw a scrum with Wallabies having the put in. Another scrum penalty for the Pumas, easily kickable this time saw Sanchez duly oblige 9 – 15. Pumas a goal away from victory.
In the 65th minute, another penalty was awarded to the Pumas. This was around 47 meters away from the posts but dead in front. It was raining now, and the ball was greasy. Would Sanchez kick? He did and brilliantly too, taking the score to 12 – 15. The game was into the 65th minute or so and the Aussie starting halfback Nick White was subbed off. In the 69th minute, the Wallabies were deemed off-side and a penalty awarded on the 50-meter line, slightly left of center. Sanchez stepped up and over she went! Scores level 15 – 15.
At this stage, the inspirational Puma leader and number seven had to go off the field for an HIA. Blatant obstruction by Aussie players who do not bother to make any effort to get onside when one of their players have collected the ball behind them and are running forward, was totally ignored by the match officials but another Puma infringement was spotted and with less than two minutes to go a penalty was awarded to the Wallabies, 40 meters out, mid-left. Bread and butter for Reece Hodge? Easy Mate! Not to be, rugby has some Gods and sometimes they step in to allow fairness to prevail, kick missed, and match drawn.
No one deserved to win that brawl that passed for a game of rugby football and if this is how the game is going to be played in the future, there may not be a future. Certainly, from a spectator’s point of view.
The so-called Rugby Championship tournament is now wide open with all three participating countries level with six points each. Argentina plays the All Blacks next Saturday and the Aussies the Saturday after that. It looks to me that the silverware may have to be shared unless the points of the winning margin are taken into account.
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