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The Great Wallaby Rout



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.

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Openers star in India’s crushing win



India tour of Zimbabwe, 2022

Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill struck unbeaten 80s after a clinical performance with the ball, helping India take a 1-0 lead with a 10-wicket victory against Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club on Thursday (August 18). Deepak Chahar, playing his first international game since February 2022, bagged a three-wicket haul and was complemented by Axar Patel and Prasidh Krishna who also picked up three wickets apiece as India bowled Zimbabwe out for 189. Gill (82* off 72) and Dhawan (81* off 113) then put on their third 100-plus stand in the last four innings to lead India over the line with 19.1 overs to spare.

Dhawan and Gill weren’t in any hurry in the chase, taking their time to get going. Apart from a couple of fours at the start of the innings, Dhawan was mostly watchful, as was Gill as they negated the new-ball bowlers who were finding swing. But Victor Nyauchi struggled for rhythm and erred with his lines, bowling as many as eight wides in a four-over opening spell. Gill was dealing in singles while Dhawan capitalised on the loose deliveries for a couple of boundaries. The vice-captain also got a reprieve, put down by Evans at square leg off Sean Williams.

Having gone without a boundary till the end of the 13th over, Gill finally broke loose in the 14th, scoring three fours (one off an outside edge) off Brad Evans while taking the run-rate past five an over. With the field spread, there were easy opportunities to milk singles and twos, and the Indian openers went about in a risk-free manner to build their partnership. Dhawan got to a 76-ball fifty and then struck a four over extra cover off Sikandar Raza in the 20th over to bring up the century partnership.

Gill’s fifty was the next milestone as the right-handed opener reached there off 51 balls with two successive fours off Ryan Burl. The first six of the innings came off Gill’s bat as he clubbed a Wesley Madhevere delivery over the midwicket fence to power India past 150 in the 26th over, and the 22-year old soon outscored the 36-year old veteran despite facing lesser deliveries. Both Gill and Dhawan added to their boundary count, getting the scoring rate past six. The left-hander struck the winning boundary in the 31st over as India recorded their 13th successive ODI win against Zimbabwe and also their ninth victory in the last 10 ODIs.

Earlier, with a generous amount of swing and bounce on offer in the morning, Chahar and Mohammed Siraj bowled a testing spell to the Zimbabwe openers after KL Rahul opted to bowl. Having gone past the outside edge multiple times and losing a review for a leg-before decision, Chahar finally bagged the wicket of Innocent Kaia with a short delivery and also dismissed Tadiwanashe Marumani a short while later. Siraj then got the better of Williams with a short of a length delivery to get the batter to edge to first slip, while Chahar bagged his third wicket by trapping Madhevere in front as Zimbabwe slipped to 31 for 4 in the 11th over.

Zimbabwe captain Regis Chakabva took the attack back to India by scoring a flurry of boundaries. Meanwhile, the visitors lost their second review when Chahar, who bowled his seventh straight over, rapped Raza on the pads and replays revealed that the ball was missing the stumps. Chakabva and Raza built a steady partnership but their association came to an end on 35 when Prasidh found the outside edge of the in-form Raza. Chakabva had a lucky break when he reviewed a leg-before decision in a Kuldeep Yadav over after being given out. At the other end Burl played some confident-looking shots but fell to a short-ball ploy from Prasidh.

The first wicket to spin came in the 27th over when Chakabva, looking to play the cut shot, was bowled by Axar for 35 and the left-arm spinner also dismissed Luke Jongwe. While India would have hoped to wrap up the innings quickly, Evans and Ngarava kept them waiting as they put on a fighting half-century partnership. The pair rotated the strike well, scored boundaries from time to time while Evans also struck the first six of the innings when he sent a Kuldeep delivery over the midwicket fence as they raised Zimbabwe’s highest ninth wicket stand against India. Ngarava also struck a six, sending an Axar delivery wide of long-on, before a yorker from Prasidh ended his stay. Axar dismissed last man Nyauchi as Zimbabwe’s innings ended with 9.3 overs still remaining.

Brief scores:

Zimbabwe 189 in 40.3 overs (Regis Chakabva 35, Richard Ngarava 34; Brad Evans 33*; Deepak Chahar 3-27, Axar Patel 3-24, Prasidh Krishna 3-50) lost to India 192/0 in 30.5 overs (Shubman Gill 82*, Shikhar Dhawan 81*) by 10 wickets.


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Raducanu’s promising Cincinati run ends



Emma Raducanu’s dominant form at the Cincinnati Open ended as seventh seed Jessica Pegula proved a sharp step up in class for the British number one.Raducanu had trounced veterans Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, but lost 7-5 6-4 to Pegula in the last 16.

Now the 19-year-old switches her focus to defending her crown at the US Open, which starts in New York on 29 August.British men’s number one Norrie, seeded ninth, won 6-0 6-2 against the teenage American wildcard Ben Shelton as the gulf between the pair showed.

Norrie, who beat Andy Murray in the previous round, secured victory in just 57 minutes and will play Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, who is seeded third, in the quarter-finals.Following her defeat by Pegula, Raducanu said her time in Cincinnati had shown that making mistakes is not necessarily a step backwards.

“In the past year it’s one of the few tournaments that I have started going for my shots more,” she said.

Optimism around Raducanu increased after her statement wins against 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams and fellow major winner Azarenka, albeit with the caveat that both of her ageing opponents are nowhere near their prime.

Against Williams, the world number 13 produced probably her best performance since her shock win at the US Open last year, backing that up with another confident display against an out-of-sorts Azarenka.Dropping just six games combined in the two victories – each lasting a little over an hour – was a welcome boost for Raducanu after a tough year.

But facing the consistent Pegula was always likely to provide a better assessment of where the Briton’s game is.It was only the second time in Raducanu’s burgeoning career that she has faced a top-10 ranked opponent and, in Pegula, one who has racked up the second highest number of WTA 1000 match wins since the start of 2021.

After losing serve in the third game of the match, Raducanu broke straight back but continued to be put under pressure by Pegula’s heavier ball-striking.Raducanu fought off three more break points to hold for 3-2, and another in the ninth game, before Pegula finally took another chance for a 6-5 lead.That left the 28-year-old American serving for the opening set and she took the chance without conceding a point.

Recent defeats in Washington and Toronto saw Raducanu edged out in tight opening sets before fading quickly against both Liudmila Samsonova and Camila Giorgi.Raducanu hit an untimely double fault to fall a break down early in the second set against Pegula and while her opponent’s level remained slightly higher, showed resilience to stay within a single break.

The narrow lead was enough for the impressive Pegula – who is enjoying her breakout year after struggling with injuries at the start of her career – to serve out the match without facing too much pressure.She will return to Flushing Meadows with renewed hope after a productive and confidence-boosting week in Cincinnati.Elsewhere in the WTA draw, top seed Iga Swiatek lost in the third round for the second successive tournament.

French Open champion Swiatek, 21, was beaten 6-3 6-1 by American Madison Keys, who earned the first win of her career against a world number one.Poland’s Swiatek has lost four of her past eight matches since her 37-match winning streak was ended at Wimbledon.Keys will face Elena Rybakina in the quarter-finals after the Wimbledon champion beat American Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2 6-4.Czech Petra Kvitova won 6-1 4-6 6-0 against Tunisia’s Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur, while Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit was knocked out by China’s Zhang Shuai who triumphed 2-6 6-4 6-4.

In the men’s draw, world number one Daniil Medvedev wore down Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 7-5 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals before he starts his US Open title defence.The Russian faces American Taylor Fritz, who beat Medvedev’s compatriot Andrey Rublev 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 7-5.

Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, Canadian seventh seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and American John Isner are also through, along with Croatia’s Borna Coric who followed up his win over Rafael Nadal by beating another Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut.

(BBC Sports)

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Southern Brave make it three in a row



Women’s Hundred 2022

Southern Brave made it three wins out of three following a narrow nine-run win over Manchester Originals on Thursday. Chasing 137, Originals found themselves in a very good position to register their second win of the campaign before a huge collapse saw them lose their grip on the game.

Lizelle Lee took some time before taking on Georgia Adams for 16 runs in the space of three deliveries to give her side a strong start. With Emma Lamb also making an impressive start, Originals’ openers added 46 for the opening wicket. The wicket didn’t deter the batting side as they continued to motor along in fine fashion and at one stage were 102/2 with 35 needed off 23 deliveries. Eight wickets in hand at that stage meant the target was definitely achievable.

However, Lauren Bell and Amanda Wellington struck to trigger a collapse. Under pressure, Originals also suffered a run out at that stage as Lamb continued to watch the procession from one end. She went on to make a half-century but she departed when her side needed 19 more runs to win. Brave then managed to close out the innings in perfect fashion to eke out a win.

Earlier in the day, a strong performance from the top order laid a solid foundation for Brave. Smriti Mandhana hit just the second ball of the innings for a boundary and then went berserk by smashing five more fours and a couple of sixes to race to 43 off just 24 balls. Her wicket gave the bowling side some much-needed respite as they started to pull things back.

Even though Danielle Wyatt made 31, a couple of quick wickets pegged back the batting side. Vital cameos right at the death from Maia Bouchier and Freya Kemp ensured Brave went past 130, which was just about enough to remain unbeaten in the competition.

Brief scores:

Southern Brave 136/5 in 100 balls (Smriti Mandhana 43, Danielle Wyatt 31; Sophie Ecclestone 2-32) beat Manchester Originals127/8 in 100 balls (Emma Lamb 57; Amanda Wellington 3-27, Lauren Bell 2-17) by 9 runs


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