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Waikato Chiefs in another cliff-hanger

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by Rajitha Ratwatte

Friday of the ANZAC weekend (Remembrance Day for Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed in action) began with a ceremony and a perceptible wave of pride and emotion from the players and spectators prior to the commencement of the week 9, Aotearoa super rugby game Waikato Chiefs vs Wellington Hurricanes. Match played at Kirikiriroa (Maori name for Hamilton) a much nicer name than that of an ex-governor from colonial times for Auckland’s closest satellite town.

The Chiefs playing as favourites for the first time in a long time after ending one of the worst losing streaks in the history of the tournament, just a month ago. The Hurricanes without their skipper and hardworking no8 Aardie Savea and Dan Coles (mercurial and irrepressible are some words that spring to mind when describing this All Black and Wellington hooker) captaining in his stead. Damian Mackenzie “D mac” or “clutch” as he is better known starting at no15 and Gatlin getting another chance at no10. The Hurricanes playing in white jerseys as against the accustomed yellow and black.

Gatlin looked very shaky at the start of the game, messing up the initial kick-off sending it out on the full, and having to restart with a scrum on the 50-meter line Hurricanes ball. Under a minute into play, a great offload from Tighthead prop Tyrell Lomax to no four James Blackwell saw him gallop his way over the line for a try that continues to prove that the tight five can do almost a better job than the glory boys in the backs, if only they get a chance! Try converted easily because we thinking forwards always make sure the kicking angle is easy, 0 -7 Hurricanes away to a dream start. The Chiefs got a kickable penalty almost immediately but chose to go for territory instead. 13 minutes into the game a harder penalty around 42 meters out and mid-left was given to Damian Mackenzie to try for three points. This is about the limit of the kicking range for the diminutive D Mack, but he duly obliged, 3 -7. 16 minutes into the game a great bit of running rugby with Mackenzie being involved twice saw the Chiefs no eight Peter Sowakulu misjudge chip kick and drop the ball over the line.

Referee Paul Williams was handling the game well, with clear instructions to players around the rucks and mauls thereby minimizing penalties and ensuring plenty of turnovers and 15 vs 15 rugby, removing the dominance of placekickers, which is as it should be! The 21-year-old youngster Ruben Love playing his second game for the Hurricanes at no10 was playing a defensive role from inside his half with the strapping Jordie Barret playing at first receiver most of the time, although wearing the no15 jersey. 28 minutes into the game All Black and Waikato center, Lennert- Brown went over the line after 14 phases of play only to have the try disallowed for non-grounding of the ball. Waikato was playing under advantage and another scrum was taken instead of a kick at the goal. The Waikato scrum which was given an abject lesson by the Crusaders just a few weeks ago had improved dramatically and the Chiefs no eight went over off a forward-moving scrum to score a try that was easily converted by “clutch” Mackenzie. 10 – 7, Chiefs in the lead for the first time. Seconds from halftime Jordie Barret kicked a 60-meter penalty, this is almost customary now for 6’8″ Hurricanes full-back, to make the scores level 10 – 10 at halftime.

Two minutes after the resumption the Chiefs got a penalty around 27 meters out and mid-right with the angle. Penalty converted Chiefs back in the lead 13 – 10. 46 minutes into the game a long throw from a Chiefs line out saw a rejuvenated Gatlin at no10 fly-hack the ball ahead, an awkward bonce for full-back Jordie Barret saw a knock backward, and one of the defenders being pinged for offside. Although easily kickable a scrum was taken and the newfound dominance of the Waikato pack allowed clean ball to the no10 Gatlin who finally played to his potential, stepped past the rookie opposition no10 who came up too far in defence and scored under the posts. 20 – 10 Waikato Chiefs ahead. The 21-year-old Hurricanes no10 came back into play with a great pass to his no eight Flanders who gained plenty of territory and the Hurricanes kept the ball in play for around 10 phases finally passing to Billy Proctor who scored just left of the posts. Kicks from there no problem for J. Barret and the score 20 -17 and anyone’s game! 55 minutes into the game a penalty awarded to the Chiefs around 40 meters out and mid-right was missed by “D’mac” but he made amends just two minutes later by slotting a harder penalty, further out but in front of the posts, awarded for that textbook error that the rugby governing body is apparently very strict on, players not falling back or standing still until put onside by the kicker. Score onto 23 – 17 Chiefs drawing further ahead. The 64th minute and the 65th minute saw kickable penalties that were awarded to the ‘Canes being turned into attempts to gain territory. It all paid off in the 67th minute when substitute hooker Asafa Amuna powered his way over the line from a penalty “milked” by passing the ball into a Waikato player who was trying to get onside. Trying to stop Amuna from that range was aptly described as like “trying to tackle a cannonball”! Try converted and lo and behold, the Hurricanes back into a one-point lead 23 -24.

A couple of captain’s challenges from either side were dismissed and even the infallible Damian Mackenzie made a mistake sending the ball out on the full and losing a lot of territory due to scrum having to be held from the point of the kick. A bad throw from a Chiefs line out saw the Hurricanes knock the ball on trying to collect it and a scrum awarded, with loose head to the Chiefs almost on the full-time hooter. The dominance of the Waikato pack came to the fore and they forced a scrum penalty 45 meters out, in front and at the maximum range that even ‘D Mac’ could manage. He stepped up with the full-time hooter echoing around the stadium and what else from this X factor maestro, but straight down the middle! Waikato Chiefs home by 26 – 24 and their hopes to play in the final still alive. Unthinkable from just five weeks ago and due to a great forward pack and “Clutch” Mackenzie who was described by his skipper Brad Webb in a subsequent TV interview as “Jeeze he’s good isn’t he”?!!

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Himasha’s ban extended to six years

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Himasha’s doping violation

by Reemus Fernando

The Appeals Committee of the Sri Lanka Anti-Doping Agency that heard sprinter Himasha Eshan’s appeal against his suspension, has decided to extend the ban against the former national 100 metres champion to six years.

SLADA has informed the athlete that the Appeals Committee had decided to extend the ban to six years after the appeal hearing conducted on November 3.

According to the letter sent by SLADA, Himasha will now be banned till 25th October 2027 which effectively closes the former national 100 metres record holder’s chances of competing for Sri Lanka again.

The 28-year-old was tested positive for a banned substance during a random test conducted by SLADA on October 26, 2021. The Disciplinary Committee of SLADA first banned him for four years from October 26, 2021 to October 25, 2025. That ban has now been extended by two years.It was the second time that the South Asian Games medallist has been found positive for a banned substance and he is also the only Sri Lankan athlete to be tested positive twice.

He was first found positive for a banned substances when he was 17 years old. He was slapped with a two year ban which was reduced considering his young age. The World Anti-Doping Agency introduced four years bans for first time offences in 2013. According to Anti Doping authorities any reduced terms are added to the suspension when an athlete is found positive for the second time.

This time Himasha was tested positive during a random test conducted by SLADA on October 26, 2021. The Anti-Doping authorities collected Himasha’s urine samples at the Army quarters at Narahenpita. He was involved in several impressive performances including a wind assisted 10.29 seconds feat to win the men’s 100 metres during the Army Athletics Championships which was held around that time.

Once the fastest man in the South Asian region, Himasha was coached by Chaminda Perera. He won the gold medal at the 2016 South Asian Games and set a South Asian regional record of 10.22 seconds in 2019. He was also part of Sri Lanka’s 4×100 metres team that established the current national record in the 4×100 metres relay.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Al Nassr knocked out of Saudi Super Cup

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr were knocked of the Saudi Super Cup on Thursday after a 3-1 semifinal loss to Al Ittihad in Riyadh.The 37-year-old Portugal international, five-times Ballon D’Or winner, had a couple of chances to score but was well shackled by the Al Ittihad defence for most of the match.

Anderson Talisca’s goal for Al Nassr in the 67th minute was not enough to turn around the deficit from two first-half goals for Al Ittihad from Romarinho and Abderrazak Hamdallah.

Muhannad Al-Shanqeeti added the third three minutes into stoppage time.Al Nassr next travel to Al Fateh in the Saudi Pro League on Feb. 3.

(ESPN)

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Stefanos Tsitsipas beats Karen Khachanov to reach final of Australian Open 2023

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Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas has another chance to land his first Grand Slam title after reaching the Australian Open final by beating Russian Karen Khachanov in the Melbourne last four.Third seed Tsitsipas, 24, won 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 against Khachanov, who was going for a maiden major final.Tsitsipas lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final and might have the chance to avenge that loss.

Serbia’s Djokovic plays American Tommy Paul in Friday’s other semi-final.Tsitsipas, who will become the world number one if he wins the title, eventually booked his place after recovering from Khachanov saving two match points in the third-set tie-break.

Another tight forehand saw a third chance disappear in what proved to be the final game, before he regained his composure to convert his fourth when a first serve was batted long by the 18th seed. Asked what he was thinking when the match went into a fourth set, Tsitsipas said: “I thought about how hard I’ve worked to get to this position.

“But if you stick around, dedicate yourself even more, and concentrate even more in the important moments it pays off.”

Nine-time champion Djokovic is the favourite to face Tsitsipas and takes on the unseeded Paul, who is competing in his first major semi-final, at 08:30 GMT on Friday.

The 35-year-old former world number one has won in Melbourne every time he has reached the last four and is aiming for a record-extending 10th title which would equal Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 major men’s titles. At a tournament with a hard-court surface on which he thrives, and in a city where he is warmly backed by its large Greek population, Tsitsipas has long appeared destined for success at the Australian Open.

The towering youngster announced his arrival there with a famous 2019 win over defending champion Roger Federer in the fourth round, only for a captivating run to be ended when he was crushed by Rafael Nadal in his first semi-final appearance.

Long-time rival Daniil Medvedev ended his dreams at the last-four stage in both 2021 and 2022, with another Russian – this time, the powerful Khachanov – standing in his way this time.

Backed by a vocal crowd who waved Greek flags after virtually all of his winning points, Tsitsipas started confidently against a player who he had beaten in all of their five previous encounters.

Khachanov could not cope with Tsitsipas’ pounding ground-strokes and dynamic athleticism as the world number four moved two sets ahead.

When Tsitsipas broke early in the third set and moved into a 5-4 lead which left him serving for the match, few on Rod Laver Arena expected anything other than a straight-set win.However, nerves kicked in for Tsitsipas, who suddenly looked unsure with his ground-strokes, and Khachanov cut loose to extend the contest.

After a bathroom break before the fourth set, Tsitsipas returned free of the weight of expectation and broke Khachanov’s serve at the first opportunity.Dominant service games from that point ensured there would be no repeat of the previous set as he finally reached the final of what he calls his “home” Grand Slam event.

“I feel blessed for the fact I’m able to play tennis at this level and for many years I’ve wanted to put Greek tennis on the map – Maria [Sakkari] and I have done that, I think,” Tsitsipas said.

“Coming from a small country like Greece I feel so grateful I get support like this.

“I never thought I would be treated so well here so I’m extremely happy I’m in the final now – let’s see what happens.”

(BBC Sports)

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