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.
May the educated continue to run cricket!
by Rex Clementine
While the Test series involving Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is on at Pallekele in a bio-secure bubble, the media has been allowed to cover the series in what is called the ‘outer bubble’. The press can file their stories from the press box and carry on with their day today activities. The only thing that we can not do is to come face to face with players and support staff.
Sri Lanka Cricket is at the moment run by a respected doctor – Professor Arjuna de Silva. Apart from being a brilliant physician, he is proving to be an outstanding administrator as well. Glad he does not wish to avoid the press like the plague in these testing times.
The press discussed a similar method during the England series, but it fell on deaf ears of those who were running the sport at that time. Leave alone giving us a fair hearing, it took SLC more than a week to respond to our collective mail.
Then there were lies all around. SLC first said that it was impossible to accommodate the press as the England and Wales Cricket Board had objected to our presence. We referred the matter to the ECB, who denied it outright saying that they had no issues with press covering the series. Then there were more lies, even misguiding the Minister of Sports.
The same SLC Executive Committee a few weeks either side of the England series had requested the media to cover their press briefings and they were well attended. But cricket matches for some mysterious reasons were out of bounds for us. Obviously, SLC hierarchy were getting advice from the wrong people.
South Africa, Australia, England, Pakistan and even India where COVID cases are at a staggering high had allowed the media to attend cricket matches but SLC was an exception. Did they have an axe to grind with the press for constantly highlighting daylight robbery at Maitland Place?
There was a storm of protest at the treatment meted out to the media. Former players, administrators and fans expressed their disappointment at what was happening but SLC bosses were thick skinned. Its President boasted that he was going to get more than 100 votes at the AGM. He was all too powerful. But the law of the land proved to be more powerful than him as the entire Executive Committee was dismissed on technical grounds. The CEO continues, although his time is hanging by a thread.
Further woes followed at the COPE hearing as the Parliamentary watchdog found large scale corruption and no accountability. The Secretary to the Sports Ministry was informed to initiate legal proceedings against officials who were responsible for corrupt deals that included money that broadcasting partners owed the board being transferred into offshore accounts.
It remains to be seen what action the Sports Ministry intends to take with the game suffering several blows both on and off the field in the last five years. The slide started during the Yahapalana regime and not much has been done to address the woes under the present government. The Sports Minister backdating a letter legalizing the term of the Executive Committee was the last straw. The move was opposed and the Minister was forced to dismiss the Executive Committee and bring in fresh faces amidst much criticism.
The same Ex Co did not bother to take disciplinary action against misbehaving players. This coupled with poor on field performances saw cricket’s ardent fans turning away from the game. While the national cricket team was involved in a series in the Caribbean, the retired players were featuring in a Legends tournament in India. Strangely, the fans preferred to watch the former players in action than their national team. This was extremely disturbing news.
Soon after the administration was changed, a clear message has been sent that misconduct will be sternly dealt with. An opening batsman who had got into constant trouble was hauled up for an inquiry on Tuesday and has been warned to behave or pack his bags. This is the way forward. When there is discipline, results will follow automatically.
The elected officials who were in power before that had double standards. For example, captain Dimuth Karunaratne who was involved in a late night accident was fined Rs. one million. This was despite him buying a brand new three wheeler to the other party involved in the accident. Kusal Mendis who was involved in a hit and run was treated with kids’ gloves. The board closed the case claiming it was a personal matter. That a poor man on his way to work was killed wasn’t a serious enough issue for them. That was not on.
Thankfully, the attitude of the administration has changed now. The powers that be need to ensure that the educated run cricket. Let the corrupt rot in jail.
Don’t judge a pitch by its colour!
Rex Clementine at Pallekele
Don’t judge a book by its cover is a phrase that is often used. Maybe in cricket terminology who should introduce something new like don’t judge a pitch by its colour. The green top at Pallekele looked to be a monster. It looked more like Newlands in Cape Town or Basin Reserve in Wellington than Kandy. But appearances can be deceptive. That is what the first Test at Pallekele taught us as there were no demons on the pitch.
Sri Lanka packed their side with seam hoping they will be able to exploit the conditions. Bangladesh meanwhile were positive. Instead of chickening out, they opted to bat first after winning the toss and they were sitting pretty at stumps having reached a commanding 302 for two.
The seamers weren’t able to get any movement off the patch. There was a bit of moisture in the morning but the quicks weren’t bowling in the right areas. Asitha Fernando instead of Lahiru Kumara could have perhaps used the conditions better but, hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
However, there’s one selection that you don’t understand. That is whether Wanindu Hasaranga is Test material. He struggled on day one. Should Sri Lanka have backed their off-spinner is the question that has been asked.
Having said that, we are well aware of the fact that leg-spinners take time to develop and given the promise Hasaranga has shown, it’s not a bad ploy to back him. But, Sri Lanka needs results. They last won a Test match in January last year. Since then, they have played seven Tests, losing four and drawing three.
Tamim Iqbal put up a fine show. He attacked from the start without letting the bowlers settle in. He was scoring less than run a ball and was all set to post his tenth Test hundred when one shot too many cost him his wicket. Tamim’s 90 came off 101 balls with 15 boundaries.
But there was no stopping young Najmul Santo, an elegant 21-year-old batsman with a lot of promise. He was dropped early in his innings by Niroshan Dickwella and he cashed in making an unbeaten 126.
After Tamim was dismissed, captain Mominul Haque joined Santo and they added 150 runs for the third wicket without being separated. Mominul was unbeaten on 64.
Sri Lanka hardly looked as if they were able to make a breakthrough even after they took the second new ball. A tough day two awaits them.
Dialog Powers the 142nd Royal-Thomian ‘Battle of the Blues’
Sri Lanka’s longest rivalry in schools cricket comes alive this May as premier boys schools Royal College Colombo and S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia, will battle it out once again for the 142nd uninterrupted blue ribbon cricket encounter, the ‘Battle of the Blues’ played for the prestigious Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake Memorial Shield, from 6th to 8th May, 2021, at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium – Suriyaweva, Hambantota.
The match will be played behind closed doors keeping in line with the COVID-19 restrictions and the health & safety guidelines mandated by Ministry of Health while Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) regulates playing conditions. The 142nd Battle of the Blues cricket encounter will be broadcast LIVE on Dialog Television channel number 72, and will also be available via LIVE stream on the ThePapare.com and the Dialog Viu app. The limited over “Mustangs Trophy” match will be played in a T20 format on the 10th of May, 2021.
Due to the prevailing pandemic, Sri Lanka’s blue-ribbon annual cricket encounter will break from tradition and will be played for the first time in its 142-year-old illustrious history, out of Colombo at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium – Suriyaweva. The teams, coaches and support staff along with umpires and match officials will follow bio secure environment (BSE) protocols, in line with the COVID-19 health & safety guidelines under the supervision of Southern Province & Hambantota Regional health services.
In the 2021 edition of the ‘Battle of the Blues’, powered by Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata PLC, the boys from Mt. Lavinia will be led by all-rounder Shalin De Mel, while the lads from Reid Avenue will play under the captaincy of elegant stroke-maker, Ahan Wickramasinghe.
‘The Royal – Thomian’, has a rich and colourful history spanning across 142 years and is also the second longest uninterrupted cricket series played in the world, second only to the annual encounter played between St. Peters College, Adelaide and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, Australia, that began just a year earlier and the Australia vs England Ashes Series just 02 years before.
In 1880, the first match in which only the boys took part was played on Galle Face Green, the present location of the Taj Samudra Hotel. This was the start to the centenary series. Both teams are said to have rowed their boats across Beira Lake to play the match.
The playing fields of the ‘Roy – Tho’ has the distinction of producing cricketers who later became eminent heads of state, with S. Thomas’ producing the father of the nation, the late Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake MP (1901 – 1902) and his son, the late Hon. Dudley Senanayake MP (1927-1929) as Prime Ministers of Ceylon, while Royal produced the late Rt. Hon. (General) Sir John Kotelawala MP (1914-1915) as Prime Minister and the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, the late J. R. Jayawardene (1925).
The tally between the two schools at present stands at 35 all, with the highly-debated match in 1885, where Royal College was all out for 09 runs with no play on the second day which was considered a win by S. Thomas’ and considered a draw by Royal as shown by the respective souvenir books of the two schools. The shield at present sits, akin to the crown jewels, amongst the silverware in the Warden’s trophy cabinet at S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia, after putting up a superb performance in 2019 under the captaincy of Sithara Hapuhinna, which will be challenged by a determined Royal XI, this year, who racked up impressive wins during the COVID-19 impacted calendar. The boys from Reid Avenue last won the coveted shield under stewardship of Geeshanth Paditharatne in 2016.
In 2019, on the 140th edition of the Royal-Thomian, Dialog rekindled a long and successful partnership with Sri Lanka’s Blue-Ribbon Big Match, The Battle of the Blues. The 142nd edition of the Royal-Thomian will be the thirteenth year that the match is sponsored by Dialog. Sri Lanka’s premier connectivity provider, Dialog Axiata has also made a pledge to contribute Rs. 1,000 for every run scored and 10,000 rupees for every wicket that fell. Last year’s exciting encounter contributed Rs. 1,008,000 to the ‘Play for a Cause’ pledge. The proceedings were directed in consultation with the Principal of Royal College and the Warden of S. Thomas’ College to support and empower deserving schools in the country. Since the inception of the ‘Play for a Cause’ pledge, Rs. 6,151,000 worth of cricket gear was donated to ten deserving schools.
Played in the highest tradition of excellence, the two schools have a formed a bond of mutual respect, camaraderie, sportsmanship, and friendly adversaries on and off the field, which has stood for almost one and a half centuries. As remarked by a yesteryear Principal of Royal College, “There is no Royal without S. Thomas’ and no S. Thomas’ without Royal.”
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