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.
Sweeping their way to disaster
by Rex Clementine
When South Africa hosted the 2003 World Cup, their first major cricket event to be staged in the country, Dr. Ali Bacher and his team put up a superb show. They were quite sure of going through all the way as well but their cockiness came back to hurt them as they were knocked out in the first round itself. The manner in which they failed to qualify made South Africa the laughing stock as they made an error with calculations of their target in rain affected games. It is one of the most embarrassing moments in history of cricket. Last week, in Galle Sri Lanka came up with an equally disgraceful performance as they surrendered the first Test before lunch on day three.
Sri Lankan batsmen lacked intent, character and focus as they were shot out in 22.5 overs. That’s the most gutless performance a Sri Lankan side has come up with in the recent history. A Sri Lankan under-19 side would have come up with a better performance and given the Test team’s effort, the selectors will be left with little choice than to throw someone like Dunith Wellalage into the deep end hoping that there will be someone who values his wicket rather than giving in meekly without a fight.
Even the Australians were surprised and bemused as to how sheepishly the hosts surrendered. What that defeat also means is that Sri Lanka’s hopes of an appearance in the World Test Championship are as good as over. The team had got their batting strategies awfully wrong. There are players in this line-up who have come up with back to the wall match winning and match saving efforts under pressure both home and away. But in the first Test, instead of trusting their defense, Sri Lankan batsmen were content to sweep their way out of trouble. Their theory was that with fielders crowding the bat and the ball turning viciously, survival was impossible. Now that the sweep backfired, what if had they trusted their natural game. Someone like Dimuth Karunaratne has seen far better spin attacks than what Australia had. Anyway he’s not a big sweeper. There are ofcourse sweepers in the side like Niroshan Dickwella. The team would have been better off trusting their strengths. Simply because the sweep worked for Australia, you can’t say it’s going to work for you too. The sweep is an high risk shot. Why Australia succeeded playing it largely was because Sri Lanka bowled crap. Australia bowled decent stuff. By bowling decently, on that Galle wicket Travis Head picked up four wickets. He had not taken a single wicket in Test cricket prior to that. It was also poor planning by Sri Lanka. Lasith Embuldeniya had struggled in Bangladesh and was dropped. He could have played against Australia ‘A’ and made a comeback. But they didn’t do that. Instead, he was told to regain his confidence playing against world’s number one ranked team in Test match cricket. How can you miss a basic thing like that?
It emerged at the post match media briefing that the sweep was premeditated. It seems they will do the same in the second Test too. Good luck to them.
The first Test lasted three days. So did the Tests in Mohali and Bangalore where they suffered heavy defeats against India. There have been series wins over West Indies and Bangladesh in between, but against bigger boys, the Sri Lankans are failing to show up. They suffered an embarrassing series defeat prior to that against England. There was talk at one point of two tiers of Test cricket. If Sri Lanka come up with such pathetic performances, you can not but agree that they deserve to play alongside Afghanistan, Ireland, West Indies and Bangladesh in the lower tier while bigger boys India, Pakistan, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand engage in the top tier. You don’t take a Test match beyond lunch on day three, you don’t deserve to play at the highest level. A shameful performance.
Royal win annual tennis encounter against S. Thomas’
Royal College captained by Ramith Herath won the annual Royal-Thomian Tennis encounter played at the S. Thomas’ College tennis courts on Saturday. The team from Reid Avenue won 3-2 to retain the E. F. C. Pereira Challenge Trophy. Thilina Dissanayake’s 9-8 (6) victory over Lisal Goonethilleke and the victories registered by their doubles pairs helped Royal register the win.
Royal skipper Herath conceded a 9-7 defeat to his opposite number Zahid Zihar and Royal also lost the other singles match when Jaitra de Saram scored 9-6 to beat Talal Sabry. In the first doubles, Heshika Perera and Methvan Wijemanne beat Navindu Herarh and Reshana Dwight (9-1).
In the second doubles encounter, Netwin Dharmaratne and Nitila Goonatheleke scored a 9-5 win over Janava de Seram and Venuka Kithnula. Royal are coached by Kavisha Rathnayake, who captained the team in 2019. Royal were also the winners of the Under 13 and Under 15 encounters.
Bumrah cameo and three-for make it India’s day amid rain breaks
India had the best of a stop-start day, adding 78 with their last three standing wickets and then taking four England wickets by the time they scored 78. On a day that only 39 overs were possible because of rain, India placed one hand firmly on the Pataudi Trophy, to secure which they needed merely a draw.
After Ravindra Jadeja completed his third Test century, India’s first out-and-out fast-bowler captain (Kapil Dev was an allrounder), Jasprit Bumrah broke a record held by Brian Lara, along with George Bailey and Keshav Maharaj, even before he came on to bowl, scoring 29 in a 35-run over from Stuart Broad, both a world record for most runs by a batter in an over and the most expensive over in Test cricket.
After adding 41 for the last wicket with Mohammed Siraj, Bumrah went on to take three wickets in his first spell, broken by rain breaks that helped him bowl seven overs on the trot. With India leading by 332 runs and only five England wickets standing at the end of two days, this Test was fast headed towards a territory from where only one team can win.
Jadeja began the day 17 short of a century, but showed no hurry to get there as he kept farming the strike with Mohammed Shami for company. He got to the landmark just before the second new ball became available with England trying short balls against Shami. It looked like a ploy used when waiting for the new ball, but it brought Shami 16 runs before he ramped Stuart Broad straight to fine third man in the last over of the old ball. Against the new ball, Jadeja tried to attack James Anderson but was bowled.
What followed is hard to decipher. At 375 for 9, with three-over-old ball, Broad began bowling short at Bumrah with a strong field square and behind on the leg side and no slip in place on the off side. It was almost like England had erased Lord’s from their minds where Bumrah and Shami made them pay for their short lengths. To make matters worse, Broad bowled five wides and also a no-ball that flew off the top edge for a six. Also Bumrah drove a full toss through the vacant mid-on region, top-edged another four and smacked clean another hook for a six. With one four through midwicket, Bumrah himself landed on his back but middled the shot. The only consolation for England was that Anderson ended the India innings with his 32nd five-wicket haul in Tests.
An absolutely torrid examination followed for England’s batters. Under overcast skies, Bumrah found just enough movement and never faltered in his length. To make it worse, he got two rain breaks in his first spell, much like Anderson got one to prolong his afternoon spell on day one.
Two of Bumrah’s three wickets came off the seventh and eighth balls of the over at a time when batters might have had reason to be thankful they had played an over out. No, said the third umpire, calling no-balls just in time. Alex Lees failed to cover the angle on a delivery from around the wicket, getting beaten so comprehensively he got both lbw and bowled to it. Of course, bowled takes precedence in such cases.
Both Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope played forgettable shots to get out, driving away from the body to balls that were not nearly full enough. Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer caught them in the slips.
In the final one hour, Shami turned up the heat, constantly troubling Root, which probably drew some loose shots from him. Root tried many tricks to steer Shami off his length, but Shami was persistent. He drove away from the body, he walked at Shami, he shuffled outside the line, and just about survived that Bumrah-Shami interrogation when Mohammed Siraj came on half an hour before stumps.
For that whole over, Root kept trying to late-cut Siraj, but the movement off the pitch kept cramping him up. It was the wobble-seam ball that tends to go like an offcutter for Siraj that kept denying Root, and eventually the last ball of the over seamed in appreciably to take the edge through to Rishabh Pant.
Shami was rewarded for his persistence with the wicket of nightwatchman Jack Leach. Jonny Bairstow, who scored 394 runs at a strike rate of 120.12 against New Zealand, didn’t find anything to hit here and ended the day unbeaten on 12 off 47. That should tell you that a batter’s intent can’t regularly work independent of the quality of bowling and conditions. (cricinfo)
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