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.
Enjoy James Anderson’s skills for one last time
Rex Clementine at Galle Fort
Spinners dominate in Asia and fast bowlers have their work cut out in unresponsive and flat pitches. There are those of course who are crafty enough to overcome challenges and do their best to the team. James Anderson is one such. He was nicely setting up Sri Lankan batsmen on the opening day of the second Test in Galle that got underway on Friday.
With the new ball, he reduced Sri Lanka to seven for two– accounting for Kusal Perera (6) and Oshada Fernando (0) early in the innings.
Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews ensured that there was not a repeat of the first Test – a collapse. Thirimanne was beginning to breathe easy. He added 69 runs for the third wicket with Angelo Mathews and Sri Lanka were 76 for lunch. In the second ball after lunch, Anderson struck again. His line and length were impeccable.
It was hot and humid in Galle. Anderson barely sent down a loose ball. Of his 19 overs on day one, ten were maiden. Such efficiency in Asia is rarely seen by a seamer. The likes of Sir Richard Hadlee, Wasim Akram and Mitchell Starc had done it before. Anderson is doing the job for England and that’s one reason why they have not lost a series in Sri Lanka since 2007.
Fast bowlers last a maximum of a decade and half. Rarely do they go beyond 15 years. Anderson has defied those numbers. Super fit at the age of 38, the Lancastrian is on his 19th year of international cricket and he may stretch it to two decades.
This is Anderson’s fifth tour to Sri Lanka. It is unlikely that he will visit the island again. So we must enjoy his art for one last time. He gets wickets with the new ball with his impeccable line and length and once the ball gets softer, he is deadlier reverse swinging the ball expertly.
Anderson is the world’s fourth highest wicket taker. The top three wicket takers are spinners and he is the leading fast bowler with 606 wickets so far. He has featured in a ‘small number’ of 158 Test matches. No fast bowler has featured in that many games.
When our fast bowlers are breaking down frequently barely lasting a full series, they have a lot to learn from Anderson who has gone onto achieve some remarkable feats.
Let’s enjoy Anderson’s skills for one last time.
Majestic Mathews overcomes Anderson threat
Angelo Mathews scored an unbeaten hundred to help Sri Lanka consolidate in the second Test against England in Galle yesterday
Rex Clementine at Galle Fort
It was a superb day of Test match cricket in Galle yesterday as Sri Lanka were made to fight tooth and nail to seize the initiative and square the two match series against England. James Anderson, fresh after being rested for the opening Test, returned in place of Stuart Broad and he was on the money, rarely bowling a loose ball.
It was a battle between the two teams’ most experienced players – Anderson and Mathews. The 38-year-old Lancastrian set it up all dismissing Kusal Perera (6) and Oshada Fernando (0) in the space of five deliveries. KJP attempted a wild stroke without moving his feet and was snapped up by a leaping Joe Root at first slip. Oshada dragged one onto the stumps setting the stage for Mathews to walk in with the side in trouble at seven for two
Sri Lanka were under pressure having been shot out for 135 runs in the first Test and the batsmen needed to apply themselves to avoid a repeat. With Anderson his tail up, this was hard work.
Mathews first ensured that he saw off the new ball and then cashed in with spinners getting no assistance whatsoever. Partnerships were crucial for Sri Lanka. The third wicket stand between Mathews and Thirimanne was worth 69 runs.
Sri Lanka appeared to have recovered at lunch having reached 76 for two. But with Anderson you can not afford to relax. Thirimanne did and paid the price – caught behind for 43 in the second ball after lunch.
Mark Wood bowled a couple of lively spells, not seen here since Mitchell Starc ran through the batting in 2016. His hostile bowling saw Dinesh Chandimal being hit on the head and Mathews nearly gloving one but the ball landed where there was no fielder.
Mathews added 117 runs for the fourth wicket with Chandimal, who posted his 20th Test half-century. Wood had his man finally when he trapped Chandimal leg before wicket, a decision the batsman contested unsuccessfully.
Anderson barely bowled a bad ball with 10 of his 19 overs being maidens. He got the ball to reverse swing as well but Sri Lanka did well not to give away any more wickets to him.
England took the new ball immediately after it was available. But Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella added 36 runs for the fifth wicket to ensure Sri Lanka finished on 229 for four at stumps.
NSSF provides electronic target facility to national shooters at a provisional range
The electronic target facility has been setup at a provisional facility owned by the President of NSSF, Shirantha Peries near Kohuwala.
Asian Online Shooting Championship 2021
The National Shooting Sport Federation (NSSF) of Sri Lanka has made arrangements to introduce electronic target facilities to national shooters as it gears up to form a strong team for the upcoming inaugural Asian Online Shooting Championship 2021, which will be held on January 29 and 30.
The electronic target facility has been setup at a provisional facility owned by the President of NSSF, Shirantha Peries near Kohuwala.
“We have been craving for a permanent national shooting range since 2015, but so far nothing has materialised in favour of the sport. There were requests made to several Sports Ministers who were in and out of office during this period, but the NSSF had to finally make a crucial decision to setup this temporary shooting range in early 2019. Now the electronic targets are placed here for the use of national shooters,” Pradeep Edirisinghe, the General Secretary of NSSF said in a statement.
The introduction of electronic targets has several objectives. It will come handy to shooters of the national squad to train prior to any important international meet, which have been not held globally since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
More importantly, the introduction of electronic targets will facilitate the upcoming inaugural Asian Online Shooting Championship 2021, which will be held on January 29 and 30. Currently members of the national shooting squad are engaged in a qualifier trial meet in the 10m Air Rifle and 10m Air Pistol individual events for men and women.
“The trials are a good lead up to the NSSF as this is the first time Sri Lanka is taking part in an online Asian competition. Unlike at our local competitions where the whole process is done manually, the outcome at electronic targets happens in real time. We can fully rely on the accuracy of the process, as during the competitions the Asian Shooting Federation will monitor the whole course from Kuwait,” Edirisinghe explained.
According to the guidelines issued by the Kuwait Shooting Federation, the organisers of the competition, three participants each per discipline from each country, will be given the opportunity to compete. In Air Rifle and Air Pistol for both Men and Women, three shooters each must qualify based on the minimum qualifying standards set by the organisers.
“In addition skeet and trap events will take place during the same period, but Sri Lanka will be able to take part only in the skeet because we are having the NSSF Skeet Open this weekend and the top three shooters will automatically qualify for that. Air Rifle and Air Pistol shooters from all countries must qualify,” said Edirisinghe.
The Asian Online competition will start at 10.00am local time in each country at their respective shooting ranges and updates will be monitored in real time by the organisers based in Kuwait. The respective countries taking part must provide facilities to shooters under strict health guidelines, and ISSF qualified independent judges in each country will officiate the matches, before submitting the approved report with results to Kuwait.
“We will begin shooting at these competitions starting from 10.00am as instructed at this temporary facility in Kohuwala and at the Clay Target Shooting Club of Colombo’s shotgun range facility in Payagala. We, as the NSSF must take the responsibility for an honest report and these results are totally based on mutual understanding,” he further explained.
The NSSF intends to continue this exercise during the coming months as international meets are yet to resume since early 2020, due to the pandemic and global travel restrictions. However the introduction of electronic targets to Sri Lanka is a welcome sign for NSSF, as it will have the ability to provide its shooters a facility they could only experience overseas.
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