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Yoshitha survived the knocks in rugby

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Navy SC’s Yoshitha Rajapaksa is set to make his retirement from rugby this Saturday.

Retires from the game this Saturday

By a Special Sports Correspondent

Former Thomian, Sri Lanka, and present Navy Sports Club player Yoshitha Rajapaksa expects to bring the curtain down on his rugby career after he plays his final match on April 2 (Saturday) at Longden Place.

Yoshitha’s decision to quit playing the game was confirmed by Sri Lanka Rugby (SLR) sources.  Hence he will be seen wearing the Navy jersey for the last time in this game where the ‘Sailors’ take on CR&FC.

He had his education at the school by the sea–S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia-so it was probably by choice and not coincidence that he chose to represent the ‘seagoing force’ when he decided to continue his rugby career after leaving school. He cut his teeth in the game at S.Thomas’ and even captained the school at First XV rugby; an achievement very few have achieved and all those who did are proud of.

But club rugby was a much more difficult experience for him. The transition from school rugby to club rugby overnight is unthinkable for even the greatest schoolboy rugby players. Yoshitha was no great player, but he had a large heart to continue rugby. With survival skills and just by hanging on there he got accustomed to senior rugby and eventually made it to the national pool. He played in his pet position as a flanker forward.

Before Yoshitha his brother Namal and later the younger sibling Rohitha being involved in the game coupled by their father Mahinda Rajapaksa being the president of the country made rugby the much talked about sport in the island. Rugby eventually became the ‘royal sport’ in the country. Those who would have been mere spectators took prominent roles in rugby administration and coaching during the time the Rajapaksas were at the peak of their careers.

But many good things also happened to the game during their time. There was a tussle for the national captaincy at one time when Yoshitha was just a ‘babe’ in the game. But when the time came for Yoshitha to captain we saw the players gelling together with him and there was hardly any internal conflicts within the national side.

The highlights of his career were that Sri Lanka, under his captaincy, became runners-up at the Asian Five Nations in Division 1 in 2012 and eventually won it the following year (2013). He also led the national side to win the Bowl Championship at the 2011 Borneo Sevens. He was a member of the Sri Lanka side that contested the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

Despite a pretty ‘decent’ career in rugby Yoshitha’s life was punctuated with legal issues. He had to face legal investigations regarding financial discrepancies associated with Carlton Sports Network. His name featured prominently in the investigations carried into the murder case of star rugby player Wasim Thajudeen. But Yoshitha surfaced from the bottom of all this turmoil; probably showing everyone that rugby had molded him into an individual who can weather any storm in life.

Apart from his involvement in rugby this second son in the Rajapaksa family also shone in the sport of shooting; winning the President’s medal for standard division at the 2012 National Handgun Championships conducted by the National Raffle Association of Sri Lanka. Despite the focus now being on Yoshitha it was Namal who outshone the two other siblings at rugby when the family got involved in the game. Namal played his best rugby at school and even captained the under 20 national side. He too represented Sri Lanka as a hooker and was a prominent member of the Navy Sports Club side in division 1 rugby.

The 34-year-old Yoshitha carries much experience as a player and a citizen of the country. He served the Sri Lanka Navy in the capacity of Lieutenant Commander and at present is the current Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, his father. In 2019 Yoshitha tied the knot with Nitheesha Jayasekara. We really don’t know what he plans to do after hanging up his boots. But sources close to him opine that Yoshitha would most likely be connected to rugby in some form of an administrative role. For the record, his elder brother Namal is the present Sports Minister of the country and his younger brother Rohitha represents CH&FC in Division 1 rugby.

It’s remarkable to have had a career spanning 15 years in rugby at present because modern rugby is so demanding and physical. Given the punishing routine, club rugby players have to endure they hardly last more than a couple of seasons before hanging up their boots. Yoshitha taught us to hang in there when the chips were down. He continued to play rugby when his dad lost the election and was relegated to the opposition. At present, he is playing under Adeesha Weeratunga, who is leading Navy Sports Club. Yoshitha could have a smile on his face because when he is about to retire he is seeing his brother, Rohitha, lifting his game and inspiring the team that he (Rohitha) represents: CH&FC. Any brother would love to see the family baton being handed over to a capable person and Yoshitha has found one.

Yoshitha is sure to take great memories home after he retires from the game. His critics might have much to say. But he reminded everyone that the career is short for those who play high-risk rugby. He played the game in a manner that underscores the message that there is much to cherish and more staying power when one plays the game putting safety first.



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Kandy, Galle, Puttalam Schools win combined schools hockey titles

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Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners.

Kandy Schools ‘Blues’ and Galle Schools ‘Golds’ were declared as boys’ joint winners and Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winner at the 55th Sri Lanka Combined Schools Under 20 boys and girls Hockey Nationals held from 27th to 30th June at the Torrington Astro Turf .

The boys’ final, between Kandy and Galle ended in a one-all draw; both goals scored in the first half, Kushan Ratnasuriya scoring for Galle and the equalizer by Bhanuka Ranasinghe for Kandy.

In the play off for the third and fourth places, Colombo beat Matale 1-Nil.

In the Semi Finals – Galle beat Colombo 4/3 on penalties and Kandy beat Matale 4/3 also on penalties.

Tharusha Pallewatte from Kandy ‘Blues’ was adjudged the best player and Anushka Maduwantha from Galle ‘Golds’ was picked as the best Goal Keeper.

In the girls’ final, Puttalam Schools beat Kandy Schools by two goals to nil. Both goals were scored in the second half via Madushika Fernando and Dinuli Nihansa.

In the play-off for the third and fourth places, Matale beat Colombo ‘Reds’ 1-nil.

Puttalam Schools were the girls’ winners.

In the Semi Finals – Kandy beat Colombo, 3-nil and Puttalam beat Matale, 4-nil.

Nipuni Ishara Fernando was adjudged as the best player and Neeliya Kaushini was picked as the best Goal Keeper (both from Puttalam).

The finals & the closing ceremony was attended by Athula Jayawardhana, Director of Sports, Central Province Education Department, (Chief Guest), Deva Ellepola, Vice Patron /Mercantile Hockey Association (Guest of Honour), Shashikala Senadheera (President), Anuruddha Herath Bandara (Secretary), Chandrakanthi Karunanayake, ( Deputy President), Wasantha Kumara (Vice President), Indrawansa Herath (Vice President) – All from Sri Lanka Schools Hockey Association.

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More barriers ahead for hurdler Dharshana

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by Reemus Fernando

In the Under 20 age category, athletes of only four countries in Asia have run the men’s 400 metres hurdles under 52 seconds, this year. One of them is a Sri Lankan. Dhanuka Dharshana, who is only 18 years old, has been the hurdler to beat during the last two years in his age category in Sri Lanka. In April, the athlete trained by reputed coach Anura Bandara turned the tables on his senior counterparts to emerge the national champion in the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the Centenary National Athletics Championships.

One of the first Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the World Junior Athletics Championships to be held in Cali, Colombia in August, Dharshana is the most consistent performer in the men’s category among the Sri Lankan juniors to qualify for the event. However, like the few junior athletes who showed potential to excel in the future in the pet event of Olympic Medalist Duncan White during the last two decades, will Dharshana find track and field not so exciting to pursue after leaving school?

“It is incumbent upon us to motivate our athletes to remain in the sport. But how can you do so when they do not get the opportunity they deserve. Participation in World Junior Championship is something that young athletes cherish. It is a huge learning opportunity for the up-and-coming athletes and will motivate them to remain in the sport,” said Dharshana’s coach Bandara.

Like Dharshana many others who reached qualifying standards for the World Junior event remain uncertain about the prospect of competing in Cali due to the financial constraints the country is currently facing though Sri Lanka Athletics has sent the names of seven out of the nine athletes who reached qualifying standards for the World event for the Sports Ministry approval and financial assistance. The Ministry has given only the approval and their participation will heavily depend on Sri Lanka Athletics’ ability to find much-needed funds for the costly trip.

Dharshana’s pet event, the 400 metres hurdles is the discipline that has won the highest number of medals for Sri Lanka at the junior Asian level during the last decade though a vast majority of the athletes who won those medals did not pursue track and field after leaving school. The most prominent female hurdler to emerge during the last one and half decades also came from Dharshana’s school, Ambagamuwa Central and was trained by Anura Bandara. Yamani Dulanjali won the first Asian Youth Championship hurdles gold medal in 2015, held the Under 20 Junior National Championship 400 m hurdles record until this year. With impressive performances as a junior, she was expected to excel at the senior level as well. Hailing from a not-so-well-to-do family she instead took up a teaching job.

Kaushalya Madushani, another 400 metres hurdler, who won junior Asian international medals, joined Sri Lanka Army, the final refuge for many a future prospect, after leaving school. She was yet to reach her full potential when she died a couple of months ago; it is alleged she took her own life.

Maris Stella College hurdler, Uditha Chandrasena, was yet another bright prospect to have excelled in the 400 metres hurdles at the junior level. He too gave up athletics after leaving school.

Although Sri Lanka has seen the emergence of hurdlers in the calibre of Dhanuka Dharshana at the junior level there had been no system to nurture them and make them stick to track and field.

Dharshana, who too is hailing from an ordinary family, has received the support of Olympian and Asian Games Gold Medalist Sugath Thilakaratne, the most famous product of his coach, Anura Bandara. He has also received the support of the school’s PTIs Indika Prasad and Amali Abeytunga and another benefactor whom he identified only as Nayana. But pursuing track and field as a senior athlete is an uphill task which requires more funding.

Ambagamuwa Central, where Dharshana learnt his ABC of athletics, has reaped the benefits of Bandara’s coaching with the school winning podium places at junior competitions every year. And, every year Bandara faces a dilemma as his trainees leaving the school have not found the right platform to launch a career in athletics.

With the junior athletes’ participation at the forthcoming World Junior Championships remaining uncertain to date, the coaches like Bandara will find it even harder to persuade athletes to remain in track and field.

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Lyon set to become second most successful off-spinner in history

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Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket.(Getty Images)

by Rex Clementine

Leg-spin legend Shane Warne retired from cricket in 2007 having achieved two key milestones; Australia had regained the Ashes and Warne had become the first man in history to take 700 wickets in Test match cricket. Since his retirement, Australia tried various spinners to fill his big shoes but with little success. Fellow leg-spinner Stuart MacGill was the natural successor to Warne, but he too threw in the towel 18 months after Warne’s retirement. Then Cricket Australia tried a host of finger spinners and some wrist spinners without much success. The wait ended in 2011 in Sri Lanka. For some reason, all good spin bowlers make their impact in our shores.

Australia arrived in Sri Lanka in 2011 with a new captain in Michael Clarke and their spin resources were untested. In fact, the team’s lead spinner was uncapped. His story was interesting. He had been a curator at Adelaide Oval and with his skill to bowl off-spin identified he was given a break in Sheffield Shield cricket. Seven months later, he was set to make his Test debut against the likes of Sangakkaras, Dilshans, Jayawardenes and Samaraweeras. That too in Galle, the Gabba of Sri Lankan cricket. There the legend of Nathan Lyon was born.

Lyon’s first ball in Test cricket was round the wicket to a left-hander. The ball pitched, turned and had bounce. The batsman was playing away from his body with an open face; the ball took the outside edge and was snapped up by Michael Clarke at slip. A wicket off first ball in Test cricket is just the dream stuff. It’s even more special when the batsman you have dismissed is Kumar Sangakkara, word’s number one ranked batsman at that point.

Lyon didn’t look back from thereon. He claimed a five wicket haul in the first innings as Australia secured a big win and went onto claim the series.

Ten years on, Lyon was quite handful again as he was the standout performer in the first Test in Galle. Sri Lanka’s spin was thin on experience and yet the hosts chose to prepare a track that would turn from day one and they ended up playing into Lyon’s hands as he finished with nine wickets.

Sri Lanka’s young spinners have much to learn from Lyon. He just figured out a length to bowl and kept pitching it there consistently and with batsmen taking too many risks with cross batted shots, it was just a matter of time before a wicket fell.

Lyon’s overall wicket tally is now 436 in 109 Tests and during the Galle game he went past several greats of the game like Kapil Dev (434), Rangana Herath (433) and Sir Richard Hadlee (431).

Lyon is currently among the top ten wicket takers in the world and if he takes seven wickets in Galle in the second Test starting on Friday, he will go onto become the second most successful off-spinner in the history of Test cricket. Muttiah Muralitharan leads the list with 800 and India’s Ravichandran Ashwin follows him as the second most successful offie with 442 wickets.

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