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Wallabies vs Pumas – Stalemate!

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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.


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Sports

Imran steals the show!

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(This article by The Island’s respected cricket columnist Rohan Wijeyaratne first appeared in these pages 16 years ago; on the 11th of June 2005. As World Cup winning former captain and current Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has just visited the island, we reproduce this article in today’s edition)

In my youth – which is to say, quite a long time ago – I would often go to the YMCA canteen for a snack and a tea after whatever business that brought me to the Fort. Doing the same recently more for old times sake than anything else, I saw a familiar figure ahead of me heading in the same direction. Quickening my step and drawing abreast, I introduced myself to the gentleman concerned. He was none other than my old school English teacher, V. Thanabalasingham.

 

Not just a teacher, but an Institution

Those of you who may have passed through the portals of Ananda College during the 1960s and the early 70s and no doubt been well rounded in many ways, will admit to a man that when it came to the teaching of English, the name Thanabalasingham held no peer. In his prime, he was not just a brilliant teacher but an Institution. And volumes wouldn’t suffice to do him justice – such was the impact he made on all whom he touched, be it with the brilliance of Thackeray, Dickens, Chaucer or the Direct Method English Course that served as our bread and butter in English education at the time.

 

Another, from a different mould

Another teacher from an entirely different mould was Upali Ratnayake, now the Executive Director of CIMA. At the time he was introduced to us at the ‘A’ level stage, he appeared to our free spirits a cut above the rest. He acquired this status by doing exactly the opposite of what he was expected to do, which was to teach us English as a preparatory step towards an easier passage through University. Upali Ratnayake actually taught us nothing. Yet we learnt a good deal off him, discussing almost everything other than the subject he was paid for! His most endearing virtue was that he never spoke to us from a great height. And in that process, he taught us one of the most lasting lessons in life.

Several decades later, I nearly fell off my chair to receive a phone call from him inviting me to the BMICH on the 28th of May where Imran Khan and Kumar Sangakkara were due to speak at the CIMA Global Leaders Summit. The topics for discussion were “Passion for Perfection” and “Ordinary people in extraordinary acts.” The topics and the speakers seemed irresistible. And so I went.

 

What a speech!

I wasn’t disappointed. Neither were hundreds of others present. And predictably, Imran stole the show. Blessed with a presence that would have put any Grecian god to second class status, this tall, elegant and immensely handsome man spoke with such brilliance, clarity and articulation, the end result was as gripping as it was inspiring. In his wake, those who followed appeared cumbersome and dreary, almost like how Kenny Mackay would appear after the brilliance of a vintage Sobers or a Dexter! Kumar Sangakkara having to make do with less time than was his rightful share went largely unheard, tending to speak more to his fellow panelists than his audience. He will learn. As a probable hot contender to the top post after Atapattu, there will be many more occasions where he will be required to speak in public.

 

“Ambition must be upgraded, never downgraded”

Imran was of the view that all humans were endowed with limitless potential. Their limits if any, were often self imposed. Those who achieved extraordinary heights were those who dared to go beyond their self imposed limits. They thought big, dreamed big and did not allow their limitations to get in the way of achieving their dreams. He drew parallels from his own experiences in cricket, his cancer hospital project and his involvement in national politics to establish the point.

 

The four secrets

Starting with cricket, and drawing parallels with other legends including Zaheer Abbas, Imran stressed the need for a clear vision, the hunger to succeed, the willingness to sacrifice and self belief as being the four secrets to achieve one’s vision. Self belief was a factor which Abbas, despite all his God given gifts, had in very short supply. Imran, on the other hand, was full of it (sometimes foolishly!), because he never thought he ever could lose a game each time he stepped on to a cricket field. He gave many examples of it, including the victories against the might of the ‘invincible’ West Indians in 1986 against all odds. And that, despite having requested and got, ‘neutral’ umpires in a home series in Pakistan! He just wanted to make sure that when they won, there would be none to say that the umpires had anything to do with it!

Drawing from examples of his own life, Imran said that in all one’s life, one would hear others say why something cannot be done. That if accepted, would be the start of everyone’s downward spiral. Ambition he said, must be upgraded, never downgraded. And the more you pit your mind against the winds that resist you from reaching your ambition, the stronger your mind will become. Therefore, ambition must take precedence over everything. And towards achieving that, one should be willing to sacrifice anything. “Compromise” said Imran “for your vision, but never ever on your vision.” Great words!

 

Why the 3rd world is the 3rd world!

Relating what made him take to politics, Imran said that the problem with the third world was that the ruling elite would put itself above the law and deprive the ordinary folk of any justice. Hence his political movement was primarily meant to establish the rule of law in his country, where the weak and the strong were equal in the eyes of the law. “No society in the history of mankind has ever progressed without the rule of the law. The reason why the third world remained the third world was because it had very poor rule of the law. The elitist types did whatever they wished and got away with it, while the common man and the small and medium industrialist were all deprived of justice.” None could have spoken a truer word!

 

The ways of the mafia

Imran went on to say that when fighting for the rule of Law, one would be pitted against entrenched vested interests; the most powerful elite in the country. These were those who could buy justice. In Imran’s case, these were men who were also his good friends. Yet he preferred to take on the mantle of a social pariah instead, preferring to stand steadfast to his vision. The mafia usually reacts in such situations in either of two ways. They would either eliminate you or make you join the system. Just five months after his party was formed, he was offered 30 seats in Parliament out of 270. Imran refused, because he realized he had no chance of winning against entrenched political families that controlled his country. He knew the moment he joined them, he would need to compromise with his vision. So he refused, and got wiped out at the elections.

 

Refusing the Prime Ministership of Pakistan

When General Musharaff took over with Pakistan’s fourth military dictatorship in its brief history, he made all the right noises such as ridding the country of “sham” democracy and so on. No sooner Musharaff formed his own party, Imran was yet again invited, this time to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. “But when I discovered that joining his coalition meant joining the biggest crooks in the country,” he had no difficulty in refusing. He was chided for his decision by many who argued that he could have joined and then fixed things up. But Imran said the decision was easy to make, as his vision was very clear. And it was one’s vision that decided when to compromise and when not to.

 

 

Imran’s vision

Imran’s vision was an independent and credible judicial system in Pakistan. So he asked himself the question, could General Musharaff afford an independent judiciary? The answer to him was obvious. If such a judicial system prevailed, most of the powerful men in his country would be tried for treason under article six of the country’s constitution. The sentence for treason was death. And he was therefore convinced that neither Musharaff, nor those around him could afford an independent and credible judicial system. And so, with his firm “No” Imran watched his party being destroyed yet again, to one seat, in parliament. This time it was by General Musharaff himself.

(To be continued tomorrow)

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Spinners give India early advantage in third Test

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Indian spinners shot England out for just 112 inside two sessions with Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel sharing the spoils after pacer Ishant Sharma opened the floodgates in his milestone 100th match on the opening day of the day-night third Test in Ahmedabad yesterday.

England were all out for 112 in 48.4 overs in the second session on a spin-friendly Motera pitch with Patel (21.4-6-38-6) grabbing his second five-for in his second Test while Ashwin (16-6-26-3) took three.

Openers Rohit Sharma (5) and Shubman Gill (0 ) negotiated five overs to take India to five for no loss at the dinner break.

Gill, however, survived after TV umpire ruled him not out in the third over after England claimed for a catch.

Ishant, only the second Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev to play in 100 Tests, fittingly took India’s first wicket in the third over as he dismissed opener Dominic Sibley for nought.

Thereafter, it was all an Ashwin and Patel show as the duo bamboozled the England batsmen to complete the submission, except for the other opener Zak Crawley, who hit an eminently delectable half-century. Six English wickets fell in the second session.

England did not have any substantial partnership with the 47-run stand for the third wicket being the highest. They lost their last seven wickets for just 38 runs.

Crawley’s brilliance was, however, neutralised by the Indian spinners as England were left reeling at 81 for four going into tea after an exciting opening session in the pink ball Test.

Two wickets fell in as many overs after the resumption of the second session, with Ashwin and Patel taking one each, to reduce England to 81 for 6.

Ashwin sent Ollie Pope’s (1) off-stump cart-wheeling with a beauty of a delivery, bowling round the wicket, before Patel trapped Ben Stokes (6) LBW in the next over with a ball that spun in.

Jofra Archer (11) did a tad better as he hit a four in the second ball he faced and another boundary off Ashwin. But, Patel had him soon, cleaning up his off-stump to send England innings into a mess.

England’s rapid slide continued with Jack Leach edging one to the gully where Cheteshwar Pujara took a low catch off Ashwin, though the TV umpire took time to confirm the decision.

Crawley’s effort was the only silver lining for England. Having missed the first two Tests due to a freak wrist injury, the stylish right-hander’s driving was elegance personified as he hit ten boundaries during his 84-ball 53.

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Top players secure third round places 

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SSC Open Ranking Tennis

 

Thehan Wijemanne, Kavisha Ratnayake, Vibuda Wijebandara, Savith Weerasinghe, Kiran Viravanathan, Archana Lokuge advanced to the men’s singles third round at the SSC Open Ranking tennis tournament on Tuesday.

Some of the leading players fighting to improve on their impressive performances produced at the Tennis  Nationals and the Colombo Championships during recent weeks knocked out their opponents easily to secure third round places.

 

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