By A Special Sports Correspondent
Domestic rugby in Sri Lanka is making steady progress in its first complete club rugby season after the covid pandemic really crippled the game in the club scene during the past two years.Kandy Sports Club is making great headway in the season and watching all this progress with a sense of contentment is scrum half Srinath Sooriyabandara (Suri) who represents the Nittawela Club for the eighth consecutive year.
There is much talk about Sooriyabandara right now because he just turned 34; which makes him a very senior player in domestic rugby in both club and national rugby after having stepped into the senior category of rugby in 2009. One of the unique achievements of his is that he has represented Sri Lanka at rugby at three consecutive Asian Games.
Sooriyabandara is a stepper; a rugby jargon used to highlight the fact that a player can run pretty fast. This player also can take a few knocks on the field and has had his share of injuries. In a newspaper interview he had once said that he would love to erase all the injuries he has suffered which was his answer to the question ‘what would you erase from your life if given a chance’.
Sooriyabandara has been around for a while; hence he has made some vital combinations with players in the likes of Nigel and Tharinda Ratwatte and before that with rugby legend Fazil Marija. As scrum half he has paired off with some of the best fly halfs in the game.
He came as acting skipper for the Asian Sevens Series in the absence of regular skipper Sudarshana Muthuthantri. But then there were seniors in the caliber of Gayan Weeraratne to guide him. That was the start to his leadership in rugby and he went on to captain the national side on many occasions; his role as captain at the last Commonwealth Games in Birmingham serving as a feather in his cap.
He got his opportunity to play alongside Marija. At the ‘Mumbai Sevens’ he played alongside Marija and helped Sri Lanka emerge the victor. Sri Lanka beat Malaysia 22-17 in the final at that tournament. If one takes Sooriyabandara, Tharinda, Nigel and even Mithun Hapugoda the country is now blessed with some able senior rugby players who have been around for a while. Sooriyabandara commenced his rugby career at Isipathana College in Colombo and showed enough promise that he would continue into the senior level and graduate to the national side. But despite all his achievements in rugby union he still cherishes the moment he was presented with the Isipathana College rugby jersey and rates that as the crowning moment in his rugby career.
After leaving school he represented CR&FC and shifted to Upcountry Lions and then Navy Sports Club before settling down at Kandy Sports Club. At the Nittawela Club it was not easy for him to cement his place with Roshan Weeraratne playing in his pet position. But as he put in the years and moved to the next level of playing and with Weeraratne hanging up his boots Sooriyabandara made himself the number one choice to wear the number nine jersey for Kandy SC and Sri Lanka. Critics believe it’s encouraging and inspiring to see such an aged player making continuous headway in the game and also retaining his slot with the number one domestic team in the island. He is now at the peak of perfection and it is interesting to see how much longer he can hold on to his pristine condition as a semi-professional sportsman. He has played 13 years of rugby as a senior player and retirement must be a Topic flashing in his mind now and then. But the game he plays from the base of the scrum suggests that Sooriyabandara has some unfinished business to attend to as a player.
This guy doesn’t need any motivation to tie up his boot laces and get on the field. We read somewhere in an interview Sooriyabandara saying he makes it a point to supply off his best in whatever he does. That leaves him with being made to answer the question ‘what he would do the day he cannot supply off his best? Many great players who were in the Kandy SC side left the ‘game’ before a coach or the club hierarchy told them ‘the decline has commenced’. Great players like Marija have taken to coaching and are running their own rugby academies. The grass is greener in areas outside the playing area at the Nittawela Club.
Havelocks Sports Club back division player Mithun Hapugoda reached the milestone of playing his 100th domestic rugby game. Hapugoda has been playing domestic rugby since 2012. He too is of the same age as Sooriyabandara; hence we see a rugby product of stellar quality. But there are other qualities in Hapugoda to talk about. This player has been loyal to Havelocks Sports Club which is commendable because players do switch their alliances with clubs ‘for a few dollars more’. He has had a pretty decent career as a rugby player and played in positions like winger and full back and also as scrum half when the need arose. That’s the caliber of this player. More than the skill he possesses as a utility player Hapugoda has catered to the need of shifting his playing position to meet the demands of the situation; underscoring the thought that ‘the club is more important than the individual’.
We have seen the best of Hapugoda in both 7s and 15-a-side rugby and what stands out in him is that he is a team player. He had his education at Mahanama College and this academic institute can take pride in producing an individual like him.
The other player who has come under the limelight this season is Air Force Sports Club back division player Nuwan Perera. He accumulated 100 points recently while playing as fly half for Air Force. The Airmen are going great this season and are now contesting the Plate Championship of the Inter-club League rugby tournament.
This season, the Philadelphia Eagles unleashed the "Tush Push" play, where a quarterback gets an extra shove or pull from teammates during a sneak. When executed correctly, it's almost indefensible.
So, naturally, the NFL might eliminate it.
Dean Blandino, former NFL vice president of officiating, told the 33rdteam.com's Paul Domowitch that he'd be shocked if a change doesn't come when the NFL's competition committee meets in two weeks.
"It amounts to a rugby scrum," Blandino said. "The NFL wants to showcase the athleticism and skill of our athletes. This is just not a skillful play. This is just a tactic that is not an aesthetically pleasing play, and I think the competition committee is going to take a look at it."
According to Adam Levitan of Establish the Run, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scored 10 of his 18 rushing touchdowns on the year from inside the 2-yard line, proving the "Tush Push" plays' success rate. While the tactic is legally in a grey area, speculation has only grown over whether or not the league should discuss banning it altogether.
Recently, NFL Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Steve Young said the NFL was going to look into making banning the play. And, ahead of Super Bowl LVII, Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowler Cam Heyward noted on his podcast Not Just Football that he was "triggered" by the Eagles' sneaks while advocating for its removal.
"I'm always pissed off in these fourth downs because it's always so skewed to the offense," Heyward said. "I'm just confused why they switched the rule. It used to be a penalty to push your guy forward. Nobody really noticed until the Eagles were like, oh, this is unstoppable."
Frankly, the outcry against the Eagles' strategy sounds like sour grapes. Usually, in the NFL, being unable to stop a particular offensive scheme isn't reason enough to make it illegal. With that said, if NFL ultimately chooses to eliminate the play for the 2023 season, the Eagles will have to go back to the drawing board to find a different strategy on short-yardage scenarios, which was their bread and butter throughout the run to the Super Bowl.
England's forwards coach Richard Cockerill says the team has sought advice from referees on their “reckless” scrum.
Steve Borthwick's side looked to officials as after discovering they won just 85 per cent of their own scrums last year, which was the worst of any tier one nation.
Cockerill said feedback from leading referees, including Wayne Barnes, suggested their scrum was “ill-disciplined and a bit reckless”.
“We’ve taken lots of input from the officials because that has not been as good a relationship as we would have liked and we have worked on fixing it,” he said.
“The boys have worked hard. We have got a good pack of forwards, we have got some good personnel, and it is just keeping them honest and working them harder than we probably did previously.”
England, who are sixth in the world rankings, have won all 11 of own their scrums so far this Six Nations but not everything has been positive for the team.
They lost to Scotland in round one and, despite beating Italy in the second round, are facing criticism for their attacking play.
Wales are next in the tournament for England if the game goes ahead. The fixture have been put in doubt amid reports Wales players could threaten to strike due to ongoing contract disputes with the Wales Rugby Union.
If the game goes ahead as planned, Cockerill expects the Welsh team to come out fighting.
“I think if anything it will probably galvanise them because they have their issues,” Cockerill said.
“I don’t really understand what the politics of it is, but from my experience, any hardship with a playing group generally brings them tighter together.
Coinciding with Sean Payton’s first year as the head coach of the Saints, the NFL changed the rules to allow a runner to be pushed by a teammate. As Payton commences his first year as head coach of the Broncos, some teams finally have embraced the rule as a device for strategic advantage.
Payton, who finished his one-year stint with Fox during Super Bowl LVII, told Fox rules analyst Dean Blandino that Payton will make regular use of the ability to shove a runner from behind, until the rule is changed.
“I think the league is going to look at this, and I’d be shocked if they don’t make a change,’’ Blandino said in an item posted on The33rdTeam.com.
“I was talking to Sean Payton during Sunday’s game, and he said we’re going to do this every time next season if they don’t take it out,’’ Blandino added. “It amounts to a rugby scrum. The NFL wants to showcase the athleticism and skill of our athletes. This is just not a skillful play. This is just a tactic that is not an aesthetically pleasing play, and I think the Competition Committee is going to take a look at it.’’
Previously, pushing the runner happened spontaneously, in the open field. It’s not part of play design, with the Eagles perfecting the tactic. It was rarely called.
And so the rule might go back to what it was in 2005 and previously. The best compromise could be to outline pushing a runner only while inside the tackle box. Presumably, no one would be able to design a play that incorporates deliberate shoving outside the tackles.
Surely, however, someone would try.
Cape Town - It seemed to be a mismatch of epic proportions – an all-Springbok Stormers front row were expected to dominate the Bulls in the scrums.
Steven Kitshoff, Joseph Dweba and Frans Malherbe would have been licking their lips to take on Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith at Cape Town Stadium on December 23.
But while the Stormers won 37-27, there was no doubt that the Bulls had the edge in the set-piece.
The Bulls won a few penalties in the first half, but yellow cards to Marco van Staden and Elrigh Louw blunted their physicality, and despite being 13-13 at half-time, they conceded three early second-half tries.
The Pretoria side will be charged up to fix those mistakes in Saturday’s return URC clash at Loftus Versfeld (5.05pm kick-off), and would have been encouraged by their scrum performance in the hope of ending a four-match losing streak to John Dobson’s outfit.
The return of coach Jake White after an operation will no doubt galvanise the Bulls further.
And this time around, the Stormers won’t have Kitshoff, Malherbe or lock Marvin Orie, who are unavailable due to Springbok resting protocols.
They would have been heartened by a fine display against the Sharks in Durban on February 4 when Dweba, Brok Harris and Neethling Fouché overwhelmed Ntuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren and Carlu Sadie to set up a 46-19 triumph.
Dweba will be the favourite to wear the No 2 jersey at Loftus, but the man who could play a crucial role in the second half is Scarra Ntubeni as the back-up hooker.
The biggest test for the Capetonians will be dealing with the altitude, and while rain has been forecast, they will need to be sharp and not concede penalties in the last 20 minutes in order to deny the Bulls extra momentum.
Ntubeni made his comeback after 10 months out with an Achilles injury in the 35-5 loss to Ulster in late January, where he had to replace the injured JJ Kotze in the third minute.
The one-cap Springbok lasted about 44 minutes before making way for André-Hugo Venter, and wants to continue making progress against the Bulls.
“When you play the Bulls, you don’t need much motivation, it’s always massive,” Ntubeni said in an interview on the Stormers website.
“I’m excited with a bit of nerves, because it’s been a while for me. But once the whistle goes, I’ll be fine – I just need to make that first hit and first carry. I just feel fortunate to get another opportunity to get back on the park.
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“I wasn’t expecting to come on that early against Ulster, but luckily we had Vennas (Venter) on the bench.
“I needed to be thrown into the deep end, because the lungs were going to struggle anyway, so I thought I might as well just do it. It was pretty awesome to be back on the field.
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“For me, at the moment, it’s about getting back into the team because I’ve been out for about 10 months. I really want to get back to my form where I was playing last season.”
Ntubeni will turn 32 tomorrow, and while he is facing a serious battle against Dweba, Kotze and Venter for game-time, he is still keen to make his mark for the Stormers.
England’s coaches have sought advice from some of the world’s leading referees, including Wayne Barnes and Joël Jutge, to rectify their “reckless” scrum.
Last year the English pack retained the ball from just 85% of its own scrums – the worst of any tier one nation – and Steve Borthwick and his team are taking all the help they can get.
“We’ve taken lots of input from the officials because that has not been as good a relationship as we would have liked and we have worked on fixing it,” said the forwards coach, Richard Cockerill, who will leave his post after the Six Nations to join Montpellier in the French Top 14.
“The boys have worked hard. We have got a good pack of forwards, we have got some good personnel, and it is just keeping them honest and working them harder than we probably did previously.”
Cockerill suggested that England’s problems were as much tactical as they were technical. The feedback received has been that the scrum was “ill-disciplined and a bit reckless”.
But it is not just the scrum that needed redress. England were ranked ninth for lineout steals and 10th for their speed at the ruck last year, and the team now occupy sixth place in World Rugby’s rankings.
“You should take [those numbers] personally because that’s part of our identity as a team,” Cockerill said. “Some of the players were surprised by the stats. As coaches, we’ve got to coach that better.”
There have been signs of improvement, with England winning all 11 of their scrums so far this tournament against Scotland and Italy while procuring five penalties in the process. Wales, however, will pose a unique challenge in Cardiff on Saturday week.
Cockerill believes Warren Gatland’s team will be “galvanised” after a pay dispute that may lead to a player strike. If the game goes ahead, England’s departing forwards coach will likewise expect a display of cohesion from his pack.
“England have always found it difficult in Cardiff,” Cockerill said, alluding to a run of three consecutive defeats at the Millennium Stadium. “What Wales are doing with their players is not really our concern.”
Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park has been ruled out of Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations showdown with France.
Gibson-Park withdrew just a few hours before Ireland’s 34-10 win over Wales on Saturday with a hamstring injury.
Conor Murray deputised for Gibson-Park in Cardiff, and the Leinster player has failed to recover in time ahead of title holders France’s trip to Dublin to take on the world’s number one ranked team.
Prop Cian Healy, who was a late withdrawal from the Ireland bench against Wales, and fellow front-row forward Tadhg Furlong remain sidelined by injury.
“Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy, who were both late withdrawals from the Wales game due to hamstring injuries, have been ruled out of contention for the France game,” said an Ireland Rugby Football Union statement.
“Tadhg Furlong, who is rehabbing a calf issue, is also not being considered for selection this week.
“Gibson-Park, Healy and Furlong will continue their rehab programmes with the Ireland medical team.”
Captain and outside-half Johnny Sexton, who suffered a dead leg in Cardiff, was also due to complete the HIA process on Monday.
Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher is due to return to training this week.
Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade and Leinster loosehead prop Michael Milne have been called up and joined the rest of the Ireland squad at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin.
Blade was capped against the United States in July 2021, while the uncapped Milne has been part of the Emerging Ireland squad.
Ireland scrum-half Kathryn Dane has revealed she suffered a brain haemorrhage at training before Christmas.
Dane, 26, has won 23 Ireland caps since making her debut in 2019 and plays for Ulster and Old Belvedere.
"Three months ago I suffered a brain haemorrhage at Ireland training," Dane posted on social media.
"I hope to make a full recovery and return to work and rugby, but it will take some time."
Dane settled on rugby despite being a talented hockey and football player as a teenager, representing Northern Ireland at under-age levels.
After impressing for Ulster and Old Belvedere, she was handed a call-up for the 2019 Six Nations and was handed the starting jersey a few weeks after making her debut off the bench against England.
The Fermanagh player has been a mainstay in the Irish team and also works as a physiotherapist in Dublin.
"Luckily the IRFU medical team were close at hand to respond immediately and get me the care I needed," Dane added.
"Thank you to the IRFU, Connolly and Beaumont Hospitals, Rugby Players Ireland and my family and friends for the love and support.
"For now I will be Ireland's biggest fan."
Last Updated: 16/02/23 8:07pm
Irish international Kathryn Dane has revealed she suffered a brain haemorrhage during training last year.
The scrum-half has played 29 times for Ireland after making her debut in 2019 and took to Twitter to explain her injury.
"Three months ago, I suffered a brain haemorrhage at Ireland training. Luckily the IRFU medical team were close at had to respond immediately and get me the care I needed," the 26-year-old wrote.
"Thank you to the IRFU, Connolly and Beaumont Hospitals, Rugby Players Ireland and my family and friends for the love and support. For now I will be Ireland's biggest fan."
"I hope to make a full recovery and return to work and rugby but it will take some time."
Dane plays for Ulster and Old Belvedere, after picking rugby over hockey and football as a teenager.
She made her Irish debut in the 2019 Six Nations, impressing despite a 51-7 defeat to England.
Dane also works as a physiotherapist in Dublin.
Irish Rugby said on Twitter that they hope to see Dane back in a green jersey soon, writing: "We're all behind you as you make your way back to full health, we hope to see you back in a green jersey again soon!"