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             Lanka rugby in search of professionalism            

 The sport in the island suffers from a huge shortage of qualified coaches and trainers

By Ravi Nagahawatte
Revving up on fitness programmes and recruiting professional coaches would be key ingredients rugby teams require in large doses if they are to achieve success this season. The strength and conditioning part in rugby is so vital it decides whether a ruggerite plays to his potential or not. All ‘A’ Division rugby teams have embraced this phenomenon with great interest. As a result reigning champions Kandy Sports Club could find themselves facing the toughest challenge from teams contesting the A Division tournaments, this season.

Rugby is a game in which giant strides could be made, given the fact that there is at least a semi-professional approach to the game. In an ideal rugby set-up this would mean having two coaches, a trainer and masseur. As with Sri Lanka rugby the last two components in the equation remains neglected.

A person who rates strength and conditioning high on the list of requirements to make a quality rugby player is renowned referee and Chief Executive of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union (SLRFU) Dilroy Fernando. He is an epitome of a fit person and said that he made it a point to keep fit on a daily basis.

With rugby evolving into a professional sport, it demands players to be dedicated to training. The call is clear: Players have to meet certain criterion which specifies they carry a healthy weight and possess the required fitness levels if they are to make progress. Rugby coaches can’t be naive about what happens inside sweaty gymnasiums. The present scenario in rugby sees coaches working closely with trainers.

There are stories of players receiving wrong instructions from trainers and as a result, running the risk being exposed to unwanted injury. Stories are also doing the rounds that some players are supplied with performance enhancing drugs and inhalers by their trainers with the purpose of boosting the work rate of players. Many coaches are of the opinion that as a result they have been forced to update their knowledge on fitness, just to keep a check on whether the trainer one employs is genuinely capable of upgrading the strength and conditioning of players.

Key teams like Kandy SC (John Taylor), Ceylonese Rugby and Football Club (Tulagaese Tawita) and Colombo Hockey and Football Club (Peter Michael) have obtained the services of foreign coaches once again to boost their chances this season. The rivalry between these three teams is fierce. Any one of these teams will leave no stone unturned in its quest to show that it has the potential to emerge as the winner. Skill-wise Sri Lanka’s rugby players have shown huge potential. However, in Fernando’s opinion, the stumbling blocks in the players’ path are the shortcomings in the fitness programmes they follow. “The problem Sri Lanka rugby faces is that there aren’t enough qualified trainers in the country. When the SLRFU got renowned fitness trainer Keith Roberts to do a training programme for the players, it was a new experience for most of them,” Fernando told The Nation in an interview in which he stressed his comments on rugby were his personal opinion and not the rugby union’s.

Fernando encourages the presence of foreign coaches in Sri Lanka. “Foreign coaches bring a lot of experience to the team. They also have had a lot of exposure and this helps whatever assignment they undertake,” he said.

According to Fernando a key fact that is hampering the growth of Sri Lanka rugby is the lack of qualified local coaches. “Coaching rugby in Sri Lanka is a lucrative occupation. Many Sri Lankans take to coaching but they don’t have the necessary qualifications to support their jobs. The SLRFU now insists that coaches handling club teams should have obtained the IRB level 2 certificate. School coaches must be level 1 certified. Like in any field, coaches now need to be qualified,” stressed Fernando.

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Mauresmo leads France to 2-0 lead over Japan

Amelie Mauresmo of France reacts after defeating Ayumi Morita of Japan in the Fed Cup tennis World Group play-off against Japan in Tokyo on Saturday. Mauresmo won 6-0, 6-2. AFP

TOKYO, (AFP) - Former world number one Amelie Mauresmo led France to a flying start as they took a 2-0 lead over Japan in the Fed Cup play-off tie for the World Group on Saturday.

The 2006 Wimbledon and Australian Open champion needed only 58 minutes to beat up-and-coming Ayumi Morita 6-0, 6-2, and then Virginie Razzano made it two up by beating former world doubles number one Ai Sugiyama 6-1, 7-5.

“I played a good match,” said Mauresmo. “She (Morita) was probably a little bit tight, playing this first match today, opening this tie at home for her.
 
“I just felt comfortable out there and I’m happy to take France to have the first point and lead 1-0.”
Mauresmo took the first nine games in a row and when Morita finally got into her rhythm, it was already too late to come back into the match as Mauresmo stood firm in her service games.
 
“I was expecting her to really try to play with a lot of speed, picking the ball up pretty early and moving me around,” said Mauresmo.
“I just tried to take every opportunity that I would have and not make too many unforced errors, which I was able to do. I also try to play good in my service games. On this very fast surface, it’s important,” she added.

Morita, 18, admitted that she was tense at the beginning of the match because it was the first time that she played an opening match in the Fed Cup.

“Amelie combined some fast balls with slow ones by hitting slices and then suddenly hit hard for a winner. I was too slow to reflect against them and I couldn’t play in my rhythm,” said Morita.

“Even if I’m not nervous, my first serves are no good, and I was tight and I often mis-hit my strokes, which always didn’t get past the net or went long. I couldn’t control anything at all.”

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Hoggard savours joy of six

LONDON, (AFP) - England reject Matthew Hoggard bolstered his bid for a Test recall by taking six for 57, his best County Championship figures for five years, as Yorkshire dominated Hampshire on the third day of their First Division clash at Headingley on Friday.

The 31-year-old, dropped by England after they lost the first Test against New Zealand at Hamilton in March before going on to win the series 2-1, added to the five wickets he’d taken Thursday by striking with the first ball of the third day.
 
His return was his best for Yorkshire since he took seven wickets in an innings against Somerset at Headingley five years ago and, with conditions at Lord’s, where the first Test against New Zealand starts on May 15, expected to assist swing bowlers, Hoggard’s Test exile could soon be over.

Hoggard’s haul helped Yorkshire enforce the follow-on and at stumps Hampshire, in their second innings, were struggling at 136 for four heading into Saturday’s final day of four.
“It is disappointing for Hoggy but we knew when he got left out in New Zealand he would want to come back and prove a point,” said Yorkshire stand-in captain Anthony McGrath.

“At the moment you can’t get that ball out of his hand, which is great for us. He has done a fantastic job for England and as many people have said it was harsh for him to be left out.
“We want him back playing for England but to do that he has got to bowl like he did today - it is a two-fold thing,” McGrath added.

“But if we do lose Hoggy we have got the options to cover, so it’s a great position to be in.”
Yorkshire captain Darren Gough, the former England fast bowler, is hoping to return from a back injury in a one-day contest against Derbyshire on Sunday, the same day that South Africa quick Morne Morkel, the club’s overseas signing, is due to arrive.
“The Championship boils down to who has got the best bowling attack,” said McGrath. “I know people talk about runs on the board but you just have to look at (champions) Sussex.

“Take Rana (Naved) and Mushtaq Ahmed’s wickets out and it would be a different story, so the more bowlers we have available, the more options we have, the better.”

As if to emphasise McGrath’s point, former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq took five for 83 as Kent were bowled out for 204 in reply to Sussex’s first innings 303 at Hove.

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 Western Province Ranking TT Championships                                                                                                                    

Ruvini bags a triple crown

By Dhammika Ratnaweera
Ruvini Kannangara of Musaeus College won the girls under-12, 15 and 18 events to clinch a triple crown at the recently concluded Western Province Ranking Table Tennis Championship held at S. Thomas’ Indoor Stadium.

Eleven-year-old Ruvini was the highlight of the tournament which was conducted by the Nugegoda Table Tennis Club. She was adjudged the up-and-coming player of the tournament for her excellent performances.

In the girls under 12 final Ruvini beat Masthoora Amavi of Buddhist Ladies College in two straight sets and then outclassed Thilini Nadeesha of Girls High School, Mt. Lavinia in a hard-fought four-setter to clinch the girls under 15 final. Ruvini completed her triple crown by winning the girls under 18 final beating GH Shabi of St. Clare’s.

Samitha Abeyratne of Royal College was adjudged the most outstanding player of the tournament. Samitha emerged open men’s singles champion defeating Dushan Ranatunga of Isipathana and also clinched the under 21 singles final defeating Sajith Kavinda of St Benedict’s Kotahena.

National champion Rohan Sirisena, former national player WA Buddhasiri and Nuwan Sampath, a national ranked player distributed the awards.
Results (finals):

U-8 (Boys): Virunaka Hendahewa (Royal) beat Vinuja Mendis (Royal) 11/7, 11/7. (Girls): Mihinsa de Alwis (Lyceum Wattala) beat Imashi Liyanagama (GHS Mt. Lavinia) 8/11, 11/8, 11/5.
U-10 (Boys): Rasheed Azees (Royal) beat Rumal Intikab (Royal) 11/5, 11/8.

(Girls): Chamathsara Fernando (GHS Mt. Lavinia) beat Thanuri Gayara (Visakha Vidyalaya) 11/2, 11/8.
U-12 (Boys): Kulanaka Hendahewa (Royal) beat WGM Bhanuka (Royal) 11/9, 11/9. (Girls): Ruvini Kannangara (Musaeus) beat Masthoora Amavi (Buddhist Ladies) 11/7, 11/5.

U-15 (Boys): Oshadi Warunajith Kottahachchi (Royal) beat Dushan Ranatunga (Isipathana) 11/4, 11/9, 8/11, 11/9. (Girls): Ruvini Kannangara (Musaeus) beat Thilini Nadeesha (GHS Mt. Lavinia) 10/12, 11/9, 11/5, 11/5.
U-18 (Boys): Samitha Abeyratne (Royal) beat Oshadi Warunajith Kottahachchi (Royal) 11/4, 11/5, 11/7. (Girls): Ruvini Kannangara (Musaeus) beat GH Shabi (St. Clare’s) 11/5, 11/7, 12/10.

U-21 (Boys): Samitha Abeyratne (Royal) beat Sajith Kavinda (St. Benedict’s) 11/7, 10/12, 11/6, 11/9. (Girls): Uthpala Pushpakumara (Musaeus) beat Aloka Indunily (GHS Mt. Lavinia) 11/2, 7/11, 11/6, 8/11, 13/11.

Open (Men): Samitha Abeyratne (Royal) beat Dushan Ranatunga (Isipathana) 11/6, 11/2, 6/11, 11/6. (Women): A.C.K. Udugama (Old Girl - Devi Balika Vidyalaya) beat Uthpala Pushpakumara (Musaeus) 11/9, 12/10, 8/11, 14/12.

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Chess Champ Panchali Perera
of Musaeus College, Colombo emerged champion in the under-14 girls’ category at the Colombo District Youth Chess Championships 2008, held at Royal College, Colombo recently.

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Protesters jeer Olympic torch in Japan

Athens Olympics gold medal swimmer Kosuke Kitajima waves to the crowd during the Beijing Olympics torch relay at Nagano city, central Japan on Saturday. Demonstrators threw objects and tried to seize the Beijing Olympic torch in Japan, briefly holding up the latest leg of its troubled worldwide journey. AFP

NAGANO, (AFP) - Protesters hurled rubbish and flares Saturday at the Beijing Olympic torch and brawled with Chinese supporters in a chaotic Japanese leg of the troubled round-the-world relay.

At least four people were injured in the scuffles in the mountain resort of Nagano, where more than 85,000 people packed the streets including Chinese students who turned the town into a sea of red national flags.

After relative calm elsewhere in Asia, the torch met at least hundreds of protesters here ranging from Buddhist monks and pro-Tibet demonstrators to nationalists, who provocatively waved Japan’s old imperial flag.

Protesters threw trash, an egg, a tomato and flares as the torch was paraded through the streets despite more than 3,000 police guarding the route, who had raised security to a level usually accorded to Emperor Akihito.

China had hoped the torch would be symbolic of its rising status and pride in hosting the August Games, but instead it has become a target for critics of Beijing’s rule over Tibet and its human rights record.

Japan has been trying to repair uneasy relations with China dating to the legacy of Japanese aggression before World War II, but China is a top bugbear for nationalists here, who are notorious for noisy demonstrations.
 
“China is killing Tibetans, who are a very peaceful people, so I hate the Chinese government,” said Hisakazu Hattori, a 21-year-old student.
Another protester, Mitsuru Ishikawa, said he feared China’s rise.

“China wants to conquer the world. I’m afraid that China will conquer Japan in the near future,” Ishikawa said.
Furious Chinese supporters in turn surrounded demonstrators waving Tibetan flags. In one brawl the Chinese charged with flagpoles and were kicked by anti-Beijing demonstrators until police intervened, witnesses said.

At least four Chinese were injured, none of them seriously, said the fire department of Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics some 180 kilometres (110 miles) north of Tokyo.

One young man was seen on the ground with cuts on his forehead as supporters wrapped a red Chinese flag around him.
“At first I didn’t think I would come here as I didn’t have the time or money,” said Xin Xin, a 24-year-old student wearing a Chinese flag.
“But many things happened these past weeks. We had to come here to support the Olympic games in China,” he said.
Robert Menard, the founder of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders who helped set off global protests, hailed Japan’s handling of the relay as the best yet and played down the significance of the scuffles.

“This has given democracy a great name,” said Menard, who disrupted the flame-lighting in Greece last month.
“Here I was able to see Chinese people with their red flags right next to demonstrators waving Tibetan flags, all in a good atmosphere,” he told AFP.
But some Japanese demonstrators were turned off by the tone of protests.
“We came here because we wanted to do something after seeing the news on Tibet,” said Yayoi Nozawa, 52, who came with her husband. “I wonder, though, why things don’t go more peacefully.”

Five protesters, including one from Taiwan, were arrested for throwing objects or bursting onto the street to try to disrupt the relay, police said.
China, responding to intense international pressure, announced Friday that it would resume talks “in the coming days” with a representative of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

It would be the first known encounter since unrest broke out last month, triggering a Chinese military crackdown that exiled Tibetan leaders say left more than 150 dead.

Beijing insists no one died as it restored order, but that Tibetan rioters killed 20 people.
The Nagano leg began in a car park rather than a celebrated Buddhist temple, which had withdrawn in a protest at China’s crackdown in predominantly Buddhist Tibet.
 
The Zenkoji temple instead held a prayer ceremony to mourn both Chinese and Tibetans killed in the recent unrest. Some 300 people prayed in silence as 20 orange-robed monks read out the names of victims and hit a gong.

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