Rugby: Dialog Clifford Cup Knockout Championship on Sunday

Unshaken, unbowed, immovable and invincible – these words best describe Kandy SC’s smooth progress over 16 matches to Sunday’s (25) final against the Navy of the Dialog Clifford Cup Knockout Championship at the Racecourse. 

It is a tad unthinkable that the League champions will fall at the final hurdle, given that they are on the threshold of repeating last year’s double triumph. 

The Gayan Weeraratne led side has had a few close calls. 

At times, they have been under the cash, but that strong team-spirit and work ethic have ensured that a defeat will not come to pass. 

They have not been free of injuries. Anuruddha Wilwara, one of Sri Lanka’s finest wingers, Roshan Weeraratne, tough as teak No.8 Buvaneka Udangamuwe and versatile Jason Dissanaike (Sri Lanka players all) have missed a good part of the season. 

Yet, the club has overcome those set-backs. 

The main reason being the quality of their bench. 

It appears that Fazil Marija has been persuaded to make one last appearance. 

No other player can bring what he has to the table.

In a career that has seen far more highs than lows, Marija can be counted on for one, last mighty effort. 

It is Kandy’s famed back division that has set the stage for many of their triumphs. 

That resplendent start, Danushka Ranjan, who was not so productive in recent matches, came good and achieved a hat-trick against the CR&FC. 

Richard Dharmapala, a strongly-built winger, is difficult to stop. Gayan Weeraratne has loads of experience and is, perhaps, the stabilising factor. 

Wilwara’s place is up for grabs. 

One presumes that either Lavanga Perera or Vishvamitra Jayasinghe who has done time, will function as the other winger. 

Kandy has played a Sevens type of rugby. 

Not surprising, as they are full of National Sevens players. 

One of Sri Lanka’s best exponents of the Sevens game, Srinath Sooriyabandara has had an extended run. 

To say that he has not let the team down would amount to an understatements. 

Shehan Pathirana appears to have taken over the leadership of the pack. 

He has touched down many a time. 

Hit-men such as Dimitri Wijetunga and Heshan Kalhara have filled in to their roles well. 

Lock Suhiru Anthony has a high work rate and is a considerable asset, especially in the absence of Udangamuwe. 

That leaves Nigel Ratwatte, an effervescent player and one of the most improved lads around. 

Navy has the terribly daunting task of coming back from two losses to Kandy in the league. 

They can look back on that first game at Nittawela, which they lost 33-19, as one that got away. 

The second meeting ended in a more comprehensive loss (41-17). 

The champions blitzed them in the first 20 minutes or so and, after that, there was only one winner. 

The Navy had a tense two point win over the Havies in a game that fluctuated. 

They were sitting pretty at 25-12. But the Havies indulged in a couple of exciting sorties to lead 26-25 with a minute or two to go. 

Then came Thilina Weerasinghe, Navy’s ever-reliable fullback to slot over the penalty that mattered. 

The Sailors have some superb forwards in Charith Silva, Adeesha Weeratunga and Lahiru Vishvajith. 

These together with that indomitable hooker Dulanjana Wijesinghe can give their opponents a very good run. 

Flyhalf Mohamed Absal reads the game well and is efficient at distribution. 

Centre Mushin Faleel is a nippy player with a lot of thrust. 

Taken as a whole, Navy’s back division obviously lacks the glitter and glamour of their counterparts. 

However, they have not failed their team. 

The jewel in Navy’s crown is that highly acclaimed fullback and place-kicker Thilina Weerasinghe. 

He is capable of turning impending defeat into improbable victory by the accuracy of his conversions. 

That the Navy has come this far after losing a few key players – Lee Keegal, Sajith Saranga, Satya Ranatunga and Mateesha Sarachchandra – to the CH is a tribute to their mentor, Mothilal Jayatilleka. 

As for the result, prediction can make fools of us all.

Motorsports: Eshan Pieris in emphatic win for first ever F4 success

The 2017-18 FIA Formula 4 South East Asia Championship (F4 SEA) – fuelled by Petron, witnessed Eshan Pieris’ first ever win for Sri Lanka at the Sepang International Circuit, as the contingent supported the Asian Le Man Endurance Series. 

After an intense battle in Race 2 of the penultimate event, the 20-year-old Colombo-native stood atop the podium, basking humbly in the glory of his maiden victory at the championship, to the strains of the Sri Lanka anthem. 

He was poised to be the front runner of the FIA-certified Championship, as he was the fastest in official free practice and snatched pole position in qualifying, which boosted his drive to succeed. 

Launched off the grid perfectly behind two-time champion Daniel Cao, in the event’s 2nd race, the Sri Lankan threw down the gauntlet and quickly stole pole position away from Cao, who then piled on the pressure. 

Despite this, Pieris consistently pulled away from Cao and widened the gap till the chequered flag waved him the race victor in a very strong grid. 

Pieris beat tough competition from undefeated rookie event champion Kane Shepherd, Okinawan lightning bolt, Hibiki Taira and event champion Mitchell Cheah of Malaysia. 

Apart from securing the podium in Race 2, Pieris also clocked the fastest time of the 8-lap scrimmage. 

He was the only one to break the 2-min.14-sec mark in the race. His blistering performance ensured him a lead of almost 5 sec. 

“After being fastest on track during the free practice, I was really motivated to put it back on top at the end of qualifying. I just focused on hitting all my markers on track while not making any mistakes throughout the qualifying Laps. In Race 2, I started in P2 and took the lead on the 2nd Lap of the race into Turn 4, and thereafter I just focused on maintaining my rhythm throughout the race. However, my biggest concern was tyre conservation. Just like F1, managing tyre-wear is crucial,” explained Pieris. 

“For sure, the win in Race 2 felt really great, as it was only my second event ever in Formula cars, and compared with the other drivers on the grid, I have much less experience. I am really happy to have already bagged my first win,” he concluded.

Badminton: Lankan-born Dharshana wins two Silvers at USA Seniors

Former National Badminton player turned coach, Dharshana Fernando, recently participated in an International Senior Badminton Tournament in Los Angeles, USA, organised by the USA Badminton Association. 

It is one of the largest tournaments organised by the Association and the competition was of a very high standard. 

Fernando was able to win 2 Silver medals at this event. 

He won a silver in the 55+ age category. 

He lost in the final to a Malaysian, after a grueling 3-Setter, which was a close game. 

He also won Silver in the 50+ age category. 

Fernando said the systematic training he learned in his youth, has helped him to win back-to-back medals, even at international tournaments, considering his age. 

He went on to say that he wanted to show his students that, what he learned 50 years ago is still relevant in modern Badminton, adding that, though he has incorporated new training techniques and coaching methods, he still believes the basics are the same. 

He is known as Coach Fernando in Canada, where he currently lives, and is a National Coaching Certification Programme, certified coach in Canada. 

He runs one of the largest Badminton Training Schools in the whole of North America, with over 200 students and has a dozen coaches and instructors to assist him. 

Furthermore, he is also an internationally renowned coach, having conducted coaching programmes in more than 25 countries, including Costa Rica, Colombia, Vietnam, Denmark, the UK, the USA and the Czech Republic to name a few.

Cabinet reshuffle tomorrow

The much awaited Cabinet reshuffle is to take place tomorrow (25), according to several Ministers. 

The Cabinet reshuffle was earlier due to take place on Thursday, before being put off till Friday. However, the reshuffle failed to materialise on Friday too, reportedly due to differences of opinion between the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) over the nature of the reshuffle, and reluctance on the part of certain Ministers who were unwilling to step down from their current portfolios.

Co-Cabinet Spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters yesterday that the reshuffle would happen on Sunday. Meanwhile, United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) General Secretary and Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera confirmed this at addressing a function today, stating that a Cabinet reshuffle will definitely take place tomorrow.  

Chinese New Year at Graze Kitchen 

The Hilton Colombo marked the seventh day of the Chinese New Year, Human day or ‘Renri’ on February 22 with a traditional Yee Sang Tossing ceremony, and Chinese buffet at Graze Kitchen. 

Acting as the master of ceremonies of sorts was Chef Ong Shi Yong, who invited guests to toss the Yee Sang. Yee Sang is a traditional Chinese raw salad which consists of shredded vegetables, all thinly sliced in long strips to signify longevity, pickled vegetables and plum sauce. It’s associated with New Year Celebrations among the ethnic Chinese communities in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and symbolise abundance, prosperity and vigour. Guests were encouraged to toss the salad as high as possible, as greater the height, means greater the luck, as explained by Chef Yong.

To Celebrate the Year of the Dog Graze Kitchen served up a Chinese menu curated by their in-house Chinese Chef Yong. The spread included traditional succulent duck and pork dishes, as well as beautifully prepared dumplings, and sweet & sour soups to name a few. But as Chef Yong, who is from Malaysia, explains the traditional Chinese dishes are in style of the ethnic Chinese communities in Malaysia and Singapore. Thus appealing to the Sri Lankan palette.    
The Hilton Colombo will also be hosting a Chinese New Year gift stall till March 2, at it’s lounge. The stall carries an assortment of Chinese wooden gift boxes, beautifully decorated with Chinese brocade and stuffed dog toys in celebration of the year of the dog. The gift boxes contain a variety of sweets, including fortune cookies, and chocolate gold coins, and range from LKR 2900 to 8800.  

For more information or reservations at Graze Kitchen please contact them on 011 2492492 or at The Hilton Colombo is located at No. 2 Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha, Colombo 2.

-By Shakya Wickramanayake

400 kilos of cocaine found in Russian embassy in Argentina

Police have seized nearly 400 kilos of cocaine from the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires and arrested several members of a drug trafficking gang, Argentina's security minister announced Thursday.

Patricia Bullrich told a press conference that the drugs discovered in an annex of the embassy had a street value of around 50 million euros (about $62 million).

"A gang of narco-criminals was trying to use the diplomatic courier service of the Russian embassy" to ship the drugs to Europe, she said.

She told reporters that Russian and Argentine police had decided to mount a sting operation after the Russian ambassador informed them of the drugs find in December 2016.

"The cocaine was replaced by flour and monitoring devices were placed to monitor delivery" of the 16 bags of the drug, Bullrich said. She said the sting had resulted in the arrest of five suspects — two in Argentina and three in Russia.

The drug, of "very high purity," was destined for Russia and probably also Germany, where the suspected mastermind lives. "We believe the German police will arrest this fugitive," Bullrich said.

The minister said Russian security service agents "came to Argentina on three occasions to assist in the investigation", which took more than a year.

One of the two people arrested in Argentina is a naturalized Russian who was a member of the police force in Buenos Aires, said Bullrich.

Investigators believe the cocaine likely originated in Colombia or Peru.

Australian deputy prime minister resigns after new harassment claim

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s deputy prime minister said on Friday he will resign as leader of his party after weeks of pressure over an affair with a staffer that brought him into open conflict with his premier and a new allegation of sexual harassment emerged.

Barnaby Joyce said he will step down on Monday as leader of the National party, the junior partner in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s centre-right coalition, after resisting earlier calls to quit over the affair with his former media secretary, with whom he is expecting a child.

Barnaby Joyce, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, speaks during a media conference in the town of Armidale, Australia February 23, 2018. AAP/Marlon Dalton/via REUTERS

He will remain in parliament, safeguarding Turnbull’s shaky one-seat majority.

Joyce’s decision came after a falling-out with Turnbull, who is in the United States for meetings with President Donald Trump and who declined to leave him in charge while he is out of the country.

Turnbull called Joyce’s affair a “shocking error of judgment” last week, to which Joyce responded by calling Turnbull “inept”.

Get ready for Ironman 70.3 Colombo this weekend

The mega Ironman 70.3 Colombo competition, the first ever in South Asia, will see over 3000 athletes and their families from 63 countries participate in a triathlon on February 25 at the Galle Face.

The event has 870 overseas participants expected to generate a revenue totalling over US$3 million. Aiming to bring communities together the sporting event  involves running, swimming and cycling with the average age of participants at 39 years.

The following are details of the routes to be taken for the races

Diyathalawa explosion: Army appoints five member committee

Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake has appointed a five-member committee to probe into the explosion inside a private bus at Kahagolla in Diyathalawa. 

Nineteen passengers in the bus were injured in the explosion and 12 of them were military personnel. 

Police later stated that initial investigations had revealed that a hand grenade caused the explosion.