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Scots learning how to turn close defeats to wins – Barclay

June 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Skipper John Barclay says Scotland are learning from their agonising defeats and are better equipped at closing out tight Tests after toppling the Wallabies in a famous victory in Australia.

BArclay

The Scots will climb to fifth in the world rankings from sixth after holding on for a resilient 24-19 win in Sydney on Saturday, spiritedly defending their try-line as the Wallabies laid siege.

It was Scotland’s second-straight win in Australia after edging the Wallabies 9-6 in Newcastle in 2012, and comes on the back of two heartbreaking one-point defeats at Murrayfield last year and in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Cup at Twickenham.

Scotland have now won three of their last six encounters with the Wallabies and will take home the Hopetoun Cup, one of the few trophies that had been remaining in Australia’s possession.

Barclay, the 62-capped blindside flanker from Llanelli’s Scarlets, said Scotland’s skills have been under-played and they were making their presence felt in international rugby.

“It will give us confidence. You cannot deny the fact that we’ve been on the wrong side of a couple of these against the Aussies for the last couple of years and it was nice to close one out,” Barclay told reporters after Saturday’s triumph.

“But in this year’s Six Nations we closed out a couple of really important games, tight games against Ireland and Wales, so I think we are getting better at closing out games.

“The important thing is that you learn from the close defeats. Everyone always talks about the Scots being brave, but I don’t think we speak enough about the skills of the guys have.

“Look at the tries we’re scoring, I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s under-played at times.”

Scotland matched the Wallabies’ three tries and after regaining the lead midway through the second period, they held on gamely for a morale-boosting win.

“It’s really a proud day for us all,” said coach Gregor Townsend, who has now won his first two games in charge after last week’s 34-13 victory over Italy in Singapore.

“For everyone involved in Scottish rugby to blow away those frustrations of the last couple of seasons and come away with such an important win is a credit to the players.

“If you have to defend 10-15 minutes like that against a brilliant attacking team, then you need strong bones and that’s what this team has.

“We knew that it would be really tough, Australia showed a lot what they could do in attack but our width in our defence, the fact that everyone in that 15 were looking to get back and compete for ball, really helped us to get a place and slow down their ball.”

Townsend and Barclay paid tribute to the on-field leadership of 29-capped fly-half Finn Russell, who later was called up as one of six injury reinforcements for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

“I have to say that Finn Russell was outstanding. He leads our attack, but I thought he led our defence really well, the amount of tackles he put in and putting his body on the line,” Townsend said.

Barclay added: “I thought the way Finn Russell has changed as a leader and his composure on the pitch breeds confidence to those around him.”

Scotland left on Sunday for their third and final Test of their tour against Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

Tite ponders Brazil changes after Argentina loss

June 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Brazil manager Tite says he is considering changes for Tuesday’s game against Australia after blasting his side’s poor finishing in the loss to Argentina in Melbourne.

Brazil

The world’s number one ranked team wasted several scoring opportunities as Argentina hung on for a 1-0 win in their Superclasico at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.

A goal from Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado just before half-time proved the eventual winner as Argentina gained a morale-boosting victory under new manager Jorge Sampaoli.

The two-time world champions and second ranked team are struggling outside the automatic qualifying positions in fifth spot in the South American group with four games left while Brazil have already qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia next year.

Tite looked on as Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus hit the woodwork with the goal at his mercy before Chelsea’s Willian fired into the opposite post with the rebound midway through the second half.

“They (Argentina) were not that superior, but we needed more precision in our finishing to take our opportunities,” Tite told reporters after the match through an interpreter.

“We have a lot of things to assess and I might need to make some changes so that we play with better coherence and in a more organized way.

“Even in the match against Uruguay (4-1 win in Montevideo in March) we had to make some adjustments, but in the end what we really have to find is some goals.”

The Brazilians are staying on in Australia to play a second match in Melbourne on Tuesday against the Socceroos, who are tuning up for this month’s Confederations Cup in Russia.

Tite said he was looking for his side to be more clinical against the Australians, who downed Saudi Arabia 3-2 in a crucial home qualifier for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

“The team played well, but we had some trouble marking their (Argentina’s) top players in the first half, and they were playing faster than us,” he said.

“In the second half, we had more possession and played better.

“We had the effort and the formation we wanted but we need more of the players performing at a higher level.

“We didn’t deserve the victory. We need to be more aggressive and we have to neutralise the other team so that we can get the game more on our terms.”

Tite said Brazil had to make better use of their “technical power.”

“We have to be better prepared. We have to look at the game as a whole: the way we want to play, the technical power that we have, and we have to look at the competition,” he said.

“We want to get to the level that we can dominate the game. That way we can get the performance and the results we want.”

Tite said he would assess the condition of Jesus, who was carried off after he collected an elbow in the face in an aerial challenge with Manchester City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi in the final minutes and taken to hospital for observation.

But Brazil’s team coordinator Edu Gaspar said Jesus had been given the all clear.

“Jesus is fine,” Edu told reporters. “I spoke to the doctor, he said he is OK. He did the exam to see if it (his jaw) is broken or not but nothing has happened.”

Argentina will stop off and play in Singapore on Tuesday, but will be without Lionel Messi and defender Otamendi, who will skip the game to prepare for their weddings later this month.

Barcelona superstar Messi will marry his girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo on June 30, with Otamendi’s wedding scheduled for June 16.

Wallabies ‘ready for the fight’ to restore morale – Cheika

June 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Michael Cheika has vowed the Wallabies will lift the spirits of the Australian game amid a demoralising Super Rugby campaign in this week’s start to the international Test season.

Wallabies

Australian rugby is in the doldrums with its five franchises struggling and one, as yet unnamed, facing the axe when Super Rugby reverts to 15 teams next season form the current 18.

New Zealand teams are currently unbeaten in their 23 Super Rugby matches against Australian opposition this year.

Cheika said Sunday the Wallabies’ first five Tests of 2017 were going to be “like Everest for us”, but added that the players were ready for the fight.

Super Rugby takes a back seat for the next three weeks as the Wallabies take on Fiji, Scotland and Italy at home.

Also ahead in August is the Bledisloe Cup, which Australia has not been able to win back from the All Blacks since 2002.

“These first five games of our season, the three June Tests and the two Bledisloe Cup matches, are going to be like an Everest for us,” Cheika said on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Offsiders programme.

“We’ve got to be fully prepared and we’ve got to enjoy the challenge as well… and get stuck into it.

“I’m a strong and passionate believer in rugby in this country. Yeah, there’s some tough times on and off the field but it’s what you get from those and how you respond.”

Cheika added that Australian rugby fans were looking to the Wallabies to put things right on the field.

“We’ve got to play with a certain attitude that says we’re here for the fight,” he said.

“The Australian team will be playing with no fear and having been well prepared to go out there and have that positive mindset.”

While Cheika believed that Australia had “punched above our weight so far… even to be where we are now — third in the world”, he wanted to set the team’s sights even higher ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“But maybe we’ve been satisfied at that level instead of going to the next step. You got to start believing and dreaming that.

“For the next generation of players, that’s the mindset we want to put in their head.”

The Wallabies kick off their 2017 international campaign against Fiji in Melbourne on Saturday, followed by Tests against Scotland in Sydney on June 17 and Italy in Brisbane on June 24.

Mercedes on red alert as Wolff backs Hamilton

April 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has backed Lewis Hamilton to exact swift revenge at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after a chastening defeat in Formula One’s season opener in Australia.

Formula One

 

Sebastian Vettel’s comprehensive victory for Ferrari has put Mercedes on red alert ahead of the Shanghai race weekend but Wolff insists Hamilton has the steel to strike right back after finishing second in Melbourne.

“Lewis is the best Lewis that I’ve seen in the last four years — both on and off the track,” said the Austrian. “He’s become a pillar of this team and he proved that in Melbourne.

You need to be careful to manage your own expectations.

If you think you are going to cruise to victory in the future, based on a track record of success, you’ll be proven wrong very quickly. You need to put the finger in the wound, identify your weaknesses and then respond.”

Cheika proud of Wallabies

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said his team could look each other in the eye with pride after Australia held off France in a thrilling Test on Saturday.

Cheika

Camille Lopez missed a last-gasp drop goal as the Wallabies claimed a 25-23 win at the Stade de France in Paris.

Australia were missing a number of stars, with the likes of Israel Folau, Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper not involved in the French capital, but the Wallabies – led by stand-in captain David Pocock closed out the victory to remain undefeated on their European tour.

After Saturday’s side were labelled a “B Team” pre-game, Cheika said: “The team selection was made with the knowledge that obviously when a player steps inside a gold jersey, he knows who he has to be and we’ve been working really hard on that this year with a new group of players and that’s all I wanted them to do tonight.

“Whether they were labelled as the ‘Equipe Bis’ or not or the first team, I was just really proud of the effort.

“We made some mistakes as well but I feel like there was a lot of commitment there from our lads.

“That gives them the opportunity to eye-ball each other in the dressing room after the game and say, ‘You know what? I did my job and I can look at my team-mate straight in the eye’ and that is all there is to it.”

Cheika also singled out Pocock for praise, telling reporters: “I think we all know what David brings I don’t want to embarrass him sitting next to me but I think as a leader – different as a No.7 – today he played as a leader and captain.

“And I think that inspires other players around him and it certainly inspires me watching him in the game when you see a leader take it on like that.

“Full credit to him because he was one of the players that was retained in the team, he knew he had a job to do and he took it on with both hands.”

France boss Guy Noves added: “[The most] frustrating [thing] is it took first half to get going, I was really bored in the first half and the match only became beautiful in the second half.

“We were lucky to wear the jersey and be there on the pitch so I told my guys if you do nothing during the first half it’s not worthwhile.

“There is a lot of frustration because I feel we could have won and the first half does not pay tribute to the work that has been going into the preparation.”

Australia edge Scotland 23-22 at Murrayfield

November 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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For the second time in 13 months, a late kick by Australia fly-half Bernard Foley denied Scotland a famous victory against the Wallabies at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Wallabies

The Scots were leading 22-16 in their opening November international when centre Tevita Kuridrani broke through an attempted tackle from full-back Stuart Hogg to peg their deficit to 22-21, providing Foley with an opportunity to snatch victory with a close range conversion.

The Waratahs outside-half duly slotted the ball between the posts – against a backdrop of unsporting boos – as he had done to controversially win the 2015 World Cup quarter-final between the countries at Twickenham, 35-34, with an unjustly awarded 79th minute.

In doing so, Australia kept their Grand Slam tour hopes alive and Scotland were cruelly denied a famous victory that beckoned after two tries from Edinburgh-born Stormers centre Huw Jones, who made a storming first start for Scotland in his home city, and lock Jonny Gray.

“Too close for comfort!” said Australia skipper Stephen Moore.

“We just got there in the end. I’m very proud of the guys digging in there. Lot of respect for the Scots, it’s always tight.”

Scotland’s Jones added: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking, we’re gutted to lose like that.

“Our discipline just wasn’t good enough.”

Scotland had never beaten one of the southern hemisphere’s big three – Australia, New Zealand or South Africa – in the opening match of a November series but they came out of the traps firing in their first Test for five months.

With two minutes on the clock, centre Alex Dunbar made a huge dent in the Wallabies’ defence with a diagonal run from midfield. The Edinburgh player was hauled down by Australia full-back Israel Folau but the Scots were awarded a penalty for offside and Greig Laidlaw, Scotland’s captain and scrum-half, kicked them in front, 3-0.

Australia attempted to hit back immediately but their giant tighthead prop Sekope Kepu spilled the ball under tackle with the try-line in sight. Then Scotland struck with the opening try in the eighth minute, fly-half Finn Russell chipping through for Jones to collect and beat the cover defence with a mazy run to the line.

Greig Laidlaw’s conversion gave Scotland a 10-point cushion but they were pegged back to 10-7 in the 13th minute when Australia showed the first glimpse of the cutting edge that carved apart Wales. It came from a line-out move on their own 10m line, lock Rory Arnold claiming possession and Genia and right wing Dane Haylett-Petty coming into the line on the left to feed a scoring pass to the razor-sharp Hodge.

Foley landed the conversion and the Wallabies would have added to their tally had Jones not snaffled a pass from flanker Michael Hooper that threatened to furnish Hodge with his second score. Still, in the 23rd minute, Foley nailed his first penalty to level the scores at 10-10.

Not that the momentum remained with the visitors for long. Indeed, Jones made it two debut tries in the 27th minute, taking a feed from Fagerson and skipping through two would-be tacklers to score on the left. Laidlaw converted and Scotland were 17-10 up at the half-time interval.

Foley made in 17-13 with a penalty three minutes into the second-half but Scotland hit the Wallabies with a third try in the 48th minute. Though full-back Stuart Hogg was halted on a blindside break by Kuridrani, Jonny Gray barged over from a close range ruck. Laidlaw’s attempted conversion hit the near upright but his side were ahead 22-13.

A third penalty success by Foley cut the gap to 22-16 in the 56th minute but a huge defensive effort by the Scots held the Wallabies (who lost replacement lock Will Skelton to a yellow card in the 68th minute) at bay until the 75th minute. Furnished with possession 10 metres out, Kuridrani had the power to elude Hogg and score the decisive try that Foley converted to deny the Scots.

Foley leads Australian Wallabies to Wales rout in Cardiff

November 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Bernard Foley said he and his Australian teammates were set on ignoring any criticism, instead focusing on ever-improving performances after demolishing Wales in their tour opener.

Wallabies

Fly-half Foley was magnificent in his chef d’orchestre role in the 32-8 victory on Saturday, thriving behind a dominant pack and quick service from scrum-half Nic Phipps to feed a wealth of willing, free-running backs outside him.

Three first-half tries and two more in the second period, including one from Foley, set up a comprehensive win in the first game of a six-match tour in which Australia could win their first Grand Slam of Home Nations teams since 1984.

“I think it’s something we put a lot of emphasis on is coming here and starting this tour well and this week preparation was immense,” said Foley.

“You can’t fault how the guys prepared for this game and I think what was real pleasing was it was our defence, it didn’t waver all game.

“When our attack wasn’t working in the second half we were still able to score two tries off the back of our defence and that’s probably one thing this team wants to pride ourselves on. It’s something we’ve taken a lot of positives out of.”

Michael Cheika’s Wallabies have come in for criticism after a string of poor results following their appearance in the World Cup final a year ago.

A June series whitewash by England and a record home defeat by New Zealand in the Rugby Championship put Cheika and the squad in the limelight for all the wrong reasons, but Foley insisted it was water off a duck’s back.

“For us, there is a lot of external noise and there has been this year and I think it’s something we’ve had to put up with but as a squad we’re taking no notice of that external noise,” said the playmaker who won the Super Rugby title in 2014 with the Waratahs.

“We’re just focused on our roles in this squad and be really tight as a group. The resilience this team has showed the character it’s showed and the Tests we’ve been out through this year is just setting the platform, hopefully, for future success.”

Foley has proved to be somewhat of a thorn in Wales’ side in recent times.

In 2013, he came off the bench in the final five minutes as Australia snatched a 30-26 victory and a year later hit three penalties, three conversions and a crucial drop-goal in the closing stages as the visitors won again.

Then during the World Cup pool game at Twickenham 13 months ago he struck five penalties to help his team to a 15-6 win over Wales to finish atop their group.

“I was happy. We came here with a plan and we were able to execute it. We were prepared for what the Welsh bring and then try to nullify their threats and then also look at opportunities for us in attack,” he said.

“The backs worked really hard off the back off the platform the forwards set. I think it was, especially that first half, probably set us up really well.”

Thoughts now, however, turn to Scotland, whom Australia play next weekend.

“he Scottish are a side that we’ve had some close encounters with in the past couple of years,” Foley said.

“You only have to look back at last year’s World Cup quarter-final. They’re a team that if you’re ill-disciplined and if you knock off at set piece, they’ll really hurt you.”

Foley reiterated Cheika’s stance that there had been no talk of the Grand Slam.

“Not at all! That’s where you fall over, if you start looking ahead, that’s where we’ll stumble or fall over,” he said.

Cheika tells Wallabies to dream big in Europe

November 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Australia coach Michael Cheika has urged his side to aim high during their tour of Europe as they look to finish a tough 2016 with a flourish.

Wallabies

Cheika’s men have the chance to emulate the celebrated 1984 Wallabies that featured the likes of David Campese, Michael Lynagh and Mark Ella by completing a Grand Slam — victories over England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales on one tour.

Australia will also play France in Paris on November 19 in a run of five internationals on successive weekends, starting with Saturday’s clash against Wales in Cardiff.

Australia gave New Zealand a few awkward moments before losing last year’s World Cup final at Twickenham, but 2016 has seen the Wallabies suffer some chastening defeats by the All Blacks, including a 42-6 hammering in Sydney in August.

That was a low in a run of six straight defeats that included a 3-0 series defeat at home to England, a side coached by Eddie Jones, Cheika’s former team-mate at Sydney club Randwick.

New Zealand then beat Australia 37-10 in Auckland to set a new world record for a majorrugby nation of 18 successive Test wins, with Cheika furious at being depicted as a clown in a New Zealand newspaper.

Cheika, however, was in more upbeat mood at Australia’s arrival press conference in London on Monday, saying of the Grand Slam: “I think that it’s very important for players to have dreams of achieving the bigger picture items. I really do, I believe that’s important.

“If you don’t have those dreams inside of you, then what are you doing it for?

“That’s in the background, but that will only come to fruition when we’re excellent every day and our players are learning.

“We’re really trying to do the right thing, not just for the short term, but also for the medium term.”

Cheika flew out a day later than his squad after undergoing surgery following a training ground collision with powerful back Israel Folau ahead of the Auckland loss to the All Blacks.

The coach tried to keep Folau’s name under wraps before scrum-half Nick Frisby spilt the beans at an awards ceremony in Sydney on Thursday — an event Cheika attended with his arm in a sling.

“Izzy’s still on the tour so he’s all right. He didn’t get dropped,” joked Cheika on Monday.

“The important thing was that he didn’t get injured. The coach can’t be injuring the players.

“I have a new empathy for players recovering from reconstructive surgery because it’s quite painful. Maybe it is because I am a little bit older.”

All Blacks crush Australia for record 18th straight win

October 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Julian Savea’s stunning late try double ended Australian resistance as the All Blacks claimed a world-record 18th consecutive victory with a crushing 37-10 win in Auckland on Saturday.

Savea

It was hardly vintage All Blacks and the tense game at Eden Park wasn’t settled until Savea’s game-breaking effort in the second half, scoring two tries and setting up a third.

But the ultimately convincing win rewrites the record books for Steve Hansen’s side, who surpass the top-tier record winning streak of 17 set by the All Blacks of 1965-1969 and matched twice since.

The All Blacks hit the front in the fifth minute when Israel Dagg scored and they never surrendered the lead, but for long periods Australia dictated terms and only stout defence earned the All Blacks their place in history.

They were only ahead 15-10 — after Australia had had a try disallowed by the TV match official — and defending constantly with 25 minutes to play when Savea burst into life.

There were questions ahead of the game whether the Wallabies would prove giantkillers, having stymied the All Blacks three times in recent years when the record was on the cards.

But Bernard Foley missed two close-range penalties and a Henry Speight try was disallowed when the TV official judged that Dane Haylett-Petty blocked Savea as he chased Speight.

For all their attacking flaws, sloppy discipline and rushed decision-making, the All Blacks scored six tries with Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, TJ Perenara, Savea (twice) and Dane Coles all crossing the line.

Aaron Cruden, brought off the bench early in the second half after Beauden Barrett missed the first three conversions, added seven points with the boot.

Rory Arnold scored Australia’s only try with Foley adding a conversion and penalty.

The Test record caps a remarkable 12 months in which the All Blacks became the first team to successfully defend the World Cup, retained the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup for a 14th consecutive year and won the Rugby Championship for the fourth time in five years.

Since Hansen took over as head coach after the All Blacks won the 2011 World Cup, the side has lost only three of 64 matches.

The Wallabies had the first opportunity to score only for Foley to hook a 33-metre penalty and the All Blacks responded immediately, exposing the Wallaby centres with two smart tries.

Ben Smith ran around Reece Hodge to put Dagg over wide out for the first touchdown and four minutes later Lienert-Brown, taking a short pass from Ryan Crotty, zipped past Samu Kerevi for the second.

For 15 minutes through the middle of the first half the Wallabies enjoyed a measure of control and they eventually broke the All Blacks defence when Arnold used all of his 2.08 metres (6ft 9in) to stretch out and score in the 28th minute.

They had a chance to turn it into a 10-point try, as Kieran Read was penalised in a confrontation on the line, but Hodge was astray with his long-range attempt at the restart.

The All Blacks struck back immediately with scrum-half Perenara charging down a Hodge clearing kick, regathering the ball and running in the All Blacks’ third try.

Foley landed a penalty early in the second half and Australia continued to keep pressure on the All Blacks until Smith broke out from his own 22 and set up Savea’s first try.

The big wing smashed through Speight and Nick Frisby for his second and then sent Coles over to settle the outcome.

Banned Kyrgios could quit without proper support – Cash

October 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Australia’s tempestuous talent Nick Kyrgios has the potential to be a future grand slam champion but could just as easily be lost to the sport if he fails to get the support he needs, according to former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.

Kyrgios

The 21-year-old was suspended for eight weeks by the ATP on Monday following his second round exit at the Shanghai Masters where he clashed with fans, the chair umpire and walked off the court midway through a point against Mischa Zverev.

The ban can be reduced to three weeks if he sees a sports psychologist, which Kyrgios had committed to, according to Australia’s tennis association.

“I wouldn’t be surprised (if he quit) but hopefully that’s not the case,” Cash told local radio station 3AW.

“Anybody’s got the opportunity to walk away but if it’s not good for his health then I think he should do that.

“But with some good things in place for his health and wellbeing, and a revised schedule … he can go out there and enjoy his tennis, which is what we want to see.”

Kyrgios posted a lengthy apology online after his Shanghai meltdown, which came only days after he won the Japan Open, the third and biggest title of his career.

The 51-year-old Cash, a notable hothead during the early part of his career, said Kyrgios was “flat and exhausted” when he arrived in Shanghai and should never have played the tournament.

He questioned the advice the Canberra native was receiving on tour and claimed Tennis Australia (TA) had failed to provide young players with the mental support to deal with the grind of the professional circuit.

“Mental health and understanding of where you are as a junior should be as mandatory as hitting forehands and doing stretching before and after a practice session,” he said.

“I’ve talked to Tennis Australia about it and nothing has been done.”

TA could not provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

Cash said Kyrgios was “the next guy” in line for grand slam glory once proven players like Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic bowed out.

“And who is standing up there? Well, Nick’s the obvious one.

“You tend to see after a great year, a bit of a lull, and (then) he’s got a great opportunity to grab a couple of grand slam titles and really be a success.”

Warburton confirmed as Wales captain

September 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Sam Warburton has been confirmed as Wales captain for their November internationals against Australia, Argentina, Japan and South Africa, interim head coach Robert Howley said on Friday.

Warburton

Cardiff Blues flanker Warburton, who has captained Wales on 50 occasions, also led the British and Irish Lions on their 2013 tour of Australia and has also been tipped to skipper the combined side in New Zealand next year.

As was the case in 2013, Warren Gatland is taking a sabbatical from his duties as Wales coach in order to guide the Lions.

“Sam Warburton is a great captain,” said Howley, who is again in charge of Wales in Gatland’s absence with the Lions.

“He captained the Lions, he will continue to captain Wales. I have spoken to Sam already, and he will captain us for the autumn series and into the Six Nations.

“He has, of course, done it (led the Lions) once, and I am sure he is in other people’s thoughts to captain again, but the challenge for all players will be the autumn series and the Six Nations.”

England captain Dylan Hartley is also in contention to skipper the Lions, particularly given the hooker led the team to a Six Nations Grand Slam and a 3-0 Test series win in Australia during a run of nine straight victories under coach Eddie Jones.

And former Wales and Lions scrum-half Howley accepted that, under former Australia and Japan coach Jones, England had become the team to beat in Europe.

“It’s a challenge for ourselves, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy,” Howley said. “Eddie Jones has come in and they have played nine, won nine.

“As Eddie said, he mentioned in a quote that England should win (or challenge for) the (Six Nations) championship every year, so it’s for all of us to do something about it and make sure we challenge that area.

“It was great to see their three Tests over in Australia. They’ve got their house in order under Eddie, and it is something we look forward to.

“It’s at the Principality Stadium (Wales’ Six Nations clash against England in Cardiff on February 11), and it’s a date in the calendar.”

Howley, who has been a member of Gatland’s staff since 2008, will have full responsibility for Wales this term.

His previous stint in charge of Wales in 2012/13 saw the side lose five straight matches, including all four autumn Tests, before recovering to win the Six Nations.

Gatland is set to stand down as Wales head coach after the 2019 World Cup in Japan but Howley added: “I don’t see it as an audition.

“Autumn 2012 was a huge learning experience for me as a head coach,” he explained. “Because Warren came back for the Australia and New Zealand games, that period was difficult with messages going back and fore between us. There was a lot of energy wasted, a lot of communication.

“We need to become better as a team, and if we can become better, we will be a difficult team to beat over the next 10 months.”

Pumas target Cooper-Foley in Wallabies ambush

September 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Argentina plan to target playmakers Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper as they gear up for an ambush win over the Wallabies in their Rugby Championship Test in Perth on Saturday.

Foley

Head coach Michael Cheika risked fielding both fly-halves as the Wallabies broke a run of six Test defeats against South Africa in Brisbane last week and the pair hold the key to Australia’s attack against the Pumas.

Winger Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino said Argentina, who already have the Springboks scalp in this year’s southern hemisphere tournament, are looking to keep Cooper and Foley in check this weekend.

“I think this is the idea, start playing the match and don’t give easy points to Australia, put pressure on the key players, Quade Cooper, Foley,” Amorosino told reporters on Friday.

“They have two 10s (fly-halves) in their team and they play with really good skills so I think the idea is to put pressure on (those) players.

“Maybe make them feel not so comfortable and after that we take the opportunity to carry the ball as soon as possible.”

It is the first time the two nations have met since the Wallabies won 29-15 in a semi-final at last year’s World Cup in London.

Amorosino said the Pumas had to ensure their defensive game was spot on to contain the Australians.

“We need to put pressure on Australia to put up a really good defence, so after two or three phases we receive the ball again and we can start playing,” he said.

But Amorosino said while defence was a priority, the Pumas would not abandon the running rugby that had them trailing the All Blacks by just two points after 50 minutes in New Zealand last weekend.

The All Blacks stepped it up in the final stages to run away 57-22 winners, scoring eight tries to one.

“Rugby is a mixture, if you’ve got really good attack and no defence you can’t play and then you’ve got really good defence and no attack you can’t play,” he said.

“You need to have a mix to have a good match.”

Pumas defence coach Pablo Bouza said the Wallabies, with three new backs this year, were a difficult team for which to devise a game plan.

“I don’t know if they have so many as New Zealand but they have the skill and the pattern of attack is very good,” he said.

“Every match they improve something, they bring something new so it is very difficult for us to study what they’re doing.

“They have some different players — Israel Folau is a great, now they are playing with two number 10s, their number nine (scrum-half Will) Genia is playing really well in the championship.

“It’s a very tough team for defence.”

The Pumas have only won once in 12 Tests in Australia, but that was back in 1983. They have had three narrow defeats in the Rugby Championship away to the Wallabies.

Springboks plan to gate-crash ‘Pooper’ party

September 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Skipper Adriaan Strauss said on Friday the Springboks had plans to make sure Australia’s Michael Hooper and David Pocock don’t dominate the breakdown in Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test.

Wallabies

Strauss said South Africa would have to negate Australia’s renowned “Pooper” back-row combination, with the breakdown likely to be one of the key areas of the game.

“We’re going to need to front up there (in the breakdown),” Strauss told reporters. “There’s a lot of tactics to get those guys out of the game.

“We just need to be sharp and we need to be aware of where they are on the pitch and what positions they’re placing themselves on the field to make those steals and to slow the ball down.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has resisted calls for a back-row makeover by keeping both natural open-side flankers in his starting team and calling up lineout jumper Dean Mumm at blindside flanker.

Strauss said there wasn’t a single way of stopping Hooper and Pocock’s ball-pilfering, which made its first appearance in last year’s corresponding Test in Brisbane.

“There’s a lot of ways to try and keep them out of the game but they’re also very clever players and they find ways to sneak into the rucks,” he said.

“We’ve prepared quite well for that and on the day we just need to be sharp.”

The Springboks traditionally struggle to win in Australia with just two victories in their last 12 Tests in the country. They have only won once in Brisbane (2013) since 1993.

But last year’s Brisbane Test was decided by a Tevita Kuridrani try after the full-time siren and Strauss said he expected another close tussle this weekend.

“I think it’s always a massive game against Australia, rivals in rugby and we haven’t got a great record here in Brisbane,” he said.

“But fortunately on the day history won’t make any difference on the scoreline.

“We are fully aware that they are a good side, especially in Brisbane, so we’re looking forward to having to play another tough game tomorrow.”

South Africa have retained their back row of Warren Whiteley, Francois Louw and Oupa Mohoje, who played together in the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship against Argentina.

“We are an evolving team,” Strauss said. “We’re definitely not playing the type of rugby we want to play yet, but we know where we’re heading.

“We know we’ve got a lot of shortcomings still. It’s a growing process but we’ve been trying to speed that up.”

Mumm’s the word as Wallabies’ Cheika seeks set-piece boost

September 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Michael Cheika bolstered the lineout as he made two changes Thursday to the Wallabies starting team for the Rugby Championship Test against South Africa in Brisbane.

Cheika

Reece Hodge earns his first start for Australia after impressing off the bench in their 29-9 loss to New Zealand in Wellington two weeks ago.

He replaces winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has returned to his French club side Bordeaux.

In the other change, Dean Mumm will start at blindside flanker and partner David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the back row. World Cup flanker Scott Fardy has been left out of the match-day squad.

Mumm had two strong performances off the bench in the Rugby Championship and has been selected to match the Springboks’ traditionally strong set-piece.

Cheika named an extended nine-man bench with one to be omitted following the final training run on Friday.

If selected, Melbourne Rebels backrower Lopeti Timani is in line to become the eighth Wallabies debutant this year as Cheika looks to rebuild the Australian team.

Timani looks Australia’s best option for a traditional running No.8, while Sean McMahon is back in contention after playing for the Wallabies in June’s three-Test home series loss against Six Nations champions England.

Lock Rory Arnold is set to return to the Wallabies fold after overcoming an elbow injury.

There could also be a return for French-based winger Drew Mitchell, who has battled a groin injury and hasn’t featured for the Wallabies since the World Cup final in London last October.

Australia have lost their last six Tests, three of them against New Zealand, and another defeat would equal the team’s worst run in the post-1995 professional era.

Seven consecutive defeats in 2005 eventually led to the sacking of then coach Eddie Jones.

Australia, who are the Rugby Championship holders, lie on the bottom of the four-nation standings, having conceded 71 points in their two heavy losses to the world champion All Blacks.

Australia (15-1): Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Bernard Foley, Reece Hodge; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Dean Mumm; Adam Coleman, Kane Douglas; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (capt), Scott Sio

Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Lopeti Timani, Sean McMahon, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani, Drew Mitchell

Ashley-Cooper set for France tests after concussion

September 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Veteran Australia back Adam Ashley-Cooper must undergo tests in France before playing again after suffering concussion against New Zealand last week, Bordeaux-Begles forwards coach Jacques Brunel said Saturday.

Cooper

Ashley-Cooper played in a 29-9 Rugby Championship defeat to the All Blacks where the 32-year-old won his 116th cap, but suffered a head knock and had to be replaced after 17 minutes.

“We saw him this morning (Saturday) when he came to training,” said Brunel. “He’s good, we’ll give him a checkup next week with a neurologist to see if he can eventually be called on.

“But he seems to be physically and mentally fit to play,” added Brunel ahead of Sunday’s Top 14 clash against Montpellier.

Ashley-Cooper called time on his international career after the last World Cup, but had responded favourably to Australia coach Michael Cheika for a return to the Rugby Championship.

Bordeaux president Laurent Marti had expressed his frustration at having to release Ashley-Cooper, who signed with the French club before the introduction of the “Giteau Law” that allowed players with more than 60 Test caps to return to the Wallabies from overseas clubs.

Dagg double as All Blacks whip feisty Wallabies

August 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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A rampant New Zealand inflicted further pain on a fired-up Australia with a 29-9 victory to claim the Bledisloe Cup in Wellington on Saturday.

BLedisloe

The Wallabies stayed in touch in the first half, with the All Blacks only 15-9, but were kept scoreless in the second half as the All Blacks added a further 14 points in the second-round Rugby Championship clash.

After thrashing the Wallabies 42-8 in Sydney a week ago, this victory enabled the All Blacks to lock the Bledisloe Cup away for another year, making the third Test in October a dead rubber.

The cup is billed as the symbol of trans-Tasman rivalry, but it has been all one-way traffic since 2002, when it was last held by Australia.

In two Tests this month the world champion All Blacks have scored 10 tries and conceded one.

But, unlike the first Test, when the All Blacks were in command from the start, they did not have it all their own way for the first 46 minutes of the niggly rematch.

“Perhaps we let it get to us a bit too much in that first half. there was a bit of niggle and that’s what you expect in a high-pressure game,” captain Kieran Read said.

Coach Steve Hansen said he was not surprised by the Australian’s attitude and he believed it would only help the All Blacks rebuilding after last year’s World Cup.

“It’s the type of game that will make this team grow even better, the experience, they’ve been through it now and know what it feels like.”

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said his side had problems with French referee Roman Poite, and he saw an improvement from last week.

“From an intent point of view, putting their bodies on the line for the match, the contest, I was more pleased with the performance in that regard and that’s something we’ve got to build on,” he said.

“We can’t wait until we’re down on one knee to bring it.”

Israel Dagg scored two tries for the All Blacks with Julian Savea and Sam Cane also dotting down while Beauden Barrett landed three conversions and a penalty.

The Wallabies points came from two Bernard Foley penalties and one by Reece Hodge.

For most of the game, the sublime flavour from a week ago was replaced by a scrappy, sour performance as the Wallabies, as expected, began with considerable intent.

Amid the feisty start they claimed two turnovers in the first four minutes, but for all their endeavour and vastly improved line speed they made little headway.

Instead, their improvement on attack gave way to a struggling set piece, losing their own ball at crucial times, and their defence also let them down.

Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett took turns at carving through the defensive wall to set up Dagg for the All Blacks’ two first half tries.

Their path forward was made easier by a one-man advantage as a result of the Wallabies’ decision to keep fly-half Quade Cooper away from the frontline.

Australia relied on the three first half penalties, with Hodge — who came on for his Test debut when Ashley Adam-Cooper left the field with concussion — landing a booming 55-metre effort.

There was considerable niggle in the first half which only settled down just before half-time when referee Roman Poite tired of issuing warnings and set Wallabies lock Adam Coleman to the sin-bin for a late charge on Ben Smith.

Dagg, who relished the move to the right wing, set up the first try in the second half when he beat Quade Cooper in the air for the All Blacks to swing the ball to the other side of the field, where Savea scored in the corner.

Cane bagged the All Blacks fourth try after Ben Smith sliced through the Wallabies backs with 19 minutes remaining.

Although the All Blacks did not score again they spent most of the time camped in Wallabies territory and missed three possible tries through handing errors.

All Blacks crush woeful Wallabies in championship opener

August 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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World champions New Zealand claimed their biggest win over the Wallabies in Australia with a thumping 42-8 win over the defending champions to kick off their Rugby Championship campaign in Sydney on Saturday.

Cruden

The dynamic All Blacks embarrassed the Wallabies six tries to one and have now lost only once to the Australians in their last 14 encounters.

It was New Zealand’s biggest winning margin over the Wallabies in Australia since beating the home side 50-21 in Sydney in 2003.

It was Australia’s fifth straight Test defeat after losing to the All Blacks 34-17 in last October’s World Cup final along with three defeats at home to Six Nations champions England in June.

The Kiwis appear no closer to giving up the Bledisloe Cup they have held since 2003 with the two remaining trans-Tasman Tests against the Wallabies at home in Wellington and Auckland.

“I am very proud with the way the boys arrived for the kick-off and mentally we were right on the button,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said.

“And when you’re like that and you’ve got a bit of talent you can do things.”

If Australia thought the chance of finally mastering the Kiwi powerhouse had arrived following the retirement of legends Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter they were sadly mistaken.

The Wallabies’ hopes were shredded by a devastating opening half by the All Blacks, who smashed through porous defence for four tries to lead 32-3 at halftime.

It was a dynamic first half by the world champions, dominating territory and possession with the Australians seemingly incapable of mounting a resistance to the incessant waves of attack.

It got no better for the Wallabies with the Kiwis scoring a further 10 points in the second term.

“I thought we defended very poorly,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said.

“Defence is attitude, so there’s no rustiness. Let’s get that one out of the way straight away. When players run you’ve got to tackle.”

Exacerbating the Wallabies plight was a spate of injuries to their inside backs, Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua and Rob Horne, who all came off during the first half.

“They don’t look too good, put it that way. But I haven’t any details yet,” Cheika said.

“It’s not ideal (to lose three inside centres to injury) obviously. But you can always save yourself somehow.”

Bernard Foley kicked an early penalty goal for the Wallabies but that was the only time the home side led and the All Blacks hit back quickly in the sixth minute.

Ryan Crotty broke through the tackles of Dane Haylett-Petty and Giteau to storm over for a converted try.

Giteau was forced from the field hobbling from an injured left ankle shortly afterwards to be replaced by Toomua.

Barrett kicked the All Blacks further in front with back-to-back penalties as the Wallabies struggled to get into the game against the fluent Kiwis.

The hapless Wallabies called on a second replacement when Toomua collided with Barrett and made way for Horne.

More disaster befell the Wallabies when Foley’s clearing kick was charged down by flanker Jerome Kaino who scored for a 25-3 lead.

Nothing was going right for the Wallabies with a third back forced off with injury with Horne succumbing to a left arm injury.

The relentless All Blacks showed no mercy and scored their fourth try through left-winger Waisake Naholo after a scything run by Barrett.

The game looked well beyond the Wallabies’ reach at halftime after an explosive opening half by the world champions.

Coach Cheika made a flurry of replacements early in the second half in a bid to spark his team as the All Blacks continued their points rampage.

Dane Coles scored after Tevita Kuridrani dropped a pass and then minutes later another replacement Julian Savea scored in the opposite corner for a 42-3 lead.

Replacement Nick Phipps scored the Wallabies only try with five minutes left.

Record-smashing start for Aussie women

August 7, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

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Australia’s women lowered the 4x100m freestyle world record to capture their country’s second gold on the opening night of swimming competition at the Rio Olympics.

Australia

Emma McKeon, Brittany Elmslie, Bronte Campbell and individual world record-holder Cate Campbell clocked 3min 30.65sec to hold off the United States, who claimed silver in 3:31.89 with Canada third in 3:32.89.

Australia improved on the world record of 3:30.98 set by an Australian quartet at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on July 24, 2014.

“Definitely my favorite race ever, in an Olympic final with my sister and two girls I have known since I was 12, 13 years old and a gold and a world record. You can’t ask for more,” said Bronte Campbell. “Every kid dreams of it, it’s what we always hoped for.”

Elder sister Cate, who set the individual 100m free world record in July, said the Aussies’ status as favorites hadn’t led to over-confidence.

“There was no mention of gold medals or world records or placings in the lead-up,” she said. “It was safe changeovers and swim your own race and focus on yourself more than anything else.”

The US pulled out their biggest weapon in freestyle phenom Katie Ledecky. Although the 100m is not her speciality, the 19-year-old treble world record-holder is a fearsome competitor and when she swam the fastest leg in the heats she secured her spot in the final.

Ledecky, who tackles the 400m free on Sunday, was delighted to kick off her Rio campaign with the outing.

“It’s much more fun to have a relay as the first event,” she said. “We just wanted to give the Australians a fight.”

Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzel, Dana Vollmer and Ledecky claimed silver in 3:31.89.

Canada’s Sandrine Mainville, Chantal Van Landeghem, Taylor Ruck and Penny Oleksiak were third in 3:32.89.

“We were there,” Ledecky said. “I’m really happy with it.”

Kyrgios topples Nishioka to reach Atlanta final

August 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Australia’s Nick Kyrgios punched his ticket to the Atlanta Open final Saturday by ending the remarkable run of young upstart Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Kyrgios

Playing in humid conditions, second seeded Kyrgios blasted 16 aces to win the semi-final match over the 20-year-old Japanese rising star in 96 minutes.

Kyrgios advances to his third ATP Tour final of his career where he will face top seed John Isner who defeated teenage wild card Reilly Opelka 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-2 in the other semi-final.

“It was a hot and humid day,” Kyrgios said. “Yoshi is a great player and makes you play a lot of balls and a lot of rallies. I came out strong (in the third set) and that shows good fighting spirit.

“It feels good. I knew at the start of the week that I could get this far. It’s not really surprising, but it’s for rewarding for sure.”

Nishioka, 20, played a strong second set to level the match before Kyrgios clinch the win in the third set. It was Nishioka’s first semi-final of his career and ended his run of three straight wins in Atlanta.

He upset fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov in the second round 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

“I think I played very well, but he has a great serve,” Nishioka said of Kyrgios. “He has a great second serve and I didn’t have many chances to break. I couldn’t put pressure on his first serves either.”

In one of the tallest matches ATP men’s tennis history, the 2.08 meter (6-foot-10) Isner beat fellow American Opelka, who stands 2.11 meters.

The 31-year-old Isner has now reached the Atlanta final six times in seven appearances.

“I wish we could play every week in Atlanta,” Isner said. “I think I’d be No. 1 in the world.”

Isner hammered 22 aces while the 18-year-old Opelka, who is ranked 837 in the world, finished with four double faults and 15 aces.

Dominant Lions lead way into Super finals

July 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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South Africa’s Golden Lions became the first team to secure a Super Rugby play-off berth at the weekend while the New Zealand and Australia conferences remained too close to call.

Lions

With only two rounds left in the regular season, the Lions 37-10 victory over the Coastal Sharks in Johannesburg gave them an unassailable 12-point lead in the Africa 2 conference.

It was not a perfect performance and the Lions drew criticism from stand-in captain Jaco Kriel for going off the boil in the second half.

But the five-try, bonus-point, triumph was enough to also propel them to the top of the overall ladder with 47 points.

The Western Stormers have all but wrapped up the Africa 1 group, drawing nine points clear of the Northern Bulls.

However, New Zealand’s top four — Waikato Chiefs, Canterbury Crusaders, Wellington Hurricanes and Otago Highlanders — are stacked up on 46, 45, 44 and 43 points respectively.

The Chiefs proved too good for previous competition leaders Crusaders with a 23-13 win in Fiji, the Hurricanes came from behind to beat the Auckland Blues 37-27 while the Highlanders downed the Southern Kings 48-18.

In Australia, the ACT Brumbies remain ahead of the NSW Waratahs on points differential only after both sides bagged bonus point wins.

The Lions led the Sharks 27-0 at half-time and stretched the advantage to 37 points at Ellis Park before a Sharks revival produced two tries.

Kriel, skippering the Lions in the absence of injured No. 8 Warren Whiteley, said being good for 60 minutes would not be good enough in the play-offs.

“We took our foot off the pedal in the final 20 minutes and that was cause for concern. In the knockout stages, the last quarter often determines which team triumphs,” he said.

The Chiefs not only beat the Crusaders for the second time this year but they also went top of the New Zealand conference when an 80th minute penalty by fullback Damian McKenzie denied the Crusaders a consolation bonus point.

In the battle for overall supremacy, the Lions are still to play the lowly Southern Kings and Jaguares, the Chiefs face the Queensland Reds and Highlanders while the Crusaders are yet to play the Melbourne Rebels and Wellington Hurricanes.

The ‘Canes moved to one point behind the Crusaders with a late burst including two tries to Vaea Fifita to beat the Auckland Blues 37-27 after trailing 27-17 early in the second half.

In the tightly-contested Australian conference, the injection of Argentine scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli off the bench in the second half sparked the Brumbies to a 43-24 win over the Queensland Reds in Canberra.

But the six-tries-to-three bonus point performance was not enough to pull them clear of the Waratahs who scored nine tries when they dominated the Sunwolves 57-12.

The Stormers were also in bonus-point form when they beat the Rebels 57-31 in Melbourne, while their nearest rivals in the Africa 1 conference, the Bulls, were upset 29-11 by the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

The reigning champions Highlanders stayed in contention in the New Zealand conference when they scored four late tries for a flattering 48-18 victory over the Kings.

In Bloemfontein, the Central Cheetahs pipped the Western Force 30-29, with both sides already too far down the table to make the finals.

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