Monday 31 August 2015

Canberra Raiders Poor Home Record

Canberra posted a 34-18 NRL win over Penrith to round out an otherwise disappointing NRL home season.

The 13th-placed Raiders had endured their worst home record since entering the competition in 1982, with the victory over the 15th placed Panthers just their third at Canberra Stadium in 2015.

Jack Wighton, Josh Hodgson, Sam Williams, Blake Austin, and David Shillington were the best for the home side, with Shillington playing in his last game at Canberra Stadium before joining Gold Coast in 2016.

It was a bittersweet night for Austin, however, after he was forced off in the 50th minute with an injury to his right shoulder. The Raiders announced before the match that Austin had penned a new deal with the club through until 2018.

Second half tries to Kurt Baptiste and Sisa Waqa confirmed the final scoreline, with Canberra captain Jarrod Croker kicking five from six.

Centre Mitch Lewis and fullback Will Smith scored second half tries for Penrith, while halfback Jamie Soward played no part in the game after halftime following a hit in a heavy tackle just before the break.

Canberra fullback Wighton was lucky not to be placed on report for the incident, replays inconclusive about whether contact with the head had been made.

Halfback Williams opened the scoring in the seventh minute, when he strolled through some very flimsy Penrith defence.

Canberra enjoyed the bulk of possession in the first half, with captain Croker and backrowers Jarrad Kennedy and Shaun Fensom scoring tries.

Penrith finally got on the board just before half-time, when hooker James Segeyaro burst through some soft Canberra defence to score under the posts.

Sharapova Out of US Open

Maria Sharapova has pulled out of the US Open on the eve of the tournament.

The Russian world No3 has been struggling with a muscle strain in her right leg and has not played a competitive match since losing to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semi-finals just over seven weeks ago.

She travelled to New York for the year’s final grand slam tournament, but announced a day before the start that she had withdrawn.

Sharapova wrote on her Facebook page: “Unfortunately I will not be able to compete in this years US Open. I have done everything possible to be ready but it was just not enough time. To all my amazing fans, I will be back in the Asian swing in a few weeks and look forward to finishing the year healthy and strong.”

Sharapova will be replaced in the draw by the Russian, Daria Kasatkina, who will now play Daria Gavrilova.

NFL - Brady and Goodell Final Meet

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrived early to court on Monday for a final face-to-face meeting before a judge rules on the Deflategate case.

The judge had ordered both to show up for the conference before he rules whether Brady must serve a four-game suspension imposed by the league for his role in a conspiracy to use under inflated footballs during a playoff game last season.

The NFL wants confirmation it handled the case appropriately while the NFLPlayers Association wants the suspension nullified. 

US District Judge Richard Berman has said he hopes to rule by Friday, giving Brady enough time to prepare in case he can start in his team’s season opener against Pittsburgh on 10 September.

Goodell and Brady arrived separately about an hour and a half before they were scheduled to appear before the judge.

Goodell upheld the suspension in July, finding that Brady conspired with two team ball handlers to deflate footballs before the Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7 in the AFC championship game in January. New England then won the Super Bowl.

Berman has continued to push for a settlement in the dispute, saying it would be “rational and logical,” but he also cited weaknesses in the way the NFL handled the controversy. The judge has also suggested that the league’s finding that Brady was generally aware that game balls were being deflated was too vague.

At a court hearing this month, Berman told the NFL there was precedent for judges to toss out penalties issued by arbitrators. 

Monday 24 August 2015

Guy Ligier 1930 - 2015

The Frenchman, a former rugby player and racing driver, ran a grand prix team for 16 years between 1976 and 1992, winning nine races.

Ligier's heyday was the late 1970s and 1980s, with a competitive peak in 1980, when they were regular front-runners.

The last victory was with Olivier Panis in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, four years after Ligier had sold out to another Frenchman, Cyril de Rouvre.

The following year Ligier was sold to four-time world champion Alain Prost, who changed the name to Prost and ran the team until it collapsed at the end of the 2001 season.

Ligier were an integral part of an era in which France played a central role in Formula 1, which also saw the debut of the Renault factory team in 1977.

Ligier received financial backing from oil giant Elf, which also funded the careers of several leading French drivers, and cigarette company Gitanes.

Among the legendary names who won races for Ligier were Frenchmen Patrick Depailler, Jacques Laffite and Didier Pironi.


Bolt Betters Gatlin in Beijing

Getty Images
Usain Bolt has described his World Championships 100m final victory over Justin Gatlin as the "hardest race" of his career.

The Jamaican, 29, lived up to his billing as the saviour of athletics as he held off the challenge of the two-time drug cheat to win in 9.79 seconds.

Pre-race favourite Gatlin had to settle for silver in Beijing.

"Coming back from injury I've had a lot of doubters, it's been tough," Bolt said after winning a ninth world title.

He added: "For me to come to the championships and defend my title is a good feeling.

How Jamaican great produced his 'Rumble in the Jungle' moment

"I definitely think this was my hardest race. I've been through a lot this season."

Bolt, back at the scene of his first triple Olympic triumph in 2008, called his Munich-based doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, "a lifesaver".

He also insisted he did not feel the pressure to win for his sport, only to continue his own global domination.

And that looked on course to end after the semi-finals when Gatlin clocked 9.77secs, while Bolt almost tripped out of the blocks and had to fight all the way to the line to snatch the win.

"After the semi-finals my coach [Glen Mills] said, 'You are thinking about it too much. There's too much on your mind, all you have to do is remember is that you've done this a million times so just go out there and relax'. That's what I did."

There was a surreal moment before the final when 'the world's fastest piano player' was brought out to play a tune for 9.58 seconds - Bolt's world-record time.

The Jamaican's reaction was a shrug of bemusement as he showed no sign of nerves on the start line.

Instead, Gatlin was the one to feel the pressure. And the 33-year-old said he "gave away" victory.

"I stumbled in the last five metres, my arms were a little flailing," he said. "You have to come out and run and over the last five metres. It wasn't my day.

"Anyone who goes to the line to go against Usain has to be ready to go to work. In those five metres I let things get away from me. It cost me the race.

"I leaned a little too far forward and I got a little off balance."

Americans Trayvon Bromell and Canada's Andre de Grasse, who are both 20, shared bronze in 9.92secs.

Meanwhile Gatlin will have an opportunity for revenge when he and Bolt go head to head over 200m, with the final taking place on Friday.

Rafa Draws Gijon Blank

Rafael Benitez was "optimistic" but there was "more work to be done" after his first game in charge brought an opening La Liga weekend 0-0 draw at newly-promoted Sporting Gijon.

Madrid as expected dominated possession throughout the 90 minutes at El Molinon, but their galactico-packed team was held up by the well-organised defence of a financially-troubled club whose summer transfer business was limited to bringing in three young players on loan.

With the local press in the Spanish capital already pointing out that Madrid have now failed to score in five of their nine games under Benitez (including preseason friendlies), the former Los Blancos fan, player and youth coach told his postgame news conference that his team would improve after more work on the training ground.

"I knew it was going to be a game that Sporting would make difficult for us," he said. "We needed to be rapid and precise. There were a lot of shots without precision. In the first half we gave Sporting their chances. There must be more work done."

A second half push saw Madrid push Sporting back and finish the game with 27 shots in total, eight on target, but still not find a way past the home keeper and former Atletico Madrid youth team player Ivan Cuellar.

Rafa said he was nonetheless "optimistic" about how his team had played in the second half.

"The reaction in the second half was good. The team showed character and personality. That makes me optimistic. The second half was a team which clearly went for the game. We just lacked the final pass and the finish."

Madrid's attacking lineup saw Gareth Bale play as a roving No. 10, with Jese Rodriguez starting at centre-forward until he was replaced early in the second half. Cristiano Ronaldo then finished the game as Madrid's reference point in attack.

Benitez said it was his plan to give his big name attackers the freedom to express themselves and find space on the pitch.

"To get performance out of the players we have, we must give them a certain liberty," he said. "We have seen many attacking moves, but there was a lack of spaces."

Nibali Disqualified from Vuelta

Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 winner of the Tour de France, has been disqualified from the Vuelta a España after he got a tow from his Astana team car following a crash in Sunday’s second stage into Caminito del Rey.

Television footage clearly showed Nibali, who won the Vuelta in 2010, hanging on to the car as he tried to catch up with the leaders in the final 30km and organisers had no choice but to expel him.

“Basing their decision on television images clearly showing an infringement of the rules, the Vuelta race commissaires decided to take him out of the race,” organisers said in a statement.

“The film shows clearly that Nibali was clinging to the car for 200 metres,” added Bruno Valcic, the president of the race commissaires.

Astana’s director, Alexandre Shefer, who was driving the car, is also out of the race, he said. “It was a tough decision for the commissaires’ panel but after looking at the images it was clear that we had no opportunity to give any other penalty to the rider.”

The stage went better for Colombia’s Orica-GreenEdge as their rider Esteban Chaves snatched the early lead when he surged clear at the finish. Chaves pipped the Dutchman Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin to the line in the 158.7km trek by one second, with Team Sky’s Nicolas Roche a further eight seconds back in third. Chris Froome, the 2015 Tour de France winner who is going for a rare Tour-Vuelta double, was seventh, 30 seconds behind Chaves.

“We talked among ourselves and how to deal with everyone around us and the main thing to do was to attack these guys so that’s what we did,” Chaves said.

“I felt like I was in a good position and in the end I did it and I got this [red] jersey. At this point I’ve just got to keep going and be happy about this day and think about tomorrow.”

Tuesday 18 August 2015

McLaren Wary About Spa

McClaren and Honda have warned against expecting any big performance jumps from them at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix, with more grid penalties expected as they prepare to introduce a revised engine.

On the back of a morale-boosting two-car points finish in Hungary, Honda have been using the summer break to work on a new specification power unit and have placed particular emphasis on improving the internal combustion engine (ICE) via the spending of an as yet unspecified number of development 'tokens'.

Yasuhisa Arai, the Japanese manufacturer's motorsport chief, says F1's return to action at Spa will therefore be a key test of their work, but he is still expecting a challenging weekend.

"As we planned, Honda has updated our combustion characteristics to further improve our power units for Spa and the second half of the season," Arai said.

"This weekend's free practices will be important to test the pairing of the power units to the cars. The Belgian race, however, will surely be a difficult one for the team and drivers, with expected grid penalties and a long and unforgiving power circuit."

Having already exceeded their penalty-free allocation of engines for the season - which was retrospectively increased to five last month - McLaren's drivers will pick up further grid demotions any time they run fresh ICEs between now and the end of the season.

Team boss Eric Boullier insists the Woking outfit are "refreshed and determined to continue improving our form", but is also aware that high-speed Spa and Monza, the next two tracks on the calendar, are not likely to suit the MP4-30.

"Spa is a truly spectacular circuit - arguably the best on the calendar for many - but, given the unique power and downforce package required, the track won't play to our strengths," the Frenchman said.

"Therefore, of course, we must be measured in our optimism, and we will need to wait for Singapore and beyond before we can see the fruits of our labours reflected on track."

With 70 per cent of the undulating Spa circuit spent at full throttle, Fernando Alonso is expecting a "tricky" few days, but has stressed the importance of the race weekend to McLaren.

"The next few races will be important for us: we need to continue our forward momentum, and, with the addition of some tweaks to the car and power unit, we will be looking for more progress and good correlation between the simulator and our on-track performance," the Spaniard said.

"That might not necessarily appear above the surface in either Spa or Monza, but we'll keep pushing development forward at each race."