Saturday 31 October 2015

Australia v New Zealand - Preview

New Zealand have had their opponents' number in recent times, with Australia winning just one of the last 12 meetings, but Michael Cheika's side has built a wealth of momentum ahead of the showpiece finale.

Australia came out of the pool of death unscathed, while the All Blacks saw off France and South Africa in the knockout stages to earn a place in the final. It's the best team in the world against the second best team, and we look at five key points that are pivotal in the clash.

The obvious one, and the one that has drawn the most debate in world rugby. In Richie McCaw the All Blacks likely have the best openside flanker to ever play the game, but in Michael Hooper and David Pocock Australia have two of the best breakdown operators in the world today.

Cheika has employed them as a double act in the World Cup, opting to move Pocock to No 8 rather than splitting up his two favoured sons.

What formed was a ferocious pairing that plundered the breakdown throughout the pool stages and beyond, and it's a combination that All Black legend Jonah Lomu feels could be the deciding factor on Saturday.

"The difference at the moment is that New Zealand only have Richie McCaw in their back row, while Australia have Hooper and Pocock working together," said Lomu. "That gives them a different dimension at the breakdown.

"Their speed into the breakdown will give the All Blacks a real headache. It will be interesting to see how they deal with that.

"Australia playing two opensides in Pocock and Hooper is a real threat to the All Blacks."

The main focus in the lead up to the week has been around the fetchers, but former Toulon star and retired All Black Ali Williams feels the real battle is between Jerome Kaino and Scott Fardy.

"That's going to be the good one," said Williams. "It's contact vs contact.

"Both guys are hard-nosed, and they're the ones that apply that physical edge for their team. So that's going to be a great battle."

The two blindside flankers have been the unsung heroes of their sides' respective campaigns, performing the unglamorous tasks that have allowed the backs to grab the headlines.

Kaino leads New Zealand for tackles made in the tournament with 48, while Fardy is second behind Kane Douglas in the Australian side, and sixth in the overall standings.

The pair will be tasked with building the platform at the ruck, seeing off defenders while McCaw and Pocock try to slow the ball down or steal it from the opposition.

Pocock, McCaw and Hooper may be the first names on every casual fan's lips this weekend, but Fardy up against Kaino is a showdown for the purists of the game.

Rumours circulated that Michael Cheika has refused to refer to the New Zealand team as the All Blacks in order to strip Hansen's men of the aura associated with their nickname.

It's a ploy that backfired for Clive Woodward, who reportedly didn't want to add to the myth of his 2005 Lions' opponents while in New Zealand. Woodward only succeeded in angering the hosts, who took their frustration out on the Lions in a 3-0 series win.

Reports of Cheika's desire to follow the same path originated from the New Zealand press, who claim that a social media post from the ARU used the term All Blacks before disappearing and reappearing with New Zealand instead of the All Blacks used in the wording.

However the rumours were laughed off by Cheika this week, who claimed that he never refers to teams by their nicknames.

"People have had a bit of a crack at me, thinking that I don't say that for a certain reason," said Cheika.

"But it's pretty funny because, if you notice, I never call Australia the Wallabies either. I'm really a bit old-fashioned in that way.

"It's a battle between nations on this stage. There's no secret squirrel."

Three months ago neither Dan Carter nor Bernard Foley was assured of a starting place in their respective sides. Quade Cooper was picked to start for the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship and Dan Carter was seemingly unable to find his normally lofty form following a return from injury.

But both brushed aside any loss of confidence as Foley single-handedly dismantled England at Twickenham to send them crashing out the World Cup, and Carter guided his side into the semi-final with a masterclass against France in Cardiff.

The two now face off for only the second time on the international stage, with Foley coming out on top in their previous meeting as Australia ran out 27-19 winners in Sydney earlier in the year.

The pair are in the top five for points scored overall by individuals in the tournament, with Foley's 75-point total earning him fourth place and Carter's 63-point haul getting him one place behind.

Carter and Foley are thoroughbred fly-halves, capable of kicking goals while also happy to run the ball at the opposition, and both are central to the hopes of their teams - but who will reign supreme at Twickenham?

This week it was announced that Steve Hansen and Michael Cheika have been shortlisted for the World Rugby Coach of the Year award along with Daniel Hourcade of Argentina and Eddie Jones of Japan.

Hansen has enjoyed a superb tenure in charge of the All Blacks, losing only three Tests since his appointment on the back of the 2011 World Cup. Cheika came into the Wallaby fold on the back of a blot on the record books of Australian rugby after Ewen McKenzie stood down amid scandal and speculation while players ran amok.

One of the key ingredients to Hansen's success is the fact that his All Blacks are centrally contracted, which gives him influential say on the welfare of his players even when they are turning out for their clubs rather than the national side.

Cheika on the other hand convinced the ARU to relax a law that dictated overseas-based players could not be selected. Under the new regulation - dubbed Giteau's Law - he could call upon Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell from France, both of whom have proven invaluable to the Wallaby cause in the tournament.

Hansen and Cheika represent what is possible when a coach is given full backing by those in charge of hiring him.

With Stuart Lancaster unable to select overseas-based players, the rich benefit of a coach being able to pick the best players available to him will be on full display at Twickenham at 4pm as two of world rugby's great thinkers collide.

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith; 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith; 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea; 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith; 1 Joe Moody, 2 Dane Coles, 3 Owen Franks; 4 Brodie Retallick, 5 Sam Whitelock; 6 Jerome Kaino, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 8 Kieran Read.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia; 1 Scott Sio, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 3 Sekope Kepu, 4 Kane Douglas, 5 Rob Simmons, 6 Scott Fardy, 7 Michael Hooper, 8 David Pocock.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.

Hamilton Crazy About Mexico

Lewis Hamilton described the new Mexican Grand Prix circuit as "challenging for everyone but fun".

The new champion joined drivers in remarking on the lack of grip of Mexico City's track but praised the atmosphere created by thousands of fans.

He said: "It's crazy how slippery it is, just sliding around, a bit like a go-kart track in the slow areas."

Hamilton and others praised the last part of the track, which winds through a stadium with steep grandstands.

The Mexican crowd's roar could be heard above the engine noise as Sergio Perez tackled the circuit

"Lots of people for a Friday," Hamilton said. "Fantastic. Hopefully there will be even more over the weekend."

Hamilton, who has won 10 races so far this season on his way to clinching his third world title, still has a chance to equal the record for number of wins in a season over the remaining three races.

But he said he was "not at all" interested in that, saying his target was "the same as usual - just go out and try to be as quick as I can".

This Sunday's race will be live on BBC radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website from 17:30 GMT.

Hamilton was fourth fastest in second practice at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which has been remodelled since it last hosted a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1992.

The track is at an altitude of 2,285 metres (7,500 feet), which means the cars' aerodynamics work less effectively than at circuits with a lower elevation because of the thinner air.

Hamilton was one of several drivers to lose control of their car during changeable conditions in second practice

Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, who was fastest ahead of the Red Bull drivers Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, said: "It is great to learn a new track. They have done a good job.

"It is so high up, it is like a ski station in Europe. The air is very thin and even down the straights there is no resistance, so we have the Monaco rear wing on the car but we're doing Monza speeds."

Rosberg's thin hopes of delaying Hamilton's coronation as champion died following a mistake in the closing stages of the US Grand Prix last weekend.

He ran wide while leading and handed the lead and eventual victory to Hamilton, who therefore scored enough points to put the title out of his rivals' reach.

With the races in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi to go, Rosberg lies second, four points behind Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.

Asked if his motivation was now securing second place in the championship, Rosberg said: "That is not my motivation. It is beating the guy next to me [Hamilton]."

South Africa Secure Bronze

South Africa finished third at the World Cup as they beat Argentina 24-13.

A JP Pietersen try and Handre Pollard's boot gave South Africa a 16-0 half-time lead before Nicolas Sanchez finally got the Pumas on the scoreboard.

But Eben Etzebeth's try put the Boks out of sight and Juan Pablo Orlandi's late reply was little consolation.

The only disappointment for the Boks was that Bryan Habana was unable to claim the all-time World Cup try scoring record on his own.

Bryan Habana narrowly failed to become the World Cup's sole all-time top try scorer

The 32-year-old winger came within inches of scoring in the first half, only to be denied by the fingertips of Argentina full-back Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino as they both chased a kick.

But with the record on his mind - he entered the game tied on 15 World Cup tries with New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu - he had a mixed game, and several spilled passes suggested it was not to be his night before he was taken off to a rapturous farewell from a packed Olympic Stadium with 15 minutes remaining.

South Africa fielded a near first-choice XV and the power of their pack ultimately told in east London.

Argentina enjoyed the majority of the possession but they ran into an unbreachable wall, with giant lock Etzebeth adding a game-high 20 tackles to his try and fellow second row Victor Matfield - captaining the Boks in his last-ever Test - weighing in with 16 in his hour on the pitch.

With open-side flanker Francois Louw winning a remarkable five turnovers on his own, to add to a dozen tackles, Argentina were never able to reproduce their attacking fizz from earlier in the tournament.

Argentina had most of the possession, but gave away 15 penalties to South Africa's 10

The Pumas, seeking to match their third-place finish in 2007, made nine changes as a result of injury and exhaustion, and they were unable to match the sheer physicality of the Boks.

They enjoyed the better of both territory and possession but with their pack out-gunned up front, dangerous runners such as Santiago Cordero and Horacio Agulla were never given a sniff of the Springbok tryline.

They made an impressive 564 metres as a team with ball in hand but were forced to attack from deep and every time they approached the South Africa 22 a thumping tackle or classy steal saw them repelled.

South Africa captain Victor Matfield, who is retiring from international rugby: "We would loved to have played in the final tomorrow but unfortunately things didn't go our way.

"We have a lot of respect for Argentina. A bronze medal is better than fourth place.

"I'm just so relieved we won the game. We'll have a beer with Schalk Burger and the guys I've spent so much of my life with."

Nicolas Sanchez scored eight points in the game, taking his tally to 97 points for the tournament and making him the top scorer at the 2015 World Cup so far.

Schalk Burger played in his 20th World Cup game, only ex-England prop Jason Leonard (22) and New Zealand's Richie McCaw (21) have played more games in the tournament (former Australia scrum-half George Gregan also played 20).

JP Pietersen scored his ninth World Cup try, only Bryan Habana (15) has scored more in the World Cup for the Springboks (former centre Jaque Fourie also has nine).

South Africa: Le Roux; Pietersen, Kriel, De Allende, Habana; Pollard, Pienaar; Mtawarira, B du Plessis, Malherbe; Etzebeth, Matfield; Louw, Burger, Vermeulen.
Replacements: Lambie for Le Roux (64), Serfontein for Habana (67), Paige for Pienaar (77), Nyakane for Mtawarira (40), Strauss for B du Plessis (48), J du Plessis for Malherbe (60), de Jager for Matfield (62), Alberts for Burger (53).

Argentina: Gonzalez Amorosino; Cordero, Moroni, De la Fuente, Agulla; Sanchez, Cubelli; Figallo, Montoya, Herrera; Alemanno, Lavanini; Ortega Desio, Fernandez Lobbe, Leguizamon.
Replacements: Gonzalez Iglesias for de la Fuente (70), Socino for Agulla (58), Landajo for Cubelli (52), Noguera for Figallo (61), Garcia Botta for Montoya (77), Orlandi for Herrera (55), Petti Pagadizabal for Alemanno (47), Isa for Fernandez Lobbe (52).

Sin bin: Cubelli (5).
Att: 55,925
Ref: John Lacey (Ireland).

Eintract Hold Bayern Even

Bayern Munich’s express start to the season finally ran out of steam on Friday with a goalless draw at Eintracht Frankfurt after 10 wins from their 10 previous Bundesliga games.

The champions lacked their usual punch and, despite dominating the match, did not often break past a disciplined backline, thereby failing to equal a European major league record for the best start to a season, held by Tottenham Hotspur with 11 straight wins in 1960.

“Every week we think it can’t get more defensive and then comes a team that plays even more defensive,” Bayern’s captain, Philipp Lahm, said. “I think Frankfurt played a 6-3-1 tonight. But if we had used our chances and scored, we would be sitting here saying how much fun it was.”

Indicative of Bayern’s frustrating evening was the yellow card for Lahm, who had not committed a single foul in his previous 24 consecutive league matches, in his 450th appearance for the club.

The Bavarians, on 31 points, extended their lead to eight above Borussia Dortmund, who travel to Werder Bremen on Saturday when Schalke 04, in third a further four points behind on 19, host promoted Ingolstadt.

Eintracht, who recovered from their ignominious German Cup second-round exit to the third-tier club Erzgebirge Aue on Tuesday, moved up to 11th on 13 points.

Bayern, who had won their previous six matches against Eintracht without conceding a goal, were more aggressive from the start and Arturo Vidal tested Lukas Hradecky with a looping header in the 11th minute.

Javi Martínez’s glancing header minutes later floated just wide as Bayern set a quick early pace and the home side frantically defended.

A double defensive blunder by the hosts at the start of the second half left Douglas Costa unmarked in front of goal but again Hradecky, at full stretch, got a leg to the ball to send the Brazilian’s low shot wide.

Eintracht grew in confidence and came close to scoring with an Alex Meier effort before the Bayern keeper, Manuel Neuer, almost handed a goal to Marc Stendera with a bad clearance.

Bayern gradually reclaimed control and had Eintracht on the backfoot for the final 20 minutes but could not make their dominance count. The league’s top scorer, Robert Lewandowski, marked tightly by Carlos Zambrano, fired wide in a one-on-one with Hradecky in the 80th minute with his biggest chance of the game.

The Poland striker did manage to get the ball into the net later but he was adjudged just offside.

Atleti Miss Out on Top Move

Atlético Madrid squandered a chance to leapfrog Barcelona and Real Madrid to the top of La Liga when a José María Giménez howler gave Deportivo La Coruña an easy equaliser in a 1-1 draw at the Riazor on Friday.

The Uruguay centre-back dithered close to the byline and Lucas Pérez robbed him of the ball and charged towards goal before coolly slotting past Jan Oblak to level the scores with 13 minutes to play, after Tiago had put Atlético in front before half-time.

Atlético, who travel to Kazakhstan to play Astana in the Champions League on Tuesday, are third on 20 points from 10 matches, with Real and Barça on 21 before Saturday’s games at home to promoted Las Palmas and away to Getafe respectively.

Some of Atlético’s new signings, like Jackson Martínez and Yannick Carrasco, have been impressive in recent weeks but it was the midfield stalwart Tiago who fired them ahead in the 34th minute. A loose ball fell to the Portugal international just outside the penalty area and he cracked it into the corner of the net past the Deportivo keeper, German Lux.

They could have extended their lead soon afterwards, as Diego Godín headed against a post at a corner five minutes later and Antoine Griezmann poked the rebound straight into Lux’s hands.

The visitors seemed content to soak up some ineffective Deportivo pressure in the second half without going for the killer blow and were punished for their lack of ambition when Pérez struck the equaliser.

Deportivo, who are sixth ahead of the weekend’s games, came close to taking all three points when the midfielder Fayçal Fajr curled a long-range effort on to the corner of the goal-frame two minutes from time.

“It was an unfortunate passage of play,” the Atlético midfielder Koke told Spanish television. “But we have to carry on and on Tuesday we have a Champions League game we must win. “We come up against some good First Division sides, who have players of quality, and they can beat you or end up drawing which is what happened today.”

Mets Fightback at Citi Field

The Kansas City Royals were angered by aggressive tactics from the New York Mets as they lost game three of the World Series 9-3.

Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard knocked down shortstop Alcides Escobar with the first pitch of the game, a 98mph fastball that whizzed past his head.

Syndergaard said he had thrown the ball to "make a statement".

The Mets trail the best-of-seven series 2-1, with the fourth game taking place at Citi Field on Saturday night.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said his team were "upset" by Syndergaard's actions, adding: "All 25 guys in that dugout were pretty fired up."

Escobar added: "The first pitch around my head, that's not good."

The pitch set the tone for the game, in which the teams traded leads in the early innings, before the Mets pulled away.

Friday 30 October 2015

Drogba Impact for Montreal

Didier Drogba scored as Montreal Impact trounced Canadian rivals Toronto FC 3-0 to book an Eastern Conference play-off semi-final against Columbus Crew.

The former Chelsea striker, who has scored 12 goals in 12 games since his move from Stamford Bridge in the summer, added to strikes from Patrice Bernier and Ignacio Piatti before half-time on Thursday at Saputo Stadium in Quebec.

Toronto had waited nine years for a taste of the MLS play-offs, after two Drogba goals confined them to a 2-1 defeat to the Impact on the final day of the regular season and a third-place finish.

It was Piatti who set up Bernier for Montreal's opener on the break, sliding him in for a sidefoot shot past Chris Konopka on 18 minutes.

Piatti, who came into the staring line-up on the left wing, added the second on 33 minutes before Drogba smashed in six minutes later to put the game beyond Toronto.

In the day's other play-off game, the Portland Timbers needed 11 penalties to beat Sporting Kansas City in a dramatic shoot-out after the sides drew 2-2 after extra time.

The Portland Timbers are through to the MLS Western Conference semi-finals, after beating Sporting Kansas City on penalties

The game finished 1-1 after 90 minutes at Providence Park, Kevin Ellis cancelling out Rodney Wallace's 57th-minute opener for the Timbers three minutes from time.

Visitors Kansas City then went ahead six minutes into the extra 30 through Krisztian Nemeth, but Portland equalised through Maximiliano Urruti two minutes before the end.

A marathon shoot-out came down to the goalkeepers and after Portland's Adam Kwarasey converted his kick, Kansas City's Jon Kempin could not match him, leaving the Timbers to face Vancouver in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Thursday 29 October 2015

2019 Solheim at Gleneages

Gleneagles will host the Solheim Cup in 2019. The PGA Centenary Course hosted the Ryder Cup in 2014 and now the women’s teams will face the same test.

Scotland has played host to the Solheim Cup twice before at Dalmahoy Country Club in 1992 and Loch Lomond in 2000. The 2017 event will take place at Des Moines in Iowa.

Europe surrendered the Solheim Cup last month as the USA completed a remarkable comeback to win 14½-13½ in controversial circumstances in Germany.

Gleneagles beat Bro Hof Slott in Sweden to earn the right to host the event and the Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon is delighted to see the event coming to Scotland.

She said: “This is tremendous news, not only for golf tourism and events in Scotland but for Scotland as a whole. As a nation we take a huge amount of pride in welcoming major events to our country and in women’s golf they don’t come any bigger than the Solheim Cup.

“The outstanding success of 2014 still looms large in the memory and I am delighted that Gleneagles and Scotland will once again play host to a major international team golf event.

“It will help cement Scotland’s reputation as the home of golf and the perfect stage for major golf events and help inspire a new generation of children to take up the game invented in their home country.”