Stormers beat Blues in Super Rugby

The Stormers claimed back-to-back Super Rugby wins as they defeated the 14-man Blues 27-16 at Newlands.

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Nic Groom and Dillyn Leyds scored the tries for the Cape Town-based side, with Demetri Catrakilis kicking four penalties and a conversion and Kurt Coleman adding a fifth penalty.

Jimmy Cowan scored the Blues’ only try with Ihaia West kicking three penalties and a conversion, but it was always an uphill struggle for the visitors after Hayden Triggs was sent off for a reported punch in the 24th minute.

Assistant referee Marius van der Westhuizen spotted the incident with Triggs which handed the advantage to the Stormers, although they may be disappointed not to have added more to their try tally with an extra man for most of the match.

The Blues took a 6-3 lead in the seventh minute thanks to two West penalties but Groom raced through after a driving maul was held up on the Blues tryline for the first try of the game.

Catrakilis missed the conversion but slotted the extras to Leyds’s try after he caught a high kick and stepped his way past the Blues defence to score.

Another penalty, this time against the Blues scrum, was kicked by the Stormers’ fly-half as the hosts took an 18-6 lead at half-time.

The opposing fly-halfs traded penalties early in the second period before Blues scrum-half Jimmy Cowan scored next to the posts to reduce the deficit to 21-16 after West’s conversion.

Catrakilis added another penalty kick from close range before he was substituted for Coleman, who closed out the match with a well-struck penalty to record a second successive win for the Stormers.

Kiwi recruit shines on Reds debut

Karmichael Hunt may never play Super Rugby again and James O’Connor is yet to feature but at least the Queensland Reds appear to have a recruitment winner in Adam Thomson.

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The former All Black played a starring role in Queensland’s gutsy 18-6 win over the Western Force at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

In his Reds debut, the 32-year-old played the full 80 minutes and was a key in the home team putting aside the distraction of Hunt’s drug supply allegations to bounce back from a humiliating 47-3 opening round defeat.

With Hunt stood down and unlikely to feature until at least his initial court appearance on March 5 and wayward Wallaby O’Connor again missing out on a Reds debut due to a troublesome knee injury, Thomson gave fans a reason to be positive.

He made an immediate impression by forcing a turnover and pinching a lineout off the Force in the opening minutes and was an experienced head in the second half after skipper James Slipper and Wallaby James Horwill were subbed off due to injury.

Reds coach Richard Graham said there was no doubt of Thomson’s quality despite the spotlight falling on the Reds’ backline recruits in the off-season.

“He’s a World Cup winner, isn’t he?,” Graham said.

“He’s a big addition because of the quality of footballer he is. I always thought at the Highlanders he was at the heart of everything in terms of the way he led the side, in terms of the way he played the game.

“There’s absolutely no doubt about it.”

The drama of Hunt being served notice to appear in court on four counts of supplying a prohibited drug on the eve of the clash with the Force obviously rocked the Reds.

But Graham said the team had responded in the right way, overcoming their initial shock with a resolve to not let the matter affect their on-field performance.

He claimed discussions about Hunt’s pending charges and what the rest of the squad needed to do took just minutes.

“You could see mentally they were ready to play,” he said.

“We talked as a group for three minutes and we knew we couldn’t be distracted.”

Creagh open to London-based NRL team

Ben Creagh has thrown his support behind the plan to have a London-based NRL team, saying it is the way forward to grow rugby league.

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The St George Illawarra captain, in England for the past week to play a World Club Series match against Warrington, accepted it would be quite taxing physically but said modern recovery techniques ensured it was feasible.

The idea of a London-based side has been proposed by wealthy British businessman and owner of the Super League’s Salford City Reds, Marwan Koukash – who claims to have an airline and chain of hotels already in support of his proposal.

Creagh said it was important for rugby league to continue to expand and he saw the value in an English side.

“It will be totally new to the sport and teams will just have to adapt,” the former NSW and Australia representative told AAP.

“If that’s the plan for the future and you want to grow the sport to be recognised worldwide, that’s the step forward to do it.

“Creating interest and bringing Australian sides to the UK, and bringing a UK side to Australia I think will be huge for the sport.

“There’s a long way to go before that is a real possibility but I think in the future I’d love to see it.”

While a London side would be hugely beneficial for the NRL from a financial standpoint, growing the competition in an entirely new region, adding extra revenue streams and broadcast options, the major concerns centre around the impact the travel would have on teams.

Creagh says with a carefully managed schedule, it is possible to burn a side out simply through international travel.

“I think (if you arrive) a week and a half before your game, you can definitely do it,” he said.

“I think it is definitely feasible. Logistically it will be hard with one team based over here.

“It will be tough for (the London-based team) to be over in Australia for long periods at a time, having to play games away from home. That’s probably the biggest challenge.”

Super coach Wayne Bennett, who has taken many sides to England to contest World Club Challenge matches during his decorated coaching career, was less enthusiastic about the concept.

“I suppose anything is possible, but I wouldn’t like to be that team,” Bennett said.

“Australia-England is a long haul and if you’re doing it every couple of weeks well, I wouldn’t want to be coaching that team.”

Vogel flies to sprint title as Germany dominate

Despite a minor tumble in the preparatory laps in the first leg of the final, Vogel powered, after a restart, to a 2-0 victory against Elis Ligtlee of the Netherlands.

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Zhong Tianshi of China took the bronze.

Germany, with three golds, one silver and three bronze medals, lead hosts France who have three golds and one bronze, which they collected in the men’s individual pursuit on Saturday.

Julien Morice finished third in the event to snatch France’s first medal in the discipline since 1998.

Swiss Stefan Kueng won gold after Australian Jack Bobridge, who last month failed in his Hour Record attempt, cracked in the last of four kilometres to settle for silver.

The evening session was delayed by about 20 minutes as drops of water dripped from the roof onto the track, in an incident reminiscent of the London Olympics.

Earlier, Colombian Fabian Puerta crashed heavily during a training session and was taken to hospital “for further assessment” after being treated on site by the velodrome’s medical team, the International Cycling Union (UCI) said.

Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria claimed gold in the men’s omnium ahead of Australian Glenn O’Shea with Italian Elia Viviani, who also rides on the road with Team Sky, taking the bronze.

Britain faces the prospect of not winning a world title for the first time since 2001 unless Olympic champion Laura Trott manages to turn things around on Sunday.

The 22-year-old lies third in the women’s omnium after three of six events, following victories in the individual pursuit and the elimination race.

Her fiance and fellow Olympic champion Jason Kenny was knocked out in the men’s sprint last 32.

“I just fluffed it up,” Kenny said. “I just got caught napping.

The noise is expected to reach deafening levels in the arena on Sunday when defending champion Francois Pervis, who has already won two golds here, takes on fellow Frenchman Gregory Bauge, the 2010 and 2012 champion, in the sprint quarter-finals.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Nigerian troops retake border town

Nigerian troops have retaken a major border town and killed scores of Boko Haram fighters, Nigeria’s military says.

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Witnesses also report that the Islamic extremists have killed scores in attacks on other villages.

Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said troops seized back the garrison town of Baga, on Lake Chad and the border with Cameroon, after a fighter jet bombarded the area and soldiers advanced on booby-trapped roads by dismantling some 1,500 land mines.

“Many of the terrorists died while an unknown but substantial number of them fled with various degrees of injury,” Olukolade said.

Many insurgents drowned in trying to escape as soldiers stormed into Baga early on Friday, he added.

The victory, which the AP was unable to verify independently, comes amid a major multinational push to halt the spreading Islamic uprising by Nigeria’s home-grown extremist group, which has been attacking neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

In the latest Boko Haram violence involving Niger, a military official said on Saturday that seven soldiers were killed in an overnight attack on the island of Karamga in Lake Chad.

Colonel Salaou Barmou said 14 Boko Haram assailants were also killed in the fighting on Friday night.

In a major turnaround after months of gains by Boko Haram, military from Nigeria and Chad have reported retaking at least a dozen towns in recent weeks that had been in extremist hands for months.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau this week warned he will disrupt March 28 presidential elections that are shaping up to be the most closely contested vote in the history of Africa’s most populous nation and its biggest oil producer. Boko Haram wants to install an Islamic caliphate and says democracy is a corrupt Western concept.

Earlier this week, residents and local officials said suspected Boko Haram fighters killed at least 34 and injured several others in attacks on villages near Konduga and Chibok, the town where in April last year Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in northeastern Borno state. Dozens escaped independently but 219 are still missing.

International concern has increased along with the number of fatalities, estimated at some 10,000 in the past year with about 1.5 million people driven from their homes, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations.

Flood waters swamp homes in Biloela

The central Queensland town of Biloela is in the grip of the worst flood in many years, with an unknown number of homes and businesses flooded.

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Banana Shire Mayor Ron Carige says he doesn’t yet know how many properties have been swamped by waters from the swollen Callide and Kroombit creeks, but the situation appears to be serious.

“We’re hearing reports of water through homes and businesses, that there’s more inundation in Biloela than’s ever been seen before,” he told AAP on Sunday.

He said access to the town was difficult.

“We’re trying to do road inspections at the moment, trying to get supplies into the supermarket.”

Mr Carige said the small rural community of Jambin, south of Rockhampton, had also been cut off, with its 45 or so residents forced to leave their homes and shelter in the local school.

He said it wasn’t yet clear if houses had also gone under there.

The floods could also prove dire for farmers in the shire, with particular fears from mung bean farmers, whose crops were ready for harvest.

“I’m just hoping a fair proportion of the mung beans had been taken off,” he said.

The efforts of emergency authorities have been hampered by communication problems, with mobile, landline and internet services working only intermittently, including at the shire’s Disaster Co-ordination Centre.

“Sometimes you’ll get a call, sometimes you won’t. We’ve had a couple of people actually walk in here, and tell us about the situation because they couldn’t get through to us,” Mr Carige said.

“In this day and age, you wonder what the hell’s going on.”

Greece races to finalise reforms before Monday

Greece is under pressure to finalise reform proposals to keep its loan lifeline open as part of an EU debt deal, with its anti-austerity prime minister warning of “real difficulties” ahead.

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The new hard-left government in Athens has until Monday to convince its sceptical European creditors that it could piece together a credible set of alternative fiscal reforms.

“The list will be submitted and I am absolutely certain it will be approved,” Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said after a cabinet meeting.

“We are drawing it up as we speak, it will be completed tomorrow,” he told reporters.

After a last-ditch negotiation on Friday that saw his government dramatically climb down from its radical agenda, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted that Athens had achieved an “important negotiating success” which “cancels out austerity”.

In a televised address, Tsipras said his government had foiled a plan by “blind conservative forces” in Greece and abroad to bankrupt the country at the end of the month, when its European bailout had been scheduled to expire.

But as fears of a disastrous Greek exit from the eurozone receded, the 40-year-old premier warned that the “real difficulties” lie ahead. He said his government would now focus on negotiating a new reform blueprint with Greece’s creditors by June.

The government which came to power last month pledging to end deeply unpopular austerity measures and renegotiate Greece’s huge debt, had asked for a six-month loan assistance until it can submit its four-year reform plans.

Instead, it received a maximum of four months in which to reach an agreement with its eurozone partners, but no money to tide it over in the meantime.

The opposition socialists said the deal took Greece “kilometres backwards” and accused the new government of engaging in “theatrics for domestic consumption”.

“From a symbolic and therefore political point of view, the Greeks yielded on everything,” Daniel Gros, director of the centre for European policy studies, told Italy’s La Stampa daily.

“They can hope to receive nothing now … only to give,” Gros said.

Athens said it had averted threatened cuts to pensions and tax hikes, and had persuaded its European creditors to drop unrealistic budget demands.

To win the hard-fought deal, Athens pledged to refrain from one-sided measures that could compromise existing fiscal targets, and had to abandon plans to use some 11 billion euros ($A16.05 billion) in leftover European bank support funds to help restart the Greek economy.

On Tuesday, the detested “troika” of creditors will decide whether to proceed with Friday’s agreement, with the chance that the compromise could be scrapped if they are not satisfied.

“If the list of reforms is not agreed, this agreement is dead,” Varoufakis admitted after the talks.

On Saturday, he added that a new eurozone meeting would be called if Greece’s proposals are rejected.

The government had promised to spend 2 billion euros ($A2.92 billion) this year on poverty relief for thousands of families hit by five years of wage cuts and tax hikes.

Barcelona’s run of 11 straight wins ended by Malaga

Elsewhere, Antoine Griezmann struck twice as Atletico Madrid produced a devastating performance to sweep Almeria aside 3-0 and move within four points of leaders Real Madrid who play their game in hand at Elche on Sunday.

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The stage was left clear for a Barca victory to take them two points ahead of Real but they were unable to reproduce the slick football that has seen them terrorise opponents recently.

“In football we know anything can happen. You are on a good run and then suddenly you lose,” defender Gerard Pique told reporters.

“We are playing well and just because we have lost one game doesn’t mean that everything is now bad.”

Seventh-placed Malaga grabbed the only goal when Alves tried to nonchalantly side-foot a back pass but Juanmi nipped in and rounded keeper Claudio Bravo before slotting the ball into an empty net after seven minutes.

Lionel Messi had scored 12 goals in the previous eight games but could not provide a spark as Barca dominated possession without finding a way past a steadfast Malaga defence.

“It wasn’t the best game not only from Leo but all the team,” said midfielder Sergio Busquets. “We needed to create more chances and goals but it wasn’t possible.”

Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez were in Barca’s starting lineup as coach Luis Enrique decided against resting his first-choice forwards ahead of the midweek trip to Manchester City in the Champions League last 16.

However, the trio could make little impact against a disciplined Malaga.

DIFFERENT TEST

“We will face a different type of team in the Champions League,” said Busquets.

Barca almost levelled straight after conceding the early goal when Rafinha’s drive from the edge of the area was cleared off the line.

The expected onslaught from Barca never materialised and most surprising was the performance of Messi who repeatedly gavethe ball away.

Substitute Pedro Rodriguez wasted a late chance to grab an equaliser when his shot from inside the area hit the side-netting.

Atletico showed the intensity that was missing in their defeat last weekend by Celta Vigo and victory over Almeria never looked in doubt after Mario Mandzukic converted a 13th-minute penalty following a foul by Tomer Hemed on Diego Godin.

Mandzukic was then twice the provider for a clinical Griezmann who struck after 20 and 29 minutes before Atletico eased off in the second half.

In injury time Atletico full back Guilherme Siqueira was dismissed after receiving a second yellow card for handball.

“It was vital for our situation and morale to win after the Vigo result,” said coach Diego Simeone before repeating again that his target was to finish third.

“We are only thinking of the fight with Sevilla and Valencia. We all know there is much more to the league than just Madrid and Barcelona.”

Fourth-placed Valencia kept their Champions League hopes on track after a late Pablo Piatti strike earned a 2-1 victory at Cordoba.

Nabil Ghilas had converted a penalty, following a foul by Nicolas Otamendi on Heldon Ramos, to bring Cordoba level midway through the second half after Andre Gomes’ opener.

Piatti then fortuitously got the winner nine minutes from the end as he struck a volley into the ground and it looped over Mikel Saizar into the net.

Second-half goals from Charles Dias and Joaquin Larrivey gave eighth-placed Celta a 2-0 victory at Deportivo La Coruna who had defender Alberto Lopo sent off in the 73rd minute.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

O’Shea wins silver in omnium at worlds

Australia’s Glenn O’Shea has won omnium silver at the track cycling world championships in Paris with an aggressive ride in the final race of the six-discipline event.

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O’Shea went into the decisive 40km points race on Saturday night (Sunday morning AEDT) in third place overall but leap-frogged Italian Elia Viviani by stealing a lap.

Young Colombian sprint sensation Fernando Gaviria also stole a lap to secure the gold after dominating the two-day competition.

O’Shea, the 2012 omnium world champion, trailed Viviani by six points before the points race but ended up nine points clear of the Italian.

The Victorian first tried to steal a lap – worth 20 points – with around 80 laps remaining but both Gaviria and Viviani stuck to his wheel like glue and they were all reeled back in.

However, the Australian wasn’t deterred and attacked again 10 laps later – this time alone and successfully.

O’Shea started Saturday in sixth place 24 points behind Gaviria but steadily climbed the rankings.

He came second in the 1km time trial and then fourth in the flying lap before his aggressive points race.

The 25-year-old opened proceedings on Friday with a poor scratch race but immediately bounced back by winning the individual pursuit and then claiming fourth in the elimination race.

O’Shea later revealed he wasn’t feeling great in the points race.

“So I had to pick my moments which I did really well,” he told AAP.

“When I committed I went full gas and managed to get the lap but it was probably a bit too late with the Colombian already sneaking a lap there at the start when we were all looking at each other.”

The 25-year-old said he wasn’t interested in protecting silver or bronze.

“I went in there trying to win but the Colombian was a bit too good today.”

O’Shea missed the team pursuit this week for the first time and while it paid dividends in that he won silver in the omnium he’ll reassess his options heading into the Rio Olympics.

“It’s a hard one trying to ride both,” he said on Saturday.

“And the team pursuit is probably the most important track event for Australia.”

Jack Bobridge, Luke Davison, Alex Edmondson and Miles Scotson won bronze in the team pursuit on Thursday.

Bobridge upset in Paris pursuit final

Australian cyclist Jack Bobridge has faded in the final kilometre to fall just short of winning gold in the 4000m individual pursuit at the world championships in Paris.

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The world record holder, who set the fastest time in qualifying, was upset on Saturday night (Sunday morning AEDT) by Switzerland’s Stefan Kueng who posted a winning time of 4 minutes 18.915 seconds.

Bobridge’s silver-medal winning ride of 4:19.184 was almost three seconds slower than the 4:16.219 he set in qualifying.

France’s Julien Morice (4:21.419) took bronze over Russian Alexander Serov (4:21.801).

Earlier, South Australian Alex Edmondson missed out on the chance to defend his world title after managing only the eighth fastest qualifying time of 4:23.272.

Teammate Miles Scotson was just behind him in ninth (4:23.480).

Bobridge, who won bronze in the team pursuit earlier in the week along with Edmondson, Scotson and Luke Davison, is making a return to the track ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games after a few lean years on the road.

The 25-year-old’s last appearance at a world championships was in Melbourne in 2012 where he claimed silver in the individual and team pursuits.

He won the individual title in 2011 less than two months after setting the world record of 4:10.534 in Sydney.

Bobridge was ahead of Kueng – who won silver in 2014 – by 3.4 seconds after 1km, 3.1 seconds after 2km and 1.5 seconds after 3km before being beaten on the line by a quarter of a second.

But he had no regrets about going out so hard.

“I won’t come out here and stuff around and try and ride and match someone,” the 25-year-old told AAP.

“I love racing 100 per cent and that’s what I did.

“I went out full throttle and it didn’t pay off, but I’ve done it a lot of times before and it has paid off. I’m a racer and I guess I always will be.”

Bobridge said he wasn’t riding to a schedule.

“I found a strength of mine obviously in the first kilometre compared to him, and full credit to him, he kept his cool and didn’t budge,” the world record holder said.

“In the end of the day he rode a smarter race and it paid off for him.”

Australian coach Tim Decker was slightly disappointed with silver but insisted he had no regrets.

“We knew what Stefan’s strengths were and I think if Jack had just ridden to a slower schedule and given Stefan even more of a sniff it would have been an easier victory,” Decker told AAP.

“At the end of the day were training for the team pursuit at the Rio Olympics. There’s a lot of experimenting going on.”

Decker explained he’d had Bobridge on a 4:15.5 schedule in the final – the same as in qualifying.

“(But) I said you’ve got to make a choice about whether you’re going to go above that schedule early on and … that’s Jack Bobridge isn’t it.”

The coach also revealed a head cold had swept through the endurance squad hitting everyone except Glenn O’Shea who won omnium silver on Saturday.

“If he (Bobridge) was 100 per cent and things were going fine I have no reason to think he wouldn’t have backed up really well (after qualifying fastest).”