Thurston leads Cowboys to win over Titans

A Johnathan Thurston-inspired masterclass has helped the North Queensland Cowboys to a 30-10 win against the Gold Coast in their NRL trial at Cairns’ Barlow Park.

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Thurston’s three try assists gave his side a 16-6 half time lead and from there the Cowboys were never headed as they raced in three further second half tries through Jake Granville, Tautau Moga and Kelepi Tanginoa to claim their comfortable win.

Cowboys coach Paul Green was happy with his side’s performance.

“I thought we handled the conditions tonight well in Cairns and overall it was a solid effort,” he said.

“We executed really well so that was pleasing.”

The Titans’ loss capped a disastrous few days for the besieged club, with utility Jamie Dowling and hooker Beau Falloon both charged with supplying drugs following a six-month investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission in the same operation that nabbed rugby star Karmichael Hunt.

Nate Myles was busy in both attack and defence for the Titans, as was teammate Greg Bird in his first hit-out of the year.

Australian and Queensland prop Matt Scott also got through his first match back unscathed from a shoulder injury.

But it was all the Thurston show in the first half, with the halfback superb in the opening 40 minutes setting up Moga in the corner for the game’s opening try in the 17th minute.

Five minutes later his sublime cross field kick fell into the waiting arms of inside centre Matthew Wright who did the rest to score to the right hand side of the posts for an early 10-0 lead.

The Titans hit back through a burrowing try to Matt Srama in the 29th minute but just prior to half time Thurston was again at his scheming best when a short ball to back rower Gavin Cooper saw the forward cross for a further four points.

The Titans finished the night’s scoring through a consolation try to winger Kevin Gordon.

Titans coach Neil Henry said his side has to improve ahead of round one of the NRL season.

“We were very patchy tonight and got off to a fairly slow start,” he said.

“There were some good signs here and there but we’ll continue to prepare as best we can and get ready for our first official game of the year.”

Moores under increasing pressure – Vaughan

England endured a humiliating eight-wicket defeat by New Zealand on Friday and were on the receiving end of a 111-run loss to Australia in their opening Pool A match.

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They next face Scotland on Monday and need to win at least three of their four remaining games to have an opportunity of reaching the last eight but Vaughan does not fancy their chances.

“Peter is not stupid. He will know the Scotland game and the next four matches are massive in his second tenure as coach,” Vaughan told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“You don’t get long second time around. His first stint was not a success and the second time hasn’t been so far either.

“Peter simply has to start winning games, qualify for the quarter-finals and start competing because at the moment it is abject,” said Vaughan.

“I did not expect England to win this World Cup. I thought they might surprise a few teams. So far they have only surprised me by being so poor.

“Can they still reach the quarter-final? Yes they can. But do I see them going further than that? No.”

Moores, who was reappointed as coach in April, hoped his side’s preparations for the tournament would stand them in good stead as they played 16 one-day internationals in the run-up to the World Cup.

Eoin Morgan replaced Alastair Cook as one-day captain in December but despite early optimism that the new leader would be more in-tune with the demands of modern 50-over cricket, England’s results have been poor.

Former skipper Nasser Hussain believes they must stop being so conservative in their approach.

“The bottom line is England still play old-fashioned limited-overs cricket,” he told the Daily Mail newspaper.

“Their default position in difficult times is still to go back to test players, like we have seen with Gary Ballance, rather than a more attacking option.

“It is clear there is a huge gulf between what Australia and New Zealand are doing and what England are producing.”

(Reporting by Michael Hann, editing by Tony Jimenez)

Under-fire Ancelotti tells Madrid ‘I am here to stay’

Madrid finished 2014 on the crest of a wave, having set a new Spanish record of 22 straight wins, but less than two months later after a turbulent spell for the European champions, Ancelotti’s future is already being questioned.

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The Madrid press have reported that club president Florentino Perez has been unhappy with Ancelotti’s preparation.

Yet speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Ancelotti responded: “I don’t think that my contract renewal depends on whether we win a trophy this season.

“At the end of the season I think it would be a good moment to talk about the renewal but if that doesn’t happen then it is not a problem as I have a contract until June 2016 and I am here to stay.

“My objective is always to win. When I arrived I knew that I had to win and in all the teams that I have trained the objective has been to win.”

Real have got back on track with victories over Deportivo La Coruna last weekend and Schalke in the Champions League but there is still an open wound following their 4-0 mauling by city rivals Atletico Madrid a fortnight ago.

Much of the attention after that defeat centred on the poor performance of Cristiano Ronaldo, and his subsequent birthday party, but the critics have since turned on Ancelotti.

Madrid face Elche away on Sunday and may need a victory to stay top of the table if Barcelona, a point behind, beat Malaga on Saturday.

While Ancelotti remains very popular among the players, he does not have as strong a relationship with the board and Spanish newspaper El Pais claims Perez would prefer former coach Jose Mourinho, now at Chelsea.

Ancelotti was unusually animated when Marcelo scored the second in the victory over Schalke last Wednesday but denied it was due to criticism he had received.

“I decided to go on the pitch to hug Marcelo because he scored a goal with his right foot. It was to celebrate the goal and not for a personal reason,” said the Italian.

“There is a good relationship between us (in the dressing room). There is a lot of respect towards my work and that of the players.”

(Writing by Tim Hanlon; Editing by Ian Chadband)

Inzaghi desperately seeking ‘Milan-style football’

While a Champions League berth appears to be out of sight after a wretched start to 2015, fifth place in Serie A and the chance of Europa League football is still a possibility for 11th-placed Milan.

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At a news conference on Saturday, Inzaghi, reflecting on the injuries that have hampered the club this season, warned: “We can’t be thinking about it (fifth place) right now. We need to take it one game at a time and get back to playing Milan-style football.”

Rather than “Milan-style football”, though, fans at the San Siro have had to get used to unaccustomed struggles for one of European football’s powerhouses.

At the end of last year, Milan were seventh, just two points off third and a spot in next season’s Champions League qualifying round.

Now, having managed just five points in seven games in 2015 — only bottom club Parma have fared worse — they lie 12 points behind third-placed Napoli. Lazio, in fifth, are seven points clear of Inzaghi’s men.

As they prepare to face relegation-threatened Cesena on Sunday, Milan’s plight has left Inzaghi bemoaning the team’s injury woes.

“When 90 percent of our players were available, we were very close to third place. It’s very difficult to find an identity when you have to change your line-up week in and week out,” he said.

One of the striking problems for Inzaghi, such a prolific goalscorer in his day, has been Milan’s lack of goals. Only once, in their last eight games, have they managed to score more than one goal.

“It’s not a question of how many attacking players I will put on the pitch,” said Inzaghi.

“It would be ideal to score early in the match. Doing so should allow the team to relax. Fans have been patient with us but I know how difficult playing in San Siro can be.”

Cesena are second from bottom on sixteen points but are enjoying their best spell of the season with wins against Lazio and Parma, as well as a draw with leaders Juventus, in the last four weeks.

“It has been the story of our season,” Inzaghi reflected ruefully. “We always seem to play teams when they are in peak form.”

(Writing by Jacopo Lomonaco; Editing by Ian Chadband)

Ukraine lost 179 troops in Debaltseve

Ukraine lost 179 troops in a month-long battle with pro-Russian rebels for the key eastern town of Debaltseve, an advisor to the country’s president says.

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If the figure is confirmed, it would represent one of the bloodiest losses suffered by the Ukrainian side in the 10-month conflict.

Kiev has officially given a toll of 13 soldiers killed on Tuesday and Wednesday, when Debaltseve was overrun by the pro-Russian separatists in defiance of a UN-backed truce.

The advisor, Yuri Biryukov, said in a Facebook post late on Friday that in the month between January 18 and February 18, an estimated 179 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in Debaltseve.

He confirmed Kiev’s official count that 110 soldiers were captured by the rebels, but said another 81 were missing.

“One hundred and seventy-nine fell over the month. In fact it will be more than that, some of the missing will inevitably be dead,” Biryukov wrote.

The rebels have said they found the bodies of 57 soldiers after they took control of Debaltseve, along with many abandoned weapons including 28 tanks.

Biryukov said the rebels overwhelmed the town by throwing “five to seven times” more fighters at it than the number of troops inside.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko had claimed the retreat from Debaltseve on Wednesday was “orderly” and organised. But surviving soldiers contradicted that and spoke of a sudden and mad race out of the town under heavy fire.

The defeat has generated loud criticism in Ukraine against Poroshenko’s military commanders, with many soldiers and civilians accusing them of incompetence by keeping troops in Debaltseve well after it became clear it was virtually surrounded by the rebels.

The United States and European Union have called the rebel rout of Ukraine forces in the town a “clear violation” of the ceasefire meant to have been in effect since February 15, and accused Russia of playing a direct role in the insurgency.

But the West is maintaining its support of the truce, hoping it will eventually take effect and cool Ukraine’s conflict.