Reds overcome Force after a week of off-field dramas

The Reds were thrashed 47-3 by the ACT Brumbies in the opening round last week and things went from bad to worse in the lead-up to Saturday’s clash against the rapidly improving Force.

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Several key Queensland players were ruled out and fullback Karmichael Hunt was stood down after being summoned to court to face allegations of supplying cocaine.

The match almost didn’t go ahead because of Cyclone Marcia, which forced the abandonment of Australia’s cricket World Cup match in Brisbane, but was given approval. Then just minutes before kick-off, flyhalf James O’Connor was ruled out with an injury.

Despite all the distractions, the Reds somehow managed to post a convincing win, scoring two unanswered tries against their fellow Australians who were on a high after beating the defending champions, the New South Wales Waratahs, last week.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s just about character,” Queensland’s stand-in captain Will Genia said at his post-match interview.

“We’re moving forward after what was a very tumultuous week last week.”

With both teams intent on kicking the ball and playing for field position at a soggy Lang Park, the Reds grabbed the first try just before halftime when winger Chris Kuridrani launched a counter-attack from inside his own half.

Lachie Turner, who was called in to replace Hunt at fullback, finished off the move to score in the right corner. Turner also landed two first half penalties and a second half conversion for 13 points of his own.

The Force landed two early penalties from flyhalf Sias Ebersohn but the knockout blow came when they gave up a penalty try in the second half for repeated scrum infringements.

“Our set piece was ordinary and we turned over too much ball,” Force skipper Sam Wykes said.

(Reporting by Julian Linden in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

Under-siege Reds claim Super Rugby win

Queensland have put Karmichael Hunt’s drugs controversy to one side to post a gutsy Super Rugby win over the Western Force in Brisbane.

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Thrashed 47-3 in their opening fixture against the Brumbies and rocked by the news Hunt is facing drug supply charges, the Reds held firm to claim an 18-6 victory on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 14,199 at Suncorp Stadium.

Lachie Turner, a late call-up to fullback after Hunt was stood down from the match, scored 13 points including a try, two penalty goals and a conversion.

Things started badly for the Reds when star recruit James O’Connor was ruled out minutes before kick-off after failing a pre-match medical.

The home team also played most of the match without skipper James Slipper (concussion) and Wallaby James Horwill (hand).

Despite those setbacks, the Reds took an early 6-0 lead through a pair of Turner penalties before the Force struck back with two penalties of their own from five-eighth Sias Ebersohn.

Turner’s try just before the break came after a thrilling passing move down the right wing, started by winger Chris Kuridrani, with Samu Kerevi feeding the Wallaby, who steamrolled Force winger Luke Morahan on his way to the tryline.

The Reds then recovered from the disappointment of a Kerevi effort being ruled out for a forward pass to force a penalty try in the 58th minute to extend their lead to 12 points.

The referee’s call sparked wild celebrations from stand-in skipper Will Genia, who was an inspirational figure amid so many casualties, helping to ease the pressure on stand-in No.10 Nick Frisby.

The Force were their own worst enemy at times, with replacement prop Chris Heiberg copping a first-half yellow card for a deliberate infringement and the visitors giving away 14 penalties.

The Reds also dominated the Force in the scrum, winning 12 of 18 in the match, a stat probably boosted by the away team’s early loss of loosehead prop Francois Van Wyk to injury.

Coach Michael Foley was also given a late headache when Chris Alcock limped off late in the second half with an apparent ankle injury.

Reds skipper Slipper said the win had been immensely satisfying after a tough week all around the club.

“That’s the result we were after,” said Slipper.

“Obviously last week, with a poor performance, this week we really turned it around … put our emphasis on doing our job and that’s playing rugby.

“Very good for our character – it really shone through.”

Slipper said the news of Hunt’s woes had been a shock but the team had moved on quickly after a brief chat.

“You couldn’t escape it but the way the boys came out tonight proves that we are a tight group. We really wanted to come out here and repay the Queensland faithful,” he said.

Reds coach Richard Graham said the decision to omit O’Connor was a precautionary one after he tweaked the knee which had forced him to miss the opening match against the Brumbies.

Force coach Michael Foley revealed after the match Van Wyk had torn a pectoral muscle and would miss the remainder of the Super Rugby season.

Foley said there were no excuses for the defeat and his team had simply been outplayed.

“Whoever you play at this level, you’ve got to come ready to go,” he said.

“I thought we were off tonight and I thought we got punished for it.”

Brunel lead as closest global race unfolds

A switch to a one-design boat, which all teams must use, is producing the closest race in the 41-year history of offshore racing’s most prestigious race.

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Yet none of the legs completed so far since the fleet left Alicante, Spain, on Oct. 11 has been as closely contested as the latest between Sanya, on the southernmost tip of China, and Auckland, New Zealand.

The Dutch team, Brunel, the second leg winners, retained a narrow 9.7-nautical mile (nm) lead over the overall race leaders, China’s Dongfeng Race Team at 0940 GMT on Saturday.

With just under 2,000nm – or about a week’s racing – left in the 5,264nm leg, the rest of the six-strong fleet was no further than 25nm adrift in a remarkably close race.

Dongfeng’s surge to within passing distance of long-time leg leaders Brunel represents an extraordinary comeback after a broken mast track, which keeps the mainsail attached to the mast, threatened to completely derail their hopes in the stage.

They fixed it while still sailing. Frenchman Kevin Escoffier was hoisted up the 33-metre mast with a resin gun and tool box to effect the repair.

Just two days ago, Dongfeng trailed Brunel by some 100nm at the back of the fleet and skipper Charles Caudrelier reported morale to be at rock bottom then.

On Saturday, though, he wrote from the boat: “It has been tough, really tough, but now I see it as a test.

“Since this morning, we have visible objectives and it helps. We’re gaining on them and we’ve got to use the positive points to rebuild our confidence.”

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were lying third, but less than 1.5nm behind Dongfeng, even though they had been sailing effectively with one man down after Justin Slattery was stricken by flu early in the leg.

(Editing by Ian Chadband)

The truth will be ugly, Cookson says as CIRC report looms

“We’ve committed to publishing the report they give us and we’re not going to get into a (soccer governing body) FIFA type situation of arguing about the report,” International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson told reporters at the track cycling world championships.

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A FIFA report into corruption has been subject of much debate surrounding its publication.

Cookson assured there would be no such debate on the CIRC report, which could be redacted, but only for legal reasons.

“Unless there are legal reasons why names can’t be named, then contributions will be named,” he said.

“I think we should all prepare ourselves for that … When you open a can of worms you find a lot of worms.”

With a budget of over $3 million, a three-member panel was set up in January 2014 to look into the ugly past of cycling, especially — although not only — the 1998-2013 period, which comprises the Festina affair and the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

UCI changed its regulations in order to “propose reduced sanctions or an exemption from any sanctions to people who … admit having breached the anti-doping regulation”.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of new revelations because I think we have a pretty good idea of how widespread the problem was,” said Cookson.

Cycling, however, is no stranger to drama, having dealt with drugs scandals involving top names in the sport, including Tour de France winners Armstrong and Alberto Contador.

“But I don’t think there’s any other sport that has opened itself up to that level of scrutiny,” said Cookson.

The CIRC will make recommendations which Cookson believes the UCI should be in a position to implement as they cannot be legally challenged.

“They will make recommendations that will be possible to implement,” said Cookson, who will pay attention to those who may have refused to collaborate.

“We can probably draw some conclusions from lack of contribution.

“Equally we may well be in a position to take disciplinary action against people who are named by more than one source as having done something that is against the regulations.”

Armstrong was one of those who contributed.

“Lance Armstrong always has an agenda and I don’t want to say any more until we see what he’s said to the commission,” added Cookson.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Indian Chawrasia on track for third European title

After going 52 holes without dropping a shot at the Delhi Golf Course (DGC), his bogey-free run came to an end on the 17th but a two-under-par 69 was enough to finish ahead of holder Siddikur Rahman on 12-under 201.

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“I missed with my eight-iron on the 17th or else I would have still been bogey-free,” said Chawrasia who claimed both his previous European titles on home soil.

“I want to think and play positive on the final day. The final round is always special so I will play aggressively,” he told reporters.

Chawrasia, the son of a greenkeeper, made a birdie-birdie start and got a lucky break on the eighth when his tee shot deflected off a tree and bounced 40 metres to the edge of the fairway.

Bangladeshi Siddikur, who won the trophy two years ago before it was co-sanctioned by the European Tour, also birdied the opening hole but fell four shots behind after a double bogey on 15.

“I had a nice rhythm and picked up a couple of shots until the double bogey,” the DGC specialist said after his 70.

“I managed to recover well and made a great par save on 17 and then managed to birdie the last so overall I am happy with one-under today.”

In his 11 starts at the DGC, Siddikur has won once at the 2013 Indian Open and registered another nine top-10 finishes.

“The birdie at the last was very important. Anything can happen in this game. I am looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully I can play the way I did on Thursday,” he said.

Australian Marcus Fraser was third on 206 after a 67.

Indian-born Swede Daniel Chopra made a brilliant eagle on the par-five 18th to card a 65, the lowest round of the day, and join Thai Prayad Marksaeng on 207.

Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez returned a second successive 71 to close on 212.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty, editing by Tony Jimenez)

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.