All Blacks juggle objectives ahead of Springboks clash

Hansen highlighted his 2015 World Cup plans on Thursday by giving young hooker Dane Coles his third start in his ninth test for Saturday’s Rugby Championship match (kickoff 8:35 a.


m.) at Eden Park in Auckland.

But he resisted continuing the development of Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua for the hotly anticipated encounter, opting instead to restore first-choice prop Owen Franks and flanker Liam Messam after they returned from injuries.

Franks, still only 25, will earn his 50th test cap on Saturday and is considered one of the best tighthead props in the world, while blindside Messam’s inclusion at the expense of Luatua was for his experience and physicality around the ruck.

The decision to reinstall the pair was no doubt to combat the fierce confrontation Hansen expects from the Springboks pack, who battered Australia into submission in their 38-12 victory last week.

The win in Brisbane gave them a nine-match winning streak and they arrived in New Zealand confident they could be the first Springboks team to beat the All Blacks at home since John Smit’s side recorded a 32-29 victory in Hamilton in 2009.

“The All Blacks are a great side,” Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer told reporters this week. “There are no weaknesses there.

“You have to be at your very best in all facets of the game because they have a brilliant kicking game, they have a brilliant running game.

“They defend well. They scrum well and have a good lineout. That is why they’re the world champions.”


The Springboks, so long criticised for their one-dimensional approach to the game, are developing a side that is starting to find the balance between a bludgeoning forward pack and backline willing, and able, to use the ball at pace and with width.

“We know physically they’re an awesome side, but with some of the tries they have been scoring they’ve been playing quite an open style,” flyhalf Daniel Carter told Fairfax Media earlier this week.

“They’re a bit more of an all-round package – whereas in previous years they have been quite one-dimensional.”

The Springboks have scored 14 tries in their three games in the southern hemisphere championship so far, including nine in a 73-13 rout of Argentina in the first round and four against the Wallabies last week.

Those two bonus point victories have given the Springboks a one-point lead over the All Blacks in the standings and the winners of the Eden Park clash will seize the initiative in the fight for the title.

Such is the anticipation ahead of the match that even Carter joined the pundits in describing it as the most important game in New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup final.

“This is going to be the biggest match of our year so far, and even potentially one of the biggest since the World Cup because of the form they’re in,” Carter said.

“At home on Eden Park against an in-form Boks side – it’s an occasion you want to be part of.”

New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Daniel Carter, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock

Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Steven Luatua, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Charles Piutau

South Africa: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Willie le Roux, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers (captain), 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Gurthro Steenkamp, 18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandre Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi, 21-Jano Vermaak, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

Oracle win shows New Zealand has not locked up America’s Cup

While government-backed New Zealand won the third heat of the 17-race final series on San Francisco Bay, software billionaire Larry Ellison’s Oracle team led the first half of that match and controlled the entire fourth race, cruising into the finish about eight seconds in front of the Kiwis.


Though Oracle started the finals behind by two races due to a jury-imposed cheating penalty, the series now looks like a contest between two well-matched, high-tech 72-foot catamarans.

“A lesser team probably would have crumbled in the fourth race,” a jubilant Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said at a news conference. “It feels good to shift the momentum over towards us.”

Oracle had better starts near the fog-enshrouded Golden Gate Bridge than New Zealand in both Sunday races. In the first Spithill forced the challengers into a right-of-way infraction that prompted a penalty.

But the Kiwis got around the Americans in an upwind tacking dual on the third leg off Alcatraz Island. Oracle was unable to regain the lead, trailing by 28 seconds at the finish line.

The New Zealand boat looked fast upwind, turning a 17-second Oracle lead at the mark ending the first downwind leg, into a 29-second advantage over Oracle at the windward turning mark near the Golden Gate.

Oracle’s AC72 seemed to excel when the wind increased to over 20 knots (23 miles per hour) in the second race of the day. Spithill, an Australian, used aggressive pre-start tactics to claim the advantageous position as the race kicked off.

The American team blocked every move Team New Zealand made to stay ahead at each of the five marks and reached a top speed of 46 knots (53 mph).

Despite what might have been a costly mistake, splashing his twin hulls back into the water off the hydrofoils too early at the third mark, he recovered and maintained a slightly higher average speed over New Zealand around the course.

Racing continues on Tuesday and Thursday. With two matches on each day, New Zealand could take back the “Auld Mug,” as the Cup in called in the sailing world, on Saturday.

Bookmakers contemplated a Kiwi sweep, but given Sunday’s close races, New Zealand still has an uphill battle.

“We want to keep the Cup here in the Bay,” Spithill said. “These guys want to take it to New Zealand.”

To hold onto the Cup, Oracle needs two victories more than New Zealand.

The Kiwis must win nine races to take the 162-year-old trophy. Oracle needs to win 11 because of a punishment for making illegal modifications to 45-foot catamarans it used in warm-up regattas.

Kiwi managing director Grant Dalton crewed on his yacht in Sunday’s first race. But after manning one of the pedestal grinders that provide the power to the yacht’s moving parts, the 56-year old took a break for the second race. A reporter asked New Zealand skipper Dean Barker if he could blame the lost race on Dalton’s absence.

Barker chuckled and said he remained confident in his team’s ability despite the loss.

“We sailed by our standards a pretty average race, and we still sailed a close race,” he said.

If New Zealand wins the Cup, Dalton has said he would use the defender’s right to set rules to force teams competing in the next America’s Cup to employ only sailors from their home countries. A nationality rule could heavily favour New Zealand, a sailing-crazed nation that produced many of the yachtsmen in this year’s America’s Cup competition.

Only two of Oracle’s sailors are Americans, and another two come from New Zealand. In contrast, all but two of New Zealand’s sailors hail from the tiny island nation.

(Editing by Alden Bentley)

Buffon and Italy ready to party

The goalkeeper will draw level with his old Juventus teammate and former national team captain’s 136 caps in their clash with the Czech Republic at the Juventus Stadium in Turin.


It was Buffon’s impressive display in Friday’s 1-0 win against Bulgaria that helped put his side just three points away from securing a certain spot at the tournament finals in Brazil.

“I hope that it’s a night of celebrations for everyone. My personal situation will only be satisfying to me if we qualify for the World Cup,” said a sanguine Buffon after the nervy victory which moved them up to 17 points.

His world class saves from Ivelin Popov and Dimitar Rangelov helped maintain the slender lead Alberto Gilardino had given them late in the first half and stretched the Azzurri’s advantage at the top of Group B to seven points with three games remaining.

They are eight points ahead of the Czechs who conceded an injury-time goal to lose 2-1 at home to Armenia.

“I don’t think I did anything special. I’m the Italy goalkeeper and I have to show that every time I play, for me that’s how it is,” said Buffon, who was acclaimed in the Italian press following the win.

Palermo keeper Stefano Sorrentino told the Corriere Dello Sport: “In Italy there are two categories of goalkeeper. The first is ours, and includes normal goalkeepers, both the good and not so good.

“Then there is another category, where there is only Buffon.”

Manager Cesare Prandelli can count on the return of Milan pair Mario Balotelli and Riccardo Montolivo and Southampton striker Pablo Osvaldo from suspension, but has problems in defence with fullbacks Luca Antonelli and Ignazio Abate both out after suffering injuries on Friday.

Giorgio Chiellini looked extremely uncomfortable after moving to left back, and Prandelli has called up Fiorentina’s Manuel Pasqual and Sampdoria’s Lorenzo De Silvestri to cover the defensive gaps.

Should they win they will qualify, while a draw will be enough if second-placed Bulgaria, on ten points, fail to beat bottom side Malta, whose only points have come from their 1-0 win in Armenia in June.

Michal Bilek’s Czech team are on nine points thanks in part to a stuttering campaign during which they have won only one home game – against Malta.

They are locked in a four-way battle for the runners-up spot with Bulgaria above them and Armenia and Denmark, who are below the Czechs on goal difference.

Bulgaria, however, currently have the lowest points total of any second-placed team.

With only the eight best runners-up qualifying for the playoffs, whoever finishes behind Italy runs the risk of missing out.

The Czech’s shock 2-1 home loss to Armenia also highlighted their struggles in finding a striker able to finish off scoring chances.

Their equaliser in Friday’s defeat came from a long-range shot that was deflected into the net.

Czech captain Tomas Rosicky acknowledged that their poor home form has not helped the team’s cause, but said they would go to Italy, hoping to steal a goal against the run of play, much like Armenia did against them.

“It will be really difficult, that’s for sure, but if there is any chance at all, then it is worth fighting for,” Rosicky told the iDNES website (

(Reporting by Terry Daley; editing by Toby Davis)

Bach calm as presidential vote looms

Having served the retiring Jacques Rogge for 10 years as a vice-president, the former fencer believes he has the experience, the connections and the know-how to lead the band of some 100 custodians of the Olympic Games.


“The tension rises,” he told reporters in the busy lobby of the Hilton hotel hosting the IOC’s 125th Session.

If Bach was feeling tense, he did not show it as he smiled his way through questions, one eye on his colleagues milling around the foyer in a break from meetings.

Bach is in a field of six for the top job, but insiders say only Singapore’s Ng Ser Miang and Puerto Rico’s Richard Carrion are serious rivals.

Few give much hope to Ukraine’s Sergei Bubka, Switzerland’s Denis Oswald or CK Wu of Taiwan.

While it is widely accepted that Bach is the man to beat, the German refuses to speculate.


“I am looking forward to the decision. After all the training camps, now is the time to go to the piste,” he said, borrowing from his fencing past.

“I am an athlete and I am just in front of a great final — you feel you have done all your training so you can go with all confidence.

“But you have to know, in the grand final everyone starts on the same line.”

Mutterings of the beginnings of a mild smear campaign by Oswald leave Bach unfazed.

The Swiss administrator questioned Bach’s independence in the campaign, referring to support from the influential IOC member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, who openly backed Bach.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams later told reporters Oswald had apologised to the IOC, and that he had said more than he had intended in an interview.

“I understand he has been reminded of the rules of the election,” Adams said.

But while commentators on the sidelines worked themselves into a frenzy hours before the vote, Bach coolly brushed off the issue.

“I have not heard it. There are so many rumours these days that I have got used to not following them.

“I focus on the discussions I have with my colleagues and they are going well.”


Singapore’s Ng is considered a viable choice, although with Tokyo being awarded the 2020 Olympics, it seems unlikely both decisions will go Asia’s way.

Still, though, seven of the last eight presidents have been Europeans, a fact which sits uneasily with some members. This could play in Carrion’s favour.

“I have a management style I feel is appropriate,” Carrion said. “Most importantly I am very committed to the Olympic movement.

“I think it is very important that the new president has independence and a clean sheet.”

All candidates are aware of the work that lies ahead. The outgoing president Rogge was a steadying hand who restored credibility to the body after a series of financial scandals; but there is still much to do.

“We have different challenges coming up,” Ng said. “We have to continue to be strong, to be firm, to be tough against doping.

“We must work closer with (global anti-doping body) WADA and the international (sports) federations.

“We should work more with countries and with sports who have problems.”

Bach sees four distinct challenges ahead, most pressing is the need to manage the size and cost of the Games that can be large enough to cripple some economies and scare off would-be hosts.

The new president will also have to manage a number of early problems including the fall-out from Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law ahead of February’s Sochi Olympics, and the disorganised state of Rio’s 2016 preparations.

“We must develop the concept of sustainability for the Olympic Games starting with the candidature,” he said.

“Secondly, we must ensure the credibility of the IOC which means zero tolerance with doping, manipulation and corruption.

“We must have better participation by the members, and we need to engage youth to win them as consumers of sports, but also to practise sports.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)