Battered McCaw eager to help debutant Taylor through test

The 32-year-old McCaw played more than 70 minutes last week in the All Blacks 47-29 victory over the Wallabies, confounding expectations from across the Tasman he would be ring rusty after a six-month sabbatical from the game.

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He had entered the opening Rugby Championship clash at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium with only a low level club match and two cameo appearances off the bench for the Canterbury Crusaders under his belt.

But the openside flanker became increasingly influential the longer the test match went on, overcoming an opening quarter when he appeared over eager to get involved and being penalised several times by referee Craig Joubert.

“I was all right after about Tuesday,” McCaw told reporters with a laugh while standing sideline at Wellington Regional Stadium. “The body was a bit bruised but you expect that.

“I was a little bit inaccurate from the start.

“Overall I was happy enough but I also realise that I was no means perfect and … I just need to make sure that my performance this week is another step up and I can contribute to the team as well.”

McCaw’s contribution to the side will again be tested on Saturday as he and the other experienced players that form the core leadership group will be expected to help new flyhalf Tom Taylor through his test debut.

The 24-year-old Taylor has not played in the number 10 jersey this season and was brought into the squad earlier this week following injuries to Dan Carter (calf), Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf).

Wallabies captain James Horwill and scrumhalf Will Genia have both said while they expected Taylor to perform at the test level, they would attempt to rattle him early and often.

“I think he will do very well,” Genia said. “They have picked him because they think he can handle the pressure and can do the job.

“But he has only played 12 (this season) so from our point of view we want to put him under as much pressure as we can. You have to with somebody who is playing their first test.

“We have to put pressure on him and will look to see how he copes with it and the decision making and controlling of their game.”

Horwill said Taylor’s elevation was similar to the 2011 rugby World Cup when Stephen Donald came into the side and kicked a penalty that helped the All Blacks to their second Webb Ellis trophy after they had a similar injury crisis at flyhalf.

“Look at the World Cup when they were down to their fourth or fifth choice (flyhalf) and they won the World Cup,” Horwill said. “They have got a lot of depth. That’s just one of their strengths.”

McCaw also harked back to the World Cup and the way in which the team had rallied to help first Cruden, then Donald, to just concentrate on what they had to do when they were brought into the squad.

“I think this week we have tried to make it as easy as possible for him,” McCaw said of the team’s approach with Taylor.

“At the end of the day he is in the number 10 shirt and he has to control the game.

“We just have to help him do his job, but he’s good enough to do that.”

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

Djokovic, Nadal set up blockbuster U.S. Open final

Monday’s U.

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S. Open championship showdown will be the third in four years for Djokovic and Nadal at the U.S. National Tennis Centre after they advanced in contrasting fashion.

Top seed Djokovic sealed his berth first by overtaking gutsy ninth seed Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland in a heart-pounding 2-6 7-6(4) 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory over four hours.

Nadal conserved his energy, dismissing eighth-seeded Richard Gasquet 6-4 7-6(1) 6-2 to improve his career record to 11-0 against the Frenchman and his 2013 hard-court record to 21-0.

The Spaniard, winner of 12 grand slam titles, won his only U.S. Open crown in 2010 against Djokovic, who claimed his Flushing Meadows title the following year against Nadal. Last year Djokovic was runner-up to Briton Andy Murray.

“Last year I didn’t have the chance to play on this court,” said Nadal, who was sidelined seven months due to a knee injury.

“To have the chance to play in the final Monday is just a dream for me. It has been two amazing weeks for me.”

TOUGH FINAL

Djokovic and Nadal are the most familiar of rivals and will be playing against each other for a tour record 37th time. Nadal leads their series 21-15.

“Novak is an amazing competitor,” said the reigning French Open champion. “His results say he is probably one of the best players I have ever seen. He’s a great champion and will be a tough final for me, but I hope to be ready for that.”

While Nadal took apart Gasquet in his semi-final, Djokovic got off to a slow start against an inspired Wawrinka and relied on his stamina to wear down the Swiss.

The tumultuous match included a warning for courtside coaching from Djokovic’s box, the mangling of a racket by a frustrated Wawrinka and a medical timeout for the Swiss for a strained thigh muscle.

It reached a crescendo at 1-1 in the fifth set on Wawrinka’s serve.

The combatants locked into a marathon duel that lasted 21 minutes and featured a series of fierce rallies and brilliant shot-making.

Wawrinka fought off five break points among 12 deuces before closing out the game on the 30th point with a service winner, and players earned warm ovations for their desire and skill.

“These matches are what we live for, what we practise for,” Djokovic said after reaching his fourth successive U.S. Open final.

“All the credit to (Wawrinka) for being so aggressive and playing so well. I’m just fortunate to play my best tennis when I needed to.”

HERCULEAN EFFORT

Djokovic said he had to regroup after that epic game.

“Twenty-one minutes. Wow,” said the Serb. “I was thinking whoever wins this game is going to win the match. I told myself I was going to have to fight again.”

The Herculean effort seemed to sap the last bit of energy from Wawrinka, who had earlier left the court for treatment of a thigh strain during the changeover when trailing 4-1 in the fourth set.

Djokovic held serve, then broke Wawrinka in the next game for a 3-2 lead and served out to win another classic encounter between the pair following their five-set struggle in the fourth round of the Australian Open, where the Serb closed out the decisive set 12-10.

“It was a great tournament for me,” said Wawrinka after his first grand slam semi-final. “Tough match, tough loss. I gave everything. I fought until the end. With this crowd, it was an amazing experience.”

Czech pair Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka capped off Saturday’s programme by winning the women’s doubles title with a 7-6(4) 6-1 6-4 win over Australians Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua.

World number one Serena Williams will take on number two Victoria Azarenka for the women’s singles title on Sunday in a tantalising rematch of last year’s championship decider.

That will follow the men’s doubles final with Austria’s Alexander Peya and Brazilian Bruno Soares facing Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic and India’s Leander Paes.

(Editing by Gene Cherry / Ian Ransom)

Zimbabwe beat Pakistan for first time in 15 years

Skipper Brendan Taylor played a steady hand to see his side to their target along with a swashbuckling cameo from Sean Williams who smashed 39 from 23 balls to ease home nerves at the death.

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Pakistan, who won the toss, were lifted by the experienced Misbah-ul-Haq (83) and Mohammad Hafeez (70).

While they were scoring at a run-a-ball, it looked as though the visitors would set a target of around 280, but they lost momentum as wickets fell and even the usually explosive Shahid Afridi (11) struggled to find the boundary.

“We misread the pitch, it looked like it was going to be slow in the second innings, but it just played slow from the start. Still, Zimbabwe bowled better than us,” Pakistan captain Misbah said at the presentation ceremony.

“We were maybe 30 runs short, but you need to bowl and field well to defend this total. We were missing something in our bowling line-up today, especially with the new ball.”

Zimbabwe appeared to have little trouble, though, as Masakadza (85) and Sibanda (54) put on 107 for the first wicket by manoeuvring the ball cleverly around the ground.

Taylor (43 not out) and Williams guided their side to a famous win with 10 balls to spare, the latter launching a six over mid-wicket to end the match.

“It’s a pretty awesome feeling, we have shown a lot of character from a couple of weeks back when we were badly beaten by India, so I couldn’t be happier,” Taylor said.

“To beat the quality team that Pakistan have got shows that we are doing the right things. When our top-order batsmen come off it lays that foundation, our seam bowlers today were also exceptional. But there is still room for improvement, we dropped some pretty easy catches.”

The second one-day international will be played at the same venue on Thursday.

(Reporting by Nick Said in Cape Town; editing by Ed Osmond)

Loew puzzled about Real’s sale of Ozil

The 24-year-old developed a lethal partnership with Real’s Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who, according to reports in Spain on Wednesday, was angry with the Spanish club, the world’s richest by income, for agreeing to the sale.

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“We are hearing from Madrid that some of the players are very sad,” Loew said at a news conference on Wednesday previewing Friday’s 2014 World Cup qualifier against Austria in Munich.

“I found it a little difficult to believe that they would lose such a fantastic player, that Real would give up on and sell a player who had set up so many goals for them in recent seasons, but that’s the way business is.”

Ozil said on Tuesday he decided to leave Real after three seasons in the Spanish capital because he realised he did not have the backing of coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Ozil sulked after the Italian substituted him in last month’s La Liga match at Granada and he left him on the bench for Sunday’s 3-1 victory at home to Athletic Bilbao.

“Mesut is quite a sensitive kind of player who needs a lot of backing from his club and his coach,” Loew said.

“You could see in recent days before his transfer that possibly that backing was not 100 percent there.”

Ozil’s move was good for Germany, Loew added.

“This is positive for the national team because with Arsenal he is joining a club with a top manager and above all a team that plays at a very, very high technical level that I think Mesut is perfectly suited to.”

Ozil’s Germany team mate Lukas Podolski said the transfer was great news for Arsenal, where he also plays along with Germany defender Per Mertesacker.

“I am convinced that he will fit brilliantly into our sporting concept,” Podolski said on the German football federation website (www.dfb.de) on Wednesday.

“We move the ball around with a lot of quick passes and play in a way that suits him,” he added.

“I very much enjoy playing with him, and I think he does with me. We complement each other.”

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Clare Fallon)

Uruguay beat Colombia 2-0 to edge closer to World Cup

Cavani scored his second goal in three qualifiers before Stuani grabbed the second in the space of four minutes to put Uruguay in fifth place in the group, behind Ecuador only on goal difference.

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Colombia, who went into the match looking for the one point they need to seal their ticket to the 2014 Brazil finals, remain second and host third-placed Chile next on October 11.

Ecuador were held to a 1-1 draw by eliminated Bolivia in La Paz earlier on Tuesday and leaders Argentina were playing Paraguay later in Asuncion.

The top four teams at the end of the campaign next month go through to the finals in Brazil with the team in fifth place meeting Jordan in a two-legged playoff in November for one more berth.

Uruguay had lost 4-0 to Colombia when the two teams met in Barranquilla exactly a year ago, a defeat that sparked a run in which they took only two out of a possible 18 points and stared elimination in the face.

The 2010 semi-finalists in South Africa have revived their chances by winning their last three qualifiers.

Colombia had the better of the first half and the first good chance fell to Radamel Falcao from a fine through ball by midfielder Fredy Guarin but the striker shot wide past advancing goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

Muslera was also called into making a diving save from midfielder James Rodriguez.

Uruguay, who had made five changes due to suspensions and injuries, served notice of their intentions with shots by Cavani and Luis Suarez that hit David Ospina’s woodwork either side of the interval.

Coach Oscar Tabarez’s masterful substitutions finally bore fruit in the last quarter of an hour.

Right back Maxi Pereira sent in a high cross and Cavani rose between the central defenders to head past Ospina in the 77th minute.

Less than four minutes later, midfielder Gaston Ramirez chested down a throw in and turned and passed into the middle where fellow substitute Stuani slipped between two defenders to beat Ospina.

Uruguay meet Ecuador in Quito next month in a match that could settle which team meets Jordan before ending their group campaign at home to Argentina.

(Reporting by Martin Rodriguez Writing by Rex Gowar, editing by Nick Mulvenney)