Eden Park drought not daunting for Springboks

“Very happy with the performance (at Lang Park), I thought the opportunities we had we executed well,” Loubscher, the Springboks backline coach, told reporters in Auckland on Tuesday.

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“We took a lot of confidence out of last week… Last week showed that records are there to be broken so we’re going to approach this week the same as every test match we play.

“There’s nothing different for us. We’re going to prepare the same way and focus on our own game.

“There are still lots of areas we still feel that we need to improve so that’s our focus.”

South Africa lead the Rugby Championship by a point from champions New Zealand, who are also undefeated after three rounds of the southern hemisphere tournament, and Saturday’s clash may prove decisive in the title race.

The Springboks managed to overcome jetlag from long-haul flights to Argentina and Australia to win their opening matches, and five players flew from France for the match in Brisbane after appearing for Top 14 clubs.

The use of fly-in fly-out players has proved controversial in South Africa but has had little effect on team cohesion, judging by the team’s record winning margin against the Wallabies on Australian soil.

EXPERIENCED SIDE

“I think last year this time a lot of the guys were still youngsters,” flyhalf Morne Steyn, one of the team’s frequent flyers, said of the Springboks’ struggles last year, when they finished the tournament third after managing only two wins.

“I think that the time we’ve been together have made us a more experienced side and I think the confidence is there now. That’s the main thing.”

Steyn, renowned for booting long bombs through the goal-posts from improbable distances, flew to France after the Springboks’ tight win away to Argentina in Mendoza last month to play 20 minutes for Stade Francais before flying down to Brisbane to join up with his team mates for the Australia match.

Steyn booted 18 points to help sink Australia after notching 28 in South Africa’s opener against Argentina in Johannesburg and slotting two late penalties to overhaul the Pumas in the return match a week later.

The 47-test pivot has struggled for form in recent seasons and was dropped by coach Heyneke Meyer halfway through last year’s Rugby Championship in favour of young talent Johan Goosen.

But Goosen suffered a serious knee injury when training for Super Rugby’s Cheetahs in March, sidelining him for the season, allowing Steyn to reclaim his spot for the June tests against Scotland and Italy.

The 29-year-old finished the Super Rugby season as the competition’s top points scorer for his Pretoria-based Bulls and is relishing having his second chance with the Springboks.

“You get to the end of the career so I think you realise that you must enjoy your rugby, so I think that’s the important thing for me is just to enjoy every moment on the playing field and on the training field,” he said.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by John O’Brien)

Egyptian twins eye World Cup berth with Jordan

Hossam and twin brother Ibrahim, who is assistant coach, played for Egypt at the 1990 World Cup and Hossam said there was no bigger privilege.

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“Playing in the World Cup is the dream of every player,” he told FIFA.com this week ahead of Friday’s home first leg.

“There aren’t words for what I experienced then and when I talk to the players I impress that on them. I talk to them about what it means to win and to have the honour of representing your country at the biggest festival of football in the world.

“I can tell that this team have a huge desire to go all the way and achieve their dream.”

For the Hassan twins and Jordan to take part in Brazil they must first overcome the Uzbeks before taking on the fifth-placed side in South America in the intercontinental playoff in November for a finals berth.

Despite overseeing friendly wins over Palestine and Libya and an Asian Cup qualifying draw with Syria in August, Hossam felt his side lacked matches.

“I would have liked to play more games if there’d been time. After the Syria game we were hoping to get a fourth game in against Iraq, but it just wasn’t possible, seeing as the most important members of the squad had commitments overseas …. we’ll have to make do with intensive training.”

FIGHT HARDER

The Uzbeks are also looking for a first World Cup appearance and are slight favourites to advance past Jordan with a better FIFA ranking and head to head, having lost just once in seven matches played between the two.

The Uzbeks, who were fourth at the 2011 Asian Cup, also have the experience of playing at this stage before, although they were beaten by Bahrain on away goals in 2005.

But Jordan will not be overawed, especially at home where they scored victories over the continent’s top two sides – Japan and Australia – in the fourth round of qualifiers and are confident of taking a lead to Tashkent for the second leg on September 10.

“We have a lot of positives to draw on in Amman,” Hassan said.

“When we play here we fight harder and the fans give the players a huge boost. Speed in attack is one of our great qualities, but I’ll work to control the recklessness that might lose us the ball and give our opponents a chance to break back.”

Recklessness was something previously associated with the Uzbeks but not anymore. Their coach Mirjalol Kasimov has sharpened a technically sound but mentally frail side into a well drilled outfit who recovered from a sloppy start to just miss out on automatic qualification on goal difference.

Kasimov, who turned down requests from Reuters to speak ahead of the key qualifier, will have to make do without first choice goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov and defender Shohruh Gadoev for the matches, however.

“We know that our people want us to qualify and whatever it takes, and with God’s help, we will make that dream come true,” talented midfielder Odil Ahmedov told FIFA.

“We have a golden opportunity against Jordan. If we win, we’ll take on a team from South America, so we have four decisive matches in which to get to the World Cup.”

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Justin Palmer)

Madrid delegation stunned by failure to land 2020 Games

There was a deathly hush in the bar where officials gathered to wait for the result of the International Olympic Committee head-to-head vote that eliminated the Spanish capital following a first-round tie with Istanbul.

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The third bidder, Tokyo, was later awarded the Games.

“We believe the result bears no relation to the way (our presentation) was made. A decision like that is based on other criteria,” Spain’s Education Minister Jose Ignacio Wert told reporters.

“Everyone who attended the presentations of the three rival cities today can be in no doubt Madrid’s was the best.”

Some members of the large Spanish contingent were in tears when they emerged on the streets of the redeveloped port area of the Argentine capital on a grey, rainy afternoon.

Madrid, bidding for the third successive time, was confident of success after narrowly missing out on the 2012 and 2016 Games.

Fencer Jose Luis Pirri echoed Wert’s comments and suggested tactical voting had eliminated the Spanish capital.

“We expected to be in the final with Tokyo but it’s obvious they didn’t want us in the final because Madrid would have been very strong,” said Pirri.

“It’s a strange decision. Madrid has deserved to hold the Games for a long time and on top of that we are out in the first round, it’s quite absurd.”

NBA basketball player and Olympic silver medal winner Pau Gasol, a figurehead of the Madrid bid, could not hide his disappointment.

“There are factors we don’t control, that only (the IOC members) know about. It’s a shame because we were confident and had a good feeling,” Gasol said.

“I don’t think our work has been duly recognised in this instance.”

Enrique Cerezo, president of top football club Atletico Madrid, said: “I think it’s unfair Madrid should have been eliminated at the first turn. It looks to me like the system is very badly designed.”

(Additional reporting by Damian Perez; editing by Tony Jimenez)

Screams of joy in Tokyo as city awarded 2020 Games

Tokyo overcame a worsening crisis at a nuclear plant 230km (140 miles) away as well as a one-time lack of local support to convincingly beat rivals Istanbul and Madrid for the right to stage the Games for the second time.

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Golden streamers fell from the ceiling of a gymnasium in Komazawa Park, built for the 1964 Games when Japan became the first Asian nation to host them, where organisers estimated some 2,000 people were gathered for a night of events including concerts and a midnight fun run before the decision was broadcast on a giant screen shortly after 5:00 a.m. (2000 GMT).

People screamed, embraced and waved Japanese flags, chanting “Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo.” Some held banners saying “Celebration!”

“I’m really, really happy, because everyone was saying Madrid would win,” said Ryoko Abe, 34, who brought her one-year-old son Shunosuke because it would be a “good memory for him”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made an impassioned speech to International Olympic Committee members at the Buenos Aires vote.

It completed the final push for the Games which Tokyo has touted as everything from more stimulus for an economy tiptoeing back from stagnation to the final step of recovery from a devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that set off multiple reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

FIGHT TO RECOVER

“Having the Olympics will give us a chance to show the world how hard we’ve fought to recover – and thank the world for their support,” said Tomoko Tanaka, a 33-year-old housewife who had come to Komazawa Park for the night-long countdown events.

Despite the Tokyo bid committee’s prediction of a three trillion yen ($29.99 billion) economic boost and the creation of 150,000 jobs, public support was tepid for a long time.

Many said the country could ill afford the Games while thousands remained in temporary housing along a wide swathe of coastline devastated by the March 2011 tsunami.

“If they don’t use this to revive those places that were hit so hard by the disaster, then it won’t mean anything,” said Kenta Matsubara, the manager of a bar in the Shinjuku entertainment district, where patrons shouted and clinked glasses as the announcement came in.

As recently as mid-2012, only 47 percent of people were in favour of hosting the Games. Support surged late on though, with one poll suggesting 92 percent were on board and looking forward to an economic boost and a chance to enhance Japan’s standing in the eyes of the world.

The 1964 Olympics, which Tokyo hosted after beating rival bids from Detroit, Vienna and Brussels, are remembered with such pride that the anniversary of their October 10 opening is a national holiday.

Long seen as a front-runner, Tokyo’s chances were clouded by a series of revelations about the Fukushima nuclear plant, whose operator has been forced to reverse denials and admit that hundreds of tonnes of radioactive water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean each day. Radiation levels have also spiked.

Abe’s government said last week it would spend almost half a billion dollars to try to fix the water crisis. Critics said the government’s sudden embrace of the issue was aimed largely at winning the Olympic bid.

“I think it’ll be good if choosing Tokyo leads to a clear resolution of the Fukushima problem,” Yumiko Okuda, 51. “The eyes of the world will be on Japan now so it will have to be dealt with thoroughly.”

The victory is likely to give Abe a popularity boost and could potentially spur his signature pro-growth policies for the world’s third-biggest economy, bringing real gains in terms of construction and tourism.

Fukushima “is a problem but with this opportunity, a very strong political decision is needed,” said Kazuo Otsuki, 78, walking in a park under a light drizzle. “Mr. Abe will lead Japan, and I think there are many ways to overcome this problem.”

The win may also push up the Nikkei stock average by more than 10 percent in the short term to around 15,600, near this year’s high, one analyst said. Stocks rose for a month after Japan was awarded the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

(Additional reporting by Edmund Klamann and William Mallard, editing by Mitch Phillips)

Burgess bros answer Crowe call for Rabbitohs revival

The actor was Russell Crowe and the young rugby league gladiator he was hoping to entice to Australia to play for the club he co-owned and was looking to revive was powerful England forward Sam Burgess.

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The entreaties on the set of Robin Hood worked and Sam, now rated as one of the best players in the National Rugby League, was eventually joined at the South Sydney Rabbitohs by older brother Luke and 21-year-old twins Thomas and George.

Last weekend all four, who combine to weigh in at just under half a tonne, played together for the first time as the Rabbitohs came from 18-0 down to beat Wests Tigers 32-18 and remain on course for a first title in more than four decades.

“It is incredible, if someone had told me that five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Luke, who scored a try in the comeback win, told Reuters at Redfern Oval this week.

“It’s massive, absolutely massive,” the 26-year-old added. “I think for a start, for all four of us to play professionally is pretty cool, and then to play in the same game in the same team is massive and definitely something we’ll talk about at the end of the year over a beer.”

For now, though, there remains a job to do and all four brothers have again been included in the squad for Friday’s final regular season match against their fiercest rivals Sydney Roosters – the team from glamorous Bondi.

The match between the last two surviving club’s from the league’s foundation season of 1908 is a winner-takes-all clash to decide who tops the final regular season standings to be crowned “minor premiers” going into the playoffs.

Rugby league is the unrivalled number one winter code on the east coast of Australia, while the Rabbitohs are the most successful club in its 115 year history with 20 titles.

The last of those came in 1971, however, and for a long time it did not look like there would ever be another, particularly after they were kicked out of the league in 2000 and had to resort to the legal system to get back in two years later.

The tens thousands of fans who took to the Sydney streets to back the legal bid bore witness to the popularity of the “Bunnies” but lean years followed with the team finishing bottom of the league to take the “wooden spoon” in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

“Manchester United would be reasonable comparison, they’ve got supporters all over the country,” said Brad Walter, senior sports writer at the Sydney Morning Herald.

“(But) they were just amateurish, they didn’t have any money, Redfern Oval was just run-down, it still had a picket fence around it.”

The Oval, where the Rabbitohs train but no longer play, lies in an inner city area where, so the legend goes, hard-up players in the early days of the club sold rabbits, crying “Rabbitoh!” to advertise their wares and giving the club its nickname.

Shabby public housing apartment blocks still rise high above the Oval but the facility itself bears the hallmarks of the investment of Crowe and businessman Peter Holmes a Court, who together took a 75 percent interest in the club in 2006.

“We’re aware of the history and we’re reminded about it quite often by the fans, the fans get really excited,” said Luke Burgess.

“It’s nice to see the fans get really excited by a South Sydney team because it’s been over 40 years since they had any success.

“But it’s our job not to get caught up in that and just go out there and do our jobs.”

FOUR YORKSHIREMEN

Crowe and Holmes a Court’s investment was by no means limited to the four Yorkshiremen and the recruitment of indigenous fullback Greg Inglis and coach Michael McGuire have been key to the revival.

“It were never just all about the Burgess brothers and that was something we didn’t want as four brothers, we just wanted it to be about the team,” Luke said, as his brothers and their team mates ate lunch in the sun on the bleachers nearby.

“We just feel very privileged that we got the opportunity to do this at this club and with these boys we’ve got here. It’s just fantastic, we all love each other, all the boys are so close.”

South Sydney captain John Sutton grew up in the nearby beachside suburb of Maroubra and is a member of the surf gang the Bra Boys, who won international fame when Crowe narrated a 2007 documentary film about them.

As a local and one of the few survivors of the bad old days, Sutton is well aware what four more wins this season would mean to long-suffering South Sydney fans and almost splutters when asked whether it is a special club.

“One hundred percent it is, it’s got the longest history and it’s won the most Premierships and all that stuff,” he said.

“We’re just trying to create our own little history here by keep winning games and playing some good footy. It’s great to be a part of the club at the moment.”

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Late charge gives Mollema surprise win over sprinters

Best known as a climber, Mollema sheered away from a front group of around 35 riders to take victory a few metres clear of Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, with Argentina’s Massimo Richeze in third.

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Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali remains the overall race leader.

“I had thought of going for the overall but I could see pretty quickly in the first part of the race that wasn’t going to happen,” Mollema, sixth in the Tour de France, told reporters.

“Instead of fighting for 15th or 20th in Madrid, I decided to go for stage wins. I already got third in one stage, and today it’s all paid off.

“There’s only four Belkin riders left in the Vuelta, but I think the morale in the team hotel will be pretty high tonight,” he added.

On a fast-paced chaotic stage, a mass attack by Spanish squad Movistar and Danish team Saxo-Tinkoff 25 kilometres from the finish of the flat 189-km stage split the bunch into several groups.

“We’d been warned by our team management there would be a dangerous point in the race with around 25 kilometres to go where it could split in the winds, and that’s what happened,” Mollema said.

“We got three of our four guys in the front group, so that was pretty good.

“Then I was waiting for the right moment, and with 500 metres to go I shot away and didn’t look back until I had 50 metres left to go.”

With all the main favourites in the front group, Nibali stayed 28 seconds ahead of American Chris Horner in the overall standings with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde 1:14 behind the Italian.

Nicolas Roche of Ireland moved up to fifth overall ahead of Italy’s Domenico Pozzovivo, who dropped to sixth.

On Thursday, the Vuelta returns to the mountains with a 186.5-km stage culminating with a six kilometre, lung-bursting steep ascent to Pena Cabarga in northern Spain.

“It’s a climb I like very much. I have very good memories of it,” said Nibali, who took the lead of the 2010 Vuelta at Pena Cabarga.

“I did very well there before and maybe I’ll do something this time round again, perhaps go on the attack.”

The Tour of Spain finishes on September 15 in Madrid.

(Editing by Alison Wildey)

Guardiola and Mourinho lock horns again in Prague

New Bayern coach Guardiola and Mourinho, back for a second stint at Chelsea, have tangled repeatedly in their careers especially when the Spaniard was at the helm at Barcelona and the outspoken Portuguese held the reins at Real Madrid.

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Both clubs are unbeaten in their respective leagues this season but Mourinho knows his team will have their work cut out to repeat their 2012 Champions League final win over the Bavarians.

The Chelsea coach hailed Bayern’s “fantastic” feat in landing a Champions League-Bundesliga-German Cup treble last season.

“Only great teams with a great mentality, with fantastic football qualities … manage it,” said Mourinho, who also captured a Champions League-Serie A-Italian Cup treble with Inter Milan in 2010.

“To play against the best team in the world last year … is a big challenge for us. It is good for us to measure where we are in terms of playing against the best,” he told www.uefa.com.

The Chelsea squad are still adapting to life under Mourinho, who left Real for Stamford Bridge in the close season to succeed Rafael Benitez.

The Londoners have had an extra day to prepare for the Super Cup after drawing 0-0 at Premier League title rivals Manchester United on Monday.

Mourinho can call on Brazil defender David Luiz for the first time this season following a hamstring injury while Spain playmaker Juan Mata could come back into the side after being left on the bench at Old Trafford.

Chelsea’s new signings from Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o and Brazil midfielder Willian, are not in the 26-man squad.

ANKLE INJURY

Bayern playmaker Bastian Schweinsteiger has travelled to Prague but faces a race against time to recover from the ankle injury he sustained in the 1-1 Bundesliga draw at Freiburg on Tuesday.

Holding midfielder Javi Martinez is also in the squad despite having had an abdominal injury.

“There is no desire for revenge,” club president Uli Hoeness said, referring to the shootout defeat in the Champions League final at Bayern’s Allianz Arena 15 months ago.

“Last season we were the best team in Europe.”

Arjen Robben scored the 89th-minute winner when Bayern beat fellow Germans Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final in May under Guardiola’s predecessor Jupp Heynckes.

The Dutch winger played under Mourinho during his first spell in charge at Chelsea between 2004 and 2007 and is looking forward to locking horns with his former boss again.

“Chelsea have had two wonderful years and now their old coach has returned,” said Robben.

“I think very highly of Mourinho. It will be a great match.”

Probable teams:

Bayern Munich: Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Dante, David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Franck Ribery, Mario Mandzukic.

Chelsea: Petr Cech, Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Marco van Ginkel, Ramires, Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Oscar, Fernando Torres.

Referee: Jonas Eriksson (Sweden)

(Writing by Tony Jimenez in London; Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann in Berlin; Editing by Ed Osmond and Sonia Oxley)

Confident Springboks re-focus for All Blacks challenge

Steve Hansen’s world champions beat Argentina 28-13 in Hamilton but will face the Springboks at Eden Park without the calming influence of captain Richie McCaw, who suffered a knee injury and is expected to be out for up to five weeks.

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The winner of the clash on Saturday should seize the initiative for the southern hemisphere championship title with the All Blacks having to travel to Argentina and South Africa for their final two games.

The Springboks, however, return home for clashes against the Wallabies in Cape Town and then New Zealand in Johannesburg and with a victory in Auckland, which would be the first loss by the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009, would put them in the driving seat for the title.

CLUB COMMITMENTS

Meyer’s side had been expected to have been tipped over by the Wallabies, having had several players travel from Europe to join the team in the week of the test following club commitments.

“We just need to keep humble because (this) week will be a hell of a challenge,” Meyer told reporters after their victory at Lang Park.

“I’ve learned that you just get the game out of the way because the next game is going to be a tough encounter.

“There are still three tough games to come down the line. The world champions are waiting and we just have to be focussed, keep our feet on the ground and focus on this one.”

The victory on Saturday was built on a superb forward display and enveloping defence, which shut down the Wallabies options and forced them into errors, even when on attack.

“It’s always difficult to play catch-up away from home,” Meyer added of their mindset ahead of their road trip.

“Our defence was awesome and we spoke about having to win the game without the ball.”

The Springboks massive loose forward trio of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw monstered the Wallabies at the breakdown and should they be selected against the All Blacks, will provide a massive test of the locals’ resolve.

Number eight Kieran Read is expected to step into McCaw’s shoes as captain while Sam Cane will fill the number seven jersey with selection debate over whether impressive rookie Steven Luatua is thrown into the pressure cooker environment or Liam Messam returns after recovering from his hamstring injury.

“Our loose forwards, people have said they may lack pace but what they bring to the party, I love having them in my team,” Springboks captain Jean de Villiers said of his trio.

“You need to lay the platform with your forwards and our forwards did that.”

De Villiers, who finished off a brilliant blindside try in Brisbane on Saturday, added he felt his side was becoming mentally tougher as they advanced through the competition.

“For a team to go forward and to evolve we need to learn from our mistakes. We have learned,” the 32-year-old added.

“The composure was there (on Saturday) and the guys did what was needed. It was still not a perfect game by a long shot but I thought we used our opportunities better.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Napier, New Zealand; Editing by John O’Brien)

South Africa ride Argentina scare for late win

Argentina led for much of the encounter after tries from flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon and centre Marcelo Bosch, but indiscipline in the final 10 minutes allowed South Africa to edge ahead and hold on for victory.

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“We’ve got mixed feelings … We took a step forward with regard to last weekend since we radically changed our image and attitude,” Leguizamon told reporters.

“But we lacked something to have won the match … We needed to be a bit more disciplined with regard to the penalties.”

Bosch said: “We’re left with a bit of a sour taste, feeling we could have won it, but I think the team today still can feel successful for what they gave on the pitch.”

Wing Bjorn Basson scored the visitors’ only try, with Steyn kicking the rest of their points to take them to the top of the four-nation tournament’s standings on points difference from title holders New Zealand.

The Springboks and All Blacks have nine points after two rounds, with Argentina on a single point and Australia yet to break their duck after two defeats against New Zealand.

“I’m not at all surprised by what the Pumas did, they played very well, with a lot of passion playing typical Argentine rugby,” South Africa’s coach Heyneke Meyer said.

It was South Africa’s first away victory in the southern hemisphere’s elite competition since beating New Zealand in Hamilton in 2009.

EXPECTED IMPROVEMENT

South Africa, who were held to a 16-16 draw by Argentina in the same fixture in Mendoza last year, had expected a response from the Pumas after their abject display seven days ago.

But while the home side showed more physicality and passion, South Africa were nowhere near as slick as they made numerous handling errors.

Leguizamon barged his way over for the opening try inside four minutes as the Pumas made all the early running.

Steyn and Pumas captain Felipe Contepomi traded penalties after that, before the Springboks hit back to level the score at 10-10, Basson crossing the line unopposed after the visitors spread the ball wide.

Argentina continued to impress with their enterprise and had their second try three minutes before halftime when good play from wing Gonzalo Camacho got them close to the Springbok line and outside centre Bosch crashed over, with Contepomi adding his second conversion.

Steyn added a second penalty, but the Springboks still trailed 17-13 at halftime.

The match threatened to boil over in the second period as first Springbok flanker Francois Louw accused an opponent of eye-gouging, before lock Eben Etzebeth claimed he was bitten.

There was no immediate visual evidence of either incident.

Steyn closed the gap to a point with another penalty five minutes after halftime and his team edged ahead with eight minutes to play after the Pumas were penalised for collapsing a maul.

The Springboks managed to play the remainder of the match in the Argentina half and were rewarded with another penalty when the Pumas again collapsed a maul for Steyn to convert his fifth penalty.

(Reporting by Nick Said in Cape Town; Additional reporting by Rex Gowar)

Tokyo’s bid a high-stakes gamble for Japan PM, Abenomics

The right to host the games, to be decided on Saturday in Argentina, would likely boost Abe’s popularity, and could potentially spur his signature pro-growth policies for the world’s third-biggest economy.

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A successful Tokyo bid would boost confidence – a key ingredient of Abe’s economic success so far – and bring real gains in terms of construction and tourism. Failure could dent Japan’s stock markets in the near term, analysts say, causing complications for Abe.

The premier made the Tokyo bid personal on Thursday, breaking away early from a Group of 20 summit in Russia – a highly unusual move for a Japanese leader – to make a last-ditch plea to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Buenos Aires to choose Tokyo over rivals Madrid and Istanbul.

Tokyo had been seen as a safe choice ahead of Istanbul, which was rocked by violent anti-government protests this year and doping bans on dozens of its athletes, while Madrid was plagued with high unemployment, deep recession and the resulting social unrest.

But in recent weeks, Japan has returned to the global headlines with a series of damaging disclosures about the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant 230 km (140 miles) from Tokyo. The plant’s operator has been forced to reverse denials and admit that hundreds of tonnes of radioactive water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean each day, and radiation levels have spiked.

Abe’s government said this week it will spend almost half a billion dollars to try to fix the water crisis. Critics said the government’s sudden embrace of the issue was aimed largely at winning the Olympic bid.

“The world is watching to see if we can carry out the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, including addressing the contaminated water issues,” Abe told cabinet ministers on Tuesday as they decided on the emergency measures.

Online betting site Paddy Power rates Tokyo the strong favourite ahead of Saturday’s IOC decision at odds of 8-to-15, versus 2-to-1 against Madrid and 9-to-2 against Istanbul. But many commentators and people close to the selection process say the Spanish bid is gathering pace fast.

People close to Abe are privately expressing confidence in Tokyo’s bid, despite the growing global concerns over Fukushima, where conditions appear to be worsening two and a half years after the nuclear plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami.

STOCK FILLIP

A Tokyo win could push up the Nikkei stock average by more than 10 percent in the short term to around 15,600, near this year’s high, said Eiji Kinouchi at Daiwa Securities.

Japanese shares saw a 1-month fillip after Nagano won the rights to the 1998 winter Olympics, while shares in Athens and London rallied for 1-3 months after they were chosen to host their summer Games.

A Tokyo Olympics stock index of 79 companies that would benefit from a local Games, compiled by Okasan Securities, has gained 47 percent this year, outpacing the broader market’s 35 percent gain.

Tourism shares on that index, such as Tokyo Disney Resort operator Oriental Land Co and Tokyo Dome Corp, have outperformed other Olympic shares, said Takashi Kusaki, Okasan’s deputy general manager, suggesting there may be a pullback after the decision. But he said success for Tokyo could spur more gains for developers, such as construction firms Taisei Corp, Obayashi Corp and Shimizu Corp.

That’s because a win could mean a noticeable bump for the economy as it gears up for the Games. The Tokyo bid committee reckons hosting the Olympics would boost the economy – from construction and higher prices – by 3 trillion yen ($30.14 billion) over the coming seven years.

That amounts to just 0.3 percentage point of Japan’s GDP growth a year, but Nomura equity strategist Masaaki Yamaguchi said there would be a multiplier effect, such as aiding the government’s “Cool Japan” initiative to promote “anime” cartoons and other aspects of Japanese pop culture.

SALES TAX

The link between stocks, confidence and Abenomics means the Olympic decision could even affect one of Abe’s most pressing policy decisions: whether to go ahead with a planned doubling of the national sales tax, Japan’s biggest attempt in years to get its runaway public debt under control.

Abe is to decide early next month whether to proceed with the first step of the tax hike in April.

Some people close to the premier say that winning the Olympic hosting rights would boost confidence, share prices and the broader economy enough to offset much of the economic dent from the tax hike, making it more likely he will approve the increase.

“In his heart of hearts, Abe probably wants to delay the tax hike,” said a person close to him. “But if we get the Olympics and there’s only minimal economic turmoil from (any U.S.) air strike on Syria, he’ll probably have to swallow the tax hike.”

Winning the bid could boost Abe’s support ratings, which are high by Japanese standards at 56 percent, according to the latest Kyodo News survey, but are down from a June high of 68 percent. That could embolden him to press on with economic structural reforms needed to elevate Japan’s growth longer-term.

On the other hand, if Tokyo loses on Saturday, Abe’s popularity and potentially even his political aims could suffer.

“The ladder would be pulled out from under the market and the Nikkei could drop 500 points on Monday,” said Daiwa’s Kinouchi.

($1 = 99.5350 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Ossian Shine and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by William Mallard; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)