Treble or nothing at World Cup as All Blacks face major test

New Zealand’s players take part in a training session on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Treble or nothing at World Cup as All Blacks face major test

  • The hosts will kick off the tournament on Friday as favorites against minnows Russia

TOKYO: Treble-chasing New Zealand’s supremacy looks set to face a serious test from multiple challengers as the clock ticks down to an eagerly awaited Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The hosts will kick off the tournament on Friday as favorites against minnows Russia — a mark of their progress after years spent as the World Cup’s whipping boys.

But the serious business starts on Saturday, with the All Blacks in a blockbuster clash with South Africa that could be a precursor of the final on Nov. 2.

France play Argentina, top-ranked Ireland face Scotland and Eddie Jones’s England are against Tonga on a bumper opening weekend for the first Rugby World Cup held in Asia.

Organizers hope to ignite rugby passions in Japan and the region at large, saying the World Cup is on course to sell out and that Friday’s opener will set a tournament record for viewing figures in a
single country. 

Japan’s Brave Blossoms have set themselves the goal of reaching the knock-out phase for the first time, aiming to climb out of a tight Pool A also including Ireland, Scotland
and Samoa.

“The players are keen to get out there,” said Japan’s assistant coach Tony Brown. “We have an experienced group and those guys have got the team under control — they understand what they have to do.”

New Zealand ended a 24-year drought when they nervily won their second World Cup on home soil in 2011, and dominated in 2015 as coach Steve Hansen crafted a remarkable run of success.

But questions have been raised over the mighty All Blacks after a rocky patch of form which saw them lose their long-term grip on rugby’s world No. 1 ranking.

South Africa, on the rise under coach Rassie Erasmus, will hope to strike an early blow while England, Ireland and Six Nations champions Wales also look capable of winning the Webb Ellis Cup.

England have assembled a formidable array of ball-carriers under the canny Jones, the ex-Japan coach who led the Brave Blossoms to their stunning win over South Africa
in 2015.

The 2003 champions slumped to an embarrassing pool-stage exit in 2015 but they will be expecting to top Pool C where they are bracketed with France, Argentina, USA
and Tonga.

However, Wales’s hopes were dealt a blow when long-standing attack coach Rob Howley was sent home over a suspected breach of rules against betting, badly disrupting their preparations.

In a tournament rich in sub-plots, Gatland is one of a number of coaches stepping down after the World Cup, along with New Zealand’s Steve Hansen, Ireland’s Joe Schmidt and Jacques Brunel of France.

The French have endured a lean period but they have a fine record at the World Cup, reaching 1987, 1999 and 2011 finals, and there are positive signs since Fabien Galthie bolstered Brunel’s backroom staff.

Australia also shape up as potential dark horses after they shook off a turbulent period — marked by poor results and the controversial sacking of fullback Israel Folau for homophobia — to hand New Zealand a record defeat in Perth.


Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

Updated 23 October 2019

Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

  • Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals

PARIS: Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe both scored second-half hat-tricks in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur all recorded big victories.
Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich labored to wins on a night which brought 30 goals in eight games, a third of which were scored by Premier League clubs.
Sterling’s three goals came 11 minutes apart in the second half as Pep Guardiola’s City thumped Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium to maintain their perfect record in Group C.
The Italians had earlier taken the lead from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s 28th-minute penalty, but they were soon overrun and remain without a point in their debut Champions League campaign.
Sergio Aguero equalized from a Sterling assist and the Argentine scored a penalty to put City ahead before the break. Sterling then took over, although City finished with 10 men as Phil Foden was sent off late on.
“I should have had four. Riyad Mahrez put me through and I was looking to put one on a plate for him. But I went through and should have finished it,” Sterling admitted to BT Sport.
City’s will seal a place in the last 16 if they win away to Atalanta next, as nearest rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb played out a 2-2 draw in Ukraine earlier.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Brazilian substitute Dodo netted for Shakhtar, with Dinamo’s goals coming in between from Dani Olmo and a Mislav Orsic penalty.
Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals in PSG’s 5-0 romp away to former European Cup runners-up Club Brugge in Belgium in Group A.
Mauro Icardi scored twice for the French champions, who were without the injured Neymar but had Angel Di Maria in exceptional form — the Argentine set up four goals.
According to sports statisticians Opta, the last player to come off the bench and score a hat-trick in the Champions League was Spaniard Joseba Llorente for Villarreal in 2008.
“I wanted to start and I thought I was going to start, but the coach made his choice and I had to accept it. I also wanted to show that it’s difficult to get by without me,” Mbappe told French broadcaster RMC Sport.
PSG have a maximum nine points, are yet to concede a goal in Europe this season and will be through to the last 16 with a win at home to Club next month.
Below them, Real Madrid are up to second after claiming their first win in Europe this season. Eden Hazard set up Toni Kroos for a first-half strike that handed them a 1-0 victory over Galatasaray in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome win for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who crushed Red Star Belgrade 5-0 in north London, three weeks on from their 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the same venue.
Captain Harry Kane scored twice for Spurs either side of a Son Heung-min brace and an Erik Lamela goal as they moved up to second place in Group B on four points.
“We know we have had a tough run of results and that was the perfect way to respond,” said Kane.
They remain five points behind group leaders Bayern Munich, for whom Robert Lewandowski bagged two in a 3-2 win at Olympiakos that maintained their perfect record.
The Pole has 18 goals this season and 58 career Champions League goals — only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul and Karim Benzema have more.
Youssef El Arabi gave Olympiakos the lead, but Lewandowski’s brace either side of half-time changed the game and Corentin Tolisso fired in a magnificent third before Guilherme pulled one back.
In Turin, Juventus needed a late Paulo Dybala pair to come from behind and beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in Group D.
Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russians the lead on the half-hour and it took a stunning strike by Dybala to bring the Italian champions back level with 13 minutes left.
Moments later the same player scored from the follow-up after Alex Sandro’s shot was saved.
Juve are level atop Group D on seven points with Atletico Madrid, who edged out Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 thanks to Alvaro Morata’s 78th-minute header.