Let’s take a look at this season’s pass masters.For more articles and the latest soccer news, check out 90min.com
By Nick MulvenneyTevita Kuridrani scored a last gasp try to give Australia a dramatic 24-20 victory over South Africa in their Rugby Championship opener at Lang Park on Saturday.The centre crashed over the line in a scrum of bodies after the hooter had sounded and it fell to the television match official to adjudge that he had grounded the ball.The Springboks had looked like securing a win on the back of a brilliant defensive effort and tries from lock Eben Etzebeth and debutant centre Jesse Kriel as well as 10 points from the boot of flyhalf Handre Pollard.Australia stayed in the contest, though, with a first half try from winger Adam Ashley-Cooper and flanker Michael Hooper got them within range of the victory with another six minutes from time.It was a first win in four Tests for Australia and will give Wallabies fans hope that coach Michael Cheika can construct a competitive side for the World Cup in England later this year.South Africa, who were without a string of top players and lost skipper Victor Matfield in the 18th minute to a hamstring strain, will count themselves unlucky to leave Australia without a point as they head home to face the All Blacks next week.The experimental Springbok back row of Schalk Burger, Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee was outstanding, defending manfully and forcing turnover after turnover at the breakdown.The visitors looked assured and well organised from the start and although Pollard hit the upright with his first penalty attempt, he made no mistake with the next two to give them a 6-0 lead in the 25th minute.The Wallabies were finding holes in the defensive line but were struggling to exploit them as the South African loose forwards were that much quicker to the ball.They finally got on the scoreboard in the 34th minute when Matt Giteau took the ball at first receiver and his no-look inside pass sent Ashley-Cooper on his way to the line, the experienced winger touching down at the second attempt.The lead lasted just four minutes, however, before a Pollard cross-kick was batted back by winger Bryan Habana and fullback Willie le Roux’s pass allowed Etzebeth to touch down in the corner.Pollard converted to send the Springboks into halftime 13-7 in front and they moved further ahead four minutes after the break when Kriel weaved his way through three defenders to score in the left-hand corner.Flanker David Pocock then came onto the pitch for his first Test in three years to join Michael Hooper in the back row and the Wallabies were immediately more competitive in the tackle area.Flyhalf Quade Cooper missed a penalty with a poor kick after the Wallabies pack had won a rare decision at the scrum, however, and the Springboks continued to defend fiercely and contest every breakdown.The Wallabies continued to hammer away at the wall of green shirts, though, and finally found a way through six minutes from time when Hooper barged over the line to set up the dramatic finale.
By Justin PalmerLike it or loathe it – and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is certainly no fan – the rolling maul has proved an effective try-scoring weapon during the Rugby World Cup.It is a familiar sight and tactic. A team kicks for the corner and from an ensuing lineout drive, the player with ball tucked under arm hides himself behind a phalanx of team-mates who plough forwards relentlessly towards the try line.Fans love it, a visceral roar usually accompanying the remorseless progress, with the try line coming ever closer.Illegal to intentionally collapse, it can leave even the best defences retreating in disarray against a surge of well-choreographed brute strength.Witness South Africa, whose burly forwards were given a taste of their own medicine when Japan, a side not renowned for their physicality, piled men into a rolling maul that ended with captain Michael Leitch scoring the opening try of their sensational victory.When done well a maul with momentum is almost impossible to stop. But some say they are a dull blight on the game, difficult to officiate and a grey area to exploit.Australian loose forward David Pocock has become a specialist in the art, highlighted by his two tries in the pool stage win over Fiji.Pocock perfected the manoeuvre at his Super Rugby side the ACT Brumbies but was keen to stress the team element.“Those tries come from all the hard work so I can’t take credit. They set the platform and it’s pleasing as a forward pack to get those rewards,” he said.“The rolling maul is one aspect of our game when we get the opportunity, you take it. We’ve seen a lot of teams using it as an attacking weapon in the 22 this year so there will be more.”But accusations of skullduggery abound.Former England hooker Brian Moore suggested after the Fiji game that Australia “illegally drive their mauls from lineouts”.“Scrum illegalities, which all packs – including England – indulge in, might cost three points but what Australia do with their driving mauls is equally illegal and it rewards them with tries and many more points than any number of scrum infringements,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.All Blacks coach Hansen believes the laws need to change.In July he was moved to describe the rolling maul as “bloody boring” after watching Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy score twice in Christchurch.“You can’t take it out of the game but you’ve got to make it a fair contest,” he said.His suggestion was simple.“There’s never been anybody injured in a collapsed maul yet, but there’s thousands every week that get penalised. Just make that legal then it becomes a fair contest.”Hansen will be aware that the rolling maul is one tactic South Africa will be keen to exploit given the chance in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final. Stopping those opportunities will be key for the All Black forwards at Twickenham.“The drives are a key weapon for them, big men in the lineout, so initially you have to be disciplined so you don’t give them penalties,” said number eight Kieran Read.“Don’t give them a chance to kick out to the corner.”For Read, it’s just another part of the game.“It is there to be utilised. It’s a great thing that it keep all different shapes and sizes in this game which is great. It’s something you have got to adapt to and we’ll certainly get it this week.”In the bunker of their hotel this week, Hansen and his assistants will be viewing tape after tape of the Springbok pack, with their game against Ireland last year of particular interest.Not only did Ireland win 29-15, the men in green showed how to stop the maul by not contesting the lineout and then springing a man to attack the ball carrier.If the All Blacks have a weakness, it may come from the lineout drive – a vulnerability Hansen will do well to address.
By Steve TongueManchester United’s insistence on playing possession football under manager Louis van Gaal means they take far more passes for every shot than any other Premier League team, statistics released on Monday showed.According to details from leading football data specialists Opta, league leaders Leicester City need only 46 successful passes for a shot on target. That is the fewest in the league while United’s 131 passes is the most.Damningly, United have managed just seven shots on target in their last four home games – also the worst record in the league – leading to regular chants of “attack, attack, attack” from the Old Trafford crowd.The total number of shots on target from 17 games is 61, the 15th lowest. Tottenham are top with 110 and Manchester City second with 104.In the past two months United have played five goalless draws at home, against Manchester City, Middlesbrough, CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven and West Ham.Not surprisingly, their goals total is unusually low – 22, compared to 43 at the same stage in Alex Ferguson’s last season three years ago.Under Van Gaal this time last year it was 30, with goals conceded also higher. But Steve Round, who was assistant manager to the Dutchman’s predecessor David Moyes, says the new style is now very much in evidence.“They are very possession-based, so they will create less opportunities,” he told Sky Sports News.“I always felt they used to be very forward-thinking, forward-passing. That was always the sort of style, with energy, verve and directness. Now they seem to have come away from that.“The style they’re playing is the Louis van Gaal way. Whether that in the long run is going to be enough for Manchester United we’ll see.”Losing 2-1 at home Norwich City on Saturday was a sixth game without a win and cost United their place in the top four of the Premier League.It has put Van Gaal under pressure after five months of his second season in charge, not least because Jose Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea last week, wants a new job and is reported to be keen on taking over at Old Trafford.United play away to Stoke City on Saturday and at home to Chelsea two days later.
By Martyn HermanGuus Hiddink believes it is still possible for Chelsea to finish in the Premier League’s top four as he embarks on a second stint as interim manager at Stamford Bridge.However, the Dutchman is under no illusions about the task he faces having answered Chelsea’s distress call in the wake of the decision to sack Jose Mourinho last week.“Mathematically it is possible,” a relaxed Hiddink, who proved highly popular in 2009 when he took over from sacked Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, told reporters at his news conference at the club’s training base.“If you can add up then it is possible but this league is very strong, which has been especially proven this year with all respect to the clubs at the top — Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Watford… it is amazing and refreshing.“It means that all the teams can kill each other.”Chelsea are in 15th place, having lost nine of their opening 17 Premier League games, 10 points behind seventh-placed Watford whom they host on Saturday at the start of a hectic Christmas schedule that also includes a clash with Manchester United.They are 11 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.Since winning the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2009, Hiddink has had less than successful spells in charge of Turkey, Russian club Anzhi Makhachkalka and most recently the Netherlands whom he failed to steer to the Euro 2016 finals.He said his return to Stamford Bridge was a surprise but that results had forced the club’s owners to make a decision.“I shouldn’t be here halfway through the season. It means things are not going well. But anyhow, I am glad to be back. It is a few years ago I was here in a similar situation,” he said.“Last week they were one point off the relegation places which was frightening for everyone in the club.”Hiddink refused to rule out the possibility of his second spell as Chelsea manager lasting beyond next May.“I have to feel inside my heart that I have that passion to work with the guys. We said let’s go to May and then we’ll see what will happen,” he said.His first priority, however, is to start picking up victories and push the London club up the standings and he said he needed all the players to be committed to the cause.“Yesterday I talked fully to the squad about the past,” said the 69-year-old. “I said why I was here and I want everyone to look in the mirror and be critical.“We cannot ignore what has happened in the past but I told them to be professionals and look forward. There must be a great desire from the players and if they don’t have that I want them to knock on my door.”
The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers are primed to provide a grand finish worthy of a landmark Super Bowl 50 on Sunday and cap a season of celebration by the National Football League.An estimated 190 million Americans and a worldwide TV audience are set to tune in for a game that has the hallmarks of an instant classic as Carolina’s top-ranked offence clashes with Denver’s number one defense in a Silicon Valley showdown for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.The game will feature two generational talents on offense with Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on the cusp of greatness and five-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning playing what could be his last game, but the victor will likely be determined by the play of the defenses.“Our defense has just been exceptional all season long,” praised Manning. “They have led the charge for us to be here from the get-go.“Each game they had stepped up and done the job and they were awesome against Pittsburgh and against New England.“They are the reason we’re here and, like I said a couple weeks ago, I’m just glad that I don’t have to play against them this year because they are that good.”Still, the spotlight will not stray far from the two quarterbacks who bring contrasting styles and personalities to the championship game.Newton, 26, is a flashy, brash imposing quarterbacking cyborg who can beat an opponent with his arm and his feet.With a victory on Sunday the Panthers would find themselves with an 18-1 record, a Super Bowl and in the discussion about the greatest NFL teams of all-time.Manning, meanwhile, is a cerebral 39-year-old quarterbacking genius with an off-the-charts football IQ who operates primarily from the pocket.INTRIGUING CHESS MATCHA Denver defense that led the NFL in sacks can expect a long evening trying to contain Newton while Manning will engage in an intriguing chess match with a Panthers defence spearheaded by All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly that led the league in takeaways.“Newton is a special talent, a rare talent,” said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “This league has the best of everything.“I mean you look at some of the great throwers in this league with (New England Patriots) Tom Brady and (Green Bay Packers) Aaron Rodgers and those type of guys and then now you got a guy who’s got a combination of everything.“Not only beating people with his arm but with his feet, his ability to move around. A tremendous athlete that they’ve molded their offense around.”During the regular season, the Panthers were an offensive juggernaut averaging a league-high 31 points a game.In the playoffs, they have been even more explosive in piling up 80 points in two routs, including a 49-15 blowout of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game that sent them through to their second Super Bowl.This has been far from a vintage year for Manning, who missed six consecutive starts due to a heel injury and when he did return, for the first time in his Hall of Fame career he stood on the sidelines – as backup to Brock Osweiler.Manning, who once threw seven touchdowns in a single game, had just nine in 10 games this season offset by 17 interceptions as questions over his age and diminishing arm strength became a recurring storyline.But like every great drama there are twists and in the regular season finale Manning came on in relief of Osweiler to lead the Broncos to a win, then steered Denver to narrow playoff victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots.“I feel like I have a good understanding of the significance of playing in the 50th Super Bowl,” said Manning, who will be appearing in his fourth NFL title game.“This is a unique and special opportunity and obviously we’re going to take advantage of it.“There is no question it’s important to me, it’s very personal to me, and no question this season has had some unique challenges.” You will find more statistics at Statista
Work will get underway on stage two of the facility which includes the main grand stand.This follows the signing last week between the Government and Curtain Bros for the Private Public Partnership agreement and contract for stadium.Sports Minister Justin Tkatchenko thanked Curtain Bros for coming on board with the National Government for building this iconic stadium.He said in the meantime the facilities will still be used as the construction goes along.The facility will be a premier stadium with eight restaurants, a huge convention centre, a leagues club, doctor’s facilities and will be the home of weightlifting.Curtain Bros will run and manage the stadium for 30 years and invest K60 million of their own funding into the project which is half of the contract value.This will allow the stadium to be professionally managed and operated in the best interest of all users and the public.“Past history has shown us governments cannot run or manage successfully our own facilities, so out sourcing to professionals is the only way to go,’’ the minister said.“We look forward to seeing stage two of the Hubert Murray Stadium completed by late next year,” he stated.
Hunters lead in the second half by 4 points but could not hold as the Seagulls clawed their way back with a stunning performance.The Tweed Heads converted a penalty goal for 2 points which cut the lead to 2 points to 12-14.Than it was Shanon Walker that broke through to score as the Seagulls took the lead in the match for the first time with the score at 18-14.However, the Hunters fought back with more confidence sending in Atte Bina with a converted try to seal the match 20-18 over the Seagulls.This is the first home win for the Hunters at the new National Football Stadium – the home of the Hunters.
PNG’s top tier football competition was supposed to commence tomorrow, but the board of the NSL rescheduled by a week to allow teams more time to prepare.Seven teams have confirmed their participation this season. They are: Toti City Dwellers (formerly known as Lae City Dwellers), Madang FC, Besta PNG United FC, Buang FC and newcomers FC Morobe Wawens, Southern Strikers and FC Momase.PNG Football Assocaiton senior vice president, John Wesley Gonjuan, confirmed that the competition will start on January 13 with one game to be played in Madang, one in Lae and another in Port Moresby.“The registration for the competition will be closed on Friday and an official press conference will be held in Port Moresby to announce the draw and the format for the 2018 NSL season,” said Gonjuan.“The competition is set to start and we are excited to see new teams taking on the challenge and we welcome them.”For more information on the annual affiliation fee and players’ registration fee, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (+675) 323 2591. (Loop file pic)
In preparing his team for Saturday’s seismic first Test against the British and Irish Lions, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made a point of looking to the past for inspiration.The history of past Lions tours. The reminder that only one All Blacks side, in 1971, have lost a series to the combined team. The fact that they are unbeaten at Eden Park since 1994.And the recognition that for this group of players, the three-Test series will be their last chance to face the Lions.“The Lions come every 12 years and we’re excited about that,” Hansen told reporters ahead of the first Test, which kicks off at 7:35pm (10:35am Cyprus time) in Auckland on Saturday.“It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity for most people and look at the guys in the first game (Provincial Barbarians), they loved it and they are now keen to go to a higher level.“The Super Rugby sides, they stood up and were counted and it inspired those young kids.“You can feel the enthusiasm and real hunger in the hotel with the players. They’re really up for it.“That’s what this Lions tour does for our rugby. We respect it.”Respect for the current Lions team has been slow to come in rugby-mad New Zealand after the visitors sputtered through the first week of their tour.Since then, barring a 23-22 loss to the Otago Highlanders, they have built momentum on forward-dominated performances that starved the opposition of possession and shut down their opportunities with a quick, smothering defence.The inside back combination of Conor Murray and Owen Farell have also been superb with their tactical kicking, while the hard-running midfield of Jonathan Davies and Ben Te’o have proved the best at giving their side front-foot ball.The big test against the All Blacks is whether they will provide that space to an attacking back three of Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly, with coach Warren Gatland choosing the trio in the knowledge the Lions will need to score tries to beat the world champions.Gatland said there was no point playing it safe.“The message to the players before we came out to New Zealand was that to play the All Blacks you have to be bold and take risks,” he added.“Yes we are playing to a structure as every team does, but we have been giving the confidence to the players to bring in an offloading game when its appropriate.“We know we have got to be courageous coming here, we’ve got to be bold and play some positive rugby.”Gatland’s worry is that if they get too positive and make errors, which they have been prone to do, the All Blacks will exploit them ruthlessly, as evidenced by their 78-0 thrashing of Samoa last week.All Blacks captain Kieran Read has returned to the starting team after almost eight weeks out with a broken thumb, while winger Rieko Ioane was the only surprise selection for the world champions, replacing Julian Savea on the left wing.Ryan Crotty has recovered from a rib injury to allow Hansen to pair him with Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield, with Anton Lienert-Brown coming off the bench to give the All Blacks “something different,” Hansen said.“It gives us a 1-2-3 punch,” he added.