Four changes for to WP’s starting line-up to face the Lions in Currie Cup clash

CAPE TOWN – Western Province head coach John Dobson has made four changes to the starting line-up to face the Lions in a Currie Cup clash at Ellis Park on Wednesday (kick-off 7pm).

Two of those changes are in the backline, where Tim Swiel comes in at fullback, with Sergeal Petersen moving to the wing in the place of the injured Sihle Njezula. In the other backline change, Godlen Masimla starts at scrumhalf with Paul de Wet moving to the bench.

ALSO READ: Four tries for JJ Kotze as WP forwards power past young Bulls at Loftus

Up front, No 8 Juarno Augustus and openside flank Marcel Theunissen come into the loose trio, with Evan Roos moving to the side of the scrum.

Hooker Jason Alexander and flank De Wet Marais are in line to make their senior Western Province debuts from the bench.

Following their 48-24 thumping of the Bulls in their opener at the weekend, WP head coach John Dobson said that ‘everything will have to go better’ against the Lions. On Wednesday, he reiterated that accuracy will be key.

ALSO READ: Sharks seal convincing win over Griquas in Kimberley

“We know that we will need to raise our standards in order to make it two wins away from home on the Highveld.

“The players coming in all bring valuable experience and we will need that in order to get the result we are after,” he said.

Western Province: 15 Tim Swiel, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Rikus Pretorius, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Abner van Reenen, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Evan Roos, 6 Marcel Theunissen, 5 David Meihuizen, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 JJ Kotze, 1 Ali Vermaak.

Replacements (from): 16 Jason Alexander, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Sazi Sandi, 19 Justin Basson, 20 De Wet Marais, 21 Johan du Toit, 22 Paul de Wet, 23 Cornel Smit, 24 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 25 Hacjivah Dayimani, 26 Niel Otto.

IOL Sport

Orlando Pirates have Mamelodi Sundowns coach Steve Komphela on their radar

CAPE TOWN – Mamelodi Sundowns coach Steve Komphela is reportedly on the radar of Orlando Pirates.

Komphela signed a five-year contract with Sundowns last season after he resigned from Lamontville Golden Arrows FC, where he spent two seasons.

ALSO READ: Steve Komphela would be perfect for Orlando Pirates, says ex-skipper Benson Mhlongo

There could be a fair bit of substance to the accuracy of reports since Pirates recently signed up former Arrows coach Mandla Ncikazi. During his long association with Arrows, Ncikazi, who was nominated for the PSL Coach of the Season award, worked alongside Komphela at one stage. He joins Pirates on July 1.

There has been speculation that Pirates are not happy with their head coach Josef Zinnbauer, but despite numerous reports on the matter, the club has yet to comment on his position.

ALSO READ: Maritzburg United may be sold – Chairman Farouk Kadodia

In the meantime, the acquisition of Ncikazi, as a member of the technical staff, suggests there could well be a change of head coach at Pirates.

According to reports, Komphela’s contract, which still has a life of four years, is proving to be a hurdle because it will prove costly to undo without paying hefty compensation to Sundowns.

ALSO READ: Emotional Sundowns coach Rulani Mokwena savours the season’s last hurrah

It would make sense for Komphela to move elsewhere because despite the success Sundowns have enjoyed since his arrival there, is very much in the shadows of the co-coaches Rulani Mokwena and Manqoba Mnqgithi.

Latest reports say Zinnbauer has returned to Germany to enjoy a break at the start of the off-season.

Most PSL clubs will regroup on July 1 to prepare for the new season.

IOL Sport

WATCH: Las Vegas Raiders’ Carl Nassib comes out as NFL’s first openly gay player

by Rob Woollard

LOS ANGELES – Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib made history on Monday after coming out as the first openly gay active player in the NFL, a move hailed as a watershed moment for America’s most popular sport.

The 28-year-old five-year veteran said in a video posted on Instagram he hoped his example would boost visibility of other gay athletes.

“I just wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in the video.

“I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but finally feel comfortable getting it off my chest. I really have the best life, the best family, friends and job a guy can ask for.

Las Vegas Raiders DE Carl Nassib comes out as gay

He also announced a $100K donation to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth. pic.twitter.com/5Xobd9s0pp

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 21, 2021

“I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know that I’m not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important.

“I actually hope that one day, videos like this and the whole coming out process are not necessary, but until then I will do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that’s accepting and compassionate.”

ALSO READ: Tom Brady, Bucs to face Cowboys in NFL opener, London games return

Nassib added that he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, a non-profit group which works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth in the United States.

In a written post which accompanied the statement, Nassib said he had “agonized over this moment for the last 15 years.”

He said support from family, friends, coaches and fellow players encouraged him to come out.

“I would not have been able to do this without them,” he said.

Nassib is the first player on an active roster to come out as gay in the NFL.

Several players have come out after leaving the league, the most popular professional sport in the United States.

ALSO READ: Rob Gronkowski plans to return to NFL next season: report

In 2014, college player Michael Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams after coming out as gay but was released after playing in a handful of pre-season games and never played a regular season game in the league.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell weighs in on #Raiders DE Carl Nassib’s “courageous” coming out. pic.twitter.com/4k73drunql

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 21, 2021

Rights groups said Nassib’s decision would have a significant impact in raising the visibility of LGBTQ athletes.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the chief executive of GLAAD, said Nassib’s announcement “sends a strong message to so many LGBTQ people, especially youth, that they too can one day grow up to be and succeed as a professional athlete.”

The Raiders meanwhile praised Nassib, posting his Instagram statement with the message: “Proud of you Carl.”

“It’s 2021,” Raiders team owner Mark Davis told ESPN. “All the more power to Carl. It doesn’t change my opinion of him as a person or as a Raider.”

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden added: “I learned a long time ago what makes a man different is what makes him great.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said “the NFL family is proud of Carl for courageously sharing his truth today.”

ALSO READ: Tom Brady says Covid-19 restrictions aided him in winning his 7th Super Bowl title

“We share his hope that someday soon statements like his will no longer be newsworthy as we march toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community,” he added.

Wade Davis II, one of a handful of former NFL players who came out after leaving the league, was among the first to congratulate Nassib.

“Bravo Carl Nassib – thank you for inviting us in,” Davis wrote on Twitter.

Bravo #CarlNassib – thank you for inviting us in https://t.co/nfTPqdwGOd

— Wade Davis II (@Wade_Davis28) June 21, 2021

Former NFL quarterback Warren Moon said he was “really proud” of Nassib, explaining that he had “played with several guys who never were comfortable enough to go public… I hope this lets other athletes know, its OK to say who you are.”

Recently retired New England Patriots star Julian Edelman retweeted Nassib’s video, commenting: “Awesome moment. Spreading the love to the @TrevorProject very classy move.”

“The ability to live an authentic life is so important. Sending love and support,” wrote US tennis legend Billie Jean King. “Representation and visibility matter!”

Former basketball player Jason Collins, who became only the second openly gay athlete in a major professional sports league in the United States when he joined the Brooklyn Nets in 2014, said he was “very proud” and “incredibly happy for (Nassib).”

Very proud of Carl Nassib! Incredibly happy for him and can’t wait to watch him play this upcoming season! 👏![CDATA[]]>🏾![CDATA[]]>🙌![CDATA[]]>🏾 https://t.co/kFaTF2EIcR

— Jason Collins (@jasoncollins98) June 21, 2021

Support also came from outside the world of sport, with Star Trek actor George Takei saying he knew “what it’s like to have the eyes of the world on you when you do finally speak your truth.”

“It took me until I was in my late 60s to come out,” he wrote. “Such is the power of the closet… Bravo, Carl Nassib. You have tackled a great deal today.”

AFP

Duhan van der Merwe among Scotland quartet in Lions XV for Murrayfield clash against Japan

LONDON – Four Scotland players have been selected in the British and Irish Lions starting XV for Saturday’s landmark match against Japan in Edinburgh.

Wing Duhan van der Merwe, flanker Hamish Watson and props Zander Fagerson and Rory Sutherland will all make their debuts for the combined side, who will be skippered by tour captain Alun Wyn Jones.

ALSO READ: Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber plans to ‘reintroduce’ players to Test rugby

This match, staged a day before the squad departs for South Africa for a tour that culminates with a three-Test series against the world champion Springboks, will be the first time the Lions have played in Scotland, with this ‘warm-up fixture also their first match against Japan

The back-row selected by Warren Gatland will all be making their Lions debuts, with Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan joining Watson in the loose-forward trio.

ALSO READ: The Springboks will be ready for the Lions tour, promises assistant coach Mzwandile Stick

But the veteran coach, in charge of the Lions for a third successive tour after a 2013 series win in Australia was followed by a drawn 2017 Test campaign in his native New Zealand, has selected an experienced half-back pairing of Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray and Wales stand-off Dan Biggar.

Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw form an all-Ireland centre pairing, with no England players in the starting XV.

But four members of the Red Rose brigade are on the bench, with England captain Owen Farrell and Jamie George providing fly-half and hooker cover respectively despite only arriving into the Lions’ training camp in Jersey on Monday.

Team (15-1)

Liam Williams (WAL), Josh Adams (WAL), Robbie Henshaw (IRL), Bundee Aki (IRL), Duhan van der Merwe (SCO);  Dan Biggar (WAL), Conor Murray (IRL); Jack Conan (IRL), Hamish Watson (SCO), Tadhg Beirne (IRL); Alun Wyn Jones (WAL, capt), Iain Henderson (IRL); Zander Fagerson (SCO), Ken Owens (WAL), Rory Sutherland (SCO)

Replacements: Jamie George (ENG), Wyn Jones (WAL), Tadhg Furlong (IRL), Courtney Lawes (ENG), Taulupe Faletau (WAL), Ali Price (SCO), Owen Farrell (ENG), Anthony Watson (ENG)

Coach: Warren Gatland (NZL)

AFP

Denmark ‘unit’ rides wave of emotion into Wales last-16 Euro clash

by Terence Daley

COPENHAGEN – Denmark is a nation united behind its football team after they charged into the Euro 2020 knockouts on a cathartic night in Copenhagen which sets them up well for the rest of the tournament.

Considered by many a dark horse before the Euro started thanks to a squad packed with talent, Denmark will face Wales in the last 16 and on the evidence of Monday’s thrilling 4-1 thumping of Russia will be favourites to make the last eight.

Before the tournament started, coach Kasper Hjulmand said he wanted his side to “dare to dream” of going all the way as in 1992, and on Monday their resolve shone through after a rough fortnight in which the players had to deal with seeing teammate Christian Eriksen nearly die on the pitch.

ALSO READ: UEFA refuses to light Munich stadium in rainbow colours for Germany-Hungary Euro match

Asked how he managed to hold things together for the team after they secured a spot in the next round, Hjulmand said: “I have a great team around me, great staff, great people around me, great players.”

“I think the only way I can tell it is we are a unit. It’s not one person, it’s not me or anything else, it’s a unit,” he added.

“We’re backing each other up and that is the best within Denmark I think, the best values we can show that we stand united, we are helping each other.”

Having lost their first two matches in the aftermath of Eriksen’s sudden cardiac arrest midway through their opener against Finland, the Danes came into Monday’s match with their tournament status in danger.

They needed eventual Group B winners Belgium to beat Finland and a win by two goals or more — or a single-goal win by any other score than 1-0 — over the Russians.

ALSO READ: Skilful Belgium display qualities to make it 13 in a row

Mikkel Damsgaard gave Denmark the lead with a stunning curling strike shortly before the break but it wasn’t until Yussuf Poulsen capitalised on Daler Kuzyaev’s horrendous backpass to tap into an open goal on the hour mark that the rowdy fans packed into the Parken Stadium knew the knockouts were within their grasp.

After one false alarm in Saint Petersburg — and in the meantime, a Russia penalty — Belgium finally took the lead through a Lukas Hradecky own goal and the partying started in beer-soaked stands, helped by two late goals in quick succession from Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle which completed the rout.

“We hoped that it would be a magic night,” said Hjulmand.

ALSO READ: Wijnaldum double as Dutch complete perfect Euro 2020 group phase

“When we heard about Belgium I thought that it was OK that we had 2-0, and then when Belgium’s goal was disallowed we got a little nervous. But when they scored one more time we got more stable.”

Monday’s match felt like the true beginning of the Euro campaign for Denmark after their traumatic opening week, the first time since Eriksen’s fall that the football was the main story.

During the match’s opening ceremony fans roared as a huge Denmark shirt with “Eriksen 10” written on it was unfurled, and Hjulmand said his team were playing in honour of their close friend.

ALSO READ: England shutting out Euro 2020 ‘noise’, says Sterling

“The team spirit we have and how everyone contributed is amazing, and then mixing it up with amazing performances it’s just fantastic,” he said.

“It’s hard to describe what this team has been through the past four weeks. We’re thinking about Cristian all the way.”

AFP

WATCH: World 800m champion Donavan Brazier stunned at US Olympic trials

EUGENE, United States – World 800m champion Donavan Brazier suffered a sensational upset at the US Olympic track and field trials in Oregon on Monday, finishing last in a shock final won by Clayton Murphy.

Murphy, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, produced a devastating finish to power to victory, overtaking Isaiah Jewett in the home stretch in a world-leading 1min 43.17sec.

Jewett, a student at the University of Southern California, finished second with a personal best of 1:43.85 to book his ticket to Tokyo while Bryce Hoppel finished third in 1:44.14.

What…just…happened…pic.twitter.com/M7NgKGfwdh

— FloTrack (@FloTrack) June 22, 2021

But it was Brazier’s listless performance that provided the biggest shock of the trials so far.

ALSO READ: WATCH: ’Mission accomplished’ but Wayde van Niekerk still wants to improve ahead of Olympics

The 24-year-old 2019 World Championships gold medallist had been looking to atone for his disappointing showing at the 2016 Olympic trials, when he surprisingly bombed out in the opening round.

He had looked comfortable during Saturday’s semi-finals, easily qualifying in second place from his heat behind Murphy.

ALSO READ: Wayde van Niekerk qualifies for Tokyo Olympics, Caster Semenya comes up short

In Monday’s final he looked to be well-positioned heading into the final 200m, but was unable to find an extra gear as Murphy passed him and the front-runners pulled away down the stretch.

Brazier later said he had miscalculated his race, pushing too hard on the opening lap and leaving himself critically short of power in the closing stages.

“I think I might have made a move a little too early and tried to get in a better position in the first 300-350 and paid the price in the last 200,” Brazier said.

ALSO READ: No Simbine, but Leotlela and Munyai face-off in 100m as Van Niekerk, Semenya chase qualifiers

“I’m very sad. I knew with about 200 left when Clayton passed me and I couldn’t match it.”

Brazier said that while he had faced some fitness issues heading into trials, his failure to qualify was down to running a sub-standard race.

“I’m having some things bugging me, but they’re things that someone of championship calibre should be able to push through and nothing that I can make excuses for this race,” he said.

“I just ran pretty sh***. But I’ll come back from this. I’ve been down worse before.”

Brazier’s 800m upset was the highlight of day four of the US trials, which saw athletes in five other events book their places at the Tokyo Olympics.

In the men’s triple jump, two-time Olympic silver medallist Will Claye — competing in the absence of injured Olympic champion Christian Taylor – won with a leap of 17.21m.

Claye sealed victory with his sixth jump of the competition, beating Donald Scott who was second with 17.18m and Chris Benard who was third with 17.01.

In the men’s pole-vault, another reigning world champion, Sam Kendricks suffered a rare defeat. Kendricks, the 2017 and 2019 World Championships gold medallist, finished second behind Chris Nilsen.

Nilsen produced a flawless display, clearing every height through 5.90m at his first attempt. Kendricks failed three times at 5.90 to leave Nilsen in first place, with KC Lightfoot third.

Meanwhile in the 1,500m, veteran Jenny Simpson’s bid for a fourth straight Olympics ended in disappointment. Simpson finished 10th in a final won by Elle Purrier St.Pierre in 3:58.03.

“I think what will be shocking will be watching the Olympics on TV,” Simpson said afterwards.

“I haven’t seen an Olympic Games on TV since 2004. Maybe it’s hard for some athletes to admit but the sport goes on without you.”

AFP

UEFA refuses to light Munich stadium in rainbow colours for Germany-Hungary Euro match

MUNICH – UEFA on Tuesday rejected plans by the city of Munich to light the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours for the Germany-Hungary Euro 2020 match in support of the LGBT community and to protest at a law passed by the Hungarian government.

“UEFA is a politically and religiously neutral organisation,” said European football’s governing body in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s match.

ALSO READ: Skilful Belgium display qualities to make it 13 in a row

“Given the political context of this request — a message aimed at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament — UEFA must refuse.”

The mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, had wanted the stadium in rainbow colours for the crucial Group F match to “send a visible sign of solidarity” with Hungary’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

ALSO READ: ’Do it for Christian’: Fairytale for Denmark as rout of Russia puts them in last 16

Hungary’s right-wing government last week passed a law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality to minors, outlawing any educational programmes or material in which homosexuality is mentioned.

On Monday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto claimed that plans to light the Munich stadium in rainbow colours was “harmful and dangerous”.

ALSO READ: England shutting out Euro 2020 ‘noise’, says Sterling

While UEFA have rejected the request for the day of the match, it has suggested alternative dates for June 28, which is Christopher Street Liberation Day, or from July 3-9, the week of gay pride in Munich.

UEFA have today shared with the DFB that they have stopped the review of the rainbow captain’s armband worn by @Manuel_Neuer.

In a letter, the armband has been assessed as a team symbol for diversity and thus for a ‘good cause.’ #EURO2020 #GER pic.twitter.com/HFiAAQ6F5D

— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) June 20, 2021

The last European Championship match in Munich takes place on July 2.

Tensions are running high on and off the pitch.

Hungary need a win to have a chance of reaching the last 16, while hosts Germany know just a draw would secure a spot in the knockout phase.

AFP

Reality hits hard after Bulls Rainbow Cup final defeat

DURBAN – In 1992, Australia and New Zealand played the Springboks in their first two post-isolation Test matches and both the Aussie and Kiwis were incredulous at how arrogant South Africans were prior to the matches.

Despite the fact that this country had been in isolation for a long time, South Africans thought the Boks were incapable of losing rugby matches, and this was based on the strength of the Currie Cup.

Our fans were rendered speechless when the Boks were humiliated 26-3 by the Wallabies at Newlands, and that year the Boks would be outclassed in four of the five Tests they played.

ALSO READ: Bulls Rainbow Cup final defeat a warning to SA teams, says Jake White

It was evident in 1992 that the South African rugby had fallen behind the rest of the world while in the wilderness and we were not nearly as good as we thought we were.

I was reminded of this while watching the fleet-footed Benetton team run rings around the ponderous Bulls. Very few South Africans saw this coming, and once again the (flawed) assumption that our rugby would be too strong for foreign opposition was based on how good we looked playing against each other while in isolation.

I understand that the 15-months of Covid-caused isolation is not on the same scale as the Apartheid-induced seclusion but the arrogance produced is the same.

ALSO READ: Not all doom and gloom for Bulls after Benetton ambush, says coach Jake White

I had watched Benetton play superbly to beat the tricky Irish team Connacht a few weeks back and knew it would not be a walk in the park for the Bulls, but I did think the Bulls would win. They would be made to sweat but they were too strong upfront and would definitely win …

The ancient Greeks invented the word “hubris” to describe excessive pride or self confidence and there was hubris all over the build-up to the match, perhaps reaching a zenith in a national newspaper which declared its regret that the Bulls were playing a lowly Italian team in the final and not a glamour Pro14 side such as Leinster or Munster.

ALSO READ: Benetton beat Bulls in every area, says ’sorry’ captain Marcell Coetzee

It was further contended that Benetton had fluked their way into the final because they had not played some of the leading Pro14 sides because of Covid-19 cancellations, plus they were a team that had lost all of its games in the previous Pro14 competition.

This last point was true but most were unaware that in that Pro14, Benetton was missing 14 players who were on duty with the Italian national team … Well those 14 internationals were back for this year’s Pro14 and featured in the final against a Bulls team that had lost four international players to the Springbok training camp.

ALSO READ: Inspired Benetton too hot to handle for shell-shocked Bulls in Rainbow Cup final

I doubt Duane Vermeulen (who in any case was injured), Morne Steyn, Marco van Staden and Trevor Nyakane would have made a significant difference because the Bulls’ problems were of a magnitude way beyond the influence of a handful of individuals.

The Bulls, as a collective, underestimated their opposition, believed their own press that they were unbeatable. Most worrying was the prehistoric tactics they employed in the game and then their inability to revert to a plan B when the aimless kicking proved fruitless.

This sobering slap of reality is timeous ahead of the tour of the British & Irish Lions. Wake-up calls are never a bad thing, but will there ever be a permanent cure for South African arrogance?

IOL Sport

Ball in Serena Williams’ court at Wimbledon with rivals’ fitness doubts

LONDON – Serena Williams turns 40 on September 26 and the arrival of that landmark birthday will be all the sweeter if she has at last equalled Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

The tennis legend could even hold the record outright if she wins both Wimbledon and the US Open but despite holding her own in the top 10, there is a fear that age is impacting on her powers.

ALSO READ: Coco Gauff ‘dreams big, aims higher’ at French Open

A fourth round loss at the French Open to Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina reflected this although clay would be her least preferred surface despite three Roland Garros titles.

However, her chances of an eighth Wimbledon crown have improved with the withdrawal of world number two Naomi Osaka, who is taking time out of the game after revealing she has been battling anxiety and depression.

There are also fitness doubts over Australia’s world number one Ashleigh Barty and third-ranked Simona Halep, who denied Williams the record-equalling Slam at Wimbledon two years ago.

ALSO READ: ’Historically I have done pretty well on grass’, says Serena Williams ahead of Wimbledon as quest for 24th Slam goes on

That was one of four Grand Slam finals Williams has played since she drew within one title of the controversial Court’s record at the 2017 Australian Open.

Fellow American tennis legend Chris Evert believes Williams is still capable of winning at Wimbledon where she has been the losing finalist on her last two visits.

“Like Roger Federer I would give Serena a better chance at Wimbledon because the grass is perfect for her game,” Evert told Eurosport prior to the French Open.

“On the grass, if Serena is fit and that serve is working then that’s half of the match right there.

“She has that experience and flexibility.”

ALSO READ: Coco Gauff becomes youngest Grand Slam quarter-finalist in 15 years

Evert, though, concedes that like any great champion who appears vulnerable all her opponents suddenly entertain hopes of beating her.

“The players are better now than they were two years ago and they are not intimidated,” said the 66-year-old, 18-time Grand Slam singles champion.

“They all feel they have a chance against Serena.”

Barty will go into Wimbledon without a warm-up tournament on grass after pulling out due to a hip injury in the middle of the second set of her second round match at the French Open.

The 25-year-old Australian has been practising on grass at Wimbledon labelling them “baby steps” as the 2019 French Open champion bids to be fighting fit.

Halep too will open her defence of the title — Wimbledon having been cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic — without a match on grass under her belt.

The 29-year-old Romanian’s calf injury forced her to miss the French Open and although she turned up for this week’s Bad Homburg tournament she felt she was not fit enough to compete.

“My calf is not ready for a competition,” she said.

“I will keep practising as I really want to be able to play at Wimbledon but for now I have to take care of my body and to see how the recovery is going.”

Barbora Krejcikova is the form player after her surprise triumph in the French Open.

The 25-year-old Czech paid a moving tribute to her late compatriot and former coach Jana Novotna when she won at Roland Garros.

She might have to repeat it should she win at the All England Club, the venue where Novotna won her only singles Grand Slam crown in 1998.

One player who will remind spectators of what fun it was to watch tennis before coronavirus will be American teenager Coco Gauff.

As a 15-year-old she lit up the 2019 tournament both on and off the court after reaching the last 16 having come through the qualifiers.

Unlike Halep and Barty she is getting match practice in at the Eastbourne tournament this week.

Gauff, ranked 23 in the world, says the limelight might shine on her again at Wimbledon.

“People might expect me to feel pressure going into it, but I don’t really feel any pressure,” she said.

“I’m just going to have fun and enjoy it. I don’t really want to push myself to compare my result this year with last time.”

AFP

Hard work and hard talking was behind the Proteas success against the Windies, says Mark Boucher

JOHANNESBURG – Hard work and hard talking – were the secrets to South Africa’s first Test series win away from home in four years, said the national men’s team’s head coach Mark Boucher.

“We sat around the fire in Pretoria (before the series),” Boucher remarked on Monday, following South Africa’s 158-run win against the West Indies in the second Test in St. Lucia which secured a 2-0 series triumph. “The new captain asked a couple of questions. ‘Where we are?’ ‘Where are we going?’ And, ’where do we want to be.’ Quite a few honest answers came out there, as they do around a South African fire at night.”

Many times those kinds of answers are not what people want to hear. In the case of the South African men’s national cricket team, no one shirked their responsibility.

“The guys all really bought into a process that (Dean Elgar) wanted to align his reign with. We are either on the bus or not on the bus and thankfully everyone just said they were on the bus,” said Boucher.

ALSO READ: Wiaan Mulder’s dinner and drinks on me, says Keshav Maharaj after historic hat-trick against the Windies

South Africa’s first away series win for four years was described as significant. A team that has been in the doldrums for the last few years, with players watching as administrative ineptitude took the sport to the brink of disaster, demanded better of themselves.

“We understand the importance of us performing again for the Proteas badge,” Boucher remarked.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Keshav Maharaj hat-trick leaves West Indies deflated

From the circle of fire in Pretoria to the nets in St.Lucia, the hard talking was followed by hard work. “I said it a long time ago, we were working on a few technical things, in terms of upskilling the players, and I think we got an insight into a lot of the hardwork that has gone in behind closed doors. I thought the guys really played well as a unit.”

While the margins of victory were comprehensive – an innings and 63-runs in the first Test and 158-runs in the second – it required plenty of hard work from all the players to achieve those outcomes. “There were a lot of individuals that came through that maybe didn’t get the runs they wanted but there were partnerships over the whole series that really counted, especially in tough conditions. We’ve spoken about playing bigger moments better and I think we did play those big moments very well. Every single player played a part to get us into a situation where we could win Tests. That’s the pleasing part for me,” Boucher added.

ALSO READ: Proteas beat West Indies for first away series win in four years

While the team’s results in recent years have been poor, Boucher said the value of the lessons learned in those defeats couldn’t be underestimated. “There are things that have taken place over the last couple of months that have been quite tough on certain guys. We had some good chats; the team was prepared to move forward as a unit after that.”

“ We’ve not played a lot of cricket, because of Covid, especially away from home, understandably. I’ve always believed, when you’ve got a young team, that the best place for them to actually learn how to play is in foreign conditions. There were a lot of lessons learnt although we didn’t win in Pakistan. We came here and the players knew the conditions were going to be tough. We had some good practices before the series…this is how you develop players by playing them in different conditions. This is where they start learning about their games, making little adjustments to their games that will hopefully turn them into a world class player one day,” Boucher explained.

@shockhess

IOL Sport

Troubled Tokyo Olympics near finish line with one month to go

by Sara Hussein

The Tokyo Olympics have weathered a historic postponement, an unprecedented ban on overseas fans and persistent domestic opposition, but with one month to go, the finish line is finally in sight.

The journey to this year’s Games has involved a long list of complications that sometimes threatened to make them the first modern Olympics cancelled in peacetime.

Now, just four weeks remain until the opening ceremony on July 23, and while the mood is far from jubilant, organisers might just have cause to celebrate.

The first Olympic teams are already in Japan, along with key officials and some overseas media. And polls suggest long-standing public opposition to the Games may be weakening as D-day approaches.

“We are in the full delivery phase,” International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach said on Monday.

“Athletes are beginning to arrive in Tokyo, ready to make their Olympic dreams become a reality.”

It has been an uphill battle since the unprecedented decision to postpone the Games in March 2020, as the scale of the pandemic started to emerge.

Back then, there was cause to hope the pandemic might be over before the opening ceremony came around — the Games would be “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”, Japanese officials said.

But a global coronavirus surge and the rise of more infectious variants put paid to that triumphant tone, and fuelled rising opposition in Japan.

– No cheering, high-fives –

For the first half of the year, polls regularly found most Japanese opposed the Games this summer, favouring either a further delay or cancellation.

But officials pressed ahead, contending with delayed qualifiers and test events and launching a mammoth effort to draft virus rules they say will keep the event safe.

In March they announced the Games would be the first to bar overseas spectators, a decision that Tokyo 2020 chief and former Olympian Seiko Hashimoto called “unavoidable”.

On Monday, organisers set a maximum of 10,000 domestic fans per venue, but warned events could move behind closed doors if infections surge.

Even with some spectators in the stands, there’s no doubt this year’s Games will be a pale imitation of Olympics past.

Cheering will be banned, and athletes can’t hug or high-five.

They must wear masks at all times except when eating, sleeping or competing, and are only allowed to move between the Olympic Village and their venues.

Punishments for violating the rules will range from verbal warnings and fines to being kicked out of the Games altogether.

– Hurdles ahead –

The Tokyo Olympics faced setbacks as far back as 2015, when the main stadium’s revamp was sent back to the drawing board because it was too expensive.

In 2019, the head of Japan’s Olympic committee stepped down over a French investigation probing $2.3 million in payments made before and after Tokyo’s nomination. He denied any wrongdoing.

And in February, Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori resigned after causing a furore with his sexist remarks that women talk too much in meetings.

As the Games finally approach, the IOC says more than 80 percent of those in the Village will be vaccinated, but competitors will still be tested daily.

In a taste of the challenges ahead, a coach from Uganda’s Olympic team tested positive on arrival in Japan on Saturday, despite the delegation reportedly being vaccinated and testing negative before travel.

The Olympic delay and virus security have added at least 294 billion yen ($2.6 billion) to an already hefty budget of 1.64 trillion yen ($14.9 billion), which could make Tokyo the most expensive Summer Games ever.

But despite the coronavirus and the hefty expense, there are signs public opposition is softening, with recent surveys finding 50 percent or more favour the Games going ahead over cancellation.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who faces his first election just after the Games, will be hoping for a success that can boost his political career.

His government has faced pressure over its coronavirus response, though Japan has seen a smaller outbreak than many nations, with around 14,500 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns.

The country vaccine rollout started slowly, though the pace is now increasing, with around seven percent of the population fully inoculated.

AFP

No rest for Lionel Messi in record-breaking Argentina appearance

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni considered resting Lionel Messi for Monday’s Copa America clash against Paraguay but in the end good sense prevailed as the Barcelona striker was once again a key man in their 1-0 win.

“The truth is that Messi has played in all our games and so it is very difficult not to rely on him,” Scaloni said after a hard-fought game in which Argentina scored early and then ceded more and more ground to a Paraguay side that could not turn their possession into goals.

“What worries me is the physical condition of the players,” the coach added. “The conditions were not great to play in.”

ALSO READ: ’I never imagined reaching these numbers’, says Neymar as he edges closer to Pele’s Brazil record

Messi has been one of Argentina’s most active players in their three Copa games so far.

He has played every minute and as usual never stopped looking for the ball. His 66 touches against Chile in their opener was a team high, as was his 78 against Uruguay along with Rodrigo De Paul.

Against Paraguay only defender Nahuel Molina touched the ball more.

The victory over Paraguay in Brasilia took Argentina through to the quarter-finals with a game to spare and Scaloni admitted the time might be right to rest his star man.

“It’s possible that we will rotate in the next game,” he said of next Monday’s final group game against Bolivia. “Having qualified gives us some peace of mind. Now we can recharge our batteries and our strength.”

ALSO READ: Lionel Messi confesses to worrying about contracting Covid-19 ahead of first Copa America game

Messi got his 147th cap against Paraguay, tying the record held by Javier Mascherano.

The recognition comes at the end of an eventful season for a man who will turn 34 on Thursday.

He began the season opting to stay at Barcelona after saying he wanted to leave.

Exactly where he will be next season is not certain but one thing that is not in doubt is his status at the national side.

ALSO READ: Neymar helps Brazil to perfect six in World Cup qualifying

Messi has spoken openly about wanting to win a title with Argentina and add an international honour to the myriad baubles he picked up with his club.

Argentina have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in 1993 and it is the one blank page on his otherwise unblemished CV.

Seven years ago today:

Argentina 1-0 Iran. 91st minute. Lionel Messi.

(🎥: @TyCSports)pic.twitter.com/N7bRUcaQU9

— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 21, 2021

They may fear a resurgent Brazil but they are enjoying a good spell – Monday’s game was their 16th without defeat – and belief the drought may finally break is quietly building.

“We can see that the team is growing and taking shape,” said defender German Pezzella. “With the squad and the players we have we can be there or thereabouts.”

Reuters