Townsend ‘expects’ backup plan for crucial Japan game after Rugby World Cup hit by Typhoon Hagibis

Scotland Rugby head coach Gregor Townsend says the Scotland camp expect World Rugby to put “contingency plans” in place if their crucial final World Cup Pool A fixture against Japan is called off.

The fixture faces being cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis, which would leave Gregor Townsend’s side in third place in their pool and eliminated from the tournament.

Two matches on Saturday – New Zealand vs. Italy and England vs. France – have already been cancelled due to the typhoon, with each team awarded two points as a result of a draw being declared.

With a decision on Sunday’s game in Yokohama not being made until the same morning, any rescheduling seems unlikely.

 

In a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday morning, Gregor Townsend reiterated Scottish Rugby’s hopes that going ahead with the fixture will be the preferable plan of action.

“We have to have faith in the organisers that the game will be played even if it’s behind closed doors or at a different venue,” he said.

He added: “What do we need? We need officials, we need players. The way I read the rules was that you can’t change days but you could change venues and contingencies would be in place.

“I’ve since been told there is force majeure (measures in the rules) and things can change because of exceptional circumstances.

“If that means Monday because it takes a day for things to be put back in order then who knows. But right now, I think they’re planning on it going ahead on Sunday.

Journalist Rob Robertson told EN4 News: “The Scotland team have been told the typhoon will reach its peak on Saturday – the eve of their game against Japan – and they have to stay inside their hotel all day for their own safety.”

This will in turn affect the team’s training schedule and could see them go in to the game on Sunday without having had a captain’s run to finalise their game plan before facing the hosts Japan for a place in the quarter finals.

An SRU statement, released earlier in the morning, read: “We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby at all levels to work to ensure our fixture against Japan on Sunday can be played as planned. Public safety is the clear priority.

“Scottish Rugby fully expects contingency plans to be put in place to enable Scotland to contest for a place in the quarter-finals on the pitch and will be flexible to accommodate this.”

World Rugby also released a statement regarding the issue, with no clear indication of postponement or an alternative to Sunday’s fixtures.

“Every effort is being made to ensure Sunday’s matches will be played as scheduled,” World Rugby said. “A thorough assessment of venues will take place after the typhoon has passed before a final decision is made ‪on Sunday morning.

“The decision to cancel matches has not been taken lightly and has been made in the best interests of public, team, tournament personnel and volunteer safety, based on expert advice and detailed weather information.”

 

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Clarke and Scotland face Russian test in Moscow

Scotland boss Steve Clarke has targeted 12 points from Scotland’s remaining four games in Euro 2020 qualifying, starting with a win against Russia in Moscow on Thursday night.

The Scots face Russia knowing that their hopes of automatic qualification to UEFA Euro 2020 are all but over, following defeats to the same opponent and Belgium in September.

Clarke has dismissed any notions that the four remaining games are a “free-hit” as Scotland look to build towards a play-off in March.

“I’d like to pick up 12 points out of the remaining games,” Clarke said. “Obviously, a really tough one here in Russia.

“We owe it to the thousand or so Tartan Army fans that are coming over to watch us as well.”

It is the first game in a qualification double-header this week, with San Marino travelling to Hampden Park on Sunday for the second.

Scotland sit on just six points after as many games in their group, with Belgium and Russia ten and nine points above them respectively.

Media reports indicate that Aberdeen defender Michael Devlin will make his first international appearance at the Luzhniki Stadium.

Centre-back is problem position for Clarke with Charlie Mulgrew the only surviving central defender from the original squad announcement.

Goalkeeper David Marshall insisted that a lack of consistency in defence isn’t a problem.

Marshall has established his self as Scotland’s number one since the international retirement of Allan McGregor.

“I think it only gets brought into light when you are not winning games,” Marshall said. “At international level, injuries and lack of form changes a lot of the team.

“It’s something I’ve been used to over the years, so it not a major thing. Hopefully, we can get a settled squad and build towards the games in March.”


EN4 News spoke to Russian football expert David Sansun from website Russian Football News to learn a bit more about Scotland’s opponents.

Sansun says that Russian fans weren’t impressed by Scotland’s performance in the 2-1 defeat at Hampden Park.

“I know there are some weak positions but they just seemed to be lacking ideas and Russia really could have scored a couple more,” Sansun said.

“I think there was maybe some scepticism to start with (Scotland), an unknown quantity but at the same time their association with England perhaps made them a worry.”

Sansun warns that Scotland will need to be wary of Russia’s centre forward Artem Dzyuba, who scored in Glasgow last month, and already has five goals in this qualifying campaign.

“You saw Dzyuba’s effect in the first game, and (Aleksandr) Golovin too can always be dangerous. He is very talented and always seems to shine for the national side.

“(Denis) Cheryshev didn’t start in Scotland surprisingly but he obviously had a great World Cup, while Mario Fernandes at right back continually proves himself to be one of the best in his position in the world.

“The 2018 World Cup made the (Russian) national team heroes. There is such huge faith in them now, compared to before the tournament when everyone was expecting failure and a loss vs Saudi Arabia. There is complete confidence they will qualify for the Euros, and they almost have already.”

 

 

 

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Hibs Ladies boss says side are ‘hungry’ for more success ahead of SEE Scottish Women’s Cup semi-final

Hibernian Ladies head coach Grant Scott says that his players are fresh and hungry for success ahead of their SSE Scottish Women’s Cup semi-final against Motherwell on Sunday.

The Hibees are looking to lift the trophy for the fourth season on the bounce, after also winning the League Cup in May.

The squad has had somewhat of a reshuffle after several years of success, but Scott says his team still has the same desire.

“Myself and the coaching staff all enjoy the success, but it’s really down to the players,” he told EN4 News. “We’ve got such an ambitious group that they look to perform in every game and win as many matches as they can.

“We’ve lost a few players in the last few seasons, so we have an evolving group. There’s some people that haven’t been at that stage yet, so they’ve seen the success, they want it and they’re hungry.

Credit: Craig Doyle Photography

“It can be very difficult [to replace players] because as coaches we get nervy of losing our talent and think ‘I’m never going to replace that.’ This season myself and the coaches almost think that without two or three bigger names and experienced players that we’ve had in the past, we’re almost a better team. Not that there’s ever been a bad team ethos or environment.”

The latest from this crop of players to break through is goalkeeper Alicia Yates, who came off the bench against Forfar Farmington on Tuesday night to make her debut for the first team.

Scott hopes this appearance will be the first of many.

“We took her to another game recently, and she sat on the bench just to break her in and to understand what we’re all about,” Scott said.

“We’ve got really high hopes for Alicia. There’s lots of interests from other clubs just now for her, we’re hoping that she stays with us and develops.

“She’s getting a fantastic level of coaching from our goalkeeping coach; she trains with our first-team goalkeepers at least once of week.”

Hibs go into the semi-final on the back of a 13-0 hammering of Forfar. Second-half hat tricks from Jamielee Napier and Lia Tweedie completed the rout.

“We played them quite recently in a league match, and on that day they were a bit more defensive than I expected,” Scott said of Motherwell.

“They pose a threat going forward, they’ve got a couple of young energetic strikers with a bit of pace.

“It will be a similar affair I imagine at the weekend, where they’ll look to stay in the game and catch us out with a fast break or two.”

 

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Cockerill and Douglas provide Edinburgh update heading into Leinster clash

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill and second row Murray Douglas spoke to the media this week as both addressed the ground out win against Cardiff Blues last weekend, before looking ahead to the tough competition they will face from Leinster away from home again this weekend.

Edinburgh head coach Richard Cockerill has named his side to face reigning champions Leinster at the RDS Arena tomorrow evening.

Winger Duhan Van Der Merwe seems to have shaken off a shoulder knock he picked up during the side’s 19-11 win over Cardiff Blues last weekend as he starts on the left wing with Jamie Farndale named on the right.

Matt Scott remains out of the team due to injury as George Taylor instead pairs Mark Bennett in the centre, whilst Nic Groom and Jaco Van Der Walt are due to remain in charge of the game for another week as they seem to be the first-choice half back partnership.

Jamie Hodgson comes in to the side to join Murray Douglas in the scrum’s boiler room, whilst Mesu Kunavula is named in the starting 15 for the first time on the flank. Sam Thomson may make his Edinburgh debut if he comes off the bench.

The most concerning omission for the capital side is Lewis Carmichael, as the second row is currently sporting a moon boot and crutches. The lock has only just returned having missed the entirety of the 2018/19 season.

“He’s got a slight ankle problem,” Cockerill explained. “He had an accident in training – just went over on his ankle. So, we’re hopeful he’ll be alright, but we’ll see.”

Quizzed on the fact that a moon boot usually indicates a couple of weeks recovery before returning to action, Cockerill brushed off the concern, saying; “You sneeze and they put a boot on your foot these days. We’ll just see. It’s too early to tell.”

Cockerill is feeling confident in his side’s mindset heading in to the clash, despite the injury doubts.

“We go to Leinster this weekend and it’s another big challenge for us,” he said. “They’ve got some real experience in key areas in the spine of that team. If you let Leinster get on the front foot and control the tempo of the game they’re going to cause problems. We hope to put up a bit more of a fight than Ospreys did.”

The Irish province – who are the reigning Pro14 champions – also come in to the encounter on the back of a win having beaten Ospreys 53-5 last weekend, running in eight tries in the process.

Edinburgh second row Murray Douglas said the team will be looking to play a strong all-round game against the Irish side.

“We’ll be trying to put together a solid performance for 80 minutes this week. Everyone’s really upbeat and positive and it’s a bit of confidence after the Cardiff win as well.”

“It’s the reigning champs in their own backyard, so it’s going to be a big battle,” the lock added.

Leinster name a strong side to welcome the Scottish outfit as Scott Fardy captains a side which sees the experienced Dave Kearney return to feature on the wing following a man of the match performance in round one. Meanwhile Scott Penny will make his first appearance of the season as he starts on the flank.

The Irish side aren’t without their own injury issues however, as Barry Daly, Ciaran Frawley and Dan Leavy all remain out.

Teams:

Edinburgh: Damien Hoyland, Jamie Farndale, Mark Bennett, George Taylor, Duhan Van Der Merwe; Jaco Van Der Walt, Nic Groom; Pierre Schoeman, Mike Willmse, Pietro Ceccarelli, Jamie Hodgson, Murray Douglas, Mesu Kunavula, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining. Subs: Fenton, Bhatti, McCallum, Thomson, Miller, Shiel, Hickey, Johnstone.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan, Dave Kearney, Rory O’Loughlin, Joe Tomane, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Peter Dooley, Ronan Kelleher, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Caelen Doris. Subs: Tracy, Milne, Abdaladze, Molony, Murphy, Osborne, H Byrne, J O’Brien.

 

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Andy Murray’s incredible comeback journey shows he will continue to defy the odds

Just under nine months ago, Andy Murray stood on the Melbourne Arena court and watched a litany of famous tennis names pay tribute to him. He had just lost in five sets in the first round of the Australian Open, a tournament that he had made the final of on five occasions. This seemed like the end of an illustrious career which had seen the Scot win three Grand Slam titles, two Olympic gold medals and awarded a knighthood. However, on Tuesday it was announced that Murray would make his grand slam singles comeback at the Australian Open in 2020.

This is a huge turnaround from the last couple of years, after a mass of hip injuries started to impact Murray’s career, which ended his season in July of 2017. A further hip surgery in January 2018 didn’t improve his fortunes, with the US Open being the only grand slam he played in, losing in the second round. He continued playing until the end of the season but it was clear that something wasn’t right. He then broke down in a press conference before the Australian Open where he said it could be his last tournament.

 

He could have played on but deemed it would be detrimental to his long-term health. So at the end of January, he underwent hip resurfacing surgery. Murray did this in the knowledge that he may never be able to play the sport that had consumed much of his life. The only other tennis player that had undergone this surgery and continued to play was Bob Bryan, who alongside his brother Mike, make up one of the most successful doubles team in tennis history.

It was in the doubles where Murray started his comeback. His return could barely have gone any better, winning the Queen’s Club doubles title alongside Feliciano Lopez and perhaps most importantly playing four times in four days. The week in London showed that, while Murray had some way to go, a return to singles competitions were a real possibility.

After playing in four more doubles tournaments, Murray made his singles return in a losing effort to Frenchman Richard Gasquet in Cincinnati, just seven months after it looked like his career was over. He continued his comeback in Winston-Salem where again he lost in the first round. The Scot then decided to forego the glitz and glamour of the US Open in New York to play in a Challenger – tennis’ second tier – event in Mallorca, where in the first round he faced a 17-year-old Frenchman without an ATP ranking. If anyone could doubt Murray’s desire to return, then his decision to play in a lower tier event just to play more matches put those claims to rest.

Murray’s return really picked up steam with a trio of tournaments in China. He won his first tour match back in Zhuhai against American Tennys Sandgren, while in Beijing he beat US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini on his way to the quarter-finals. In his latest tournament, the Shanghai Masters, Murray lost in the second round to world number 12 Fabio Fognini in three closely fought sets. A confrontation towards the end of the third set showed that the Scotsman hadn’t lost any of the fighting spirit in his time away from the court.

In the past, players in their early 30s would be winding down their careers, Pete Sampras being a prime example. Sampras won his 14th major title at the 2002 US Open at the age of 32 and never played another tour match. However, in recent years, men’s tennis has become dominated by older players. In fact, the youngest active male player to have won a major title is 31-year-old Marin Cilic, with only six men winning the 40 grand slams up for grabs this decade. This shows that in the three years since 32-year-old Murray won his last Wimbledon title, the men’s game hasn’t moved forward that much.

Despite this, Andy Murray has a long way to go to reach the heights of earlier in his career but the very fact that he is back playing competitively is an achievement in itself. However, Murray has already shown that he will not settle for mediocrity.

 

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Europa League preview: Can Celtic and Rangers remain unbeaten?

Rangers and Celtic return to Europa League action on Thursday night looking to build on two impressive results in their opening group games. Adam Mackintosh previews. 

 

Young Boys vs Rangers

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has challenged his side to build on their opening Europa League victory against Feyenoord when they travel to Switzerland to take on Young Boys. They sit second in Group G behind Porto, who beat the Swiss champions 2-1 two weeks ago. Sheyi Ojo scored the only goal against Feyenoord Rangers have won their last three matches since that win, scoring ten goals and conceding none.

(Credit: Heather Miller)

Young Boys dropped into the Europa League after losing their Champions League play-off against Red Star Belgrade, going out on away goals after two draws. They are currently unbeaten in the Swiss league, sitting second on 19 points, three points behind leaders Basel. Cameroon international Jean-Pierre Nsame is their top scorer with nine goals, including one in their 3-2 win over Sion on Saturday.

For Rangers to improve on their performance of last season, where they finished third in their Europa League group, they must improve on their away form which saw them pick up just one point on the road. A trip to Bern is no easy feat with Young Boys taking points off Valencia and Juventus in the Champions League last season, beating the Italian champions 2-1 in December.

Ryan Kent, Jordan Jones and Joe Aribo remain out for the Ibrox side.

Celtic vs Cluj

Neil Lennon has said his side should use their defeat against Cluj in Champions League qualifying to power them to victory on Thursday night. Both sides started well in their European group with Celtic drawing 1-1 at French side Rennes two weeks ago, while Cluj defeated Italian giants Lazio 2-1.

Celtic come into the game after dropping their first points of the league season after drawing 1-1 with Hibernian on Saturday, with Ryan Christie equalising after a Kris Ajer own goal gave Hibs an early lead. Before Saturday, Celtic had won six successive domestic games since their humbling against Cluj.

Celtic were left frustrated at Easter Road on Sunday (Credit: Jamie Braidwood)

After drawing 1-1 in Transylvania, Celtic went into the second leg of the qualifier in control of the tie. In an eventful game where Celtic took the lead twice, Cluj scored two goals in the last ten minutes to take them through 5-4 on aggregate. The Romanians would go on to lose 2-0 on aggregate to the Czech champions Slavia Prague in the final round of Champions League qualifying.

One of the danger men for Cluj will be Frenchman Billel Omrani, who scored twice at Parkhead and scored the winner against Lazio in the first group game. He has 10 goals in 17 appearances so far this season.

Despite the result earlier on in the season, Celtic will go into this game as favourites as they look far more defensively settled than they did two months ago. Since the 4-3 defeat to Cluj in August, Celtic have conceded six goals in 10 games.

Mikey Johnston and Tom Rogic are doubts for the match, with Leigh Griffiths joining long-term absentees Jozo Simunovic and Daniel Arzani on the sidelines. Nir Bitton is back in contention for the first time since September 1.

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Inverness Caley Thistle facing threat of administration

Inverness Caledonian Thistle will tonight plead with shareholders to step up and save the club from administration.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, chief executive Scot Gardiner told of how Caley have been losing around $800,000 every year since they were relegated to the Championship.

Gardiner will use the club’s EGM to hold talks with shareholders in the hopes that they will ‘step up’ and inject a vast amount of cash.

“We’re in the second tier and we can’t afford it,” Gardiner told MailSport

“We have been speaking to some of the big shareholders appealing to them to help us find working capital because we don’t have the revenue to continue as we are.

“We need them to step up now.”

Thistle were relegated to the Scottish Championship in 2017 and failed to make the promotion play-offs the following season. They currently sit third in the league after seven games.

Liverpool triumph in Salzburg thriller, Spurs humiliated – Champions League Podcast

Liverpool came out on top in a Champions League classic at home to Red Bull Salzburg, after blowing a 3-0 lead at Anfield, then going back in front in a 4-3 win.

Tottenham Hotspur had vastly different luck, losing seven goals at home for the first time in their history to lose 7-2 at the hands of Bayern Munich.

Gregor Kerr, Adam Mackintosh and Grant Barnes picked the bones from the midweek action.

 

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The World Athletics Championships have been unreal, but where are the fans?

Wednesday should have been the happiest night of Dina Asher-Smith’s life. The 23-year-old track star had just achieved the unthinkable, becoming the first British female to win a major sprint title as she stormed to gold in the 200 meters at the World Athletics Championships, and now it was time to celebrate. 

But there was a problem. As Asher-Smith took hold of her gold medal, as the memories of years of hard work and dedication flashed across her mind and the sense of achievement started to sink in, the stadium was silent. There was no emotion, there was no colour. The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar was empty. 

It’s been a theme throughout these World Athletics Championships. The best track and field athletes in the world have been pushing themselves to the limit, breaking records and making history, and there’s no one there to see it. Qatar’s national stadium is able to hold a capacity crowd of 40,000 people but the athletics championships have barely seen more than 10% of that.

It has not mattered if it has been Asher-Smith, or the winner of the women’s 100 meters, the Jamaican superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. It has not mattered if it has been Christian Coleman and his stunning 100 meter time of 9.76 seconds. It has not mattered if it has been the U.S. 400 meter mixed relay team, who broke the world record on Sunday. It will be the same for Scottish star Laura Muir, who races in the 1,500 meters semi-finals on Thursday. 

No matter what we have seen, the action has been met empty stands and minimal attendances. It is reducing these world championships to feel like a high school track meet.

Fingers have to be pointed at the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of world athletics, and its president, Lord Sebastian Coe. The IAAF awarded the world championships to Doha in 2014, ahead of rival bids from Barcelona and the U.S. city of Eugene (the home of U.S. athletics), seemingly turning a blind eye to a lack of interest in the sport in Qatar. 

There is no question that a world championships in Barcelona or Eugene would have sparked interest amongst locals, and there is no question that those cities would have delivered a games that would have brought noise, colour and fans. Perhaps enough to inspire new generations to get involved in the sport. 

Think back to the 2009 championships in Berlin, where Usain Bolt set the world 100 meter record of 9.58 seconds in front of almost 75,000 spectators in the city’s Olympiastadion. Think back to 2017 when London backed up a successful Olympics by putting on the most successful world championships ever and breaking the overall attendance record by selling over 600,000 tickets for the week. 

And to think that the championships are now in Doha, where just over 2,000 people watched the women’s 100 meter final on Sunday. 

By awarding the world championships to Doha, a city without any prestige or history in athletics, the IAAF has badly let down its athletes. They have deprived them of the opportunity of competing on the biggest stage and have failed to provide them with an inspirational setting to achieve their dreams. 

The world championships should feel as if they matter. Unfortunately these games are passing us by and no one is noticing. 

 

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