After De Grasse exit, who can stop Bolt and Van Niekerk?

The news that the exciting young Canadian had succumbed to a season-ending hamstring strain in training on Monday gives a very different complexion to the 100 and 200 metres, in which he was expected to offer perhaps the biggest threat to the duo.

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In the 100 metres, it had appeared that De Grasse had begun to get under the skin of the usually unflappable Bolt, who is seeking to end his matchless career with a seventh global 100 metres title in Olympic and World Championships.

Not only had the 22-year-old, a triple medallist at last year’s Olympics, suggested airily that Bolt might be slowing down but his team had also said the Jamaican’s camp ensured he was kept out of their recent 100m race in Monaco, a suggestion they denied vehemently.

It all left Bolt saying on Tuesday that he had been “disrespected” by an athlete that he had previously praised and while he did not name De Grasse, the widespread assumption was that it was De Grasse who had incurred his wrath.

So, with the Canadian who is considered the leader of the next wave of 100 metres men now not around to torment him, who is best equipped to ruin Bolt’s farewell?

On the face of it, the onus is on an absolute beginner, Christian Coleman, and two old world title-winning foes, Justin Gatlin and Yohan Blake, who have been burnt far too often by Bolt already down the years.

UNKNOWN QUANTITY

The unknown quantity is 21-year-old U.S. college student Coleman, who’s comfortably the fastest in the world this year at 9.82 seconds but who still sounds a little starry-eyed about the prospect of beating Bolt, calling the idea “crazy”.

In the U.S. Championships, he was beaten by 35-year-old Gatlin, who told Reuters that “it is back to the old Justin, like 2004”.

That is when he was Olympic 100 metres champion and had yet to be given the four-year doping suspension that was to turn him into the sport’s bete noire.

Yet he has lost eight out of nine times to Bolt over 100m while, similarly, Yohan Blake, second fastest in the world this year at 9.90 seconds, has lost five out of six completed races over the distance to his training partner.

The odds remain that Bolt, even after a patchy season where he has gone under 10 seconds just once, has timed his run to the championships as assuredly as ever, his 9.95 second win in Monaco a fortnight ago suggesting plenty more to come.

“Unbeatable!” was the headline Bolt said everyone would write again on Saturday night. With his only global 100m final loss being disqualification for a false start in Daegu 2011, the suspicion indeed remains that only he can beat himself.

De Grasse, who won Olympic 200m silver in Rio in 19.80 seconds, may have had a better opportunity in the longer event, which Bolt has chosen to bypass.

Yet his absence now smooths the path for world 400m record holder Van Niekerk, who is seeking the same 200m/400m double that Michael Johnson last achieved at the 1995 Gothenburg World Championships.

The half-lap event now looks increasingly likely to be another straight fight between Van Niekerk and Botswanan Isaac Makwala, who are beginning to carve out a special rivalry over both 200m and 400m.

Van Niekerk clocked 19.84 seconds in Kingston, Jamaica, in June while Makwala recorded 19.77 seconds in Madrid a month later, the two fastest times in the world this year.

Makwala, who keeps improving at the age of 30, enjoys calling himself “Badman” but it is going to take a remarkably good man to defeat either Van Niekerk or Bolt at these championships.

(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Alison Williams)

Lions can provide further evidence of SA rugby revival

South African rugby reached crisis point in 2016 when the national team lost eight of their 12 tests, the worst season in their history, and a Lions victory on Saturday, especially against New Zealand opposition, would signal a much-needed revival in fortunes.

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It is the second season in a row that the Johannesburg-based side have made the Super Rugby decider, but were toothless in their 20-3 defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2016 and so three-time winners the Bulls remain the only South African winners of the competition since 1996.

Saturday’s final is also a farewell for coach Johan Ackermann, who leaves for English side Gloucester after the competition, with a sell-out 62,000 crowd set for his send-off.

Both teams go into Saturday’s decider with 16-1 records in 2017, but home advantage for the Lions at the altitude of Ellis Park, even against a more pedigreed Crusaders side, could swing the game in their favour.

Ackermann has named an unchanged line-up from the team that has played throughout the knockout stages, with influential skipper Warren Whiteley still missing through injury.

“We can analyse the Crusaders as much as we want to, we know they are going to be physical. It is for us to be in their faces and to adapt if our plan doesn’t work,” Ackermann told reporters.

The Crusaders are also unchanged from their 27-13 semi-final win over the Waikato Chiefs last weekend, and have reported no ill-effects from their dash across the Indian Ocean.

“We’ve acclimatised well and we have a good history over here,” Crusaders coach Scott Robinson said. “We are a bit isolated here, which is good, we don’t get so much of the hype. We are well aware of what is ahead of us.

“We know the important areas of the game, defence is obviously critical. Refs obviously come into play, it’s a different level with a different intensity. We know we have to be smart. It’s an occasion for big players to step up.”

The Crusaders will be captained by lock Sam Whitelock, and also have New Zealand captain and number eight Kieran Read in their side as they seek a first Super Rugby victory since 2008.

“It’s been a long time … we’ve been to this big dance a few times before and haven’t performed,” Robinson said.

The last team to win a Super Rugby final played outside their country was in 2000 when the Crusaders beat the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Alison Williams)

British hope Prescod out to measure himself against Bolt

Prescod, from the London suburb of Walthamstow, just a few miles from the Olympic stadium that will host the world championships, will be part of the host nation’s squad for an event dominated by Usain Bolt’s farewell to the sport.

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He sealed his debut appearance with a stunning 100m victory in 10.09 seconds at the British Championships last month in front of mostly empty seats in Birmingham.

There will be 60,000 watching when he takes to his blocks for Friday’s 100m heats at the world championships — the vast majority having never clapped eyes on him before.

The similarities between Prescod and Bolt will soon become apparent. He stands six foot four (1.93 metres) in his spikes, has a huge stride and, like Bolt, a surging finish which was apparent when he claimed a shock British title in last month.

“After 50 metres I can go with anyone but I need to make sure I get a good start,” Prescod, who like Bolt was regarded as a better 200m prospect because of his build, told Reuters.

“People used to say I resembled Bolt because I was tall. Some say tall people can’t go fast. Bolt proved that wrong,” added Prescod, who once played basketball for London.

Like Bolt at the same age, Prescod is yet to clock a sub 10-second 100m — his personal best of 10.04 being one hundredth of a second slower than Bolt’s was before he sent shockwaves through the sport with 9.76 in Kingston, Jamaica in 2008.

The rest, as they say, is history as far as eight-times Olympic and 11-times world champion Bolt is concerned.

For Prescod it is all about the future, having found himself thrust into a major international championships — junior or senior — for the first time.

“Some people say I’ve skipped the queue because I never did the world junior or European juniors because of injuries,” he said. “I gambled by doing the British Championships this year and now my first major championships is the worlds in London.”

Prescod, coached by Jonas Dodoo, only began taking a professional approach to athletics at the end of 2015 when offered a two-year Nike sponsorship. Until then he worked late shifts in a golf club bar and woke early for training.

He began focussing on the 100m last year and served notice of his potential when he ran 10.04 at an English Inter-County meet in Bedford, the same day the British team flew to Brazil for the Rio Olympics.

“The boys were waiting to take off and they saw my time come through, it rattled them a bit I think,” he said.

A few weeks later he finished fifth in the 200m in the Lausanne Diamond League but this year the focus has been the 100m.

In June he finished seventh behind the likes of Andre de Grasse and British team mate Chijindu Ujah in the Bislett Games in Oslo — a moment he described as a “wake-up call”.

“That was a whole new experience. I was in lane eight and didn’t get the start I wanted.

“But it showed me what I needed to do. It helped me a lot for the British championships two weeks after that.”

While there will be nerves as he awaits his big day, Prescod said his inexperience can be an advantage.

“I have no pressure and I’ll just be running for myself and trying to break 10 seconds and then we’ll see,” he said.

“If Bolt’s next to me it doesn’t actually make any difference. I can’t start thinking why am I here?

“I’m approaching it like a Diamond League with more people. I won’t overthink it. Just stay chilled and relax.”

In a sport where timing is everything though, Prescod at least has got something right.

“It’s cool I’m making my debut in Usain’s final event,” he said. “It’s good to pay respect, he’s a legend, but now I’m a rival too hopefully. I’ve caught him just before he’s gone.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Sharapova withdraws from Rogers Cup with arm injury

“I am so sorry to be missing Rogers Cup this year,” Sharapova said in a statement from Tennis Canada.

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“I am so appreciative to the tournament for the wild card and my fans in Toronto for their support.

“I am disappointed that injury is keeping me from the tennis court once again, and I will work as hard as I can to return to the game I love as soon as possible.”

The injury is the same one that had forced Sharapova to pull out of her second round match in Stanford on Wednesday.

Competing in her fourth tournament back after a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova said she started to feel pain in her forearm late during her first-round win over American Jennifer Brady.

The pain persisted and the former-world number one withdrew from her second round match handing Ukrainian seventh seed Lesia Tsurenko a walkover.

The injury casts a bigger cloud on Sharapova competing in the year’s final grand slam, with the former-world number one hoping for a wildcard into the U.S. Open, an event she won in 2006.

Sharapova was denied a wildcard for the French Open and missed Wimbledon, where she was going to try to gain main draw entry through the qualifying tournament, due to injury.

Banned after testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova has had mixed results since re-joining the WTA Tour.

It marked the second time in three months that Sharapova’s comeback has been interrupted by injury having also retired from her second round match at the Italian Open in mid-May after injuring her left thigh.

The Rogers Cup gets under way on Monday with an elite field that includes all of the Top 10 players in the world rankings, including defending champion Simona Halep and Venus Williams.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto Editing by Alison Williams)

World Rugby ‘surprised’ as SBW wins appeal

New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams will be available for the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship opener against Australia on August 19.

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Williams has won his appeal against the details of his four-match suspension following his red card in New Zealand’s 24-21 loss in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions last month.

Global governing body World Rugby revealed “surprise” at the decision of an independent appeal panel to deem New Zealand’s August 11 encounter against Counties Manukau and Taranaki – with the All Blacks playing 40 minutes against each side – as meeting the regulations constituting a match.

“A game being played by New Zealand against Counties Manukau and Taranaki on 11 August that had been excluded from the suspension by the original disciplinary committee, has now been deemed to comply with the regulations’ definition of a ‘match’,” read a statement issued on behalf of World Rugby.

“And, as such, that match will be included as part of the player’s suspension. Accordingly, Williams is suspended from all forms of rugby up to and including 11 August.”

World Rugby later responded by issuing its own statement, insisting it will respect Williams’ right to face Australia next month – but that it will seek clarity on just what represents a match among rugby’s complex rules and regulations.

“While World Rugby respects the decision of the independent appeal committee to uphold the appeal by New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams against the matches that counted towards his four-week suspension, it is surprised by the committee’s interpretation of the definition of “match” (which is defined in Regulation 1 as “a game in which two teams compete against each other”),” read World Rugby’s statement.

“With the appeal process having been exhausted, World Rugby will refer the interpretation of the regulation to the Regulations Committee when it meets in September to examine the findings in the context of the game’s regulations to ensure universal clarity and compliance with the meaning of the regulation moving forward.”