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Paine says Labuschagne will make a ‘great’ captain
14 June 2021, 11:21 AM

Australian Test skipper Tim Paine has tipped Marnus Labuschagne to be a future captain and says the top-order batsman’s natural leadership qualities make him a great fit for the role.

Since his debut against Pakistan in 2018, Labuschagne (26) has grown in stature in the Australian set-up and is currently the third-ranked batsman in test cricket. “I think he’d be a good (leader),” Paine told reporters from Brisbane on Monday.

“Marnus is a great thinker of the game. He’s a good team man, he’s got so much enthusiasm for his team and the game.”

Paine has been impressed by Labuschagne’s enthusiasm and expects the prolific batsman to play a bigger role in the near future.

“In terms of our cricket team improving and Marnus evolving, I think in the next couple of years we’ll definitely see him take the step up,” he added.

“He’s got some real natural leadership ability and if that’s harnessed and helped, I think he’ll be a great captain.”

Paine took over as test captain in 2018 when he replaced Steve Smith, who was banned from international cricket for 12 months and suspended from leadership roles for two years for his role in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal.

Paine also gave his backing to coach Justin Langer, whose coaching style has, according to media reports, resulted in some dressing room discontent.

“We had a team review at the end of the Indian series which is pretty common practice in professional sports,” Paine said, adding that Langer, or ‘JL’, had been doing a good job at a difficult time.

“We all feel now as a team we want to evolve and improve and JL’s a part of that,” he added. “It’s not him by himself, it’s all of the coaching staff and all our players.”

Highlanders, Hurricanes face nervous wait for Super final destiny
11 June 2021, 2:17 PM

The Otago Highlanders thumped the ACT Brumbies 33-12 in Canberra on Friday to boost their chance of making the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final after the Wellington Hurricanes kept their slim hopes alive with a record win over the Queensland Reds.

The Highlanders’ bonus-point win at Canberra Stadium put them top of the table on 23 points, two points ahead of the second-placed Hurricanes, but both teams need results to go their way on Saturday.

The third-placed Auckland Blues (19 points) can claim the top spot and the right to host the final with victory at home to the Western Force on Saturday but the equation is tougher for the fourth-placed Canterbury Crusaders (18 points).

The Crusaders need to beat the Melbourne Rebels away on Saturday by at least three tries to claim a bonus point and have a winning margin of at least 33 points to snatch a place in the final.

Highlanders co-captain Aaron Smith scored a try in each half in a typically industrious display by the All Blacks scrumhalf, while Ash Dixon, Sio Tomkinson and Billy Harmon also crossed for the visitors. “We’ve given ourselves our best shot to make this final,” co-captain Smith said.

“I’m absolutely pumped. Over the moon, mate. Good luck to the Rebels.” The match was marred by the Highlanders wearing their alternative white kit which clashed with the home side’s white shirts and appeared to confuse the players at times.

The already eliminated Brumbies, who trailed 14-12 at halftime but were kept scoreless after the break, bowed out meekly with a 1-4 losing record in the inaugural Trans-Tasman competition.

In the earlier match, hooker Dane Coles grabbed a brace of tries in a 43-14 victory for the Hurricanes, who posted their biggest winning margin against the Reds. Departing All Blacks centre Ngani Laumape scored the Hurricanes’ opening try and had a hand in their second before exiting late to a big ovation from the home crowd.

The Reds, champions of the domestic Super Rugby AU competition, also finished Trans-Tasman with a 1-4 losing record, underlining the gap in class between the Australian and New Zealand teams.

Jasper Wiese’s star on the rise as Springboks sweat on Vermeulen
11 June 2021, 12:31 PM

South Africa faces an anxious wait over the fitness of powerful number eight Duane Vermeulen following his ankle surgery this week, but could have a ready-made replacement in uncapped Leicester Tigers back rower Jasper Wiese.

Vermeulen is in a race to be fit for the first test against the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on July 24, with Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber suggesting he faced anything from five to 16 weeks on the sidelines with rehabilitation.

The World Cup winner is a massive presence at the back of the scrum, with both his ball-carrying ability and work on defence, and his absence would be a big blow to the team.

It could see captain Siya Kolisi move from flank to No. 8, or the introduction of Dan de Preez or Kwagga Smith in that position. But Nienaber admits Wiese has been one of the stand-out South African players in Europe this season.

“He had an opportunity to go and play in the Premiership and he really knocked the door down on that side,” Nienaber told reporters.

“He is really performing well … We got a good look at him, he is playing in a top competition against some of the best players in the world, and I think he is handling himself quite well. ”

He adds: “Jasper is in an environment where he is well looked after from a conditioning and coaching point of view. And there is good communication between us and Leicester. It’s always nice if that happens, if you’ve got that good relationship with a club.”

Wiese, 25, made little impression at the Free State Cheetahs before leaving for Leicester in July last year.

Ross Cronje
SA Rugby seek to allay Lions fears after Rainbow Cup match cancelled
11 June 2021, 11:51 AM

South Africa’s Lions franchise have been forced to cancel their final fixture in the Rainbow Cup due to COVID-19 infections in their squad, just three weeks before they host the British & Irish Lions in Johannesburg.

The side were due to play the Stormers at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, but a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in their Gauteng province home over the last week has now hit the team.

Officials have been quick to allay fears that the positive tests will affect the clash with the British & Irish Lions at Ellis Park on July 3, with the South African team set to enter a bio-secure “bubble” ahead of the game to quarantine.

“The Lions have followed all protocols and taken all the appropriate steps,” SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux said in a statement on Friday.

“While the cancellation is unfortunate, their approach ensures that the risk of cancellation of their match against the British & Irish Lions is well managed.”

The British & Irish Lions will be in South Africa for eight matches from July 3-August 7, including three tests against the world champion Springboks.

They will play five warm-up matches in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, starting against their local namesake.

The tests will be staged on consecutive Saturdays from July 24

Tokyo tickets on the line in Adelaide swim-off
11 June 2021, 10:47 AM

Australia’s top swimmers are gearing up for an Olympics like no other in Tokyo next month, but first they have to secure their spots on the team at this week’s highly competitive trials. Six days of intense competition begin at the South Australia Aquatic Centre on Saturday with two tickets to Tokyo on the line in each of the 28 events.

Extra tension will be added by holding the trials just six weeks before the Games begin, as opposed to the traditional three month lead-in, forcing the swimmers to peak twice in a short period of time.

Mitch Larkin, who won silver in the 200 metres backstroke in Rio and is bidding to race in his third Olympics, said the swimmers were taking things one challenge at a time after more than a year of COVID-19 disruption.

“We’ve just got to make the trials first, and then the team, and then we’ll go from there,” the 27-year-old, who will swim in the 200m individual medley this week, told reporters on Friday.

The 10 lanes of the competition pool were cluttered with about 60 swimmers getting in some last-minute practice for the trials, which have been overshadowed by the withdrawal of double Olympic silver medallist Madeline Groves. Reigning Olympic 100m freestyle champion Kyle Chalmers, swimming in his home pool, will take much of the spotlight this week, as will the Campbell sisters, Cate and Bronte.

Emma McKeon promises to be one of Australia’s best performers in Tokyo, while her fellow freestyler Ariarne Titmus and 19-year-old backstroker Kaylee McKeown have attracted plenty of attention with some fast times over the last couple of years.

After a disappointing past two Olympics in terms of medals won, it is imperative that Tokyo is far more rewarding for Australia’s swimmers in a sport that has contributed more than a third of the country’s Olympic medals across all sports.

In normal circumstances, that might place a huge burden of pressure on the team but Larkin said just going to Tokyo this year was going to be intimidating enough.

“It’s going to be daunting,” he said. “I don’t think anything is above COVID, we are just following the officials. “They say it’s safe so I think the Games can go ahead. I’m optimistic it will be a successful Games. I know the public probably don’t want us there but plenty of people do.”

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