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Warriors’ Stephen Curry scores 23 in long-awaited return from broken hand

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scored 23 points for Golden State in his anticipated return after missing more than four months with a broken left hand, but the Toronto Raptors beat the Warriors 121-113 Thursday night to clinch a playoff spot.

After being sidelined 58 games, Curry led Golden State out of the tunnel to a big ovation – as loud as his neon sneakers, one pink and one yellow. He missed his first two shots but had three quick assists, including a no-look, behind-the-back dish to Andrew Wiggins. He finished with seven assists in 26 minutes.

The two-time MVP hit a 17-footer for his first basket early in the second quarter, then got a huge reaction for a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc shortly before halftime. He was 3 of 11 from 3-point range for the game.

“It feels like the first day of school pretty much all over again,” the 31-year-old Curry said earlier in the day after shootaround. “It’s kind of just getting back to enjoying playing basketball at the highest level. There’s a process to that.”

Norman Powell scored a career-high 37 points for Toronto, which clinched a playoff berth with the win in a rematch of last year’s finals. The Raptors won that series in six games, finishing with a victory in Golden State’s final game at its old arena in Oakland.

Kyle Lowry added 26 points and 10 assists, and Serge Ibaka had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Raptors, who won at Phoenix on Tuesday night to end a three-game losing streak.

“Knowing that Steph was coming back, we knew it was going to be a great night, a great atmosphere,” Lowry said. “One of the best players in the league was coming back from injury, we wuitting for Bordeaux.The 33-year-old signed for Bordeaux on Tuesday having previously refused to travel on Arsenal’s pre-season tour to the USA. On social media, Koscielny explained, “I have spent wonderful years with this club, nine years during whiere a little more focused and concentrated on him, but coming in here, it’s a great regular season game.”

Damion Lee scored 23 points and Marquese Chriss had 17 points and 12 rebound for the Warriors, who have lost 10 straight at home.

Golden State trailed 62-55 at halftime but took an 85-83 lead in the third on Eric Paschall’s three-pointer – with Curry on the bench, no less.

After Toronto regained the lead, Paschall tied it at 95 on a free throw with 9:39 left in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors countered with five straight points. A three-pointer by Lowry and a powerful dunk from OG Anunoby helped Toronto stretch the lead moments later.

Curry checked back in with 3:51 left and hit a falling layup with two minutes remaining that pulled the Warriors within 113-108. Wiggins added a three-pointer to make it 113-111, but Pascal Siakam made two baskets in 15 seconds to keep Toronto’s lead safe.

Lee stole the ball from Powell with 25.8 seconds left and was fouled by Powell. But he missed both free throws and then two three-point tries after consecutive offensive rebounds.

Curry practiced Monday with the G League Santa Cruz Warriors, then was recalled later in the day in a most anticipated promotion. His return to action came without most of his familiar supporting cast — Draymond Green missed his fourth straight game with a left knee injury, and Klay Thompson remains out with a torn left ACL.

Box-and-one D?

Curry and Lowry chatted recently, and Lowry kidded about pulling a box-and-one defense against Curry again.

“I’m expecting anything,” Curry said. “I talked to Kyle the other day and he joked about it, he might throw it back out there. Obviously last time we played them it was a terrible feeling losing in the finals, but obviously the situation’s different this year, but there’s excitement about what tonight’s going to be, me getting back out there and guys coming off a huge win in Denver, trying to build momentum.”

Tip-ins

Toronted boss Ole Gunnar is eager to get a deal for Leicester City defender Harry Maguire settled.Solskjaer spoke of the England international after their friendly shootout win over AC Milan in Cardiff.”Hopefully, the last little details will be in place to had lost 13 of its last 14 on the Warriors’ home court. … The Raptors are 8-3 on the road v the Western Conference. … The Raptors are the only opponent that swept the season series from the Warriors last season.

Golden State hasn’t won at home since beating Orlando 109-95 on 18 JanuaNew Bordeaux sports chief Hugo Varela has expressed interest in Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud.Off contract in June, Giroud has emerged as a confirmed target for Olympique Lyon and Olympique Marseille.And now Varela has revealed Bordeaux are also keery. They 7-25 at home overall and 2-9 against the Eastern Conference.

Up next

Visit the Kings on Sunday night.

Host the 76ers on Saturday night having lost 115-104 at Philadelphia on 28 January.

Oleksandr Usyk won his heavyweight debut but can he beat the big boys?

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Oleksandr Usyk, the cruiserweight champion turned heavyweight contender, is guided by two indomitable polar forces that he brings to bear with magnetic energy, a twinkle in the eye and a gap-toothed grin. He is part Conan the Barbarian, part Conan O’Brien. Both apex predator and Animaniac. Killer and comic relief. Usyk is the planet’s warmest, fuzziest bear trap.

He won gold for Ukraine at the London Olympics in 2012, turned pro, then pulverised the 200-pound division into particle dust, becoming the first cruiserweight to hold all four major world titles. Eleven months after his last fight as a cruiserweight – – Usyk (17-0, 13 KO) made his heavyweight debut in Chicago on Saturday against Chazz Witherspoon (38-4, 27 KO), a sloppy 38-year-old who took the fight as a last-minute replacement for Tyrone Spong, a third-rate opponent who returned an adverse doping test in the middle of last week.

The opponent was largely irrelevant fol Madrid president Florentino Perez insists there was no “pact” with Atletico Madrid preventing them from signing Antoine Griezmann.The France attacker left Atleti this summer for Barcelona in a record €120m deal.At Real’s General Assembly, Florentr the thousands of fight fans in attendance. The Ukrainian supporters would have screamed their throats raw for Usyk whether he had been fighting a muppet, a hologram or a YouTube flunky. This was a party.

Previously, Usyk was merely one of the greatest cruiserweight fighters in history and a theoretical pound-for-pound boogeyman. Yet his graduation to the heavyweight division means he must become something else: an attraction. To a large portion of mainstream sports fans, a transcendent 200-pounder might as well be a G-League heavyweight: talented, sure, but mostly irrelevant if he can’t play with the big boys. European gate money spends are pretty good, but it’s American subscriber dollars that elevate a fighter into his own financial gulfstream.

So it has become Usyk’s challenge to not only display his gifts – both pugilistic and charismatic – but to do so against men inches taller and dozens of pounds heavier. The world’s most significant heavyweights all have the capacity to floor world-class fighters their own size, let alone a puffed-up cruiser new kid on the block.

Witherspoon stands conspicuously outside that group, but at 6ft 4in and 242 pounds, even he posed a lumbering threat to the 215-pound Usyk. The Philadelphia-born former not-quite-contender came in having fought just twice in three years, and he signed on as the fill-in just four days before the bout – apparently cornered between buffet runs at the Golden Corral. Witherspoon may not have been in shape for Usyk, but he was a very large man with nearly 30 professional stoppages under his belt. Styles make fights, but size can end them.

Saturday wasn’t for spoilers, though. After taking stock in the opening round, Usyk got to work with the jab. The Daniel Sturridge in their bid for Trabzonspor pair Ugurcan Cakir and Abdulkadir Omur.The Karadeniz Gazette says Sturridge could help Liverpool land Cakir and Omur.The former Reds striker currently plays with the duo at Trabzonspor.And he has recommenquicker man by far, he parried Witherspoon’s power with nimble footwork and head movement. In the fourth round, Usyk had Witherspoon backing up, stinging him with occasional power left hands, driving him against the ropes and into corners to land quick-burst combinations.

Chants of “Ooh-seek, Ooh-seek” arose when the headliner paused the onslaught to size up his work and, by the seventh round, Witherspoon had been sufficiently tenderised. As he sat on his stool before the eighth round, the American let referee Hector Afu know that he’d had enough. Usyk had won his first fight as a heavyweight. Although there never seemed a moment when Witherspoon was at serious risk of being dropped, neither was there a moment during the fight when Usyk was not categorically in control.

The post-fight questions lobbed at Usyk were predictable. Was the impact of heavyweight power what you expected? Will you be able to withstand it against elite competition? How will your own arsenal match up against those of Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury?

One reporter decided to spar with Usyk, suggesting he would have to change his ad star Antoine Griezmann.Robert was still with Barca when the Frenchman infamously turned them down this time last year – via a Gerard Pique produced documentary.He told El Larguero: “I wanted to sign Griezmann two years ago, if I would sign him now,pproach to beat the top heavyweights. Usyk, who speaks through an interpreter except on occasional low-leverage situations when he flashes his lovably broken English, stared a hole through the reporter – who was sitting no more than a lunging jab away from him – before asking: “You serious?” The moment passed, the reporter’s soul was returned to his earthly body and, in an instant, Usyk was giggling and playfully nudging his manager and translator, Egis Klimas.

“Soooo hungry,” said Usyk, as the questions continued to pour in. He was famished. A good sign. Usyk will need to bulk up for what comes next — which promoter Eddie Hearn says is the winner of the rematch between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua. When asked which potential opponent he would prefer to face, Usyk did not hesitate: “Joshua.” He didn’t miss a beat a moment later, either, when he answered the night’s final question in thickly accented but perfectly constructed English – a potential marketing game-changer.

“Wait, why has he been translating for you this whole time?” asked one of the reporters, only half-jokingly. A pause. Usyk’s crazy eyes bulged cartoonishly, his hands hit his cheeks and, from the smile that creased his face, out popped that unmistakable gap. He’s taking apart heavyweights, he’s speaking English and he’s having a ball.

Gardner Minshew and Jaguars’ defense stand tall in win over Tennessee Titans

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Minshew Mania is gaining momentum.

Gardner Minshew threw two touchdown passes and should have had a third, Calais Campbell spearheaded another defensive gem and the handled the Tennessee Titans 20-7 in sloppy conditions Thursday night.

Jacksonville (1-2) ended a four-game losing streak in the AFC Sis attracting big foreign interest.Gibson has found himself sidelined this season as he struggles to break into manager Sean Dyche’s first team plans.Sky Sports says German clubs Eintracht Frankfurt and Cologne are interested in signing Burnley defenouth series and avoided the franchise’s second 0-3 start in four years.

“This felt good,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “We needed this.”

With all eyes on star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who may have played his final game for Jacksonville, Minshew and a second stellar defensive outing in five days captured the spotlight.

A sixth-round draft pick starting his second consecutive game in place of injured Nick Foles (broken collarbone), Minshew completed 20 of 30 passes for 204 yards. He found James O’Shaughnessy wide open for a seven-yard score, which came one play after Adoree’ Jackson’s muffed punt. Minshew was more precise with a 22-yard touchdown pass to DJ Chark, who was blanketed by Malcolm Butler.

Fans chanted Minshew’s name each time the offense took the field, and fans everywhere adorned fake mustaches and bandanas to mimic his signature look.

Marcus Mariota got no style points in this one. Jacksonville sacked Mariota a whopping nine uth America’s elite international football competition.The ng Norwich City striker Emiliano Buendia.Sky Sports says the 22-year-old Norwich City forward has attracted the attention of Villa boss Dean Smith ahead of the January transfer window.Argentine Buendia has started all 12 of Norwich’s matches in the Ptournament will be staged between June 12 and July 12 next year, jointly hosted by Colombia and Argentina. FFA chairman Chris Nikou, chief executive David Gallop and Mark Falvo, the organisattimes, including three by Campbell.

“You seen what the D-line did,” Ramsey said, declining to talk about his potential trade. “Today was their day. Everybody got a piece of it. I was excited to see those guys have a huge game.”

The Jaguars played well enough to win at Houston last week, especially on the defensive side, but came up inches short on a two-point conversion and lost 13-12.

Ramsey then gut-punched a franchise already reeling from the loss of Foles by requesting a trade hours after the loss to the Texans. He asked to get out following his sideline confrontation with coach Doug Marrone.

Ramsey later insisted he didn’t want to be a distraction. He wasn’t, at least not on the field.

The Jaguars enjoyed a 14-point lead in the first quarter for the first time since Week 2 of last season against New England and just the third time in the last five seasons.

Ramsey hugged several teammates after the game, but didn’t say any goodbyes in the locker room.

“He didn’t have to say anything,” Jones said. “He may be going to another team, but no one’s going to be hurt by that. It’s a business decision.”

The Titans (1-2) struggled to play from behind.

With his team trailing 14-0 early in the third, coach Mike Vrabel passed on a short field goal and went for it on fourth-and-6 at the 11. Campbell abused backup guard Jamil Douglas, and Mariota had no time to get rid of the ball.

“That’s not how you want to play that football team, from behind,” Vrabel said. “We talked about that. This football team, you don’t want to play from behind. They can really rush the passer.”

Tennessee finally got on the scoreboard with Derrick Henry’s one-yard plunge early in the fourth. Henry finished with 44 yards on 17 carries, a far cry from his last game against Jacksonville. Henry ran for a franchise-record 238 yards and four touchdowns, including the second 99-yard run in history (Tony Dorsett, 1983), in December.

Jacksonville wasn’t going to let it happen again, stacking the box and doing a much better job tackling the 247lb back.

Even Ramsey got in a couple of shots on the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner.

Will resurgent Tiger Woods beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors?

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It was not at all unfair for Tiger Woods to stay in the moment as the rest of golf cast eyes dreamily forward. on Sunday took his major haul to 15. Suddenly, from the recent position where the discussion felt irrelevant, Jack Nicklaus’s record tally of 18 is back within view. “I don’t know if Jack is worried or not,” said Woods. “I really haven’t thought about that yet. I’m sure that I’ll probably think of it going down the road. Maybe, maybe not. But right now it’s a little soon. I’m just enjoying 15.”

It did not take long for Nicklaus to respond. Worried? You bet he is. “I thought for a long time that he was going to win again,” Nicklaus said of Woods. “The next two majors are at Bethpage, where he has won, and at Pebble Beach, where he has won. So he has got me shaking in my boots.”

As the scale of Woods’s victory, arguably his finest in an illustrious but regularly disrupted career, reverberated around the globe golf had been afforded fresh profile. The 43-year-old is now within one of Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour wins, a record that has stood since the mid-60s. It is the major quest, though, that sets pulses racing.

“It’s nice to get to 15; 18 isn’t a thought,” said Joe LaCava, Woods’s caddie. “Now 15’s here, let’s get to 16. Is the record in play? Sure. The guy’s 43 years old, a guy like him could win when they’re 50. Sixteen is the next mission.”

Woods credited LaCava with a key role in his one-shot Masters victory. The pair had a discussion after a dropped shot at the 5th hole on Sunday, during which the caddie urged Woods to “not carry the weighmitted interest in Real Madrid midfielder Martin Odegaard.After an outstanding loan with Vitesse Arnhem last season, Odegaard is considering his future with Real this summer.A move to Ajax has been mooted for the Norway international, however Bayer at of the world on your shoulders”. LaCava added: “I didn’t put in all the hard work. I didn’t have all the surgeries. I wasn’t down in Florida grinding. So for me, it’s easy. I just show up, try to do a halfway decent job and he has to do all the tough work.”

As Nicklaus acknowledged, the year’s upcoming majors present Woods with an opportunity. Next month’s US PGA Championship will see Woods return to Bethpage, where he won the US Open in 2002. The latter tournament, in June, is at the Pebble Beach links where Woods marched to a 15-stroke victory 19 years ago. He has also prevailed in Tour events hosted at the Californian venue. July’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush had already seen scrambling for tickets even before Woods displayed uncharacteristic euphoria in Georgia.

“Eighteen is, I think, a lot closer than people think,” said Brooks Koepka, one of the men Woods held off to claim his fifth Masters. “I would say that’s probably what all fans, what we’re thinking. He’s definitely back and 18’s not far.”

If Nicklaus would rather retain his place in the record books, he does a fine job of endorsing why Woods might steal it. Even before a ball was struck at Augusta last Thursday the 79-year-old had volunteered Woods as a likely Masters winner on account of evidence gleaned from a recent game of golf; a certain Donald Trump.

“I don’t ever pull against anybody,” Nicklaus said. “Nobody wants their record to be broken. But I certainly wouldn’t want Tiger to be hurt and not to be able to do it. Of course he is now pretty healthy and playing well. I wish him well, I always wish the guys well and I want them to play their best and don’t want anybody to play poorly.

“Everybody has been asking me about Tiger. Can Tiger win again? Will he win another major? I kept saying, I think so, I think he will. The reason I said that was it all depended on Tiger’s health. If Tiger is healthy, then Tiger didn’t need to worry about his driver. He never drove the ball straight anyway. He always got the ball, from somewhere, up around the green. Tiger is such a great putter, has such a great short game. He has such distance control with his irons, unbelievable distance control, best I’ve seen from anybody in the game. If you get a guy that can do that – even if Tiger wasn’t healthy – he could bunt the ball off the tee somewhere. And with his iron game and his short game, he was going to win again. He topped it off this week by driving the ball. It was a special week for him.”

Monday morning delivered confirmation that Woods has risen to No 6 in the world rankings. “The No 1 player in the world is ranked sixth,” claimed Paes of success at Euro 2020 – because of the punishing fixture schedule.England strikers Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford are enduring long injury lay-offs, with both facing a battle to prove their fitness ahead of this summer’s tournament.Tottenham ‘ul Azinger, a former US Ryder Cup captain turned television analyst. Though there are still 17 months to go before the European team visits Whistling Straits, Woods has leapt to the summit of the US Ryder Cup rankings. At the end of this year,dmits they need to add to the squad after the appointment of new coach Rino Gattuso.He stated: “Rino is relying on the old guard, which seems natural for their experience, especially with these tactics.”From tomorrow we’ll think about the market.”B in what marks his own first step towards Ryder Cup captaincy, Woods will lead his country in the Presidents Cup. “I’m hoping to make my own team,” said Woods on Sunday, in proving he has playing aspirations for Royal Melbourne.

Long before then Woods is expected to make a tournament return at Quail Hollow at the start of May.

Should that transpire, a routine PGA Tour event will have been handed the kind of boost money cannot buy. The same applies to the wider golf scene.

Rory McIlroy and formidable field head to Hawaii for 2019 curtain-raiser

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Should Rory McIlroy’s occasionally agonising wait for Masters glory end in April much of the focus will be on his long journey from the outskirts of Belfast to Augusta triumph.

In the here and now the 29-year-old has made the hardly inconsequential jaunt to Hawaii to begin a season he hopes will be notable for the donning of a Green Jacket. Few would grudge McIlroy that moment.

The idyllic backdrop means the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua could be regarded as a soft start. A glance at the field suggests otherwise: Dustin Johnson, , Patrick Reed, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Francesco Molinari and Justin Thomas join McIlroy aor transfer interest this summer.AS says Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham and La Liga giants Atletico Madrid are all eyeing a potential move for Suso this summer.Suso, 25, made 14 appearances for the Reds between 2012-15 but has rebuilt his career at AC Milat the Plantation Course from Thursday.

Speculation Tiger Woods would join the party proved unfounded, with Woods opting to extend his off-season. Justin Rose is another notable absentee.

McIlroy is in Hawaii as part of his increased focus on US tournaments and his absence will inevitably be keenly felt as the European Tour’s annual desert swing begins later this month. Looking at key details for the PGA Tour season reveals the chasm that now exists between operations on either side of the Atlantic.

The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup bonus pool will double this year to $70m (£61m). A new rewards system applicable before the FedEx play-offs get underway will distribute another $10m. This weekend alone the winner will collect $1.3m.

In proving such riches do not come for free, the PGA Tour is poised to follow what has become a European custom by seeking live interviews with players during rounds. With participation not compulsory the response, inevitably, will be mixed.

The same applies to changes to the rules, as took effect for the amateur and professional game from 1 January. Officials from the United States Association held a meeting with players in Hawaii in a bid to smooth the process but a degree of uncertainty remains.

“I’ve tried to spend a lot of time looking over them,” said Thomas, the world No 4. “Especially a handful are quite a bit different and I think you’ll see it across the field, especially these first couple of months, everybody’s going to be calling a rules official in as much possible. So, unfortunately, play is probably not going to be too fast.” Whisper it but this was not really the desired impact.

Among matters to be amended are time permitted to search for a ball – now three minutes instead of five – the taking of drops from knee rather than shoulder height and permission to putt with flag still in a hole.

“If I have an eight footer to win a tournament, I mean no offence, I can’t really take myself seriously if I kept the pin in,” Thomas said. “It just would be such a weird picture and like on TV me celebrating, the pin is in and my ball’s like up against it. If I have a putt I’m trying to make, that thing’s coming out.”

In proving he is never far from the news, Woods has been a topic of discussion as the prospect of two more stagings of “The Match” has been raised. Woods faced Phil Mickelson for a $9m prizl says Palace are among the English clubs to have checked on prolific Hungary striker Nikolic.The 32-year old is a free agent after his contract finished with Chicago Fire in the MLS.Nikolic won the MLS Golden Boot in 2017 and finished a three year se in Las Vegas in November, with reports claiming similar matches this year and next – possibly featuring more players.

Golf Digest suggested close to a million viewers paid the $19.95 fee for the event hosted by Turner Sports, a matter complicated by the need for refunds because the stream stopped working mid-match.

“I think the viewership was pretty large,” said Mark Steinberg, Woods’s manager. “nton appreciates the support of Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino.The pair share the same agent.“When I came to England, Firmino sent me a message wishing me good luck,” he said.“He said if I needed anything, I just had to talk to him.”When I score or Take away the glitch and it was pretty big. That’s certainly one of the measures of success. You have to look at what the internet was doing and seemed like people were quite interested.

“We – and that’s a very big we when I say the Woods camp, the Mickelson camp, the Turner camp – have a lot to talk about. We don’t have any specifics on what it might look like, whether it’s Tiger-Phil, two others, four others.”

Saracens front an American gold rush still seeking the nugget of success

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The American gold rush is showing no signs of slowing down. Last week the Champions Cup organisers were the latest to announce plans to plant a flag on American soil, the Pro14 is casting a covetous eye Stateside, the Six Nations and the British & Irish Lions too. Ireland return to Chicago this autumn, having largely based their bid to host the 2023 World Cup on a promise to break America.

The list goes on: in June, the Sevens World Cup took place in San Francisco in July and in the immediate aftermath, World Rugby encouraged the USA to bid for the 2027 World Cup. Premiership Rugby solidified its relationship at the start of this season when Gallagherce James says he grew up a Blues supporter.The 20-year-old has excelled since returning to west London after a spell on loan with Wigan Athletic.Discussing growing up with siblings Josh and Lauren, he told Chelsea magazine: “We all used to play every took over as its title sponsor. The American market, it seems, is considered an endless source of riches.

Look a little closer and the pitfalls of rugby’s search for Sutter’s Mill are all too evident. Wales’s victory over the Springboks was a washout. The Sevens World Cup generated huge revenues but considerable losses for USA Rugby, which has undergone an overhaul amid the financial plight of its commercial arm, Rugby International Marketing, in which the Rugby Football Union and were investors. There is always a danger of killing the golden goose.

All of which Sport says an offer worth £8.9million has been lodged to commence the bidding on Benrahma.Brentford are braced for a number of clubs showing an interest in the 23-year-old Algerian.In his first year at Griffin Park, Benrahma smashed 11 goals and 17 brings us to the Stoop. Harlequins play Saracens at 7.30 on Saturday night as the first Premiership match to be screened live on NBC’s main channel. There will no matcA coach. The club announced the decision midday Monday. Franc Artiga, from Juvenil B, takes over the role.Valdes’s dismissal was a widely known ‘secret’ since Friday. The coach had an argument with Patrick Kluivert, the head of youth football and thah staged in the US this season, despite a four-year deal agreed last May – the next is likely to be in 2020 – so this is Rugby’s day in the sun. A chance to cement its place in the American landscape.

Ordinarily Premiership Rugby is shown on NBC Sports or Gold service but Saturday’s match is the first club fixture on free-to-air TV in the US. It will be shown at 2.30pm ET and the hope is that – with NBC demonstrating a commitment to broadcasting rugby, having acquired Six Nations and World Cup rights – viewing figures back up the optimism that abounds. “It’s a massive opportunity for us to cast a wider net,” says the New York-born former England international since 2016. “We’ve had a good two-year base, growing our ex-pat, traditional audience but now we have the opportunity to showcase the Premiership brand to a wide audience and pull in new fans – that’s our big emphasis here.”

This is a big deal for Premiership Rugby because of the huge reach NBC possesses – 116 million homes according to the former Bath, Leicester and USA No 8 Dan Lyle, who broadcasts alongside Corbisiero. On both a domestic and international level, administrators have talked plenty recently about unlocking commercial opportunities and unquestionably, this is a shop window for Premiership Rugby. “It’s about organic growth but we’re hoping it will accelerate our curve a little bit and the proof will be in the coming weeks,” says Lyle, the director of the promoter AEG Rugby. “Hopefully, if we get good numbers we can have more windows in the future.”

Rugby may have been identified as the fast-growing team sport in the US but it must be said that short-termism, and with it attempts to make a quick buck, have hindered progress. As Corbisiero says: “If you look in the past, there are some examples where people have been guilty of that but when you’re starting in a market from scratch, there is no best practice or the right way to do it. Sometimes we’ve had to make some mistakes and experience growing pains to get where we are now.”

Premiership Rugby says it is in for the long haul. If its success is to measured by attendances at matches hosted in New York (2016) and Philadelphia (2017) it has been a failure but Dom Hayes, the Premiership Rugby commercial director, argues otherwise. “We’ve tried to be the opposite of the flash in the pan scenario,” he says. “In Philly, everyone focuses on the crowd size but in the week leading up to that we had coaching programmes up and down the eastern seaboard and referee groups coming in to share expertise and best practice. We’re at the very beginning of the journey.”

The quality of the product will determine how well it sells and another try-fest on Saturday, in keeping with the start to the season, should help. “People recognise who are as the defending champions,” Corbisiero says. “There’s almost a Patriots-esque vibe to them. It’s a great story to tell.” There are few better placed to tell it, provided the audience is listening.

Why Aaron Rodgers is an even greater NFL quarterback than we think

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It’s long been acknowledged by NFs a step away from moving to Tottenham.Barca have made Coutinho available for loan in the past fortnight and had fielded interest from Spurs and Arsenal.The Times says Spurs now have an agreement with Barca about a season-long loan for the midfielderL analysts, fans and coaches alike that quarterbacks take too much blame and too much of the credit. NFL statistics are usually created by the result of the play, which means they are decided by not only the quarterback but also by the receiver who catches – or drops – his passes. When Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Drew Brees had their historic seasons, they played with great team-mates, players who didn’t need to be elevated by their quarterback to be productive. That wasn’t the case with Aaron Rodgers last season – and explains why many don’t realize how great the quarterback is as he prepares for his first game of the season this weekend.

Sixty-seven times last season Rodgers threw an accurate pass that was turned into an incompletion by his team-mate. Those 67 plays cost him at least 875 yards, the most in the league, and at least 11 touchdowns, again the most in the league. Explaining Rodgers’ struggles over the first five games of last season – when – is easy. Twenty of his 67 lost receptions came in those games, they cost him at least 273 yards and at least two touchdowns.

Take the play above from Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Rodgers finished this game with 199 yards on 34 attempts. This play alone cost him 41 yards after Davante Adams dropped the ball. Not only that, Rodgers did everything perfectly. He bailed out of the pocket as pressure arrived before making an exceptional throw while moving to his left. The defender didn’t knock the ball away from Adams or hit his hands as the ball arrives. His presence alone is enough to make Adams fluff his responsibility.

Adams was a big problem throughout last season. His raw numbers were fine – he caught 12 touchdowns during the regular season – but no other quarterback in the league would have got those numbers from him. Adams cost Rodgers . Twenty-eight teams didn’t lose that many touchdowns to receiver error last year – Adams did it on his own. Rodgers can make a receiver like Adams productive because of his superhuman consistency making difficult plays.

When Rodgers’ receivers mess up, he simply creates another opportunity for a big play. This could be seen during the in last season’s playoffs. Rodgers set up the win with a brilliant throw (). But if we go back two plays before that incredible throw, we can see Cook ruining two more opportunities created by Rodgers’ outrageous skills. Most quarterbacks can’t make those thrchester City are worthy Premier League champions.The Citizens clinched back-to-back titles with Sunday’s win over the Seagulls, finishing one point ahead of Liverpool.And Murray thinks Pep Guardiola were the Premier League’s best team over the courseows once, never mind three times in a row when the game is on the line.

The above play is the first of the final drive. Cook runs down the seam and has safety Byron Jones on his inside shoulder. Rodgers recognizes this and throws a perfect backshoulder pass to Cook. He creates the separation for his tight end by putting the ball in a spot where the defender can’t see it but Cook can grab it. The difficulty of this throw is huge because the quarterback has to time and place the ball perfectly without an angle to work with. Cook had the easiest job but instead of catching the ball he clapped his hands to applaud the throw.

On the second throw, Rodgers is flushed from the pocket, Cook is blanketed in coverage, but the quarterback still puts the ball in the perfect spot. Byron Jones has his hand in front of Cook’s chest but Cook’s hands reach the ball first and he has a clean opportunity to catch the ball – but fails. Another great play from Rodgers, and another missed opportunity by his receiver. Cook eventually made the big play down the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal, but Rodgers is the only quarterback in the league who makes those three throws so consistently that his receivers’ limitations are almost completely ignored.

That precision Rodgers shows off making difficult throws translates to simpler throws too. I created , part of which charts an accuracy percentage. It’s a relatively simple idea. Accuracy percentage doesn’t look at whether the receiver caught the ball or not, it only judges the play based on where the ball was placed. None of the throws shown so far in this article were caught, but all would go down as accurate passes for the purposes of accuracy percentage.

Rodgers ranked third in overall accuracy percentage but when you break the numbers down based on where each pass was thrown, it becomes clear that he was the most accurate passer in the league.

In the above chart there is a random selection of the top quarterbacks from last season. Each column shows off the percentage to that yard range on the field as well as where that percentage ranked league-wide. Rodgers ranks in the top five in four of the six categories and the lowest he drops in any category is seventh. That is astonishing consistency. Brees was the closest to matching Rodgers while the rest of the league looked more like Rivers, Brady and Roethlisberger: quarterbacks who had great strengths in some areas but major weaknesses in others.

With that accuracy it’s no surprise that Rodgers has avoided interceptions at an incredible rate over the course of his career.

Eleven quarterbacks have thrown as many, or more, touchdowns as Rodgers has in his career (297). Of those 11 Rodgers has not only thrown the fewest interceptions (72) but if you doubled his interception total he would . Rodgers has thrown 4,657 passes in his career. He has been intercepted on 1.55% of thominent agent believes players will remain loyal to Manchester City are being treated extremely well over the years.City are in the process of appealing a two-season Champions League ban handed down by UEFA last week after they were found guilty of bose throws. Brady has a 1.85 interception percentage, no other quarterback in history who has thrown at least 4,500 passes . Rodgers is by far the best quarterback in NFL history at taking care of the ball and the Quarterback Catalogue charting re-emphasizes that. In 2015 he threw a pass that should have been intercepted once every 70.2 attempts, almost twice as good as the second-best quarterback, Sam Bradford. In 2016 he threw an interceptable pass once every 40.89 attempts, fifth-best in the league. None of the quarterbacks ahead of him were as productive and none of them consistently threw into tight windows as regularly or with as much success.

That precision plays a big role in Rodgers’ ability to avoid turning the ball over but that’s only part of it. He’s also a very intelligent quarterback, something that is regularly discussed, and possesses rare ability to maximize his pass protection with his footwork, something that is never discussed.

Rodgers has had all this success while playing in a scheme that doesn’t use a lot of play action or create a lot of yards after the catch. Twenty-eight quarterbacks used play action more often than Rodgers last year while 17 gained a higher percentage of their yards after the catch. It’s not a scheme that creates easy reads or changes every week to attack the specific weaknesses of its opponents. The only reason the Packers offense works is because it boasts the best quarterback in the . Quarterbacks in general don’t control as much as is suggested but those at the extremes — the Blake Bortles and Jared Goffs at the bottom, or the Tom Bradys and Aaron Rodgers at the top — can drag down or elevate everyone around them.

Because the NFL focuses more on counting Super Bowls and playoff victories when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks, Rodgers – with his one championship so far – will always be regarded as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. That’s wrong: he’s the best quarterback of his generation.

Phillies prospect Matt Imhof quits baseball at 23 after losing right eye

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Philadelphia Phillies pitching prospect Matt Imhof has announced his retirement from baseball at the age of 23, just seven months after losing his right eye in a freak training accident.

, Imhof confirmed he was walking away from the game young, but insisted that it wasn’t because of his injury. “My injury is not whcelotti can bring the glory days back to Goodison Park.Sharp’s goals helped the Toffees to two titles, an FA Cup triumph and success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in a ­decade in which Merseyside led the way, Liverpool winning the First Division at’s stopping me,” Imhof wrote. “The truth is I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.”

In June last year, Imhof was taking part in a resistance-training exercise in Florida, where he was playing for the Clearwater Thrashers, when a metal hook broke away from the wall and slammed into his face. He fractured his nose, broke two orbital bones and severely injured his right eye. “Everything went numb as I hit the ground screaming. I could feel the warmth of the blood running down my face and taste it in my mouth,” he wro Marc-Andre Ter Stegen insists there’s no problem between the players and the board.Gerard Pique has accused board members of planting stories in the local press blaming the players for their poor start to the season.But after victory in the Championte.

Doctors in Miami did their best to repair the damage to his e Arsenal legend has just taken charge of Roots Hall.He told the Mirror, “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a firefighter. I had a couple of interviews in the summer, at clubs whose natural habitat was mid-table, but this job was like a ­boomeraneye, but after learning of the seriousness of the injury, Imhof chose to have it removed. He now wears a prosthetic eye.

published on 30 June, five days after the accident, Imhof revealed the extent of the damage.

“Doctors informed me that the damage to my eye was extreme, and essentially that my eye had been crushed like a grape,” he wrote. “The doctors told me they were going to do everything possible, but in all likelihood I would never regain the sight in my right eye. After discussions with my family, it was decided that the best chance I had to live a normal life was to have my right eye removed and a prosthetic eye put it.”

In his ESPN essay, Imhof said it had been a difficult few months, and recounted the tears and the anger and confusion – but said he was determined not to let the injury define him.

“I had two options,” he wrote. “I could let this injury define me. I could be angry – no one would blame me for that. I could be depressed, feel sorry for myself and live in the past. I could let the rest of my life be defined by the worst day of my life. Or, I could pick myself up, dust myself off and move on.”

Imhof was taken 47th in the 2014 draft. He played two-and-a-half minor league seasons with four different teams, and posted a 13-10 record with a 3.69 ERA.

“I am blessed that I was able to play this game for 18 years and will never forget the lessons it taught me along the way,” he said. “Although I am stepping away from playing the game, baseball will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Athletes disappointed to find Pokémon Go inaccessible at Rio Olympics

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So the plumbing and electricity in the athletes’ village took several days to fix. Who cares?

But no ? That’s an outrage!

If there were ever a more “first world problem” for the Zika-plagued, water-polluted Rio Olympics, it’s Brazil’s lack of access to the hit mobile game, which has united players the world over.

Since to wild adulation in the United States, Australia and New Zealand this month, the game from Google spinoff Niantic Inc has spread like wildfire, launching in more than 30 countries or territories – but not Brazil.

For athletes and other visitors caught up in the wave, not having access is just one more knock against an Olympics that officials are racing to get ready. The opening ceremony takes place on Friday.

“I wish I could run around in the [athletes’] village catching Pokémon,” New Zealand soccer player Anna Green said. “I just can’t get it on the phone. It’s fine, but it would have been something fun to do.”

What will she do instead? “Train,” she replied.

Niantic didn’t reply to a request for comment on when the game might be released in Brazil. Ao Martinez says he deserves a shot at being their No1.Martinez has thrown down the gauntlet to team-mate Bernd Leno, after he claimed to be the more capable of the two keepers. Speaking to the Arsenal En America podcast this week, Martinez said: “He nd though social media rumours point to a Sunday release for the game, similar rumours in Japan resulted in heightened expectations and the sense of delay before its debut there last week.

This week, British canoer Joe Clarke – with a broken-hearted sad face – a screenshot of his player on a deserted map near the rugby, equestrian and modern pentathlon venues in Rio’s Deodoro neighborhood. The map was devoid of PokéStops – fictional supply caches linked to real-world landmarks. No Pokémon monsters to catch either: There was nary a Starmie nor a Clefairy to be found.

“Sorry guys no #pokemon in the Olympic Village,” French canoer Matthieu Peche, followed by three crying-face emoji. Getting equal billing in his Twitter stream was a snapshot of a letter of encouragement from French President Francois Hollande.

Players with the app already downloaded elsewhere appear to be able to see a digital map of their surroundings when they visit Rio. But without Pokéstops or Pokémon, the game isn’t much fun. It would be like getting on a football field – soccer to Americans – but not having a ball to kick or goals to defend.

Many competitors in the athletes’ village took it in stride, though. Canadian field hockey player Matthew Sarmento said it would give him more time to meet other athletes. But he would have welcomed Pokémon during downtime in competition, adding that “sometimes it’s good to take your mind off the important things and let yourself chill”.

Athletes might not get Pokémon, but they’ll have access to 450,000 condoms, or three times as many as the London Olympics. Of those, 100,000 are female condoms. Officials deny that it’s a response to the Zika virus, which has been linked to miscarriages and birth defects in babies born to women who have been infected.

In Pokémon countries like the US, Pokéstops are being used to attract living, breathing customers. In San Francisco, for example, dozens of bars, restaurants and coffee shops have set up lures that attract rare Pokémon, along with potential new patrons looking to catch them.

That’s presumably one reason why Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes – plagued by a host of bad news from player robberies to faulty plumbing – urged Niantic investor Nintendo to release the game in Brazil.

“Everybody is coming here. You should also come!” Paes , adding the hashtag #PokemonGoNoBrasil – “Pokémon Go” in Brazil.

His post generated responses such as this: “The aquatic PoJong says the players are still adjusting after a midseason change of coach.Quique Setien has been in the job for a couple of weeks now, having succeeded Ernesto Valverde, and De Jong was asked to compare the two.”There are differences,” the Dutchmankémon died with superbugs.”

Paes didn’t respond to requests for interviews.

One video circulating virally, with more than 3.5m views, shows one fan identifying himself as Joel Vieira questioning how Brazil can host the Olympics but not Pokémon.

“I can’t play! I am not allowed to know how it really feels to see the little animals on my cell phone,” he said . “Because we don’tl.The midfielder penned undisclosed terms this morning.Emery told Arsenal’s website: “Joe has progressed a lot in the last year. “He is technically strong and has shown the confidence to take responsibility and play his game whatever the occasion or have it in Brazil, yet. But we are having the Olympics.”

The Olympics kick off next Friday. Will Pikachu be there to witness it? The world is watching with baited Poké-breath.

Is surfing ready for Kelly Slater’s ‘perfect’ artificial wave project?

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The wave curls, whip-fast and flawless; it goes on, and on, and on. Inside it, surfing in the barrel of the wave – the feeling, the high, that surfers yearn for – is , an American pro-surfer, ranked ninth in the world.

Above him, a drone films his run – 10 se at Manchester United can “get hot”.The Sweden defender was reacting to the England bust-up between Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez last Monday. Manchester City attacker Sterling missed England’s 7-0 Euros qualifying win against Montenegro on Thursday conds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds. It was the longest barrel of his life. Young had never surfed a wave like this before. Yet this was 110 miles from the ocean, in farm country in a specially constructed, exquisitely engineered freshwater pool. And it was perfect. “It’s an awesome feeling,” Young told the Guardian.

The pool was built by 11-time World Surf League champion , who for 10 years had been focused on an idea that many thought was impossible – building a machine which could reproduce the ideal wave, and create it on command.

Few people thought it was possible. But in December, after two years of construction in near perfect secrecy, Slater released an extraordinary of his machine in action. The excitement the video caused in the surfing community is hard to overstate. “That thing basically broke the internet,” said Craig Brokensha, surf forecaster for surfing news site Swellnet.

In that video, the wave curls over silently, dark and mys Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech has an offer to return to Stamford Bridge once he retires.Cech has been offered a sporting director role at Chelsea after he retires – which will happen following the Europa League final.”I feel sorry for some Chelsea anterious in the early morning light. The water from which it rises is glass-flat; the wave’s curling edge is smooth, sharp, almost sculptural. “It is,” Brokensha said, “almost too perfect.”

“It’s the most bizarre-looking thing you’ve ever seen,” said Tom Lowe, a Brester United are eyeing Norwich City fullback Max Aarons.The Mirror says United have identified Norwich’s teen-talent Aarons as a cheaper alternative to Crystal Palace starlet Aaron Wan-Bissaka.United are considering the other names on their shortlisitish professional surfer. “A robotic wave which goes forever.” Lowe watched the first video, when it came out in December, 20 times over.

“It was kind of like, just a normal day on a surf trip,” said Young of his day riding the machine that Slater calls his “freak of technology”. “We woke up pretty early, 6 or 6.30, had some food, some coffee, got the wave pool up and running, and we went and we surfed.

“I couldn’t believe it when Kelly gave me a call and invited me to come up there,” he said. “I felt honored that I was one of the people he invited; it’s amazing to be one of the first people to surf it.” Young was joined by WSL women’s champion Carissa Moore, Californian pro and Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, a veteran American surfer who starred in the 1994 surf movie Endless Summer II.

Young said the narrowness of the pool – 700 yards long, but only 40 or so yards wide – struck him when he saw it in person. “My first impression, when I saw the first wave come through, was disbelief,” he said. “It’s a flat pond, and then, all of a sudden, you’re watching a perfect wave.”

Slater’s machine is powered entirely with solar energy, and the wave itself is created with a specially shaped foil or plough, which is pulled along mechanically beneath the surface, shaping the wave and pushing it forward.

Nick Houndsfield is founder and CEO of , a British-based company currently constructing their own artificial surf pool in Bristol. He said that wave machines have been around for 40 years, but that it is only in the last 15 years or so that the technology has been good enough to make waves suitable for surfing.

over the past 20 years, with an estimated 500,000 regular surfers in the UK alone. “It’s completely crossed over into mainstream culture,” said Matt Barr, the director of All Conditions Media, an action sports agency. The perfect predictability of Slater’s wave means that the final piece of that puzzle – the fact that competitive surfing has relied, to a greater or lesser degree, on the luck of the wave – can now be overcome. “The problem with surfing is it’s so unpredictable,” Barr said. “If you can build this at an Olympic city, you’ve got a surfing event.”

Young, who rode Slater’s wave this week in a VIP session along with several other pro surfers and executives in the World League, also agreed. “It has a set running time, instead of waiting for the swell and conditions,” he said. “So, that’s huge. And being able to recreate the same wave over and over gives people an even playing field – because it’s sometimes a bit of luck catching waves [in the ocean].”

For some surfers, the very idea of the artificial, man-made wave is problematic. “I think a big part of surfing is reading waves and being in the ocean,” said Andrew Cotton, a professional big-wave surfer who famously took on the monster waves at Portugal’s Praia do Norte, 80 miles north of Lisbon.

“The one in California looks absolutely amazing – it’s like the dream wave. Any surfer would be excited to surf it,” said Cotton. “It’s amazing to watch Kelly Slater ride that wave, because he rides it as best as anyone could ever ride a wave. But it’s amazing watching Kelly Slater ride, full-stop. I don’t think anything makes up for learning to surf, or having the skill of reading the ocean. That’s surfing.”

Conor McGregor admits Joao Carvalho’s death affected appetite for promotion

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Conor McGregor has spoken at length about his “publicized civil war” with UFC .

The disagreement between UFC and its biggest star came in April when . McGregor believed that his publicity duties ahead of UFC 200 were getting in the way of his training schedule. McGregor was due to fight Nate Diaz, .

“I’ll tell you what, [the retirement announcement on Twitter] blew up,” McGregor told ESPN. “I was kind of having fun to startear vision of his summer transfer targets.The Austrian wants to bring quality to St. Mary’s in order to push his side up the table next season.He said: “It is a very clear picture for me now what we are still missing in our game.”Maybe we know that w, half-hearted. Then all of a sudden it’s, ‘you’re off 200!’ I was like, ‘alright, well fuck you too, then.’

“All said and done, there were times [I thought], ‘I should have just jumped on the damn flight [and done the publicity tour].’ But sometimes you’ve got to do what’s right for you and not what’s right for everybody else, especially if you’ve done what’s right for everyone else a million times over.”

McGregor has since and said he has held talks with the UFC president, Dana White. He added that his relationship with the organization is “good”.

“I’m committed to the fight game,” McGregor said. “I enjoy competition. I enjoy challenges. If a challenge is in front of me and it appeals to me, I will go ahead and conquer it.

“Did I do all the media? Did I dance like a monkey? No. Am I still here? Am I still fighting? Am I still collecting? Yeah. So, [UFC] saved face, I saved face – there was no loser. We all won in a way. I had them realistically, but they couldn’t bow down, so there was no loser. I was over here, they were there and now we’re in the middle. We’re in a good spot.”

McGregor added that his reluctance to go on the publicity tour in April had been influenced by at a fight in Ireland. Carvalho’s death came a week before his retirement tweet and McGregor said the death had affected him.

“I had fucking journalists knocking down my mother’s door, you know what I mean?” McGregor said. “That’s not what I signed up to do – have people knocking on my mother’s door, talking about a kid dying. It’s not nice to see a kid die like that. It does something to you. And there’s been show after show canceled in Ireland since that. It’s fucked up to be a part of it, and I didn’t want to bring it back up and put it more on a public scale.

“After all t believes his qualities can fit into manager Jose Mourinho’s system.The France international admits he’s a changed character when on the pitch.He told Foot Mercato: “I am a player who is crazy. “I have a certain carelessness. Maybe it’s due to my agehat, I did not want to be put in front of a camera and made to dance. I just wasn’t feeling it.”

In the ESPN interview McGregor also dismissed , saying the sums involved were beneath him.

“I hear [Mayweather] talking. The leak came out, it was him that leaked the rumor and it said he gets $100m and I get $7m – that’s a pay cut to me. I don’t take pay cuts. I thought boxing was where the money was at. The $7m is absolutely laughable. He’s talking $100m – I’m also talking $100m,” McGregor said. “I’m 27 years of ageident Sertac Guven says talks are underway with Daniel Sturridge.The former Liverpool striker is a free agent after being allowed to come off contract last month.Sturridge’s mother and uncle were in Trabzon this week to meet with club officials and l and I’m just about halfway through a $100m contract. At 27 years of age, was on Oscar De La Hoya’s undercard.

“Who doesn’t want to conquer both worlds? He’s getting old now. He needs me, I don’t need him. Who else can he fight?”

USA Sevens brings world’s finest to Vegas – but can US rugby live with the best?

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“Imagine what it’s going to be like in 2020 if we’ve got some kids from the Bronx and Brooklyn, playing in the in Tokyo.”

In his spare office in New York City, on 9th and West 45th, trophies stacked with bags of rugby balls on the metal shelves behind him, Mark Griffin smiles and takes a sip of water. Griffin is the , an inneuito midfielder Jose Cifuentes admits he’s had an offer from Manchester City.The 20-year-old never made the move but he has revealed that City were interested but he wasn’t allowed to leave the club.“All contacts are closed, it was published by ther-city nonprofit which is now joint-operator of America’s first community Olympic development programme (CODP) for rugby union. The sport returns to the Games in Rio this summer but Griffin is looking four years ahead.

In Las Vegas, meanwhile, the best men’s teams in the world are looking only to the next three days, in which they will contest .

The big teams are attacking Olympic year in earnest: New Zealand will field , while is in South Africa’s squad.

The US Eagles do not have such superstars, though they do have , and , crossovers from football who have made themselves increasingly well known. In Vegas, they will be contenders for a knockout place, for a tournament win, for points on the HSBC World Series.

In this Olympic year, though, the Eagles’ job extends beyond the field of play. They must begin to win the attention of the American sporting public – both TV viewers and, perhaps more importantly, striving young athletes.

That is where Griffin and others come in. When it comes to the effect the Games can have on American youth rugby, most such operators agree with , a former Eagles prop turned entrepreneur who will on Friday stage an awareness-raising event at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas, under the title “”.

“Rugby is ,” James says, down the phone from San Francisco, citing a familiar statistic from the which says participation in US youth rugby grew by 81.6% from 2008 to 2013.

James then cites a familiar view in rugby, bolstered by the same survey finding that in the same period youth participation in tackle football fell by 21%: “We need to seize that Olympic s they need to find some arrogance to convert draws into wins.Maguire claims that United are missing the self-belief needed to control games.He said: “It’s another game where we’ve deserved to win. We’ve created the majority of the chances and we’vmoment with parents who maybe don’t want theo land Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish this summer.The Mirror says United are preparing to pay up to £70million to land Grealish this summer.The attacking ace has been in superb form for Villa this term after inspiring them to promotion last seasoir kids playing football.”

Rugby, it should be said, . But James continues: “Just the fact that rugby is included is a game-changer. The US public are very keen on the Olympics, it brings exposure, funding from the government and other bodies too. This is the very tip of the iceberg for what that’s going to mean.”

Griffin, after on the cracked asphalt of Queens and Manhattan now taking a big step through the CODP, puts the same point another way.

to provide a pathway from inner-city, school or rugby club to elite Olympic competition.

Rugby now has a foothold in America. Or, to stay with the dubious moutaineering analogies, potentially frightening exposure. The performance of the Eagles’ men’s and women’s teams in Rio will help determine how fast and safe the climb can be.

So will the many stakeholders of American rugby. In terms of developing the men and women who will play in Tokyo and beyond, governing body USA Rugby supervises, from Colorado, as a number of organisations seek out talent. There is also and , and more. The English are interested too: Premiership Rugby recently launched its programme, also in New York.

In Play Rugby USA’s case, though, four young women who discovered the game with the programme will this weekend represent in the , a huge club, high school and college event that runs alongside the international tournament. None of the New York girls had seen a rugby ball till relatively recently; one will go on to play for the in Vancouver next week.

“We’re at the forefront of girls’ rugby,” Griffin says, “and we equally promote it with the boys. It’s about equal opportunity, although our high-school program is now 51% girls.”

James adds: “Olympic inclusion is because with Title IX, colleges are looking for women’s sports. This is a massive opportunity for rugby.”

That sense of opportunity is not confined to the Olympics: in 2018 the men’s and women’s World Cup Sevens and in the full 15-a-side version of the game, , a five-team professional league, is due to kick off next month.

But most observers agree: come , if the American men and women are on the podium, the game at home will receive a tremendous boost. A gold medal may be, in Griffin’s words, “Miracle on Ice sort of stuff”. But if nothing else, his reference to shows the stakes for which American rugby is playing.

Do the Pirates have a chance against the Cubs’ unstoppable destroyer of worlds?

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The Pittsburgh Pirates were officially eliminated from the postseason on Wednesday night after an 11-1 loss to St Louis .

OK, not exactly “officially.” The Pirates have the second-best record in all of Major League and clinched a postseason berth more than a week ago. But there is a feeling of impending doom hanging over the team because six days from now in the National League wildcard game they will face the unstoppable destroyer of baseball worlds: Jake Arrieta.

After a good start to the season, the 29-year old Cubs ace has put together one of the most dominant second halves in baseball history. Since the start of August, he’s given up four earned runs in 82 1/3 innings. That’s a 0.43 ERA over 11 starts. Not once in that span has he allowed more than two earned runs. In seven of those 11 outings, he didn’t allow a single run. He no-hit the playoff-bound Dodgers at the end of August, and has faced the Pirates three times in the past two months, giving up just nine hits and one earned run in 22 innings. To crush the hopes and dreams of his wildcard foe even more, Arrieta blasted an opposite field home run off the Pirates in his last start against them on Sunday. He didn’t give up a run and he created the only run he needed. Pittsburgh hasn’t face a single man this hellbent on its destruction since Bane.

Somewhere in Baltimore this week there is a man or woman emerging from a two-year coma. He will hear the name “Jake Arrieta” on TV and think: “No way! That guy is still in the majors?” And then he will hear that Arrieta is the greatest pitcher in all of baseball and he will immediately go back into a coma after suffering a brain aneurysm.

Because two years ago, Arrieta was as bad as he is good now. Maybe even more so, as hard as that is to fathom. In nearly 70 games and 63 starts with the Orioles over four years, he had a 5.46 ERA. You know, just 5.03 above his ERA over the past two months. He couldn’t even hold down a rotation spot in an Oriole rotation desperate for arms and Baltimore repeatedly shuttled him back and forth to Triple-A – and he wasn’t even any good there.

Check the timestamp. That tweet is from June of 2013. Just two years ago, Arrieta was a 27-year old pitcher putting up an ERA over 4.00 in the minors. Guys like that are much closer in their careers to becoming gym teachers than lights-out, don’t-even-bother-showing-up, major league aces. In early July of 2013, the Cubs traded Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Cubs for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger and soon after, things finally started to click for him. There was no dramatic overhaul of his motion or life-changing visits to a sports psychologist. Some slight tweaks to his mechanics found Arrieta able to spot his mid-90s fastball better and make his slider dip and turn at varying speeds most any way he wants it to, making and left and right-handed hitters alike look foolish.

So now the Pirates and their ace, Gerrit Cole, face the reality that if they allow a single run next Wednesday, odds are their 96-plus-win season will end after a few hours of “postseason”. While the Pirates themselves, as confident and accomplished athletes, no doubt feel they have a great chance of beating Arrieta, many Pirates fans are either depressed or left grasping at unrelated, random minutiae and irrational hope.

“Hey, Clayton Kershaw is a generational pitcher and he loses a lot in the postseason. Maybe Arrieta will be the same!”

“Remember when the Pirates roughed up Madison Bumgarner late last season and then he dominated them in the wildcard game? The opposite could happen this year with Arrieta!”

“Kris Medlen had a 0.97 ERA in his final 12 starts of 2013, but then he got shelled in the wildcard game. What if Arrieta is the new Medlen?!”

“He’s been pitching great games for months. He’s due for a bad one, right?”

It’s kind of sad. No, it’s just sad. No “kind of.”

But the Pirates’ best hope might be this: If the worst pitcher in all of baseball can miraculously become the best pitcher in just two years, then it’s really true that anything is possible. Maybe even Jake Arrieta losing a baseball game.

“Sometimes, emotions spill over and that’s what happened today. It’s happened for hundreds of years in this game and I think it will continue to happen.” – Jonathan Papelbon, Washington Nationals closer, on fighting teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout on Monday.

Papelbon is not only an expert on baseball’s “code,” but he is also a student of history. A sport called “base-ball” was first referenced in a British publication in 1744, so the game truly has been around for “hundreds” of years. The American Revolution may have come to a head over taxation without representation, but for all we know, the first fractures between America and Great Britain came when the scrappy colonists were outraged by the entitled British failing to run out pop-ups.

– Astros outfielder Marwin Gonzalez hit the 24th home run of his career Tuesday night in a loss to the Mariners. It was also the 24th solo home run of Gonzalez’s career. Yes, every home run in his four-year career has been a solo shot. Amazing. Gonzalez better hope Papelbon doesn’t land on the Astros next year because that sort of selfish home run hitting would not be tolerated.

Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Angels – 7-for-15, 4 RBI

Matt den Dekker, OF, Nationals – 8-for-18, 2 HR, 3 RBI

Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Rays – 7-for-16, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 SB

Jarrett Parker, OF, Giants – 7-for-17, 5 HR, 9 RBI

Nick Tropeano, P, Angels – 11 innings, 16 strikeouts, 1 win, 0.82 ERA

Adam Conley, P, Marlins – 12 innings, 13 strive completed the signing of Porto defender Chidozie Awaziem.The Nigeria international arrives on a straight 12-month loan.Awaziem becomes the ninth summer signing made by Leganes and was due to undergo his first training session today under coach Maukeouts, 2.25 ERA

Thank you for this important question. If the unwritten rules of baseball were ever published, the answer to this would no doubt be revealed. And at considerable risk of being strangled by a Knight of The Baseball Code for answering your question in print, I will attempt to do so anyway. I am not afraid to put my life on the line for you, my dear readers.

Most would assume that you want to choke up, because the top of the human neck is narrower than the base, allowing you to wrap more of your hands around the neck of the baseball code-breaker. And choking up on the bassing out on the England squad.The centre-back was hoping that he would get a call up to the Three Lions squad by manager Gareth Southgate.However, he was left out for their Euro 2020 qualifiers. And the 26-year-old wants to continue focusing on doint is something gritty baseball players who play the game the right way do. Yet choking up on a neck is wrong. The right way to strangle is to grab the neck at the base and dig your thumbs in hard below the Adam’s apple to cut off the wind pipe. At least that’s the way my Little League coach taught me.

The Phillies have won thof manager Nigel Pearson.The Hornets were nine points adrift at the foot of the table prior to their home game against Manchester United and the goalkeeper has revealed that he feared the worst.”When we had nine points just before the Man United gameree in a row and four of five, including two in a row over the playoff-bound Mets. Are they the best team in baseball as the calendar flips to October? (No.)

There is intrigue left in the Phillies season, however. While the franchise has the most losses in the history of American professional sports, the Phillies haven’t lost 100 games in a season since 1961. If they can close the season 2-2 or better, they’ll keep that streak alive. At the same time, the Phillies stand just two games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds in the race for the worst record in baseball and the No1 overall pick. They really need to get back to losing to clinch. Choose how you end your season wisely, Phillies. Think what Ruben Amaro would do and then do the opposite.

The Cubs clinched their first postseason appearance since 2008 this week (assuming we’re all pretending the play-in game counts as the real postseason). The franchise made the Divisional Series in 2007 and 2008, but got swept both times. The Cubs haven’t won a playoff game since 2003 and the Steve Bartman NLCS. That’s so long ago now that . No ear buds. No smartphone (the iPhone didn’t come out until 2007). No social media. The Bartman incident essentially happened in ancient history. Hopefully Cubs fans can finally get over it and let the guy live his life in peace. I’m sure he’d love to be able to go out in public and buy one of these fancy smartphones we have now.

The New York Post’s Joel Sherman this week who believe A-Rod’s bat speed has slowed down as the season has progressed, but Rodriguez “remains a wily hitter who works counts well and can play to his strengths.” His No1 strength, of course? Wiliness.

The Post also ran a headline this week asking “” I didn’t bother to read the article, but if they meant: “Is Bryce Harper a great player who will spend the majority of his career on the Yankees?”, then I wholeheartedly answer “yes.”

1) I never played baseball at a high level, so I am no expert on the game’s locker room/strangulation culture. What I do know, however, is that if I was a MLB closer like Jonathan Papelbon, I’d probably keep my opinions of my team-mates to myself. Closers are pitchers – – whose entire job is to pitch one single inning AFTER THE REST OF THE TEAM HAS ALREADY TAKEN THE LEAD. If my employment and large income was contingent on everyone else playing well for eight innings every game before I showed up to try to get three outs a few times a week, I’d do everything I could to stay in my lane and hope nobody noticed how unimportant and overpaid I am. I especially wouldn’t call out the best player on my team and the guy whose performance had given me so many save opportunities. I mean, the guy who locked the doors at night at Apple probably never ripped into Steve Jobs for how he did his job, right? Or maybe he did. The tech world may have an uncoded code I don’t know about.

2) Former major league pitcher CJ Nitkowski got a lot of attention this week for his column that gave on the Papelbon-Harper dust-up and featured more than a dozen quotes from current and former major leaguers, all of whom sided with Papelbon. Nitkowski’s piece as advocating for the strangulation of players. Yet I know him to be a thoughtful and intelligent person, and seemingly not the kind of man who would push for mandatory chokings of the non-scrappy. So I contacted Mr Nitkowski and asked him straight out: “Do you support the public strangling of players for not running full speed to first?”

His response, exclusive to the Guardian: “I do not. These kind of things should take place behind closed doors where a player can be properly waterboarded or caned in private. No one is above the hustle.”

So there you go. I think we can all agree with that.

3) And now the dramatic conclusion to : I dug around more and still couldn’t determine if the rules forbid an American League player from being on the lineup card as both a pitcher and the DH, allowing him to stay in the game as a hitter even after being removed from the mound. So I asked ESPN baseball writer David Schoenfield if he knew the answer and he claims that it is not allowed. “You can choose not use the DH – this happened a few times in the 1970s, including twice with Ken Brett (George’s brother) – but you can’t DH the pitcher and let him stay in the game.”

And if you do try to do it? The manager must get waterboarded in the locker room.

4) And since we’re running out of baseball season and time for readers to ask questions, let’s throw in another one this week:

With great feats of consumption, the natural inclination is to think that the larger-bodied are ideal for the task. Someone like Matt Adams or Bartolo Colon. But if you look at the top competitive eaters, none of them are overweight. And Boggs played at a relatively svelte 6ft 2in 190lbs. So I think you want to go with a player who is in shape. There are obviously a lot to choose from in baseball, but just don’t expect Bryce Harper to be the one who pulls this off.

5) Every year since the wildcard was invented, baseball’s more curmudgeonly fans have tsk’d teams for celebrating making the postseason. “You’ve only made the wildcard! You have nothing to celebrate!” these people grunt while eating dinner out of a can in their dimly lit living rooms reeking of cat litter. But I think these people would be the first to say that practice makes perfect, and baseball teams clearly need to practice their celebration fundamentals.

6) The Astros are 8-13 since Taylor Swift performed at Minute Maid Park, falling out of a playoff spot in the process. The Padres are 11-17 since Swift played Petco Park in late August. And the Nationals have gone from first place to fighting each other since Swift performed in their stadium.

It sounds like Taylor Swift has become a major baseball curse. But I’m sorry, the Bambino had one of the best baseball curses of all-time!

7) Fan anthems are almost exclusively horrific. That’s what makes this new St Louis Cardinals anthem remarkable: it’s so awful it has been able to break through and get noticed, like a dirty needle in a rotten haystack.

Congratulations to the Cardinals. You’re the best at baseball AND the best at embarrassing music. That’s two things you’re the best at!

8) Lest we think baseball’s Papelbonian culture is a recent development, behold this note that Phillies manager Pat Moran wrote to Philadelphia fans 100 years ago in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

He references grit with “hustling.” He’s got some traditional sports cliches in there with “a team that goes out there and plays baseball the best it knows how.” But most remarkable of all is this sentence: “Some of these fellows may think that I haven’t a championship ball club, but they have been saying a lot of other things all summer long that they will now have to back water on.” I’m pretty sure this is the first-ever sports instance of “they hate us ‘cause they ain’t us,” but delivered in old timey words. Amazing.

9) You know, maybe Moran’s guts-over-brains viewpoint on baseball is what prompted the infamous “Get A BRAIN! MORANS” sign from this . That has to be it. Cardinals fans know how to spell the right way.

10) It’s October! Playoff baseball is almost here! Who’s pumped to over-analyze every manager move while we try to convince ourselves again that back-to-back playoff participant Ned Yost has no idea at all what he’s doing? Woo! Yes!

NBA brings the stars to Africa – but can basketball compete with soccer?

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has been a child refugee, played on the biggest stages of the NBA and met Barack Obama at the White House. And on Sunday he heads to war-torn South Sudan to visit his family. Yet it was the prospect of appearing before a few thousand people that gave him butterflies.

“It’s the first time I’ve played in front of the continent of Africa,” the 30-year-old said of an exhibition game in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday. “Before the game I had to run back to the locker room. I don’t know why I got nervous but I did.”

Deng, said to be Obama’s favourite player, captained “Team Africa” against “Team World” in the . It was an experiment, and statement of intent, on a continent where you are never more than six feet from someone wearing an English or Spanish soccer shirt.

If truth be told, most of the players were content to phone in their performances for the first three quarters, with some casual defending and wayward passing – never more so than when Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls hurled the ball without looking then saw it bounce into empty hinterland.

At the stage Team Africa were well ahead, but then – who knows, perhaps not entirely by chance – Team World roared back with the Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal and Memphis Grizzlies’ Jeff Green sinking several three pointers. The final quarter moved up several gears and finally animated the crowd, who cheered the Africans and booed their opponents, though nobody really minded that Team World ran out 101-97 winners.

Deng, who was a refugee from what is now South Sudan when he was three and – he still has a home in Brixton, south London – was certainly looking at a bigger picture. “This game is quite hopefully the first of many,” he said on court afterwards. “I was happy to see the the joy it brought to faces.”

Asked if basketball could compete with soccer and others sports in Africa, the Miami Heat forward replied: “Of course it can. Even if you have 30 sports in Africa, it’s never enough when you have so many people here and so many talents. The potential audience is big. Even if could bring a smile to a kid’s face for two hours, it brings me happiness.”

Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, who captained Team World, was also enthusiastic. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “In this day and age it’s hard to be pioneers of anything so it’s a privilege to be part of it. This is the first game here but I guarantee it won’t be the last.”

Deng scored 20 points. He and Paul were named most valuable players.

Among Saturday’s highlights, NBA legends Dikembe Mutombo and Hakeem Olajuwon took off their business suits to put on their old team strips again for a short burst in the second quarter. A turnaround jumper by Olajuwon, who in 1984 became the first African drafted into the NBA when he joined the Houston Rockets, prompted current stars to jump off the benches with their arms aloft.

Al-Farouq Aminu of the Portland Trail Blazers and Nigeria said: “It was special. I think the fans really got into it, especially in the second half, and I know the players enjoyed it. You can see the potential is there in Africa.”

Team Africa included NBA players who were first or second generation Cameroonian, Congolese, Nigerian, Senegalese and South Sudanese, but no South Africans – the country has never won the African championship. But Johannesburg has reTorreira.It was claimed in Italy yesterday that Milan have opened talks with the Uruguay midfielder’s representatives.And Tuttosport says Torreira is a dream signing for Milan management with Franck Kessie potentially being offered for the Uruguayan.gularly hosted the NBA’s camps.

Not everything hit the right note. The game was played at the scruffy 4,000-seat Ellis Park arena, much smaller than NBA stars are accustomed to. Tickets had reportedly sold out within two hours of becoming available, but dozens of empty seats were visible in the stand – possibly reflecting competition from the between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, which sold all 94,000 tickets.

Entertainment before the game, and during timeouts, lacked the razzmatazz of an American sporting spectacle. And some were puzzled that the players wore the shirts of their home teams instead of ones specifically designed for the contest. “I’m disappointed they’re wearing their own teams’ shirts,” said one local radio commentator. “If you’ve never seen basketball before, you’re going to be very confused.”

After previous forays in Brazil, China and Europe, NBA commissioner , who attended the match, said “it was only a matter of time before a pre-season game was staged in Africa”.

He told Agence-France Presse: “This match was an experiment. Among the reasons I am here is to investigate new facilities. We would want a larger, modern arena before staging a pre-season or regular season NBA match.”

Ellis Park arena has previously hosted events including an exhibition tennis match between Serena and Venus Williams. It is adjacent to the stadium where South Africa won thEverton have confirmed the loan of Sandro Ramirez to Real Valladolid.The Spanish striker will return to La Liga for the 2019/20 campaign, after spending time with Real Sociedad last season.The 23-year-old striker joined the Toffees from Malaga in 2017.Sandro also spent time on loan at Sevilla in 2018.e rugby World Cup 20 years ago with Nelson Mandela .

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was in charge of Team Africa, said earlier this week: “You know, over here they’ve got soccer, rugby, cricket – it’s cricket, right? I don’t know if I’m saying that right – but basketball is just growing and doing something like this will help it grow even more.”

South Africa relaunched its basketball league in 2013 and games are televised. , the sports minister, tweeted on Saturday: “The NBA game was broadcast to alliker Samuele Longo has moved to Deportivo La Coruna.Longo goes to Deportivo La Coruna on loan with obligation to buy at the end of the season.He spent last season on loan at first Huesca and then Cremonese.The striker has only ever made two substitut states in the USA. The power of sport once more my country is on the map thru sport.”

The crowd was a mix of male and female, black and white. Buyile Gaga, 30, a data analyst, said: “I’m a fan and it’s one of those opportunities that don’t come very often. I’m very excited. Since basketball start in South Africa it’s been getting exposure. We’re going to see people getting used to it.”

Carlo Manna, 25, a chartered accountant, said: “It was interesting. The first three quarters they were taking very relaxed and that was disappointing, but in the last quarter they really got into it. Overall they did it very well. I hope they come back, with less of an exhibition feel.”

He added: “Basketball is big in schools here. Something like this will help raise its profile nationally. It definitely has a chance.”

Pittsburgh Steelers re-sign linebacker James Harrison to two-year deal

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The have re-signed linebacker James Harrison to a two-year deal, bringing back the 36-year-old l also see Arsenal host Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, while Manchester United visit Premier League rivals Wolves.Chelsea host Nottingham Forest and Tottenham will travel to Middlesbrough.Reigning champions Manchester City face a trip to League Two side Porwho had 5.5 sacks last year.

The team announced the deal on Sunday, and Harrison shared a picture of himself signing the c Sharp equaliser.Chris Wilder’s visitors, back in the top flight for the first time since 2007, looked set to leave the Vitality Stadium empty-handed after defender Chris Mepham’s first Cherries goal.With time ticking away, the 33-year-old Sharp, whoontract on Instagram and Twitter.

The five-time Pro Bowler will be entering his 13th season after spending the winter training in Arizona. This offseason, there were no questions about whether Harrison wanted to return. He came back to the Steelers in 2014 after a brief 18-day retirement. Harrison played in 11 games last season.

The team had been searching for depth at linebacker his year away on-loan with Boca Juniors.Mac Allister has reported for duty at Albion’s training base.He said: “I have changed a lot in the year since I signed for Brighton. My time at Boca helped me mature and learn a lot of things.“I think it r already, and the need amplified when Jason Worilds decided earlier this month to retire at the age of 27, skipping a massive payday on the open market.