Lions boss backs coaches after criticism

British and Irish Lions chief executive John Feehan has backed Warren Gatland and his coaching team in the wake of Sean O’Brien’s stinging attack.

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Ireland flanker O’Brien took aim at the approach of the Lions set-up, led by Gatland, during their summer tour of New Zealand.

The Lions drew the three-Test series, but O’Brien felt it should have been a victorious one for the tourists.

O’Brien, 30, was particularly critical of attack coach Rob Howley, claiming he was set in his ways, with Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell having to take control of the side in the closing stages of the tour.

“The coaches have a lot to answer for in terms of our attack, rather than Johnny and Faz trying to drive it,” O’Brien said.

“If I was being critical of any coach, it would be the fact that I think Rob struggled with the group in terms of trying to get stuff across, whereas Johnny and Owen drove everything in the second week, for instance, in our attack and had a better plan in place.

“I don’t know if it was people not buying into what he (Howley) was about or whatever else. That’s the hard thing about a Lions tour as well; getting everyone to listen to a coach that was probably set in his ways.”

But, in response to O’Brien’s critical remarks, Feehan provided full support to his coaching team.

“I said all along that I think we had the best coaching team available and I think they proved that in what we achieved in New Zealand,” Feehan said on Thursday evening.

“To draw a series with the All Blacks, who had not lost a Test match at home for eight years, was a remarkable result, and Warren and the coaches deserve huge credit for that.

“People will always have their views on what could have been done better but the fact is that, against all the odds and with limited preparation time, this squad became only the second Lions team in history to either win or draw a series in New Zealand in 13 attempts. That achievement cannot be underestimated.”

Nadal and Federer lead Europe in inaugural Laver Cup

Team Europe, featuring the world’s top two players, are overwhelming favourites to win the three-day tournament, which is named after Australian great Rod Laver, with a squad boasting a combined 36 grand slam titles against none for Team World.

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The teams are captained by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, whose own rivalry starting in the 1970s featured a contrast in temperament and style that made their matches the kind of must-watch events that Laver Cup organisers hope to showcase.

“I’ve been watching these guys play for so many years, it’s going to be a fun weekend,” Borg, now 61, told reporters on Wednesday. “But make no mistake, we are here to win.”

Conceived by Federer and his sports management company Team8, the tournament is the latest to join a crowded calendar and comes on the heels of the Davis Cup semi-finals last week.

World number two Federer played down the impact of another event, saying matches over a short period were manageable and gave players on the two teams the chance to build camaraderie.

“I don’t think it’s too much otherwise all the players wouldn’t be here,” the Swiss great told a news conference.

“The best (players) in the world are very picky in what (tournaments) they play, which (is why it) is great they made this a priority.”

“(We’re) looking forward to making friendships because we play together and not against each other for a change.”

EUROPE FAVOURED

Team Europe also includes German Alexander Zverev, Croatia’s Marin Cilic, Austrian Dominic Thiem and Czech Tomas Berdych.

Team World features Americans Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, John Isner and Frances Tiafoe plus Australia’s Nick Krygios and Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

With five players inside the world’s top 10, the Borg-led European squad is heavily favoured against a world team hit by Argentine Juan Martin del Potro’s late withdrawal due to injury.

“I’m expecting a lot of fun but at the same time I know it’s going to be very competitive,” the 22-year-old Krygios told reporters. “We are the underdogs.”

The tournament, which will rotate between Europe and the rest of the world each year, features three singles and one doubles match each day. A win is worth one point on Friday, two on Saturday and three on Sunday.

In a bid to keep the pace humming, the indoor hard court matches at Prague’s O2 Arena will be best-of-three sets with a 10-point tiebreak deciding the final set.

With no player featuring in singles more than twice during the first two days, Nadal and Federer could see themselves on the same side of the net in a mouthwatering doubles pairing.

“We don’t even know if captain Borg is going to pick us but, of course, I would love to play with Rafa and see that forehand do damage on the other side (of the net),” Federer said.

“I’m sure that the crowd would go absolutely crazy and just because of that it would just be great to play us potentially.”

(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Ken Ferris)

‘Anything can still happen’ after New Zealand’s final leaders’ debate

Both leaders still thought they were in with a chance of victory during their final debate on Wednesday.

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The latest polls put the ruling National Party in the lead – which they have reclaimed from Labour – after its surge of popularity under new leader Jacinda Ardern.

Prime Minister Bill English described the election as a choice between change and trust.

“Do voters want change? Or do they trust the party that’s been running the show?” he said.

The debate was the last opportunity for the leaders to make an impression ahead of Saturday’s election.

Both parties are still trying to win over undecideds and both party leaders have made impassioned pleas to their supporters to get out and vote.

“Look, that’s up to the voters [who won the debate],” Mr English said.

“I think it was a great debate for airing the issues that came up over the campaign and outlining a pretty sharp choice the voters have over the next two or three days.”

His opponent was not able to summarise her position.

“Again, in the moment, I can never really tell who’s been the winning debater on the day. I know I enjoyed it,” Ms Ardern said.

Political commentator Mark Boyd described the debate as “odd” and “stilted” with no clear winner. 

“It wasn’t really a debate – it was more like an interview because there was no audience,” he told SBS World News.

Mr Boyd noted the previous debates had been more animated and drew bigger reactions.  

The feeling on Thursday on the streets of Auckland was that this is an election where anything can still happen. 

Roberts sent emails to non-existent addresses to renounce British citizenship, court hears

One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts sent two emails trying to renounce his alleged British citizenship to email addresses that did not exist, the High Court has heard in Brisbane.

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The court heard Senator Roberts said he found the email addresses “from his research on the internet”.

Two days after nominating for the party, Senator Roberts sent an email titled “Am I still a British citizen” to two invalid email addresses he thought were linked to the British consulate. 

Malcolm Roberts tells HC he believes he was only an Aust citizen based mainly on conversations with his family @SBSNews #auspol

— Stefan Armbruster (@StefArmbruster) September 21, 2017

Senator Roberts was in court on Thursday facing cross-examination over whether he renounced his British citizenship before contesting a seat in the Australian parliament. If he did not, he may be ineligible to sit in the parliament under Section 44 of the Constitution. 

The Queensland senator has previously claimed he believed he was only ever an Australian citizen.

But on Thursday he admitted knowing there was a “possibility” he was a British or Indian citizen when he ran for federal parliament.

“I couldn’t be absolutely certain, even though I felt certain,” Senator Roberts testified.

“I had very strong confidence that I was Australian and only Australian. That’s the way I was raised.

“I have only ever thought I was Australian until I heard in the court this morning,” he added later.

0:00 Malcolm Roberts arrives at High Court ahead of citizenship hearing Share Malcolm Roberts arrives at High Court ahead of citizenship hearing

Last month he requested the Senate refer him to the court after revealing he had taken steps to renouce his British citizenship around the time of the 2016 election. He revealed he had received a letter confirming he was no longer a citizen five months after the election. 

Federal politicians are barred from holding dual citizenship under Section 44 of the Constitution.

Senator Roberts was born to an Australian mother and Welsh father in India in 1955. He is among seven politicians from across the political spectrum who will soon face court over dual citizenship concerns. 

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The court heard Senator Roberts’ 16-year-old sister filled out his form to become an Australian citizen when he was 19.

But he has no recollection of signing the document and suspects his father would have instructed him, “Here, sign this”.

“I certainly would have asked, and this is all speculation, ‘What is this about because I’m already Australian?’ but I can’t recall any of that,” Senator Roberts said.

“I was more interested in playing football.”

The court heard when Senator Roberts questioned his sister, Barbara, in September 2016 as to what they were before they were Australian, she told him they were “stateless”.

Senator Roberts said he had renounced his British citizenship but would not accept he had been a British citizen because that was never confirmed by the Home Office.

That was despite his own lawyer Robert Newlinds admitting to the court Senator Roberts had been a British citizen by descent.

“I accept that he said that because that carries a lot of weight doesn’t it?” Senator Roberts said.

“I’m still not clear of my citizenship in the past.”

Senator Roberts said if he had been a British citizen his father would have let him know, even though documents show his father was the one who tried to register his British citizenship.

“He would of ribbed me for sure if there was any chance of me being British,” Senator Roberts said.

– with AAP

Nadal, Fed lead Europe in first Laver Cup

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will set aside their long rivalry when they play for Europe against the rest of the world in the inaugural Laver Cup tournament.

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Team Europe, featuring the world’s top two players, are overwhelming favourites to win the three-day tournament, which is named after Australian great Rod Laver, with a squad boasting a combined 36 grand slam titles against none for Team World.

The teams are captained by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, whose own rivalry starting in the 1970s featured a contrast in temperament and style that made their matches the kind of must-watch events that Laver Cup organisers hope to showcase.

“I’ve been watching these guys play for so many years, it’s going to be a fun weekend,” Borg, now 61, said on Wednesday. “But make no mistake, we are here to win.”

Conceived by Federer and his sports management company Team8, the tournament is the latest to join a crowded calendar and comes on the heels of the Davis Cup semi-finals last week.

World No.2 Federer played down the impact of another event, saying matches over a short period were manageable and gave players on the two teams the chance to build camaraderie.

“I don’t think it’s too much otherwise all the players wouldn’t be here,” the Swiss great told a news conference.

“The best in the world are very picky in what (tournaments) they play, which (is why it) is great they made this a priority.”

“(We’re) looking forward to making friendships because we play together and not against each other for a change.”

Team Europe also includes German Alexander Zverev, Croatia’s Marin Cilic, Austrian Dominic Thiem and Czech Tomas Berdych.

Team World features Americans Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, John Isner and Frances Tiafoe plus Australia’s Nick Krygios and Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

With five players inside the world’s top 10, the Borg-led European squad is heavily favoured against a world team hit by Argentine Juan Martin del Potro’s late withdrawal due to injury.

“I’m expecting a lot of fun but at the same time I know it’s going to be very competitive,” the 22-year-old said. “We are the underdogs.”