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Jansrud closes on Hirscher in ski Cup

Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud cut Austrian Marcel Hirscher’s lead atop the overall World Cup standings to 34 points after finishing second in Thursday’s super-G behind Canadian winner Dustin Cook.

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With Jansrud having already netted the crystal globe for the speed discipline, this race at the season-ending finals in the French Alps was all about netting points in the race for the overall title.

Hirscher, who is targeting a fourth straight overall World Cup crown, went into the super-G with a 64-point advantage over Jansrud.

But the 29-year-old Norwegian, winner of Wednesday’s downhill and the discipline’s globe, knew that if he were to stand any chance of upsetting Hirscher, he had to score.

Pushing himself to the limit, Jansrud netted 80 valuable points for finishing 0.05sec behind Cook, who clocked 1min 06.04sec down the 1.7km-long roc de Fer piste in brilliant sunshine.

“It’s special coming into the race and knowing you’ve won the (super-G) globe,” said Jansrud.

“I had a lot of motivation for the race and wanted to go for the win, but I’m still pretty pleased with second place – the sun is shining and I can’t complain.”

Earlier, Hirscher had pulled out all the stops in the bottom third of the course after falling 0.40sec behind at the second intermediary time-check to finish an impressive fourth, at 0.09sec.

The Austrian technical specialist gained 50 points to push his total up to 1,298pts, with Jansrud creeping up to 1,264.

All in all, the race was a very useful day’s work for Hirscher ahead of the giant slalom on Saturday and Sunday’s potentially title-deciding slalom, two events in which the Austrian will expect to come to the fore.

“Marcel is grabbing a lot of points right now and he could already wrap it up on Saturday, but I’ll just ski as fast as I can in the giant slalom and we’ll see how it goes,” Jansrud said of the hunt for the overall title.

The podium headed by Cook, in his first World Cup victory, was rounded out by France’s Brice Roger in third, 0.08sec off the Canadian’s pace, as the top 16 skiers finished within one second.

“This was the goal for sure, I really wanted to win,” said Cook. “I’m definitely not used to this, maybe someone like Kjetil who wins a lot, but this is all new and all exciting for me and I couldn’t be happier. It’s unbelievable.”

Hawks torch Saints in AFL pre-season game

Hawthorn at near full-strength are tough opposition for any AFL team, let alone a young St Kilda team missing several key players.

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The two-time defending premiers capped their pre-season with a 106-point demolition of the Saints on Thursday night at Etihad Stadium.

Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis were best afield with 33 disposals apiece as the Hawks won 0.22.13 (145) to 1.4.6 (39).

By three-quarter time, the Hawks had kicked 20.10 – the highest score of this year’s NAB Challenge.

The Saints took it up to Hawthorn early, but were no match for a team missing only four players from last year’s premiership 22.

Hawthorn led by 32 points at quarter-time and the Saints did not kick their first goal until Mav Weller booted accurately in the 13th minute of the second term.

Adding to a tough night, St Kilda defender Nathan Wright was forced off with a corked thigh after a heavy collision with Hawks ruckman Ben McEvoy.

Mitchell, acting captain Isaac Smith, usual skipper Luke Hodge and Lewis shone as the Hawks dismantled a team widely tipped to finish bottom again.

Forwards Jarryd Roughead, Luke Breust and Jack Gunston kicked three goals apiece.

Saints midfielder Jack Steven had 33 disposals and young gun Luke Dunstan had an invaluable education as he went head-to-head with Hodge.

St Kilda were missing first-choice players such as captain Nick Riewoldt, Jarryn Geary, Jack Billings and David Armitage.

It later emerged Wright has a thigh strain, putting him in serious doubt for their round-one game against GWS.

Veteran utility Leigh Montagna also had to leave the ground in the second half with a knee injury, but the Saints are hopeful he will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Hawks senior assistant coach Brendon Bolton, who was in charge for Thursday’s game, said there was much to like about their performance.

“We were really pleased, particularly with our tackling and the amount of turnovers we scored (from) in our half,” he said.

“Defensively, we were ‘on’ and we needed an increase in that area of the game.”

Saints coach Alan Richardson said he expected better from his team.

“We need to learn from it,” he said of the loss.

“We got beaten really, really convincingly in the contest.

“They made us look like kids at times, the way they brushed us off when we tried to tackle.”

North Queensland warned on Cyclone Nathan

Far north Queenslanders in Cyclone Nathan’s firing line have been told to brace for a more frightening and destructive storm than the one they endured a year ago.

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The Bureau of Meteorology expects Nathan to cross the coast just north of Cape Flattery, near the towns of Hope Vale and Cooktown, around 4am on Friday as a category four system that will deliver winds of up to 260km/h.

But the bureau hasn’t ruled out Nathan, which first threatened the coastline last week, intensifying into a maximum-strength category five before it made landfall.

“Tonight will be a frightening event for many families,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. “I express on behalf of all Queenslanders that our thoughts and prayers are with all those families.

Cooktown residents have been advised Nathan will pack a bigger punch than Cyclone Ita, which they weathered last April when it unleashed 200km/h winds.

Large trees were toppled, roofs were ripped from homes and a nearby banana plantation at Hope Vale was destroyed by Ita.

Cyclone Nathan’s arrival will also herald a unnerving sense of deja vu for north Queensland, given it will hit on the ninth anniversary of Cyclone Larry which brought widespread destruction as a category five system.

At 5pm AEST on Thursday, Nathan was a category three with wind gusts of up to 195km/h, situated about 165km east of Cape Flattery.

Bureau spokesman Neil Bennett says Nathan’s wrath would be felt in the region for hours, given its likely to still be a category two cyclone by 2pm on Friday – about 10 hours after first making landfall.

“It’s a reasonably small cyclone in terms of its actual size, but the impact it’s going to have is over a fairly large area,” he told AAP.

Mr Bennett said there was also a risk that Cyclone Nathan, despite weakening over land, could reform once it crossed Queensland and reached open water in the Gulf of Carpenteria.

The bureau’s regional director, Rob Webb, summed Nathan’s impact up succinctly: “This is a small system, but it does pack a punch.”

Ms Palaszczuk on Thursday urged affected communities to make preparations before nightfall and said government agencies, which had recently dealt with category five Cyclone Marcia, would be on hand to assist.

She said 72 police, more than 50 SES personnel and more than 400 Ergon Energy workers were on guard.

“We are preparing for the worst, but we are prepared,” she said.

Cooktown’s cyclone shelter was this month downgraded to a place of refuge while an assessment of its structural integrity is carried out, although mayor Peter Scott was confident of its strength as it opened on Thursday afternoon.

But he stressed the best place for residents to be was at home if their house was built after 1985.

Vonn equals Stenmark with 19th World Cup title

The American, who won her seventh downhill title on Wednesday, took her 67th World Cup victory and her fifth Super-G globe.

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Vonn beat Austria’s Anna Fenninger by 0.49 seconds with Slovenia’s Tina Maze third and a further 0.31 adrift.

The title, coming in a season that has seen her return from a year out and two knee operations, put her on par with Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark as the most successful skier of all time.

Stenmark, who holds the record of 86 World Cup wins, achieved his 19th title on the men’s circuit in 1984.

“Today it was win or lose. But my victory yesterday and the downhill globe boosted my confidence. My record in Cortina was also a liberation,” said Vonn.

The American was referring to her 63rd World Cup win in the Italian resort in January which beat Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 1970s record for a female skier.

“It was a great season but not perfect because I had ups and downs. I only started training in October and I can see that things are improving and that I’ll be ready to claim back the overall World Cup next season. That’s my goal,” said Vonn.

Despite her nine victories this winter, Vonn is not in contention for the overall crown which remains open with only the giant slalom and slalom to come this weekend.

Reigning World Cup champion Fenninger leads 2013 overall winner Maze by 32 points.

The Austrian may have to take part in Sunday’s slalom to stay in contention even if she rarely races in the discipline.

“I haven’t made my decision yet. We will have a team meeting to discuss it,” she said.

As for Maze, the only skier to take part in all five disciplines, she said she had recovered from recent fatigue and was ready to fight to the finish: “I don’t look at the points, I concentrate on my skiing,” she said.

(Reporting by Manuele Lang. Writing by Francois Thomazeau, editing by Alan Baldwin.)

Vonn equals most ski World Cup titles

American speed queen Lindsey Vonn equalled Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 19 crystal globes when she scorched to victory in Thursday’s super-G at the season-ending World Cup finals.

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Fresh from claiming the 18th globe of her glittering career in Wednesday’s downhill, Vonn went into the super-G with just an eight-point advantage over Austrian starlet Anna Fenninger.

Fenninger started with bib number 15, timing a leading 1min 08.19sec down the 1.7km-long Roc de Fer course to pile the pressure on.

Vonn had it all to do, four runners later, in softening snow conditions in brilliant sunshine.

And the 30-year-old American made no mistake for her fifth super-G globe (after also winning 2009-12), clocking 1:07.70 for an emphatic victory, a record 67th for women on the World Cup circuit.

It was a remarkable achievement considering Vonn’s chequered 18-month comeback from a serious knee injury sustained in the 2013 world championships which required a second operation.

Winning the two speed globes, she said (having also clinched the downhill on Wednesday), was “incredibly special”.

“It’s exciting to have 19 globes,” said the 30-year-old American after her eighth speed victory (and 10th podium) this season – her record 67th on the World Cup circuit. “To be tied with Ingemar Stenmark is an amazing honour.

“Even though I have 19, these two are the most special for me. I’ve missed pretty much two seasons with two major knee injuries, and pretty much everyone didn’t think I’d be back.

“For those who doubted me, this is a pretty good answer,” she said, adding that she thrived on “high pressure and having to come through”.

“I love these situations! It obviously makes the choice very easy. When I knew Anna was in the lead, I had no other option to go as fast as I could!” said Vonn, who this season had only five days of downhill training and 20 in total.

It was also Vonn’s fifth downhill-super-G double in World Cup standings, and the first time since the 2011/12 season. No other woman has achieved this feat more than three times.

Slovenian Tina Maze completed the podium, third at 0.80sec, her 60 points taking her to 1,421pts in the race against Fenninger for the overall title.

Fenninger stretched her lead over Maze to 32pts, with the slalom and giant slalom scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

QPR can still avoid the drop, says Ramsey

Apart from a few weeks in December before the departure of Harry Redknapp, QPR have been close to the relegation zone ever since they won promotion through the Championship playoffs last May.

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A poor run of form has left them 19th in the 20-team league, four points from safety, and QPR have won one and lost five of their six matches since Ramsey took over on Feb.4.

They suffered a demoralising 3-1 defeat at London rivals Crystal Palace last weekend, but are at home to Everton on Sunday.

“There were a few things we didn’t stick to against Palace, but we’re still in it and we believe we can get out of it,” Ramsey told reporters.

“The players have got to pick themselves up. We’ve regrouped and we have to go again to get where we need to get to.

“Apart from the Crystal Palace game, the performances have been good. I don’t like using the word unlucky — but we have been unlucky in some of the games we’ve played. We’ve performed very well against teams like Arsenal and Tottenham.”

Those two defeats, both by 2-1 scorelines, and both at home, hardened opinion that QPR are doomed because the only thing in their favour this season has been their decent form at Loftus Road.

Of their 22 points, 19 have come at home and only three away. They have played 14 away games and lost 13 of them.

Everton travel to QPR after playing the second leg of their Europa League round-of-16 tie at Dynamo Kiev on Thursday, but Ramsey is not counting on the ardours of their trip to Ukraine being a factor.

“It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t give us an advantage because they have a big squad and a quality manager,” he said.

Referring to Everton’s recent run of just two wins in 13 league matches since beating QPR 3-1 in December, Ramsey said: “I don’t think about the opposition or what problems they might have.

“We need to prepare for each game, make sure we don’t give away silly goals as we have been doing, and stay together.”

(Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Julien Pretot/Alan Baldwin)

German clubs’ Euro exit no cause for panic, say officials

Borussia Dortmund joined Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04 out of the Europe’s premier competition on Wednesday after a 5-1 aggregate loss to Juventus.

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On Tuesday Leverkusen were eliminated on penalties by Atletico Madrid with Schalke eliminated last week despite winning 4-3 at Real Madrid following a 2-0 loss at home.

Five-time winners Bayern Munich are the last German team left in the competition, less than two years after they featured along with Dortmund in the first ever all-German Champions League final in 2013.

Both teams had also made the quarter-finals in 2013 and 2014.

“This (exit) confirms what we had said after the glorious World Cup,” German football association (DFB) President Wolfgang Niersbach told reporters.

“There is no time to rest, no time to ease off. We have to keep at it if we are to remain at the top. I hope Bayern can now make it to the final in Berlin.”

Germany’s Bundesliga has been witnessing a boom for the past 10 years with revenues rising, clubs largely debt-free and successful on the pitch.

Bayern alone have reached the Champions League final three times in the last five seasons, with Dortmund also making the final and Schalke into the semis.

With four teams, Germany had more clubs in the knockout stage this season than Spain, England or Italy, though all three of England’s last-16 contenders also went out.

German football league (DFL) President Reinhard Rauball said Schalke and Leverkusen had been a little unlucky.

“Schalke could have advanced,” Rauball said after the Germans gave Real a major scare in the return leg, coming to within a goal of advancing.

“Leverkusen were extremely unlucky and the only club that deservedly was eliminated is unfortunately Dortmund,” said Rauball who is also president of the Ruhr valley club.”

Dortmund lost 3-0 at home to Juventus on Wednesday to equal their highest home defeat of the competition after also losing the first leg 2-1 in Italy.

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

Scotland keep faith with backline ahead of Ireland test

Blindside flanker Adam Ashe comes in for Robert Harley while prop Ryan Grant replaces Alasdair Dickinson in a front row where Euan Murray will win a Scottish prop record 66th appearance.

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The only other change in the squad named on Thursday is on the bench where Tim Visser replaces Johnnie Beattie, reverting the selection to a five-three split among the forward and back replacements following last week’s defeat by England at Twickenham.

That was Scotland’s fourth in a row, leaving them bottom of the standings and they go into Saturday’s game (1430 GMT) facing an Ireland team gunning for a victory that could see them retain the title.

Scotland played well in defeats by France and Wales and though they dipped when losing at home to Italy, they showed promise again last week to lead at halftime at Twickenham before eventually falling 25-13.

“We’ve played with a huge amount of spirit and courage, are putting teams under pressure and are scoring tries, which is encouraging, but we want to go one better this Saturday against Ireland,” Cotter said in a statement.

“They are coming to Edinburgh believing they can win the title, while we will be going out there desperate to throw everything at our last Championship match to win the game and repay the support of our fans.”

Scotland team: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Dougie Fife, 13-Mark Bennett, 12-Matt Scott, 11-Tommy Seymour, 10-Finn Russell, 9-Greig Laidlaw (captain); 8-David Denton, 7-Blair Cowan, 6-Adam Ashe, 5-Jonny Gray, 4-Jim Hamilton, 3-Euan Murray, 2-Ross Ford, 1-Ryan Grant.

Replacements: 16-Fraser Brown, 17-Alasdair Dickinson, 18-Geoff Cross, 19-Tim Swinson, 20-Rob Harley, 21-Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22-Greg Tonks, 23-Tim Visser.

(Editing by Julien Pretot)

Scotland make two changes for Ireland game

Scotland rugby coach Vern Cotter made two changes to his pack on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations finale against champions Ireland at Murrayfield.

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Prop Ryan Grant, making his first start of the championship, and flanker Adam Ashe move up from the bench to replace Alasdair Dickinson and Rob Harley respectively.

Both Dickinson and Harley drop to the bench where the only other change sees wing Tim Visser replace back row forward Johnnie Beattie as Cotter reverts to a selection of five forwards and three backs amongst his replacements instead of the six-two split he favoured last week against England at Twickenham.

Tight-head Euan Murray will make history by overtaking Allan Jacobsen’s record for a prop with his 66th Scotland appearance.

Scotland have lost all four games in this season’s tournament so far while Ireland are looking for a victory to help them retain the title.

England are currently top of the standings, but lead Ireland and Wales only on points difference, with the final round of matches set to determine the champions.

Despite Scotland’s failure to win so far, Cotter says it was important to maintain consistency in a group whose performances have suggested they should have got more out of the tournament.

“There is a strong culture in this group. Players want to do well and set the standards high,” the New Zealander said.

“We’ve played with a huge amount of spirit and courage, are putting teams under pressure and are scoring tries, which is encouraging, but we want to go one better this Saturday against Ireland, last year’s champions.

“Both ourselves and Ireland are hugely motivated for this game.

“Make no mistake, they are coming to Edinburgh believing they can win the title, while we will be going out there desperate to throw everything at our last Championship match to win the game and repay the support of our fans.”

Team (15-1):

Stuart Hogg; Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Matt Scott, Tommy Seymour; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); David Denton, Blair Cowan, Adam Ashe; Jonny Gray, Jim Hamilton; Euan Murray, Ross Ford, Ryan Grant

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Alasdair Dickinson, Geoff Cross, Tim Swinson, Robert Harley, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Tonks, Tim Visser

Real need frustrated Ronaldo at his best for Barca

The Portuguese has struck a moody figure in recent weeks as Real struggled to recapture the blistering form that allowed them to set a Spanish record of 22 successive wins before the winter break.

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Barcelona have capitalised on recent stumbles by Real, who have won only one of their last three league games, and earlier this month climbed to the top of La Liga for the first time since November.

Just weeks after holding a four-point lead over Barca, Real now trail their bitter enemies by a point and Carlo Ancelotti’s men cannot afford any more slip-ups if they want to win a record extending 33rd La Liga title.

Ronaldo will also be eager to upstage Lionel Messi when the league’s top two strikers — who have scored 62 goals between them — face off in the highly anticipated clash.

When the duo headed off for their winter breaks in December, Ronaldo topped the standings with 25 goals while Messi had netted 15 times.

But following a remarkable few months, the Argentine is now in front with 32 to Ronaldo’s 30.

Such is Ronaldo’s competitive nature that he has looked exasperated during games that have not gone Real’s way.

Ronaldo’s irritation was clear for all to see last week when he was seen saying “how embarrassing” Real were to team mate Karim Benzema following their 4-3 defeat by Schalke in the Champions League.

While Real squeezed through to the Champions League quarter-finals thanks to an aggregate 5-4 win, they are unlikely to get a reprieve in La Liga if they are trumped by Barcelona, who are on a six-match winning streak in all competitions.

Barca swept aside the challenge of Manchester City to book a place in the last eight of the Champions League on Wednesday, but midfielder Andres Iniesta refused to tag his side as favourites for the Clasico clash.

“There have been Clasicos where everything has happened and it is not down to how the teams are playing beforehand,” he told reporters. “I don’t think Madrid are playing badly and this is an important game for us against a direct rival.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)