Crusaders game holds huge implications for Lions

first_imgThe visitors delivered an unconvincing win against the semi-professional Provincial Barbarians in their opening game and on Wednesday lost to the Blues, New Zealand’s worst-performing Super Rugby side this season.The Crusaders always loomed as the toughest opponents of the opening 10 days and Gatland has decided to field what appears to be the strongest Lions side yet in a bid avoid what would be a dispiriting second defeat so early on the tour.Should the Crusaders inflict defeat on such a strong side, it could leave the Lions in disarray and send Gatland scurrying back the drawing board to sketch out a Plan B with only three matches to iron out the details before facing the All Blacks.”It would be disappointing to lose back-to-back matches,” Gatland said. “The challenge is to come together as quick as we can.”It’s a great test for us and preparation. We are trying to keep a few things back behind closed doors.”While Gatland may indeed be keeping a few things back, in truth there is very little time for the Lions to get things right as they build through the tour towards that all-important first test against the world champions on June 24.The visitors have so far failed to show the intensity, skill execution and cohesiveness that their 20,000 travelling fans had expected from day one in New Zealand.While the Lions demonstrated a stiff defence against the Blues at Eden Park on Wednesday, they must capitalise on their scoring opportunities, create more with the ball in hand, and not rely solely on their kicking game to create pressure.And they need to score tries.Tour captain Sam Warburton has said they would not beat the All Blacks in the three-test series unless they scored more than 20 points per game. However, they failed to breach that mark against the Barbarians and Blues and scored just one try in both those games.On Saturday, the Crusaders represent a considerable step up in intensity with coach Scott Robertson fielding all of his All Blacks, with six in the pack alone.The Lions have surprisingly failed to dominate in the scrum and with the Crusaders boasting what is likely to be the All Blacks front row for the first test, that contest will be keenly watched.The seven-times Super Rugby champions have also been more expansive this year under Robertson, but he said it would be churlish not to adapt to what the Lions threw at them.”We will be smart about it. We also understand that with the potential test match focus of it, we have to adapt,” Robertson said. “If we have to go to set-piece, we will.”If we have to throw the ball as well, we will.”last_img read more

Bayern head to AEK buoyed by ‘liberating’ victory

first_img0Shares0000Lewandowski netted twice at the weekend to end a five-game winless streak © AFP/File / John MACDOUGALLBERLIN, Germany, Oct 22 – Bayern Munich travel to Greece to face AEK Athens in the Champions League on Tuesday boosted by a Bundesliga win that “felt like a liberation” after their miserable run of form and a stormy week behind the scenes.The pressure was mounting on the German champions and new coach Niko Kovac during a four-match winless run to the extent that senior club figures including Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness launched a stunning attack on the media. But Saturday’s 3-1 win over Wolfsburg, in which Robert Lewandowski scored twice to end a five-game goal drought, is being hailed as a potential turning point for Bayern’s season.“That felt like a liberation,” said centre-back Mats Hummels, while sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic was equally relieved, saying: “We have shown character in a difficult phase.”The tension had been ratcheted up on Friday when Rummenigge, Hoeness and Salihamidzic slammed the press for “disgusting and respectless” reporting of Bayern’s poor performances in recent weeks, singling out German journalists to scold.Saturday’s three points provided some calm at the Allianz Arena, but the pressure is still on Kovac heading to Athens, after a 1-1 home draw with Ajax last time out in Europe left Bayern’s Group E hopes in the balance.Kovac was cautious about thoughts that Bayern will now rediscover the form which saw them romp to six straight German titles, describing the win at Wolfsburg as “just a small and first step in the right direction”.But James Rodriguez, who scored a fantastic goal at the weekend, was more bullish, saying that Bayern are back in business.“In a long season, these things always happen,” said James, referring to the recent shock defeats by Hertha Berlin and Borussia Moenchengladbach that has left them fourth in the Bundesliga table.“There are bad games, there are good games. This bad phase has already gone. Now comes something good.”Left-back David Alaba was Bayern’s only injury concern from Wolfsburg after the Austrian was taken off at half-time as a precautionary measure with a thigh strain.Feel-good factor: Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Mats Hummels and Niklas Suele celebrate after Saturday’s win at Wolfsburg © AFP/File / John MACDOUGALLThe AEK match marks the start of a busy few weeks for Bayern who face midweek games from now up until the November international break — culminating with a crunch clash at Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund on November 10.“We will be playing every three days, but the rhythm is good and I hope we’ll go from win to win,” said Lewandowski.After crashing to a 3-0 defeat at Ajax, then losing 3-2 at home to Benfica, AEK are chasing their first points in the group against Bayern, who have never lost a Champions League game in Greece with three wins and a draw.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)last_img read more

LVG: Age and inexperience should not hamper Marcus Rashford’s Euro 2016 hopes

first_img1 Marcus Rashford has swiftly risen from unknown to an Old Trafford favourite Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal does not believe inexperience should prevent breakthrough star Marcus Rashford from securing a surprise, late place in England’s Euro 2016 squad.The 18-year-old has swiftly risen from unknown to an Old Trafford favourite, having followed-up a debut brace against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League with another double during an even better performance at home to Arsenal.Rashford produced another solid display as United eked out a 1-0 win against Watford in midweek – just the third senior appearance of his career, but a match followed by talk of a Euro 2016 place.England boss Roy Hodgson was keen to keep the pressure off when quizzed about the teenager in Paris, but refused to rule the striker in or out of selection for this summer’s tournament.Van Gaal bristled when those comments were put to him at the press conference previewing Sunday’s trip to West Brom, although the United boss underlined his belief that quality is more important than experience.“I think that Mr Hodgson has answered the question of the media and now you are asking again,” he said.“Who is paying a lot of attention to that? It is the media, it is not Hodgson or I. We have to answer the questions.“This is my answer to you – you are putting the question and then you are saying Hodgson is telling something. No, he is answering questions.”When asked again whether England recognition would be too much, too soon for Rashford, Van Gaal added: “It is never too early. I have said it also a lot of times in my press conferences.“Age is not important, I have said that. Maybe you remember that? Age is not important, it is the quality.”SEE HERE – Joe Cole tells talkSPORT: Marcus Rashford is something special… he could be England’s surprise package at Euro 2016last_img read more