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PARIS, - A thrilling bronze final contest saw Argentina complete an IRB Rugby World Cup double over France, following their opening day victory with a 34-10 win at Parc des Princes.

It was Argentina’s biggest Test win against the French.
Twelve minutes into the second half, Argentina scored a contender for try of the tournament. Ignacio Corleto skimmed through the French defence on the left, offloading to Manuel Contepomi who spread it right. Two huge passes later it reached wing Federico Martin Aramburu who dived over in the corner. Felipe Contepomi couldn’t cap the score with two points, skewing the conversion wide.

With France under the cosh at 22-3, the entrance of second row Sébastien Chabal saw Argentina go down to 14 men. Juan Manuel Leguizamón clattered Chabal with a bodycheck that was both late and deemed dangerous by the referee.
It mattered not for Los Pumas. After Argentina turned over a France attack, Corleto took a pass from Horacio Agulla to hare near the length of the pitch to score in the corner and put the match out of the hosts’ reach. With Felipe Contepomi missing from the touchline, Argentina led 27-3.

France restored some pride with 12 minutes to go, the lively Clément Poitrenaud selling his marker a dummy before jinking through to dink the ball down following powerful running from Imanol Harinordoquy and Chabal. Replacement Lionel Beauxis scored the conversion to make it 27-10.
Then with four minutes to go, Felipe Contepomi scored his second try to break French hearts, before kicking the conversion.
In the first half, the teams exchanged penalties before the Pumas scored two tries to lead France 17-3. Felipe Contepomi crashed down in the corner and converted to make it 10-3 before prop Omar Hasan Jalil forced the ball through a mass of bodies under the posts. Felipe Contepomi’s conversion was routine, 17-3 to Argentina.

As the French besieged the Argentina line to no reward, France captain Raphael Ibanez and Pumas second row Rimas Alvarez Kairelis saw yellow for foul play in the final seconds of the half.

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Springboks look to clear English hurdle in WC final

PARIS, (AFP) Unbeaten South Africa face defending champions England in a mouth-watering rugby World Cup final at the Stade de France here on Saturday, a re-match of the pool match the Springboks won with consummate ease.
But both sides have been quick to play down the significance of that record 36-0 rout, achieved when England were without talismanic outside-half Jonny Wilkinson, who memorably kicked his team to World Cup glory four years ago, and replacement No 10 Olly Barkley.

England rebounded from that humiliation, effectively playing pool knock-out games against Samoa (44-22) and Tonga (37-20) before a powerful forward display saw them record a shock 12-10 win over Australia in the quarter-finals.
Calm heads and six late points from Wilkinson’s trusty boot then led England to a 14-9 victory over old rivals and tournament hosts France, who had themselves eliminated New Zealand, in the semi-final.

With Wilkinson, the top World Cup points scorer with 243 from the three tournaments he has played in, back at the helm, England have certainly defied the odds and an average age of almost 31 to set up the match against the Boks.
England, bidding to become the first side to win back-to-back World Cups, also named nine other veteran squad members from that 2003-winning side in Jason Robinson, Mike Catt, Andy Gomarsall, Ben Kay, Mark Regan, Simon Shaw, Martin Corry, Lewis Moody and captain Phil Vickery in their starting XV to play the Boks.

Two others, Lawrence Dallaglio and Joe Worsley, are on the bench.
South Africa coach Jake White said that experience would be invaluable for England after the team was written off as “dead and buried two weeks ago.”
“England players have won a World Cup away from home before,” White said. “They’ve got guys like Dallaglio, Worsley, Robinson, Catt, Vickery - all those guys being there is a huge advantage.
“They must be in a great mindset. They came back, they beat Australia and France in two consecutive weekends.”

But Vickery argued that the squad’s memories of winning the World Cup four years ago against Australia, and their previous matches against South Africa would count for little come Saturday.

“I’d like to be be able to erase the memory of a 36-0 defeat but unfortunately they don’t go away,” said Vickery. “It’s a World Cup final on Saturday. Whatever has happened in the past counts for nothing, it’s a one-off game.”
South Africa, who were given a scare by Fiji in the quarter-final before winning 37-20 and outplayed a disappointing Argentina 37-13 in their last-four clash, have a team that is positively bursting with talent, power and pace.

Built around a solid front row of 1995 World Cup winner Os du Randt, captain John Smit and CJ van der Linde, and the world’s top lock combination of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, the Boks also feature some outstanding runners.
The wing pairing of Bryan Habana, currently equal with Jonah Lomu’s try-scoring record of eight at a World Cup, and JP Pietersen are nothing short of exceptional and the defensive role of England’s Robinson, in his last-ever game, along with that of wingers Mark Cueto and Paul Sackey, could be decisive against the Springbok speedsters.

In veteran full-back Percy Montgomery, South Africa possess a cool head and the leading points scorer in this World Cup, a proven sharp-shooter also capable of playing an effective kicking game out of hand.
The hard-running midfield duo of Francois Steyn and Jacque Fourie will doubtless target England’s South African-born Catt, 36, and Mathew Tait, who has come of age in this tournament.

Scrum-half Fourie du Preez has turned in a series of outstanding harrying performances and partner Butch James is capable of launching the aerial bombardment that led England coach Brian Ashton to name the experienced Mark Cueto at wing in place of the injured Josh Lewsey.

Broken play will also be a key area of the game and the fearless Moody and the more workman-like duo of Corry and Nick Easter will have their work cut out to nullify the strong Bok trio of Danie Roussouw, Juan Smith and the irrepressible Schalk Burger, who missed the pool win over England through suspension.

“England have got a good forward pack,” admitted Burger. “They’re strong at the breakdown, they’ve got a good scrum, a good line-out, so it’s going to be a really good contest, and whichever team dominates there will have a very easy afternoon.”
Centre Fourie said that South Africa would be happy to take a win at any cost, even if it meant “playing ugly”, a strategy England know all about, having racked up an average of only 22 points per match.

“It’s a final,” he said. “At any knock-out stage, it’s not by how many points you win it, you just have to win it. Nobody’s going to remember how you won it, just that you won it.

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Wilko turns to Buddhism — but it’s not a conversion

LONDON, (AFP) - Buddhism has helped England’s Jonny Wilkinson get over injury and the massive expectations on him before the Rugby Union World Cup final against South Africa, he said in comments published Saturday.
Wilkinson kicked England to a last-gasp victory in the final against Australia in 2003 and was subsequently feted as a national hero, until a string of injuries threatened to cut his career short.
But in an article in The Times Saturday he said that as he battled back to full fitness, he turned to a variety of sources, including Buddhism, to help him cope with what he had achieved and the renewed burden of a nation’s hopes.
“Don’t get me wrong. Don’t think: ‘Jonny’s now a Buddhist.’ I am not. I have just been finding a direction, learning different ways of looking at life and taking bits I could use and discarding bits I could not,” he wrote.
“Even down to the basics of how to relax, looking at meditation or better sleeping... How does all that impact on a game of rugby? I can’t answer that.
“All I know is it’s enough to help me to proceed in a way that makes me happy enough to go out there and be proud of who I am and what I hope I can bring to this team.”
Wilkinson, whose drop goal against France in last Saturday’s semi-final put England through to face the Springboks, said he has always battled against worrying about situations out of his control.
And as the tournament progressed and England turned round their poor early form to beat Australia and France, he said struggled against slipping into his old ways.
But the Newcastle Falcons fly-half said when he takes to the field at the Stade de France in Paris Saturday night he will be glad when the whistle goes -- and in the meantime is trying to block out thoughts of “what if”.
“I will go out there for the World Cup final today stuffed with nerves and anxiety to do well. But there is a saviour, I find solace in the whistle going because my mind is then living in the moment.”

****

Pallekelle Stadium drags its feet

By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
The picturesque Asgiriya International Cricket Stadium Kandy can breath easy for at least another four years because work on Sri Lanka Cricket’s Pallakelle Cricket Stadium is not expected to be completed until 2011.
Sri Lanka Cricket secretary Kanangan Mathivanan told ‘The Nation’ that work was going on at slow pace because there was no urgency to complete a rush job on the stadium which is a 20-minute drive from Kandy town.
“We are hoping to complete the playing area, pavilion and dressing rooms so that by January-February next year we will be able to play Premier trophy and provincial matches there,” said Mathivanan.
“At the moment the drainage lines are being laid on the ground after which the sprinkler system will be put in place. The entire outfield will be planted with grass and the pitches attended to,” he said.
The scoreboard and sight screens along with the media centre are also scheduled for construction. The total cost to SLC is expected to be around Rs. 120-130 million once the stadium is completed.
“It will take some time before we host Test matches at this venue,” Mathivanan said.

****

SLC pumps Rs. 56m on Premier clubs for next season

Sri Lanka Cricket will spend a whopping Rs. 56 million on the ten Premier Tier ‘A’ clubs during the 2007-08 cricket season which will be held from November 14 to December 3.
The ten clubs who will benefit by SLC’s money allocation are SSC, NCC, CCC, Colts, Bloomfield, Tamil Union, Badureliya, Chilaw Marians, Ragama and Moors.

Each of these clubs will receive Rs. 3.93 million as player fees, match fees and administration fees for the season. They will also be provided with coloured clothings for the limited overs and Twenty20 tournaments which is a new concept adopted by SLC. Bowling machines worth Rs. 500,000 each was distributed to these clubs at Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters by president Jayantha Dharmadasa, secretary Kanangan Mathivanan and CEO Duleep Mendis.

Further, SLC will be breaking new ground by paying a monthly retainer for 15 players from each club (total of 150 players). The total expenditure for the retainer is Rs. 1.05 million. The SLC will also pay a club coach Rs. 50,000 a month for ten months. The total expenditure for this is Rs. 5 million.

Another new concept is that managers and trainer/masseurs of the respective clubs will also be paid by SLC. An allowance of Rs. 15,000 for six months will be paid for managers and Rs. 10,000 a month for trainer/masseur incurring a total expenditure of Rs. 1.5 million.

SLC officials stated that these steps have been taken to make the Premier cricket tournament of the country more professional than it has been in the past. – [ST]

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Strauss axed for Sri Lanka tour

LONDON, (AFP) - England opener Andrew Strauss has been dropped for his country’s forthcoming Test tour of Sri Lanka.
Strauss was missing from the 15-man England squad named on Friday after a disappointing run of form, which saw him average just 27 over the last year.

The Middlesex batsman had been awarded a central contract recently but that was not enough to save his place in Michael Vaughan’s side for the three-Test series in December.
There was no place for Mark Ramprakash even though the Surrey batsman has averaged over 100 in county cricket for the last two seasons.

Four uncapped players, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Phil Mustard and Graeme Swann, are included, while Steve Harmison, who has not played since a hernia operation, will feature if he proves his fitness in a short stint in South African domestic cricket in November.

Chairman of selectors David Graveney insisted the door was not totally closed for Strauss. He said: “Andrew Strauss needs to recover his best form and he has not been included in the squad on this occasion.”

“We have chosen Phil Mustard as our number two wicketkeeper for the tour. Having recently toured Sri Lanka with the one-day squad, Phil is familiar with the conditions and will be ideally placed to deputise for Matt Prior should the situation arise.

England squad for Test series in Sri Lanka: Michael Vaughan (Yorkshire, capt), James Anderson (Lancashire), Ian Bell (Warwickshire), Ravi Bopara (Essex), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Paul Collingwood (Durham), Alastair Cook (Essex), Matthew Hoggard (Yorkshire), Philip Mustard (Durham), Monty Panesar (Northamptonshire), Kevin Pietersen (Hampshire), Matthew Prior (Sussex), Owais Shah (Middlesex), Ryan Sidebottom (Nottinghamshire), Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire)

****

World Cup 2010 qualifier: Sri Lanka – Qatar today

Mariks from Kandy
Football enthusiasts in Colombo will get the opportunity of witnessing the formidable Sri Lankans in action against Qatar, in a World Cup 2010 Qualifier game. Kick off is at 4.00 pm at the Sugathadasa Stadium today.

The stage is set for an enthralling confrontation with the Sri Lankans, under Chatura Madurange, in good shape. The three Sri Lanka coaches are master planners of the game and will be fielding their best outfit with none on the injured list. Sri Lanka’s asset is their mobile forwards with a good set of scorers in their ranks. Good performances are also expected from the defenders.

The Qatar team is an extremely strong outfit and though Sri Lanka has the fire power to shoot out the Qatar footballers they will have to produce an excellent standard of football to do so. The three coaches Balendra Anthony, D.Chandrasiri and Jan Jung should get the footballers to play together as a team. Skipper Chatura Maduranga with years of experience as a good midfielder should get the best from players like Kasun Jayasuriya, E.B.Channa, G.P.C. Karunarthne, T.M.Raheem, D. Ratnayake, and Fazrul Rahama.

The Ambassador of Qatar will grace the occasion. The return clash will be on October 28 in Qatar.
Sri Lanka Squad - Chathura Maduranga (Captain), Kasun Jayasuriya, G.P.C. Karunaratne, T.M. Raheem, D. Ratnayake, Sandun Devendra, S.D. Tilakartne, M. Rawme, Asmeer Ali, E.B. Channa, Nadeka Pushpakumara, M. Issadeen, C.L. Samarasekara, Niratha Perera, Chatura Gunarathne, Suranga Bandara, M. Ramees, Asanga Viraj, Madushka Peris, R.D. Ruanthileka, Fazrul Rahman, N. Srikantha, W. H. Banu.
The Qatar team has not been received.
Referee: Abdul Malik Abdul

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