15 Jan 2020

Today's sports news: what you need to know

6:01 am on 15 January 2020

Latest - Forner All Black Julian Savea could be looking for a new club, according to reports in French media.

Toulon's Julian Savea.

Julian Savea Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Savea, who played 54 tests for the All Blacks and was a star at the 2015 Rugby World, plays for Toulon in France's Top 14 competition.

But a report in RMC Sport, a French sports website, says his contract is extremely unlikely to be renewed when it expires later this year.

It says the winger is not considered to have played up to his potential. And the club wants to free up money for other players.

This time last year the Toulon boss Mourad Boudjellal was keen to get rid of Savea after just one season because of what he felt about his form.

"I'm going to ask for a DNA test. They must have swapped him on the plane [when he joined from Hurricanes]. If I were him I would apologise and go back to my home country," Mourad Boudjellal told French radio RMC.

Boudjellal then added that Savea faced a "very long" final year of his contract.

Toulon are currently third in the French Top 14 standings.

Fatialofa improving

There is some good news about the former Hurricanes lock Michael Fatialofa who remains in an English hospital after being carried off during a Premiership game ten days ago.

Hurricanes lock Michael Fatialofa 2018.

Michael Fatialofa Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fatialofa's wife says the Worcester Warriors player is "beginning to make progress", although he remains in a serious condition after suffering a neck injury.

Fatialofa, 27, has been treated at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, in London, since being carried off with his neck in a brace in Warriors' 62-5 loss at Saracens.

He had surgery a week ago to relieve pressure on his spinal cord.

And his wife Tatiana has posted a new message of hope on Instagram.

She issued her update on Instagram in response to fans leaving their messages of support for the New Zealand-born lock forward.

Fans and well wishers have sent cards, as well as messages of support on the fats@warriors.co.uk email address set up by the club.

Worcester say Tatiana and her husband have been "overwhelmed" by messages of concern from around the world.

Fatialofa is in his second season at Sixways following his arrival from Super Rugby side Hurricanes in 2018.


Young cricketers beaten

The New Zealand under-19 men's cricketers have been beaten by the United Arab Emirates in a warmup game to the World Cup in South Africa.

The UAE scored a one wicket victory in Johannesburg as they chased down New Zealand's total of 217 for nine with three balls to spare.

Opener Rhys Mariu top scored with 56 off 86 balls.

Jesse Tashkoff picked up three wickets, but the young New Zealanders were unable to break the last UAE partnership who put on 31 runs.

New Zealand's next warmup match is against Bangladesh on Thursday with their opening World Cup game against Japan on Saturday.

Astros sack staff over cheating scandal

The Houston Astros fired Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow after Major League Baseball suspended them each for a year for a cheating scandal that involved stealing pitch signs from opposing catchers during their World Series-winning 2017 season.

The Houston Astros celebrate.

Houston Astros celebrate Photo: Photosport

The announcement of the firings was made by Astros owner Jim Crane about an hour after MLB announced the suspensions and sanctions against the team, which also included a $7.5 million fine and the loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

According to MLB, the sign-stealing scheme evolved during the 2017 season. At the outset it involved employees in the Astros' video replay review room using a live game feed from the centerfield camera to attempt to decode and transmit opposing teams' pitch sign sequences.

At one point, then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora arranged for a technician to install a monitor displaying the centerfield camera shots near the Houston dugout so players could watch, figure out the signs and hit a trash can with a bat to signal to their batter what type of pitch was coming, MLB said.

Under Luhnow's tenure, the Astros went from a team that lost more than 100 games each season from 2011-2103 to one of the game's powerhouse clubs with more than 100 wins every year from 2017-2019, including a World Series title in 2017 and another trip to the World Series in 2019 in which they lost to the upstart Washington Nationals.

In five years as Astros manager, Hinch compiled a record of 481-329, a winning percentage just shy of .600


Barca sack coach

Spainish football giants Barcelona have sacked coach Ernesto Valverde and named former Real Betis coach Quique Setien as his replacement.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde.

Ernesto Valverde Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 55-year-old Valverde, who led Barcelona to successive La Liga titles in 2018 and 2019, came under fire this season for the team's dip in performance levels even though they top the league standings at the halfway point of the campaign.

Valverde is the first coach Barca have dispensed with in the middle of a campaign since Louis van Gaal was sacked in January 2003 with the team sitting 12th in the standings.

He also won the Copa del Rey in 2018 after taking charge in 2017.

Barcelona lead the standings on 40 points, ahead of second-placed Real Madrid on goal difference.

Barca are also into the last 16 of the Champions League, where they will face Napoli.


Jones appoints assistants

England rugby coach Eddie Jones has appointed former South Africa assistant Matt Proudfoot and Englishman Simon Amor as his new assistant coaches ahead of this year's Six Nations tournament.

England rugby coach Eddie Jones.

Eddie Jones Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Proudfoot, a former Scotland international who helped South Africa win the World Cup last year before his contract as assistant coach ended, will replace Steve Borthwick as England's forward coach, with the latter becoming the skills coach.

Amor, who was head coach of the England Men's Sevens and the Great Britain Sevens which won silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016, comes in as attack coach.

Jones also said he had been looking to recruit Amor after he impressed him with his "rugby intellect" at pre-World Cup training camps.

England begin their Six Nations campaign on Feb. 2 when they take on France in Paris.


Freak injury cruels Australian cyclists' chances

Rising Australian cyclist Chris Hamilton will miss the Tour Down Under after suffering a freak injury in a training crash -- rupturing one of his testicles.

The 24-year-old Sunweb rider posted the eye-watering injury bulletin on Instagram, saying: "Fellas it's just as painful as you think it is."

"I had a small crash in training. I wish I could say I was doing something gnarly, but no, just on a bike path," he said.

"Nothing broken but since someone is going to ask what I did anyway, I ruptured a testicle."

In a sport where broken collarbones, wrists and ribs are par for the course, this is a rare injury and the unfortunate Hamilton did not know how long the recovery would be.

"It's a bit unknown, but at this stage all I can say is the surgery to do some repairs went well and I'll find out more in a follow up next week," he said.

"I am pretty devastated to be sidelined for the Aussie summer, but who knows, maybe a change will be for the best! See you all out on the road soon."

Hamilton finished sixth overall in the Tour Down Under last year and has ridden in the last two Giro d'Italias.


Kerber makes strong start at Australian Open warmup in Adelaide

Former world number one Angelique Kerber swept past the challenge from China's Wang Qiang 6-1 6-3 to pick up her first win of the year at the inaugural Adelaide International.

The 2016 Australian Open champion was defeated in the opening round at Brisbane last week by Samantha Stosur but dominated her Chinese opponent from the outset.

The German has seen her singles ranking drop to 18 in the world after winning just four matches in her previous nine tournaments and would need some confidence-boosting wins before the Australian Open.

The Adelaide tournament, which kicked off on Sunday, is a combined ATP and WTA event that replaces the Sydney International, which was dropped from the calendar to accommodate the ATP Cup.

The tournament has lost some of its sheen after Australia's top-ranked men's player Alex de Minaur withdrew due to an injury, joining world number two Novak Djokovic as late withdrawals.

Women's world number one Ash Barty is the top draw at the tournament and will hope to get some matches under her belt before the first Grand Slam of the year, which starts in Melbourne next week.

Barty had a bye in the first round and will begin her Adelaide campaign on Tuesday against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after she suffered a similar fate as Kerber in falling in her Brisbane opener to Jennifer Brady.

Hometown favourite Ajla Tomljanovic recovered from a bumpy start to beat Kazakh qualifier Yulia Putintseva 7-6(4) 6-2 in the women's singles and set up a clash against Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the second round.


Grand Slams pledge additional $600,000 to bushfire relief efforts

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and three Grand Slams -- Wimbledon, U.S. Open and French Open -- have collectively pledged $400,000 to Australian bushfire relief efforts, the sport's international governing body said on Monday.

Twenty-eight people have been killed and thousands made homeless in recent months as huge fires scorched through 11.2 million hectares (27.7 million acres), nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.

The money, which is in addition to the funds raised by Tennis Australia's Aces for Bushfire Relief campaign, will be donated to the Australian Red Cross which has helped thousands in evacuation centres and aided volunteers and relief workers.

With the Australian Open set to begin next week, tennis players have also been donating to relief efforts.

On Sunday, Serena Williams said she would donate her prize-money from winning the Auckland Classic while Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal will feature in an exhibition match to raise funds.

Australian cricket great Shane Warne's "baggy green" cap fetched more than $1 million in an auction.


Surprising Serradori denies Alonso a first Dakar stage win

Double Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso came close to a first Dakar Rally stage win after finishing second to French amateur Mathieu Serradori in the 477km loop around Wadi al-Dawasir in Saudi Arabia.

Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz, in a Mini buggy, saw his overall lead to Qatar's defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah trimmed to six minutes and 40 seconds after the eighth stage in the southern dunes.

The motorcycle riders had their stage cancelled as a mark of respect following the death on Sunday of popular Portuguese veteran Paulo Goncalves.

American Ricky Brabec, on a Honda, leads Chilean Pablo Quintanilla by 24 minutes.

The absence of motorcycle tracks, with the riders usually preceding the cars, made navigation more tricky through the dunes.

SRT Racing's Serradori, a former biker who dedicated his stage win to Goncalves, took advantage of the tracks laid by others to become the first amateur in 32 years to beat the professional drivers and teams.

Alonso, in his first Dakar with former motorcycle winner Marc Coma alongside, could also claim the drive of the day with a time quicker than all the favourites with their years of experience of desert driving.


Rivals emerge for Bennett's England job

Rugby Football League CEO Ralph Rimmer has revealed fresh candidates have emerged for Wayne Bennett's England coaching role.

Bennett's contract ran out at the end of 2019 and, although he is said to be keen to continue in the role he began in 2016, he appears to be facing competition.

A decision will be made early in February when the RFL board receives a review of the ill-fated Great Britain Lions tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Former Wigan boss Shaun Wane, currently working part-time with the Scottish Rugby Union, is known to be keen, but Rimmer declined to confirm any names when he addressed the media at the RFL's season launch in Huddersfield on Monday.