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UFC 110 Review

In MMA on February 23, 2010 at 9:47 pm

The UFC made its Australian debut on Saturday night in a thrilling
event which saw contenders rise, champions fall, and lots of questions
answered.

Main Event: Cain Velasquez bt Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (TKO, R1)

Velasquez dominated Nogueira on the feet

This short but eye-opening fight answered a lot of questions about
both these fighters. Velasquez proved that he does, in fact, pack some
power in those fists. Nogueira, meanwhile, is on the decline.

In all of his long career, Big Nog had never been stopped by an
opponent until Frank Mir knocked him flat last year. That beating was
partially attributed to the Brazilian’s staph infection, which greatly
weakened him come fight night. There can be no excuses this time
around. The younger man dominated this fight, showing greatly improved
stand-up technique and some previously hidden power. Read the rest of this entry »

Stuck In The Middle

In Football on February 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Watching the Arsenal-Porto game, and then subsequently the Bayern-Fiorentina highlights, it was clear that mistakes were made by both referees.

Referee Martin Hansson had a difficult evening in Portugal

Martin Hansson had a nightmare couple of minutes at the Stadio de Dragao when he first waved away Tomas Rosicky’s penalty appeal and then allowed Porto to take a quick free kick to take the lead. For this, he endured a long lecture from Arsene Wenger on the sideline (quite why he patiently lent the Frenchman his ear I’m not too sure) and the scorn of seemingly every viewer.

After the game, the fun really started. Watching on RTE, the two of the ‘Three Wise Men’ (and Ronnie Whelan) had an almighty cut off the referee. Predictably, Eamonn Dunphy was the ringleader, as he howled over and over about how the referee has to raise his arm to indicate an indirect free kick, and then get out of the way. Ronnie disagreed. They’re professional footballers. Internationals in fact. They know it’s a bloody indirect free kick.

It was only after a comical few minutes of schoolboy squabbling (which actually reduced host Bill O’Herlihy to giggles at one point) that they saw another angle. Ah, it would seem he did raise his arm early after all. ‘I withdraw my point’ grumbled Eamonn. ‘But not the one about him obstructing Campbell’. Read the rest of this entry »

UFC 110 Preview

In MMA on February 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The UFC returns this Saturday/Sunday and for the first time, the famous octagon will be set up Down Under as the world’s biggest MMA organisation makes its bow in Australia. To aid Dana ‘Dr Evil’ White in his plans for world domination, Zuffa have put together a fight card that is packed to the brim with intriguing match ups.

Main Event:

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Cain Velasquez

Generations collide in the main event, as one of the greatest fighters ever to take part in MMA tests himself against one of the sport’s brightest rising stars, in a no.1 contender match for the interim heavyweight belt.

‘Nogueira’ is a name that will evoke misty eyes and fond recollections in most fans, as Antonio Rodrigo’s body of work over the last decade qualifies him as arguably the greatest heavyweight of all time, bar a certain Russian cyborg. Unfortunately, that very same decade of action also qualifies him as one of the oldest 35 year olds on the planet.

Nogueira’s toughness is legendary. Having been almost killed by a truck at age 11, it was a small step to almost being killed by juggernauts like Bob Sapp, Fedor Emelianenko and Tim Sylvia. His only losses have come to Fedor, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson and Frank Mir. In other words, the very best. Should Velasquez beat him, he could reasonably be considered a top 5 heavyweight on the upswing.

Beating Nogueira may not be quite as impossible a task as it seemed in the past, but the wily vet’s all round skills still make him a dangerous opponent for anyone. His boxing is still sharp and snappy, as he showed in his domination of Randy Couture. His one sided TKO loss to Mir, the one stoppage he has suffered in his career, can be at least partially attributed to the terrible condition he was in when he entered the cage, and he proved the rumours of his demise were premature against the ‘Natural’. Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Review

In Rugby Union on February 15, 2010 at 10:31 pm

The second weekend of Six Nations action gave us a comeback for the ages, a statement from the French and a dogfight in Rome.

Yannick Jauzion crosses for a French try

We’ll start in Paris, where a focussed French XV made a mockery of Ireland’s 15 month unbeaten run. Losing at St Denis is no cause for shame, but the manner in which Ireland were broken down was very discouraging.

For the first quarter, they were right in the game. It looked as though we might be headed for classic 80 minutes as the two favourites duked it out. Alas, it was not to be. Irish indiscipline handed the keys to the home side, and they didn’t take their foot off the gas until the game was won.

There were a few key plays in the opening period which Ireland never recovered from. It’s far too simplistic to say ‘everything went against them’, because a lot of the damage was self inflicted. The bounce of the ball as D’Arcy zeroed in on the line was definitely just ‘one of those things’, but it was a poor chase which opened the door for the opening score of the game.

It was Tommy Bowe this time who opted for a predictable up and under, but when he was beaten to the ball by a soaring Harinordoquy, the back rower was presented with an acre of open field. A French counter attack is one of rugby’s most inspiring sights – unless you’re on the other end of it. This one ended badly for Cian Healy, who couldn’t resist tugging a French arm off the ball for a deserved yellow card.

Morgan Parra made no mistake with the penalty, but Ireland had the chance to level matters just a few minutes later. Or rather, they would have, had it not been for a moment of madness from hooker Jerry Flannery. He scythed down Alexis Palisson to sound the death knell for the winger’s afternoon, and posibly his own Six Nations. The resulting penalty put France in a great position to capitalise. They duly did so after a series of crushing scrums near the Ireland line. 10-0 down after 25 minutes was exactly where Ireland did not want to be. But it was indiscipline that got them there. Read the rest of this entry »

Champions League Preview

In Football on February 11, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Tuesday

The tie of the round sees two footballing giants clash at the San Siro as AC Milan host Manchester United. United have been in great form recently, closing the gap at the top of the Premier League to just a point in their Terminator-like pursuit of Chelsea. Milan have been more like one of those old-style Terminators, a lot clumsier and less intimidating. They do have a few big guns though, and will pose a real threat to United’s European ambitions.

Despite lying 10 points off the pace in Serie A following a rocky recent run, their thrilling group win over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu is a reminder of just what they’re capable of when they click. It looks as though they will once again be able to call on the services of centre back Alessandro Nesta, who was conspicuous by his absence in those league hiccups, while Real’s tormentor in chief Pato is also in the squad for their Friday fixture against Udinese.

Brazilians Pato and Ronaldinho will need to be watched closely

Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Round-Up

In Rugby Union on February 11, 2010 at 4:03 pm

As expected, Ireland got their 6 Nations campaign off to a winning start on Saturday. But it wasn’t pretty. It rarely is against Italy, but with just over half an hour on the clock and the scoreline reading 23-3 to the home side, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a few more tries and some padding for the points differential.

Instead, Italy managed to win the remainder of the game 8-6, as the Irish performance sank in a morass of negative play. The stats say that they kicked 61% of possession, but it must have been closer to 80% in a soul-sapping second half that highlighted all that is wrong with rugby these days.

Italy had huge problems in the lineout

Despite referee Roman Poite having a reasonable day with the whistle, confusion still reigned at the breakdown. Ireland received one penalty straight from a kick-off which could have gone either way with O’Connell and Del Fava both wrestling for a ball on the deck, and on another occasion Ireland were awarded a highly dubious scrum deep in Italian territory almost before Luke McLean had hit the deck. These quirks discourage teams from running the ball from anywhere in their own half, and lead to prolonged bouts of aerial phony warfare which seem to make up the majority of games these days. Read the rest of this entry »

UFC 109 Round-Up

In MMA on February 10, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Relentless certainly lived up to its name, with 7 of the 11 bouts ending in hard-fought decisions. Here’s a run-down of all the fights:

Randy Couture def. Mark Coleman (Sub, Rd 2)

In the main event, Randy Couture blitzed a sluggish Mark Coleman to possibly send the ‘Godfather of ground and pound’ out of the UFC for the final time. Couture looked sharp as he jabbed a tattoo on Coleman’s stunned mug in the opening seconds, popping him seemingly at will. The Hammer Houser has never been known for his stand up, and Couture continued to dominate, pouring on some of his patented dirty boxing from inside the clinch.

As Coleman retreated to his corner between rounds, he had the look of a beaten man. His fears were well founded, as the ‘Natural’ opened up the 2nd stanza with a nice takedown. Looking like a fish out of water, Coleman quickly gave up his back and was finished in short order with an efficient rear naked choke.

President Dana White admitted afterwards that it was probably the last time we’d see the ‘Hammer’ in the octagon, and he may now return to Japan for some well-earned pay-days. Everyone’s favourite 45 year old, however, is back in the title shake-up at 205, according to White. With Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua not due to meet for another few months though, he may have one more hurdle to negotiate before he earns yet another shot at the light-heavyweight belt

Couture soundly outboxed the overmatched Coleman

Read the rest of this entry »

Super 14 Preview

In Rugby Union on February 8, 2010 at 11:56 pm

The Southern Hemisphere’s premier club competition kicks off this Friday, with South Africa’s Blue Bulls again looking like the team to beat. Here’s a rundown of all 14 teams

Bulls

We start with last year’s champions the Bulls of Pretoria. They have retained the nucleus of their team for this year’s competition, but they have lost their star winger Bryan Habana to the Stormers. Their main strengths are in the forward pack and at half-back. The second-row combination of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha should ensure a steady stream of line-out possession, and a solid front row featuring the giant Gurthro Steenkamp and new signing Gary Botha at hooker will anchor the scrum.

This solid set-piece base will give the half back pairing of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn the perfect platform to control the game. They also have beef in the centre in the form of De Wet Barry and flyers like Zane Kirchner and prolific youngster Gerhard van den Heever out wide.

A friendly schedule sees them starting out against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein before a 4 game home stand sets them up for an Australasian tour and three more dates in Loftus Versfeld.

With their experience, they will be major factors in this year’s competition, and should be certainties for the semi finals. Read the rest of this entry »

NBA Breakdown

In NBA on February 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm

We continue our NBA Breakdown series with a high octane clash between two teams that are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets.

Here’s how it went down…

The Phoenix Suns came into this one on a 5 game road losing streak, and with only one win to show for their travels since the end of November. They didn’t seem like a team low on confidence though, as they blasted their way to an early lead.

Veteran Grant Hill was their early go to option, as he burned the Rockets on a number of break aways. They took advantage of any misses to launch Hill up the court, and quickly racked up 8 points on the fast break. That’s the strength of this team, and if they’re given an opportunity to run, then they will score some big points.

The home side were still yawning and rubbing the sleep from their eyes as the Suns stealthily took a 19-6 lead. The Rockets were clanging their jump shots and managed to miss 14 of their first 16 attempts from the field, which set the tone for their wayward efforts all night. They went six minutes without a score in the 1st quarter, as Russell Brand lookalike Luis Scola and the normally clockwork Shane Battier each went 2 for 7. Point guard Aaron Brooks was coming off a 33 point game against Portland, but with him only hitting 1 of 7, the Rocks were in serious trouble.

They were playing right into their opponents hands by trying to outrun them, and the game began to resemble some kind of celebrity shuttle run as Brooks and the ageless Steve Nash bounced their teams up and down the court. Houston aren’t as well built for this as Nash’s puppets though, and while 6 of the the Suns’ 8 baskets were layups, Brooks’ boys just didn’t have the same kind of quicksilver ball movement. A ‘points in the paint’ differential of 16-4 in favour of the Suns should have persuaded them that things had to change, and their second string began to play a bit tighter, closing the gap to 28-21 at the buzzer.

Read the rest of this entry »

6 Nations Preview

In Rugby Union on February 3, 2010 at 6:53 pm

The 2010 Six Nations kicks off this weekend with Ireland looking to regain their Grand Slam crown. They should face some stiff competition though, with France, Wales and England all out for revenge and the Scots and Italians well capable of causing havoc. Here’s a look ahead to this year’s tournament:

Ireland

Last year’s Grand Slam winners will enter this year’s tournament as favourites, and rightfully so. Dealing with expectation is just one more thing that this team has had to adapt to in the last few years.

Before Kidney took over in mid-2008, question marks remained over the make-up of the squad. The team was still struggling to blend, as Leinster’s sometimes thrilling back play had yet to be successfully grafted on to Munster’s grinding pack. Eddie O’Sullivan’s overly conservative style had failed, and tension remained between the two sets of players.

It didn’t take long for Kidney to show his worth, as the cagey Cork man managed the situation expertly. A clear the air meeting was held among the squad, where grievances were aired and hatchets were buried. The players emerged with a sense of togetherness and purpose, and they’ve done a fantastic job of realising their potential ever since.

Last year’s performances were a sea change from the 2008 Championship, where they laboured to home wins over Italy and Scotland, and the result was the side’s first Grand Slam since 1948. They followed that up with an unbeaten November series to finish the calendar year undefeated and earn Kidney the IRB Coach of the Year award. Read the rest of this entry »