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Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Drugs probe not linked to signing delays: Noyce

Cronulla officials insist the future of seven unsigned players called for interviews with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigators will be determined for football reasons alone.

While hooker John Morris is in talks about a new deal with the club, the Sharks are yet to decide whether Ben Pomeroy, Nathan Gardner, Nathan Stapleton, Ben Ross, Matthew Wright and Stewart Mills are part of their plans beyond this season.

However, Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce said the delay in finalising the club’s new roster had nothing to do with the ongoing ASADA investigation.

”While there is a group of players involved in the ASADA stuff, their contractual situations are all different,” Noyce said. ”Nathan Gardner, for example, has only played four or five games [because of injury] and his focus has just been getting on the football field.

”I think in the end your reason for wanting to re-sign players is about footy stuff and if he comes back on the field and plays good footy he gives himself a real opportunity to continue his partnership with the club.”

With the exception of Ross, the off-contract players are among 11 survivors of Cronulla’s 2011 squad summonsed for ASADA interviews that began on August 1. Of the others, Jason Bukuya is leaving for the Warriors and Anthony Tupou has taken up an option for another season. Wade Graham is off contract at the end of next season and captain Paul Gallen is signed until 2015.

Noyce said Morris wanted to continue playing for the Sharks and the club was also in discussions with the 30-year-old utility about a future coaching career. ”He is doing a masters in elite sports coaching at Sydney University and we are talking with him about putting that into practice with some of our academy teams,” Noyce said. ”There were a number of players who were a priority for us and we are working through the rest.

”A couple of the other guys know we are talking to them and it is up to them to get out on the field and play some good footy, but obviously we are always looking to see what new blood we can attract to the club.”

After a week’s break from the interviews with ASADA, Cronulla players will again be quizzed over the allegations of doping at the club next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Fairfax Media has been told that investigators have been happy with the level of co-operation provided by the players after Graham was the only player interviewed before ASADA abandoned the process in April.

Despite not initially having been on a list of 30 NRL players required for interviews this month, Graham was quizzed for a second time last Friday and Fairfax understand that it was at his request.

A further four members of the Sharks 2011 squad now at other clubs – Newcastle pair Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden and Gold Coast’s Albert Kelly and Luke Douglas – are also due to be interviewed soon.

The other club in the spotlight is Manly, with six players – Anthony Watmough, Brett Stewart, Steve Matai, George Rose, Ben Farrar and Richie Fa’aoso – asked for interviews, along with former Sea Eagles Glenn Hall, Dean Whare and Darcy Lussick.

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Wallabies keeping pace for crunch clash

The Wallabies are confident they can play ”fast, up-tempo footy” against the All Blacks without the errors that hobbled their performances against the British and Irish Lions.

Despite keeping the bones of the back line that failed miserably to match the Lions’ firepower at ANZ Stadium just over a month ago, there is a sense among the squad that a couple of positional tweaks have restored the rightful order to the Wallabies’ attack.

Halfback Will Genia said as much on Friday, calling the wing the best place for former five-eighth James O’Connor and assuring jittery fans there would be no repeat of the pushed passes or fumbled catches that surfaced the last time the Wallabies tried to play at pace.

”It’s completely different. We’re playing a different style of game under Ewen [McKenzie] to what we played in the Lions. We’ve got players in different positions and guys who are here who have been playing well all season and are full of confidence,” Genia said.

”We want to play fast, up-tempo footy. As well as the breakdown being a focus, one way to beat the All Blacks is to run them around, change direction, and just have different points of attack, as opposed to just playing off No.9s or No.10s.

”It’s good we’ve got someone like Jesse [Mogg] at the back, and Christian [Lealiifano at No.12], who is a good ball distributor as well. We just have to make sure we utilise the strengths we have in the group.”

Mogg and Lealiifano will start on Saturday in the same positions they finished the third Lions Test.

McKenzie moved O’Connor to the wing to make room for Matt Toomua, but the coach retained Lealiifano’s midfield partner Adam Ashley-Cooper and kept Israel Folau on the wing.

Genia said a back three boasting the collective pace and footwork of O’Connor, Folau and Mogg, who makes his first Test start on Saturday, could prove the Wallabies’ trump card.

”[Mogg] has genuine pace and a left boot, and I think that’s something we’ve genuinely missed out on, having a left and right foot,” he said. ”And just his ability to run the ball, he is so elusive. He can beat players very easily one-on-one, and he’s very quick. Hopefully we can give some space to use his ability.”

There are more than a few threats to take care of first. If the Wallabies fail to slow down the All Blacks’ ball, they will pay – as they have many times before.

”They’re almost impossible to defend against if they get a roll on or get quick ball, so we have to be really accurate in that area with our low tackles and make sure we get guys over the ball,” Genia said.

The ”impossible” comes in many forms in the All Blacks back line. There is winger Julian Savea, nicknamed ”Big Bus” in his homeland for his near-unstoppable runs down the flank.

The Wallabies have been drilled. They know to tackle hard and tackle low. ”You’ve got to take out his legs,” Genia said.

Traditional All Blacks fringe player Ben Smith will be hoping to transfer his scorching hot Super Rugby form to the Test arena. But apart from the Highlanders winger, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has lined up a cast of ”been-there, conquered-that” characters for his defence of the Bledisloe Cup.

Hansen’s approach, which again uses the nucleus of the Crusaders squad and just a smattering of Chiefs, is the opposite of McKenzie’s form-above-caps selection strategy.

”[Hansen] has gone with experience, guys that have been there and done the job for them in the past,” Genia said.

”You can’t question that, they’ve been so successful for such a long time, in particular in big games against Australia. He’s selected the team he think can win, and I can’t really question that.”

The last time the teams met, the Wallabies held their trans-Tasman foes in an 18-18 draw at Suncorp Stadium. It might as well have been last century judging by the attitude of the McKenzie-era team.

”Someone said the other day there’s three guys from that game that are in the Test tomorrow night,” Wallabies captain James Horwill said.

”We get a familiarity by playing [the All Blacks players] regularly in Super Rugby.

”We play [them] week in, week out and do well against them, so we need to take that confidence and belief that we can get the job done.”

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Tech support: Clarke’s former coach shows batsmen where to improve

One of Australia’s most successful coaches says fundamental flaws can be found in the techniques of our Test batsmen.

In the week that Michael Clarke was seen offering batting tips to the lbw-prone Shane Watson, the Test captain’s former personal coach, Neil D’Costa, shared his thoughts on how Australia’s struggling batsmen could achieve more consistency.

In addition to coaching Clarke for almost 20 years, D’Costa has worked extensively with Phillip Hughes and Mitchell Starc, coached in England and India, and holds development coaching roles with Sydney grade club Campbelltown Ghosts, and the Ghosts Cricket Academy.

D’Costa said there were ”non-negotiable basics” in the techniques of batsmen who scored more than 5000 Test runs, which were missing from the Australians’ games.

”Coaches, particularly in South Africa, India and England, are focusing on those basics in their junior elite programs,” D’Costa said. ”There is a more biomechanical approach and greater importance being placed on technical fundamentals, like grip, stance, kinetic flow, balance, and shot entry and exit points.”

D’Costa believes individual flaws have been ”picked apart and exploited time and time again” by opponents in recent series, and will continue to be until glaring errors are addressed.

”I don’t want to be critical of the players, who have all shown by reaching Test standard that they are very talented,” he said. ”Obviously, they’re trying their hardest. But their performance says that without some adjustments, the inconsistency will remain.”

On those he has worked with, D’Costa said Clarke had the fundamentals right but was restricted by back pain, while Hughes worked on flaws last season but some had returned to his game.

”These are all small things to do with technique that could add consistency to these batsmen’s game,” he said. ”Players like Ian Bell have worked extremely hard at the basics and the results are obvious.

”Over three years in India I saw that. At the elite junior level, they kept ensuring their players had these basics in place and, I believe, the county system is doing it well, too. I hope we start to educate our junior elite players like that so we can get back on top.”

D’Costa has analysed the batting techniques of a number of Australia’s batsmen.David Warner

‘‘Warner has what in swing mechanics is called a reverse swing. His weight is distributed as if he’s a right-handed batsman facing the wicketkeeper. The shoulder facing the bowler is high when, in fact, it should be lower at the time the ball is released. That would enable Warner to enter his shots with the correct weight shift and put his nose over the little toe on his front foot. What I see is Warner’s leaning back. That allows him to cut easily but, when he comes forward, his balance is off. Having too much weight leaning back also makes him susceptible to lbw when the ball is swinging. If you watch Kumar Sangakkara’s position when the ball is released, this will make sense.’’Shane Watson

‘‘Watson has a similar shoulder angle and alignment problem to Warner. He shifts his weight back when he sets up. Watson is a big build, so it’s worth comparing him to Kevin Pietersen or Jacques Kallis, who each get their front shoulders down and stand slightly open at release so they can lean into the ball, chin-forward. Watson’s weight is back, so he leads with his leg …  Lately, he’s been over-compensating by reaching with his bat and shifting his back hip around faster, which leads to edges.’’Usman Khawaja

‘‘Khawaja breaks rule No.1 – keep your head still. He’s tracking the ball by dropping his head. After his dismissal in the second innings of the fourth Test, Nasser Hussain asked ‘How did he miss that?’ The answer is, he dropped his head before the ball arrived and was looking at the ground instead of the ball. Until he changes that habit and is able to track the ball in and out with his head still, the rest doesn’t matter.’’Steve Smith

‘‘Smith stands too straight and is not engaging his quadriceps. If he crouched a little, he would bring in his quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and core, and his head would be lower. He would be better balanced. Smith also checks the swing on his cuts and pulls, and doesn’t rotate his left elbow over. He’s not using enough wrist. No player has been consistently successful with that sort of technique. Smith is a rare talent and a fighter, but on wickets with variable bounce or swing, he will keep struggling. He will still perform on occasion but will find consistency without adjustment challenging.’’Brad Haddin

‘‘You cannot recalibrate your judgment if you move your head and Haddin moves his head around, both when he’s batting and wicketkeeping. Like Khawaja, he drops head when batting and keeping, losing milliseconds of vision. M.S.Dhoni mis-gloves less balls than any keeper because he keeps his head still and drops his eyes when the ball comes into his gloves.’’

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Pup and Watson in unlikely alliance

Northampton: Michael Clarke has turned instructor and his star pupil is Shane Watson.

In a sight that might have been regarded as extraordinary just weeks ago, the Test captain spent more than 30 minutes at a training session in the East Midlands schooling his former vice-captain on his technique to help him avoid being susceptible to leg-before dismissals.

Clarke often works with the younger batsmen in his squad. But on the eve of a two-day practice match against England Lions at the County Ground on Wantage Road he took extended time out to put the microscope on Watson, who was named as stand-in captain for the game.

The pair’s relationship has been well documented, and featured as part of Mickey Arthur’s claim against Cricket Australia with the Fair Work Commission last month before that case was settled. Documents leaked to Channel Seven claimed that the sacked coach said Clarke had described Watson and his faction as a ”cancer” in the team.

There was a noticeable absence of animosity in the Northants nets, however, as Watson took in the captain’s advice from the other end of the practice wicket where Clarke stood at length.

Asked the contents of the mini-lesson, which also involved head coach Darren Lehmann and batting coach Michael Di Venuto, Lehmann said bluntly: ”Probably not to get out lbw, I would think”, adding: ”[Clarke] came a bit early for his session; he just wants to help the young blokes out, which is good.”

Watson, of course, does not fit into the definition of one of the ”young blokes”. He is 32, the same age as Clarke. But after being successfully targeted by England’s bowlers as a candidate for lbw earlier in the series – and trapped leg-before again in Australia’s second innings at Durham – he is keen to avoid being a sitting duck.

And with Clarke boasting nearly three times as many Test centuries as the rest of the Australian team combined, he shapes as a fair teacher.

As for the suggestion of any remaining tension between the pair, Lehmann replied: ”I’ve had no problems with them since I’ve been here. They’ve worked really well, they get on well. No dramas from my end.”

Di Venuto said the involvement of Clarke on the coaching side was a bonus. ”It’s outstanding having it come from the captain,” he said.

”I know Ricky [Ponting] when he was around the Tasmanian side he did it with the Tassie boys all the time, and I believe with the Australian boys as well.”

In other news, Tim Bresnan has been ruled out for the rest of the English season with a stress fracture in his lower back.

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Once overlooked but spotlight turns to Di Venuto

Finally on an Ashes tour … as batting coach: Michael Di Venuto. Photo: Steve ChristoNorthampton: Australia’s golden generation of batsmen stood in the way of Michael Di Venuto playing Test cricket for his country despite a first-class runs tally that ended up exceeding 25,000. The Waughs, Hayden, Ponting, Langer, Martyn, Lehmann and others were all ahead of him on the conveyor belt, and even when a vacancy arose it was filled by a Love or a Jaques instead. The production line was that prolific.

A year after his retirement as a player, the 39-year-old finally finds himself on an Ashes tour, with Australia’s batting stocks far more bleak. It has been said more than once since he joined the national set-up as batting coach this year that the Tasmanian would have played 30, 40, 50 or more Tests if he had been around in this era. The same applies for others. Pick a name: Cox, Law, Hodge, all were unlucky in the timing of their birth even if they had a brief taste. Even Michael Hussey had to wait until he was 30.

Di Venuto did play nine one-day internationals in 1997, but once that window shut it did not open again. ”I had an opportunity and didn’t quite grab it, and in those days you couldn’t afford to do that because there was a queue behind,” he said. ”I never got another opportunity from then on because you had to be in the right form at the right time. That’s just the way it was throughout our era. If you didn’t average 50-plus or 60, if your season wasn’t exceptional you didn’t play for your country.”

It would be easy to finger Di Venuto for Australia’s troubles with the bat – the collapse at Durham that handed an Ashes series victory to England on Monday being the most recent glaring example – in the same way that a football club’s defensive coach might be blamed for a team’s missed tackles.

But that ignores what he and Lehmann, the head coach, are working with: talented young batsmen who have the core skills but are not yet the full package. That is why it frustrates Di Venuto to hear calls for the likes of Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith or previously Phil Hughes, to be moved on for others to get a go.

”We need to be patient,” he said. ”Imagine if we weren’t patient with Steve Waugh early in his career. We would have lost one of the legends of the game, if they’d given him six or seven Tests and then said, ‘Oh no, he’s no good, spit him back out’. That’s what a lot of people are saying about the current crop.

”These kids are learning on the big stage, in an Ashes series in England. They haven’t got a lot behind them to fall back on, they haven’t got a lot of Test experience or domestic experience to fall back on. Chris Rogers, even though he hasn’t got a lot of Test experience, he’s got years of playing first-class cricket, so he’s been in similar situations where the ball is darting around like that (in Durham) and he can draw on his experiences that he’s lived and learnt.

Di Venuto finished his 20-year career with a stint with Durham that ended last year so, knowing the Riverside and its quirks and behavioural patterns, he was not entirely shocked at what he witnessed after tea on Monday.

”When wickets fall they fall in clumps,” he said of the ground when overhead conditions conspire to help the bowlers, but added, ”… maybe not nine.” The advice being handed out by Di Venuto, Lehmann and Michael Clarke, the last remaining member of the generation champions just gone, in the wake of that capitulation in the fourth Test varies from batsmen to batsmen. But it has a straightforward, and for good measure even rhyming, theme.

”Our message is pretty basic: play the ball late, play it straight,” Di Venuto said. ”Wait for the ball to come into your area and pick it off, especially when you’re playing on wickets that are darting around or getting through a spell from a good fast bowler.

”Their skills are outstanding. But their games have got to adapt to Test cricket and situations that demand their game does adapt.

”You don’t learn in a classroom – you learn by playing and making mistakes. In this game you don’t make one mistake and that’s the last time you do it. You make the same mistakes over and over. It’s about getting into match situations knowing what they can and can’t do and getting through good spells of bowling … making the bowlers come back for their fourth and fifth spells.”

Di Venuto is a realist and understands that with Australia light years from the days of winning 16 Tests in a row – they have not won since January, and lost seven of their past eight matches – heads will inevitably roll if the trend continues.

Yet with the door not having been knocked down lately by others in the Sheffield Shield he argues stability, with a return Ashes series on the horizon, is key.

”That’s the frustrating thing, especially for the public,” he said.

”They’re used to the Australian team being the dominant side over the last 20 years, and all of a sudden we’re not the dominant side any more. When we’re good we’re good, but when we’re bad we’re bad.

”We’ve got to find that middle ground where we’re not quite at our best but we can still guts our way through situations and scratch out a win. We can’t continue to play the way we’re playing. But ideally you’d like to stick with a pretty similar group to what we’ve got. We have to be patient.”

In a country whose high expectations are coloured by the enormous success of the recent past, the question is how long Australia is prepared to wait.

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