Oracle ponder America’s Cup change

P – Australian skipper James Spithill must decide whether to replace tactician John Kostecki with British Olympic star Ben Ainslie as he battles to keep Team USA’s America’s Cup title defence alive.


Ainslie stood in for the struggling Kostecki during Oracle’s training session on San Francisco Bay on Wednesday (Thursday AEST) and could be sent into action for races 6 and 7 against Team New Zealand on Thursday (Friday AEST).

Syndicate CEO Russell Coutts said Spithill would make the call on whether Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, replaces Kostecki – one of just two Americans on Oracle’s 11-man crew.

Ainslie has been serving as helmsman of Oracle’s B boat, helping prepare Spithill for the competition.

“You’ve got to remember, changing personnel at a time like this has never worked in the past so we’ve got to be cautious about making a change like that,” Coutts said.

“We wouldn’t be thinking about it unless it had a really good chance at working.”

While Spithill has been aggressive and dominating at the start of races, tactical blunders and the Team New Zealand dominance while sailing upwind have put the defenders in a deep hole.

Kostecki called for a foiling tack in Race 5 on Tuesday that led to a crushing loss to Team New Zealand.

The American powerhouse was so soundly beaten by the Kiwis that it played its one postponement card for the regatta and called off Race 6 in order to regroup and make changes.

The Kiwis lead 4 to minus-1 and need five more wins to claim the oldest trophy in international sports.

Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation, was docked two points by an international jury in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.

They need to win 10 races to keep the Auld Mug.

Coutts, who won the first two of his four America’s Cups as skipper of Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000, said Ainslie might make a difference.

“He’s obviously an extremely accomplished sailor, but Jimmy and Ben and Tommy Slingsby haven’t worked together yet,” Coutts said. “That’s a pretty big ask at this point in the regatta.”

Australian Slingsby, who like Ainslie won a gold medal at the London Olympics, is the strategist and a grinder aboard Oracle’s 72-foot catamaran.

As much as improving tactics, Coutts said Oracle has to improve sailing upwind. That’s what it was working on Wednesday, although the conditions were light.

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Serena not thinking of slam record

World No.


1 Serena Williams insists she is not thinking about Australian Margaret Smith Court’s all-time record of 24 majors ahead of her US Open final showdown against Victoria Azarenka on Sunday.

The 31-year-old American will try to capture her 17th grand slam title and become the oldest women’s champion in US Open history in a repeat of last year’s final which she won in three sets.

Williams seeks her fifth US Open crown in her seventh final, her 21st career grand slam final, and would be the first top-seeded champion since Justine Henin in 2007.

And she would move her career slam total to just one shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and seven behind Smith-Court for fourth on the all-time list.

“I can’t think about it,” Williams said. “It’s so close but still so far. I have to play a great player and play great tennis.”

Williams, who has lost only 16 games over six matches, could win the title 18 days before her 32nd birthday, making her 293 days older than Australian Margaret Court was when she won the 1973 title to set the current age mark.

And after titles in 1999, 2002, 2008 and last year, Williams could finally claim back-to-back crowns.

“To be able to defend a title for once would be really awesome,” she said.

Not since Williams in 2008 has a US Open champion lifted the trophy without losing a set, but Williams could make it happen Sunday by winning her ninth crown of the year, what would be her career-record title haul for one season.

“I have been really focused,” Williams said. “My practices have been much better than my matches. I set some goals for myself in my matches and I’ve met those goals every time.”

But world No.2 Azarenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus, sees herself as a more versatile and dangerous player than when she lost to Williams 6-2 2-6 7-5 in the final a year ago.

“There are aspects that got better physically,” Azarenka said. “Mentally I felt like this year was a great turning point for me on some level for my career. I feel like I’m a better player. I’m a more complete player.

“From the groundstrokes to movement to coming in to variety, I think all those little things are coming together, paying a lot more details on how to create a bigger arsenal.”

Azarenka, who won the past two Australian Open titles, seeks a third career grand slam title and could become the first woman since Martina Hingis in 1997 to win the US and Australian Opens in the same year.

If Williams wins the title, she would receive the $US2.6 million ($A2.86 million) first prize plus a $US1 million ($A1.10 million) bonus for her performance in US Open tune-up events. The total would boost her above $US9 million ($A9.91 million) in season earnings, a women’s record, and boost her career winnings above $US50 million ($A55.06 million).

“Last time I had this opportunity I blew up. It didn’t work out,” Williams said, recalling her 2011 US Open finals loss to Australian Samantha Stosur.

No matter how Sunday turns out, Williams and Azarenka will have combined to win six of eight grand slam titles over the past two years, although their only grand slam finals match-ups in the span have come in New York.

“When you play against Serena, you have to play your best. She makes me play my best. I think I kind of do the same way to her,” Azarenka said.

“We raise each other’s level all the time and take each other to the limit, to go out of that place where you sometimes don’t know how far you can go, but you just still go for it.”

Williams leads Azarenka 12-3 head to head but the Belarusian has won two of three matches this year, most recently in last month’s Cincinnati final.

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Unions want CAS to intervene over McQuaid

USA Cycling and four other national federations want sport’s highest court to make a ruling on whether Pat McQuaid should be allowed to stand for re-election as president of world cycling’s governing body.


McQuaid is using nominations from Moroccan and Thai federations to bid for a third term as UCI president after failing to secure support from his home Irish federation or Switzerland, where he lives.

USA Cycling and cycling unions in Russia, Canada, Finland, and Algeria are proposing that the UCI asks the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a “definitive and binding ruling” on whether more than one country can nominate a candidate.

“Many of our members and stakeholders have inquired about these machinations and have asked what (if anything) can be done to ensure that the upcoming election is not only open and fair, but also actually legal and will not be contested in the courts after it is completed,” Steve Johnson, president and chief executive of USA Cycling, said on Monday in an open letter.

“At this point, USA Cycling and many other federations believe the answer is neither to sweep all the procedural challenges under the carpet nor to leave these questions open, but rather to obtain a final, incontestable decision in advance of the elections.”

Johnson said CAS arbitration would ensure the election “is not conducted under a cloud of doubt.”

British Cycling President Brian Cookson is challenging McQuaid for the presidency and his lawyers have questioned whether McQuaid’s candidacy meets UCI rules ahead of the September 27 poll.

Cookson has also raised concern that UCI staff may have breached protocol by helping Malaysian officials draft a rule amendment allowing any two member countries to propose a candidate and to apply it retroactively for the current contest.

McQuaid’s reputation has already been damaged by the fallout from the Lance Armstrong doping affair and revelations of an endemic culture of doping in recent years.

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NSW approves new rules on dangerous dogs

Dogs that have never attacked a person but show signs of aggression can now be deemed “menacing” in NSW, with rangers able to force owners to use a muzzle.


In a crackdown aimed at stopping further dog attacks, a third category will be added to the two types of dogs that are already restricted.

The NSW cabinet has approved legislation to amend the Companion Animals Act, allowing council rangers to declare a dog “potentially dangerous” if they believe it’s likely to attack.

Announcing the measure on Wednesday, Local Government Minister Don Page said councils will have more discretion when balancing community safety against restrictions.

“We’re providing council rangers with a preventative tool to be able to go and identify a dog that’s aggressive, maybe hasn’t attacked yet, but … could if it was given the opportunity,” Mr Page told reporters on Wednesday.

The changes are in response to recommendations from the state’s Companion Animals Taskforce, and come weeks after the death of two-year-old Deeon Higgins, who was mauled by his cousin’s bullmastiff in Deniliquin in the state’s southwest this month.

The dog had not been considered dangerous before the attack.

Under the changes, dogs deemed as menacing will have to be muzzled and on a leash under the control of a person of 18 years or over when in public.

Dog owners can challenge a decision by taking their pet for a behavioural assessment, which they would have to pay for, Mr Page said.

“Vexatious” and “frivolous” complaints against dogs will also be penalised, he said.

Owners who ignore the rules for dogs in the three restricted categories will face maximum jail time of five years if their dog attacks.

Fines will also increase to a maximum of $77,000 from $55,000.

Chairman of the taskforce, Andrew Cornwell, said the change will help councillors charged with making a difficult decision.

“There are a lot of cases where councils get a report, they’ll go out, have a look but don’t use that power because they feel it’s too onerous,” Mr Cornwell told reporters.

“And sometimes … councillors have regretted that decision because someone has then subsequently been attacked.”

The new legislation now needs to be passed by state parliament.

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‘Oldest’ Gondwana land creature discovered

A 350-million-year-old fossilised scorpion discovered in South Africa is the oldest known land animal to have lived on Gondwana, part of Earth’s former supercontinent.


The new species, named Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, provides tantalising clues about the development of life before Earth’s continents broke apart to form the globe that is familiar to us today, scientists said on Monday.

It is the earliest evidence yet of terrestrial animals on Gondwana, a land mass that included present-day Africa, South America and Australia and formed the southern part of a supercontinent called Pangaea.

So far evidence of such early land life had only been found on the northern part of Pangaea – “Laurasia,” which is today North America and Asia.

“There has been no evidence that Gondwana was inhabited by land living invertebrate animals at that time,” said Robert Gess who is based at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University.

Gess uncovered the scorpion fragments – with a pincer and a sting clearly showing in the rock – near Grahamstown in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

By the end of the Silurian period, some 416 million years ago, predatory invertebrates such as scorpions and spiders were feeding on invertebrates such as primitive insects who were the early land colonisers.

Laurasia was known to have invertebrates by the Late Silurian and during the Devonian period, when it was separated from Gondwana by the sea.

“For the first time we know for certain that not just scorpions, but whatever they were preying on were already present in the Devonian,” added Gess.

“We now know that by the end the Devonian period Gondwana also, like Laurasia, had a complex terrestrial ecosystem, comprising invertebrates and plants which had all the elements to sustain terrestrial vertebrate life that emerged around this time or slightly later,” said Gess.

The first vertebrates, from which humans eventually evolved, appeared some 350 million years ago.

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal African Invertebrate.

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Tuqiri’s rugby warning for Folau

Former Test star Lote Tuqiri has warned Israel Folau to get used to not seeing much of the ball for the Wallabies.


Folau was a virtual spectator on the wing against New Zealand on Saturday in Wellington until he sprinted 75 metres for an intercept try in the second half of the hosts’ 27-16 win.

The former Queensland State of Origin star is yet to re-sign with the ARU or the NSW Waratahs for next year and Canterbury are keen to secure his services and bring him back to the NRL.

Tuqiri spent eight years playing rugby and although he said he enjoyed his time in the 15-man game, he admitted he found it hard work to adjust at first.

“It took me a full year and in the second season I was still not well versed in getting involved,” Tuqiri said.

“I had Eddie Jones who was a really good coach back then along with Glenn Ella and they really helped me.”

Folau was hugely impressive on his Test debut against the British and Irish Lions scoring twice in Brisbane in the series opener in June.

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie and the Waratahs have made it clear they want the 24-year-old to stay.

However, Tuqiri, who left the NRL to play rugby in 2002 and has been impressed by Folau’s progress, said he could understand if he was feeling frustrated.

“As a winger in rugby you have to hold your shape and stay out there as much as you can,” he said.

“Anything can happen as there are unlimited tackles and you can’t just come in for the sake of it.

“At times I found it frustrating. Sometimes you just don’t get your hands on the ball and that is because it’s a forward dominated game.

“There’s a lot of kicks, rucks and mauls, scrums and line-outs.

“And when the ball does come it sort of stops at 12 or 13 and then gets recycled. It’s something he has got to get used to.

“It’s not saying he won’t play well sometimes it’s just how the game goes.”

Tuqiri played under McKenzie at the Waratahs and is a big fan of the new Wallabies coach and believes if Folau does stays then he’ll improve under the Super Rugby winning mentor’s guidance.

“There’s a lot of things he can do, but Ewen is there and there is a good coaching staff at the Wallabies and they’ll help him with that,” he said.

“He can run inside lines off players and when he gets his hands on the footy he’s pretty good.

“But he’s going well and doesn’t need my advice.”

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Five sets of twins in a junior rugby team

A South African junior rugby team has confounded its opponents, teammates and even its coach by having five sets of twins on the squad.


From afar an Oostelike Eagles training session looks much like any other rugby practise with seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds in Pretoria.

Tackling, passing and line-out drills are organised chaos and not everyone is sure what to do.

But in the Eagles’ case they are also unsure who is who and what to call each other.

“Coach calls us ‘Twins’,” said Lwandile Thabethe.

“Because we are twins,” his identical sibling Wandile explained.

“He gets confused when he tries to separate us,” said Lwandile.

At nine years old, the two prop forwards are a bit old for the team, but they are still allowed to play.

Teams play in an informal league, honing skills at a young age in this rugby-mad nation.

The Pretoria-based club started its newest team this year, but it took a while before organisers realised the number of duplicate siblings.

Two pairs are identical, two are non-identical, and eight-year-old Francois Viljoen’s twin sister Zancha is the team’s water carrier, though that doesn’t keep her from running sprints with the boys while yelling out orders.

“It’s very difficult, the identical twins, you can’t see them apart,” Coach Neels Goossen said sheepishly.

“The ones are ‘Twins’ because I don’t know what their names are. I cannot identify them,” he said.

“And then the other ones I call (by) their surname ‘Minny’. If I shout ‘Minny’ both of them jump and if I shout ‘Twins’ both of them will jump!”

The twins’ teammates often get it wrong too.

“They say ‘maybe that’s Willem and this is Ruaan’. But then it’s the other way around because I’m Willem and he’s Ruaan,” the young hooker quipped.

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Saints closing out tough AFL season

St Kilda’s last two games of their brutal AFL season will be a farewell to some club greats and the continuing exposure of generation next.


The Saints host Gold Coast on Saturday and close out the season a week later against Fremantle, also at Etihad Stadium.

Coach Scott Watters remains hopeful Lenny Hayes will announce next week that he will go on for another season.

But Watters added that more than one of the veterans who took the Saints to within a whisker of a premiership in 2009-10 are about to go.

“We have some great legends of the club – the window eventually closes for everyone,” Watters said.

“We’ll have some announcements early next week.

“But we want those players who are leaving the club, who’ve given great service, to go out with a lot of respect and a lot of dignity.”

Watters said Hayes’ playing future is entirely in his hands.

The veteran onballer needed open heart surgery late last year and has been plagued by calf muscle injuries this season.

Hayes returns for the Gold Coast game, while Cameron Shenton will be the ninth first-gamer this year for the Saints.

St Kilda only have three wins this year, but Watters has continued to give as much experience as possible to their youngsters.

One new player who has impressed in the last month is Tom Curren, who has played on stars such as Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell and Sydney’s Dan Hannebery.

On Sunday, Curren could well have the toughest midfield job in the AFL – head-to-head with Gary Ablett.

“We might throw the role to a young Tom Curren, who in the last four or five weeks has had some pretty big roles,” Watters said.

Ablett has been off his best form in the last two or three weeks, but the Saints coach is wary of what the Brownlow Medal favourite will produce this week.

“You can jump at all those shadows – we expect him, like all of them, to play his best footy,” Watters said.

“You prepare for his absolute best.

“You can’t predict form one way or the other.”

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Nikolic in police wind-up, court hears

A police officer who claims he was assaulted by jockey Dan Nikolic deliberately set out to “wind-up” his alleged assailant, a court has heard.


Nikolic is charged with assaulting Detective Senior Constable Julio Salerno, then a member of the elite Purana taskforce, at the conclusion of an interview at the St Kilda police station in April 2011.

Nikolic denies the assault and his counsel claims Det Sen Const Salerno’s presence at the interview was linked to the still-unsolved murder two months earlier of Nikolic’s former father-in-law Les Samba.

Nikolic was questioned by Purana detectives in relation to the Samba murder but is not a suspect.

“Mr Salerno was there to wind Danny Nikolic up … to get a reaction,” said defence counsel Sandy Robertson.

Sergeant Dave Eadie, who conducted the interview at which Det Sen Const Salerno was an observer, denied the suggestion.

Under cross-examination Sgt Eadie agreed Nikolic neither threw a punch nor made any verbal threat in the altercation which led to the charge.

He also agreed Nikolic and his alleged victim made only slight, non-forceful contact with their foreheads as they faced off in the interview room and neither suffered any injury.

While Sgt Eadie insisted an assault had occurred, the charge Nikolic is answering in the Melbourne Magistrates Court wasn’t laid until 12 months after the incident.

Nikolic is also charged with assaulting fellow jockey Mark Pegus in January 2011 and Pegus’s girlfriend Rickie-Lee Hull two months later.

He denies all charges.

The second day of the hearing began with an application by Mr Robertson for presiding magistrate Angela Bolger to stand down from hearing the case.

The application came after Sgt Eadie referred in evidence to issues involving Nikolic and racing officials.

Mr Robertson described Sgt Eadie as a “disgrace” for mentioning that Nikolic allegedly had anger management issues that had become apparent during a stewards inquiry that led to him being banned from racing.

Mr Robertson asked Ms Bolger to discharge herself on the grounds that the comment would cause her to be biased in her assessment of the case.

Ms Bolger denied the application.

The case is adjourned until August 30.

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Assad urged to reveal stockpile

Moscow and Washington are set to hold high-stakes talks on Russia’s plan for Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons, with the United States urging President Bashar al-Assad to quickly declare the extent of his arms stockpile.


US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Thursday for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Officials from the two countries will pore over Moscow’s plans to neutralise Syria’s chemical arsenal – a last-minute proposal that led US President Barack Obama to put off plans for threatened US military action against the Syrian regime.

Washington wants to see if Assad is serious about putting his chemical weapons stockpile under international control – amid allegations the regime used sarin gas in an attack near Damascus on August 21 that killed more than 1400 people.

The aim of the talks is “to see if in fact we can test whether there is a credible and authentic way forward here, that the Russians mean what they say … and probably more importantly that Assad means what he says,” a senior US official said.

“There are some specific things that we can ask for and see if they get delivered very quickly that will give us an early sense of whether there’s reality here or not,” the State Department official added.

They include that the Syrians “declare all of their stockpile quickly”.

Kerry has alleged that Syria has about 1000 tonnes of various chemical agents.

Another senior US official said the US and Russia had expert knowledge in how to proceed in destroying such weapons, gleaned from destroying their own stocks of such internationally banned weapons.

The United States and its main backer of military strikes on Syria France have warned they will not allow the chemical weapons plan to become a delaying tactic in Syria’s brutal war, saying the threat of military force remains on the table.

Revealing details of the Russian proposal for the first time Thursday, daily Kommersant said Moscow had given Washington a four-step plan for the weapons handover.

Quoting a Russian diplomatic source, Kommersant said the plan would see Damascus join the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), declare the locations of its chemical arms, allow OPCW inspectors access and finally arrange for destruction of the arsenal.

Syria’s opposition has denounced the plan, warning it will only lead to more deaths in a conflict that has already killed more than 110,000 people since March 2011.

The commander of the Free Syrian Army, Selim Idriss, said in a video posted on YouTube that the rebels categorically rejected the Russian initiative.

Idriss told world powers they should not “be satisfied only by removing the chemical weapon, which is the tool of a crime, but judge the author of the crime before the International Criminal Court.”

The Syrian National Coalition opposition group said the plan is a “political manoeuvre aimed at buying time” for Assad and would be a “green light” to other regimes to use chemical weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile made an unusual personal appeal to the American people to reject military action, in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

“A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism,” Putin wrote. “It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

Putin welcomed US willingness to consider the Moscow initiative, but warned any strikes without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, would destroy the credibility of the world body.

Russia is a traditional ally of Assad, and Moscow, backed by China, has blocked any attempt to sanction his regime through the United Nations.

The talks in Geneva were expected to last two to three days and also focus on revitalising efforts to organise a peace conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil war.

As well as Lavrov, Kerry was due to meet UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to discuss UN-backed efforts to bring the Assad regime to the table with the opposition rebels.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday that a much-awaited report by UN inspectors into the attack will “probably” be published on Monday.

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