Matthews pipped for Vuelta stage win

FP – Australia’s Michael Matthews has controversially been denied another stage win in the Tour of Spain after being edged out by France’s Nacer Bouhanni at the finish line of the eighth stage.

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Bouhanni, claiming his second stage win, appeared to cut across Matthews, who held the leaders’ jersey earlier in the tour, as he surged for the line on Saturday in a time of 4hr 29 mins with Slovakian Peter Sagan in third.

There was no change in the general classification as all the leaders finished with the same time, so Spaniard Alejandro Valverde maintains his 15-second lead over Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana.

Matthews remains in 48th place overall, some 12 minutes and 52 seconds behind Valverde, while Cadel Evans remains the best-placed Australian, at 8 minutes and 38 seconds behind the leader, in 38th spot.

Two-time winner Alberto Contador remains in third 18 seconds back, whilst 2013 Tour de France champion Chris Froome is a further two seconds behind in fourth.

The longest stage of the tour saw the race finally leave Andalusia after a week in the southern region and without any categorised climbs the downhill finish into Albacete favoured the sprinters.

However, there was nearly a significant move in the overall standings as the fast pace saw the peloton split with 25km remaining.

Whilst the rest of the race favourites Valverde, Froome and Contador were at the head of the lead group, Quintana found himself 30 seconds behind in the chasing pack and had to put in a strong effort in the final 10km to ensure he didn’t lose any time.

“It was a crazy end. The wind was causing problems, but in the end we managed to save the day,” said Valverde.

“I was aware of it. I didn’t know exactly if Quintana was closing or not, but I couldn’t look back I just had to keep going at the front.”

The race returns to the mountains on Sunday with a second summit finish of the tour on the 185km stage from Carboneras de Guadazon to Aramon Valdelinares.

Boomers lose Cup opener to Slovenia

Australia’s bid for a maiden basketball World Cup medal has suffered an early setback after the Boomers opened with a 10-point loss to Slovenia.

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Led superbly by Phoenix Suns NBA star Goran Dragic, Slovenia impressed in a wire-to-wire 90-80 victory in Saturday’s Group D encounter in Gran Canaria, Spain.

San Antonio centre Aron Baynes shone for Australia, equalling Dragic’s game-high output of 21 points and seven rebounds, but the Boomers paid the price for some sloppy defending at times.

The defeat comes as a significant blow to Australia’s hopes of topping the group but they don’t have to wait long for a chance to get their campaign back on track.

Andrej Lemanis’ side faces South Korea in its second group game on Sunday (2130 AEST).

“It’s going to make (topping the group) difficult for us but coming into the tournament we spoke about not getting too high or too low regardless of the outcome of the games,” head coach Lemanis said.

“It’s a tournament situation so for us the most important thing now is to play well (against South Korea), that’s all we can concentrate on.”

Australia shot at 51 per cent from the field, to Slovenia’s 57 per cent, and Lemanis was encouraged by his side’s attack.

However he rued an inability to close down Slovenia’s opportunities as the European side notched 12 offensive rebounds.

“For us to come in and score 80, that puts you in a pretty good position to win the game,” Lemanis said.

“It was a pretty good offensive performance but there’s just those key moments in the game.

“When you’re playing quality opposition like that, one of the things you can’t do is generate their momentum for them.”

Despite missing their two biggest stars, Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut, a Boomers squad blending exciting youth and experience has talked up its chances of winning the nation’s first ever medal at the quadrennial event.

With four of six teams reaching the knockout phase, the Boomers will still be favoured to progress but Saturday’s outing left plenty of room for improvement.

Slovenia started strongly and were always in control in the first half as the Boomers struggled to deal with Dragic’s creativity and accuracy from outside the arc.

The Boomers trailed by 13 points midway through the second quarter but fought back well to cut the deficit to 49-43 at halftime.

Australia came out firing in the second half, clawing back to within one point on the back of some crucial baskets from veteran David Anderson (14 points).

However Slovenia, who also had handy contributors in Domen Lorbek (13 points) and Zoran Dragic (10), pushed out to a 16-point lead that proved crucial as the Boomers staged a late fightback.

Exciting talent and Utah Jazz NBA draft pick Dante Exum had a quiet World Cup debut, failing to score in around 11 minutes off the bench.

The decision to use 19-year-old Exum so sparingly drew criticism from another young Australian basketball star Ben Simmons, who missed out on World Cup selection.

“What’s the point of having so much talent on a team if you don’t use it?,” the US high school star wrote on Twitter.

Polish PM Tusk named EU president

European leaders have named Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as the next EU president and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini to head the bloc’s foreign service, current leader Herman Van Rompuy says.

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“Elected. The European Council has elected PM Donald Tusk as the next president of the European Council and Euro Summits,” said Van Rompuy on Twitter.

The European Union is undergoing a leadership change after elections across its 28 countries in May.

Saturday’s appointments end months of haggling over the two posts, currently held by Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton.

The top trio – together with the next European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker – should include men and women, from conservative and socialist-led capitals, representing the EU’s western and eastern members.

Tusk’s chances to succeed Van Rompuy from December had risen in recent days, after British Prime Minister David Cameron added his support to that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Tusk will also chair summits of the 18-member euro currency bloc.

His main competitor was considered to be Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt – although she repeatedly denied that she was running for the job.

Mogherini’s candidature did also not go unchallenged, as some member states criticised her lack of experience, as well as arguing that Italy has not been tough enough on Russia over its role in Ukraine.

Socialist leaders endorsed Mogherini’s candidature at their Paris pre-summit talks, French President Francois Hollande said upon arrival in Brussels.

He stressed however that the 28 leaders would seek a “consensus solution”.

Conservative EU lawmaker Elmar Brok, who chairs the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said they would present Mogherini with “conditions” for them to approve her nomination.

“She seems to be embracing many of our proposals,” Brok said.

He has previously been critical of Mogherini’s candidature, emphasising that the job requires experience.

Other names that had been touted for the post include EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, of Bulgaria, and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski.

The leaders are also due on Saturday to discuss the crises in Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza, while France plans to call on the EU to pledge further assistance in the fight against Ebola, according to Elysee sources.

World Cup matters not rankings: Clarke

Michael Clarke says even if South Africa steal the No.

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1 ranking from his team this week in Harare, they’ll need to put up at the World Cup to prove they’re the best team in one-day cricket.

The Proteas have a tortured history in World Cup competition, having never won the 50-over crown claimed four times by Australia.

South Africa can assume the No.1 ranking from Australia if they win the current tri-series, with star batsman Faf du Plessis admitting the Proteas are determined to add to the top place they already hold in the Test standings.

However, Clarke admits he won’t be losing any sleep should South Africa edge ahead in the fickle ICC rankings system.

In limited overs cricket, Clarke has always maintained the World Cup is the be all and end all.

“Whoever wins that tournament will be seen as the No.1 one-day team in the world,” says Clarke.

“That’s the way I’ve always looked at one-day rankings.

“I guess you love being No.1 in any form of the game but … you get a great indicator who is the No.1 team in the world in six months time playing in a World Cup. That’s what dictates it.”

Australia are always difficult to beat on home soil, with last summer’s Ashes a prime example of how Clarke’s team can grows another leg in their own conditions.

After winning three consecutive World Cups, Australia fell short the last time the trophy was contested in the sub-continent in 2011.

Clarke is confident home support will make his side hard to beat.

“I hope so. The home support played a huge part in us having the success we did last summer,” he said.

“We’d love for it to be exactly the same.

“I think the Australian public in general like to see fighters, that’s in our blood … and that’s what this Australian team is trying to do.

“We hit rock bottom in India (on the 2013 Test tour) and we’ve been able to turn it around.”

Minor premiership no concern for Robinson

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has once again played down the importance of winning the NRL minor premiership ahead of Thursday’s mouth-watering clash with bitter rivals South Sydney.

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The winner of the Allianz Stadium encounter could potentially lift the JJ Giltinan Shield and pocket $100,000 in prize money for finishing top of the ladder.

The Roosters won both the shield and the grand final last year but after seeing off Melbourne 24-12 for a fifth successive win on Saturday Robinson was more concerned about maintaining momentum at this time of year.

“It’s a big game a big occasion and we are excited about playing Souths,” Robinson said.

“I think I said last year it’s a great accolade of a bygone era in the way we’ve set up this competition.

“It’s great to have but it doesn’t mean enough in how the finals are set up. We’re more focused on creating momentum.”

Melbourne were in control for much of the game but the Roosters somehow found a way to turn a 12-8 deficit into a win in the final 14 minutes.

After a slow start to the campaign Robinson’s side have hit form at the perfect time and the coach paid tribute to how his players have turned things around.

“I think we’ve put ourselves in a really good position,” he said.

“We’ve secured top four and you can see there is really good confidence in the way the guys are playing in attack and defence.

“We still need some fine tuning. But I like the attitude of the guys at the moment.”

Robinson also played down the importance of a short turnaround with Souths having the luxury of a full seven days to prepare for the game.

“They are the turnarounds you get, you make it good,” he said.

“I’ve heard too much complaining about turnarounds. You get short ones you get long ones. We’ll be right.”