Raiders bt Eels, end three-game NRL slide

A ripping Jordan Rapana try close to fulltime helped Canberra to a scrappy 22-16 NRL win over Parramatta which ended a three-game slide for the Raiders.

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Scores were locked at 16-16 on Saturday night, before Rapana produced one of his trademark diving efforts in a 73rd-minute right-side shift.

The play ensured captain Jarrod Croker celebrated his 200th-game milestone with a win, coach Ricky Stuart later revealing he had sent out a late message of inspiration for the team.

“We sent a message on there after we scored that try with seven-eight minutes to go,” Stuart said. ‘If we can’t do this now for our captain, we’re a shallow bunch’. But I know they’re not, and I know that was the inspiration on the back end of that game.”

In front of an ANZ Stadium crowd of 10,074, the victory also ruined Mitchell Moses’ first appearance as an Eel after his storied mid-week move from the Wests Tigers.

Rushed immediately into halfback, Moses missed a game-high six tackles as he was given a torrid night by Josh Papalii, and came up with some poor decisions on last-tackle plays.

Papalii was arguably the Raiders’ best on his return from a club-imposed one-game ban for drink-driving, running 148 metres, busting five tackles and offloading three times.

Eels coach Brad Arthur said it was evident the team had had little preparation with Moses.

“Couple of wrong kick options but, other than that, he’s had two training sessions with us so it’s going to take a bit of time,” Arthur said.

The defeat for the clunky Eels’ outfit was compounded by injuries to Michael Jennings (quad) and Nathan Brown (ribs), who was taken to hospital as a precaution.

Level on two tries apiece at halftime, the Eels took the lead for the first time with Siosaia Vave’s 48th-minute try, although the Raiders responded quickly through Blake Austin.

The match seemed destined for golden point before Rapana’s aerial heroics, breathing life into a campaign that looked on shaky ground after their losing run.

In a mostly docile first half, the Raiders appeared set to stroll away with an easy win when Nick Cotric and Joey Leilua crossed from set pieces for a 10-0 lead by the 20th minute.

But back-to-back tries to Manu Ma’u and Jennings within five minutes meant the game was tied at the break.

Ma’u claimed a lucky ricochet off his own grubber to score his team’s first points of the night, before Jennings finished off a tackle-busting run by Semi Radradra for their second.

Ruthless Crows tear Lions to shreds in AFL

Adelaide have returned to form with a thumping 80-point AFL victory over the hapless Brisbane Lions on Saturday night.

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After shock back-to-back losses to North Melbourne and Melbourne ended their unbeaten start to the season, the Crows roared back to life at the Gabba with an emphatic 21.14 (140) to 7.18 (60) win to stay at the top of the ladder.

Dayne Zorko kicked the first two goals of the match for Brisbane, who were in the contest early but wasteful in front of goal.

As soon as the Crows switched on, however, they were completely blown away.

The Lions kicked just four goals after quarter-time to Adelaide’s 18, slumping to their eighth consecutive defeat in front of only 13,802 fans.

Former basketballer Hugh Greenwood kicked three majors on debut in the first half to help spark a run of nine goals in a row, before the Crows ruthlessly tore the hosts to shreds in a handy percentage-booster.

Greenwood, 25, played college basketball in the US and was on the cusp of an NBL deal with the Perth Wildcats when he quit the sport to pursue a career in the AFL instead, signing a rookie contract with the Crows two years ago.

Charlie Cameron booted four majors in the third quarter alone while Eddie Betts, who finished with three goals and four goal assists, produced a freakish goal-of-the-year contender in the second term.

Betts robbed Darcy Gardiner of possession but then, when the ball came loose, dribbled it along the ground with one foot like a soccer player before regathering and grubbering it home from a tight angle – all while under pressure and without much time or space to manoeuvre.

It arguably topped Tom Lynch’s spectacular first-quarter effort, splitting the posts with his right foot along the boundary from around 45m out.

Lynch kicked three in total, as did Adelaide captain Taylor Walker.

Skipper Dayne Beams was the leading possession-getter on the ground with 40 touches in his return from injury but he could not inspire his Lions teammates to reverse the tide.

Crows coach Don Pyke said it was a solid response after two lacklustre weeks.

“We lost a couple of games of footy, people were probably saying it was doom and gloom,” he said.

“Tonight was a good opportunity to come back and play the way we want to play, and there was some good signs there.”

Brisbane coach Chris Fagan said he was pleased with his side’s start but not with their second-half effort.

“I was really disappointed in the third quarter where we dropped away in contested possessions and clearances, and the whole thing dropped away,” he said.

Pall lifts over Buckley after big AFL win

Nathan Buckley knows exactly what would have come had Collingwood not turned around their appalling first quarter against Hawthorn.

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The Magpies coach spoke of the pall hanging over himself and the club after their amazing 13.12 (90) to 11.6 (72) AFL comeback win on Saturday night at the MCG.

Hawthorn mauled Collingwood with 6.1 to 0.1 in the first term – the Magpies’ worst opening quarter under Buckley.

“I was thinking about jumping in the car and driving home, about 20 minutes into the first quarter, but I reckon most of the Collingwood fans were thinking that as well,” Buckley said, only half-joking.

Collingwood trailed by 43 points early in the second term before kicking nine goals to one in the second half – their best comeback win under Buckley.

It is also the first time Buckley has beaten Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson, breaking a nine-game losing streak.

Had Collingwood gone down in a heap on Saturday night, it may well have proved the tipping point in the ongoing saga this season about Buckley’s coaching future.

“I don’t think we can ignore the fact that there’s a pall over the club at the moment and there’s a pall over me,” he said.

“I can go and meet people … I don’t think I’m carrying it with me, I’m not bringing it to the conversation, but it’s introduced.

“That’s a reality, because it’s a talking point.

“But if we perform better, we’ll be okay … (and) we will perform better.”

As Buckley noted, the comeback showed he and his players are still on the same page.

“The players are clearly still invested, so it’s belief,”‘ he said.

“The players are clearly not ready to throw the towel in – no-one at the club is.

“You might have questioned that 15 minutes into the first quarter.

“Clearly when the question was asked, they responded in the affirmative and enough of them did.”

Buckley praised his captain Scott Pendlebury, who led superbly and drove their fightback.

The coach also lauded the bravery of James Aish, who was taken to hospital with a suspected depressed fracture of the cheekbone after a heavy collision in the third term.

Buckley added he considered tagging Hawthorn onballer Tom Mitchell, who racked up 50 disposals – only the seventh AFL player to achieve the feat and the first at Hawthorn.

“If I said he wasn’t hurting us a lot, would that make sense?,” Buckley said of Mitchell.

That drew a pointed response from Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson.

“It’s a special effort for any player in the competition to get 50 touches,” Clarkson said.

“It’s pretty ballsy to say he wasn’t having an influence at that point (the first half), because I think he was.”

Exeter end Saracens’ hopes to set up final with Wasps

Earlier, three-time league winners Saracens, who beat Clermont Auvergne to retain their European Champions Cup title last week, appeared to have booked a place in the Twickenham final when Mike Ellery scored a 75th-minute try at Sandy Park.

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However, Simmonds settled the match at the death following a superb passage of play as Exeter avenged last season’s final defeat by Sarries and denied the champions the chance to repeat last year’s European-Premiership double.

“We had the game with 90 seconds to go but that’s the game isn’t it?” Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall told the club’s official website. “But we can unbelievably proud.

“If you’re going to lose, lose like that,” he added. “We’re naturally sad with the result but we fought for everything.”

London club Saracens showed no signs of fatigue after their continental exploits at the weekend and took a 6-0 lead after 15 minutes following two penalty goals by Owen Farrell.

However, the hosts responded before the break as two Gareth Steenson penalties levelled the scores following a spell of intense pressure from Chiefs.

Exeter, seeking a first title, picked up where they left off after halftime, with Jack Nowell scoring the first try of the match after picking up from a ruck, before Steenson converted to put them 13-6 ahead.

Saracens held their nerve to remain within touching distance despite the hosts’ dominance and reduced the deficit in the 56th minute when Chris Wyles scored in the corner, although Farrell missed the conversion.

During a tense final 10 minutes, Saracens’ characteristic composure deserted them as Chiefs remained resolute and looked set to see out victory until the visitors’ Ellery barrelled past Henry Slade after a magnificent pass from Schalk Brits.

A superb penalty kick to touch from Slade gave the hosts one final chance, and Simmonds drove over from five metres out after a trademark maul in the 79th minute as Exeter extended their unbeaten run in 2017 to 11 league games.

At the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, Wasps, who ended the regular season in top spot, established a 10-point lead inside the first 10 minutes with two Jimmy Gopperth kicks either side of Kurtley Beale’s try.

Tigers reduced the arrears with two fine penalty kicks from Freddie Burns and a Peter Betham try, but another Gopperth kick before the break stretched Wasps’ lead.

The visitors heaped the pressure on to break the hosts’ resolve in the 52nd minute when Telusa Veainu went over out wide and Burns converted before the dramatic finale which saw Bassett squeeze over in the corner two minutes from time.

(Reporting by Ed Dove; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ian Chadband)

Djokovic back on song to set up Zverev final in Rome

Earlier in Rome, Zverev won a battle of the giants to down unseeded American John Isner 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1, making the tall 20-year-old the youngest ATP Masters 1000 finalist since a 19-year-old Djokovic in Miami in 2007.

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Djokovic said that his mini masterpiece, carved out in just 59 minutes against Thiem who had ended Rafael Nadal’s 17-match winning streak so thrillingly on Friday, was “by far” his best performance of a difficult year.

The quick workout against Thiem was just what Djokovic needed as it was his second match of the day, having completed a 6-1 6-4 win over Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in a rain-delayed quarter-final carried over from Friday.

“Best by far, obviously,” Djokovic said when asked on Sky Sports whether the win over world number seven Thiem, which saw him spray 14 winners and give up a mere six unforced errors, was his best in 2017.

“The closest I got to this level was the final against Andy (Murray) in Doha in the first week of the season (which Djokovic won). Otherwise, I’ve been struggling to find the right level and be consistent.”

Earlier this month, the Serb had parted company with his entire coaching team in a bid to regain the form that had made him an untouchable world number one a year ago.

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The move, which he described as “shock therapy”, appears to have already paid dividends as Djokovic, who lost his top ranking to Murray at the end of 2016, produced a devastating display against one of the game’s new luminaries.

“This game brought back some amazing feelings and memories on the court so I’m really glad,” said Djokovic, who feels he is running into form at the perfect time with the start of his defence of the French Open just over a week away.

“Yes, I was looking for that,” he said, when asked if everything was falling into place again.

“I was looking to have a nice balance between the right intensity and the fire and feeling satisfied and happy, calm again on the court and finding the joy of playing because, to be honest, I lost that in the last seven, eight months.

“There was fire but perhaps too much fire. Now I feel I’m on the right track and things are progressing well,” he added, looking forward to his first final since Doha.

Another of the young guns, Zverev, had looked like wrapping up his match with Isner in straight sets after romping through the opener in under half an hour, but the defiant American took the second set down to a tiebreak.

The German was 5-0 down in the tiebreak but battled back before Isner took the match to a third set with a forehand winner.

Isner, the first American to reach the semi-finals in Rome since Andy Roddick in 2008, had a chance to break with Zverev leading 3-1 in the final set but the German snuffed out the challenge.

Earlier, Djokovic had finished an emphatic job against Del Potro. The match had been halted by rain and lightning on Friday with the Serbian leading 6-1 1-2.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin and Ian Chadband; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)