Springboks, Pumas poles apart ahead of World Cup warm-up

Coach Rassie Erasmus. (AP)
Updated 16 August 2019
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Springboks, Pumas poles apart ahead of World Cup warm-up

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa and Argentina are poles apart going into a Rugby World Cup warm-up match in Pretoria Saturday, just one week after Handre Pollard starred as the Springboks embarrassed the Pumas 46-13.
While the South Africans are on the rise and looking increasingly like contenders to win the global championship a record-equalling third time, the Argentines are in the doldrums.
Since mid-July, the Springboks have won convincingly at home to Australia and away to Argentina and drawn with world champions New Zealand in Wellington to lift the Rugby Championship for the first time.
But the Pumas lost all three matches in the southern hemisphere competition reduced from a traditional six rounds to three because the World Cup kicks off in Japan on September 20.
Those losses stretched to eight the number of consecutive defeats and they have won only eight of 40 matches since coming fourth behind New Zealand, Australia and South Africa at the last World Cup.
South Africa were in serious trouble two years back after a 57-0 mauling by the All Blacks at the same Wellington ground where the Springboks have won and drawn in subsequent seasons.
The Springboks and Pumas changed coaches since the last World Cup with differing results as Rassie Erasmus turned the tide while Mario Ledesma has been unable to replicate the form of four years ago.
Cynics will label the Pretoria Test a B international as South Africa have changed the entire team that cruised to victory last Saturday while Argentina have kept only five of the humiliated side.
Erasmus says he knows “about 80 percent” of his 31 man squad, due to be named on Monday August 26, and the match at Loftus Versfeld stadium is the last chance for marginal contenders to impress.
That tag fits a number of Springboks, including full-back Warrick Gelant, center Andre Esterhuizen and winger Dillyn Leyds among the backs.
Props Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch and loose forward Rynhardt Elstadt and Marcell Coetzee are other borderline cases who could secure a flight to Tokyo with an outstanding performance.
“I have spoken to the players and everyone knows where we are regarding the squad,” said Erasmus, a former Springbok loose forward in his second season as national coach.
“It is a tough situation because I can only choose 31 players and the list of genuine challengers is much larger.”
Apart from the players in make-of-break scenarios, the Springboks coach will be watch loose forward and first choice captain Siya Kolisi with great interest.
Chosen as the first black Test skipper of South Africa last year, Kolisi injured a knee three months ago and this will be his first international appearance of the season.
To lift the added burden of the captaincy away from him while he seeks full fitness, Erasmus named veteran hooker Schalk Brits to lead the Springboks this weekend.
“This is a temporary measure as Siya may not even play the full first half,” the coach emphasised. “He will lead South Africa at the World Cup provided he is fit.”
South Africa share Pool B in Japan with trophy-holders New Zealand, Canada, Italy and Namibia while Argentina come up against England, France, Tonga and the United States in Pool C.
A malfunctioning scrum is the biggest headache facing former Pumas hooker Ledesma with the South Americans conceding a string of penalties last weekend and been forced to backpedal several times.
“You cannot hope to win internationals when your scrum is not functioning properly,” stressed the Argentine coach.
For Pretoria, he has promoted loosehead Mayco Vivas, hooker Julian Montoya and tighthead Santiago Medrano, but all have been tried before and found wanting.


Mayor of town in north Japan bemoans lack of Olympic funds

Updated 15 September 2019
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Mayor of town in north Japan bemoans lack of Olympic funds

  • Tokyo is reportedly spending about $20 billion to prepare the city to host the games
  • Tokyo organizers have faced a series of hurdles as they prepare to host the games

TOKYO: The mayor of a town in northeastern Japan that will host Olympic soccer games says his city has received no funding from the central government that has promised to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to help in the reconstruction of the region.

The Japanese government and Tokyo 2020 organizers are hoping to use the Olympics to showcase Japan’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Several Olympic events, including soccer and baseball, will be held in northeastern Japan.

But with less than a year to go before the opening ceremony, Yutaka Kumagai, the mayor of Rifu in Miyagi Prefecture, says his city has seen no funding from the central government.

“There is no help from the government, we don’t have any budget from them, none,” Kumagai said on Saturday. “Tokyo 2020 is said to be a symbol of the reconstruction but when it comes to the budget, we don’t have any budget from the Olympic games here in Rifu.”

Kumagai made the comments during a media tour of Miyagi Stadium, a 49,000-seat facility in Rifu that will host men’s and women’s football at the 2020 Olympics.

About 50,000 people are still displaced in the Tohoku region as of August, according to the Reconstruction Agency. Yoshiaki Suda, the mayor of Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, concurred with Kumagai. Like Rifu, Onagawa is a coastal city that sustained heavy destruction.

“We haven’t received any subsidy, even one yen, from the central government,” Suda said. “Whatever we do for the venues, for the hospitality for the Olympics, we have to do ourselves.”

Some media reports have made the claim that the Olympics have hampered the reconstruction efforts, taking workers away from the region to help with construction in Tokyo.

Japan is one of the most earthquake- and tsunami-prone areas in the world. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 quake offshore caused a tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The quake and tsunami heavily damaged coastal neighborhoods in northeastern Japan and took more than 18,000 lives.

Tokyo, which projected total costs of about $7.5 billion in its winning bid for the games in 2013, is reportedly spending about $20 billion to prepare the city to host the games.

A group of anti-Olympic activists, many from outside Japan, have held small protests and other events this summer under the Japanese title “Han-gorin no Kai” — which translates roughly to No Olympics. They oppose Olympic spending, which they say cuts into budgets for housing and environmental issues.

They also call for more money to rebuild Fukushima prefecture located northeast of Tokyo. Organizers say Fukushima is a main focus of the Olympics, staging baseball, softball and soccer games there to persuade the world the area is safe.

Tokyo organizers have faced a series of hurdles as they prepare to host the games. In August, Tokyo’s summer heat forced an Olympic women’s triathlon qualifying event to be shortened because of high temperatures that are likely to impact next year’s games.

Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, was forced to quit earlier this year when he was implicated in a vote-buying scheme to land the games. He has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged he signed off on about $2 million that French investigators allege went to buy votes.