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France’s Ntamack says Ireland ‘comfortable favourites’ in Dublin meeting

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France's Ntamack says Ireland 'comfortable favourites' in Dublin meeting

France fly-half Romain Ntamack says Ireland are “comfortable favourites” for Saturday’s predicted Six Nations title decider with Ireland in Dublin.

This weekend’s hosts are top of the World Rugby rankings with Ntamack’s outfit, who won a Grand Slam last year, second. Both sides won their opening games of the tournament.

Andy Farrell’s Ireland eased past Wales last Saturday thanks to a first half blitz while Les Bleus claimed a 14th straight Test victory by holding on against Italy 24 hours later.

“They are world number one, it’s not for nothing, they are comfortably favourites,” 33-Test playmaker Ntamack told AFP on Tuesday.

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“There’s no debate. They showed and proved that in round one against Wales.

“They’re good in all areas. They have very few weaknesses, if any. It’s going to be an arm wrestle for 80 minutes,” he added.

This year’s Six Nations has the shadow of the Rugby World Cup looming over it. Hosts France kick off the tournament against three-time winners New Zealand in Paris on September 8.

Ntamack, 23, played down the pressure of the showpiece event.

“First things first, we’ll be happy to win on Saturday. It would mean that we’re still in line for a second Grand Slam. It’s really the objective,” he said.

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“Beyond impressing, beyond thinking about the World Cup, if we want to defend our title and write history, it comes with a win in Ireland,” he added.

At the Stadio Olimpico last Sunday, Ntamack set up two tries for team-mates after a personally disappointing November campaign, despite French wins over World Cup holders South Africa, Australia and Japan.

“Those things happen. I know what I do well, what I do less well,” he said.

“It didn’t stop me sleeping. I’m happy to be back to my best,” he added.

‘Inspiring’

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Ntamack, son of former free-running France three-quarter Emile, plays his club rugby for record five-time Champions Cup winners Toulouse as his father did.

Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont won the 2021 Champions Cup and Top 14 double together with Toulouse

Nine of Ireland’s starting team last weekend play for Leinster, who have won that title on four occasions.

“They have played together for a while: 90% of them come from Leinster, they’re together for the whole year,” Ntamack said.

“They know each other inside out. They’re great players who are used to playing big games,” he added.

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In Rome, Ntamack and Toulouse team-mate Antoine Dupont reached a France record of 22 internationals together as a half-back partnership.

At Lansdowne Road they are likely to face 110-time capped fly-half Johnny Sexton and his fellow Test centurion in No. 9 Conor Murray.

“They are players that we admire, who have lasted, despite their age, they’re still performing well,” Ntamack said.

“It shows their efficiency in the Ireland shirt.

“It’s inspiring but it stops there, they are our opponents. Even if we respect them, we will try and beat them when we face them,” he added. 

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Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

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Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

Italy kick off their European Championship title defence against Albania on Saturday as a new-look team tries to rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s most important football nations.

Luciano Spalletti’s Italy take on Albania in Dortmund in the first of three clashes in a fiendishly difficult Group B which also contains Spain and Croatia.

And those two later fixtures make Saturday’s hugely important, as with the four best third-place finishers in the six groups reaching the knockout stages, a win over Albania would give Italy a great chance of going through.

Italy come into the tournament in quietly confident mood, with delegation chief Gianluigi Buffon insisting that the Azzurri are “an underrated team” despite being holders and four-time World Cup winners.

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Buffon was one of the stars of the show when Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when a golden generation of players including Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro took their country to one of its greatest ever football triumphs.

Since then the national team has been going through something of an identity crisis, unsure of its position in the global game and no longer feared as in decades past.

Italy might be reigning champions but after winning the last Euros three years ago they missed out on qualification for a second straight World Cup.

And qualification for this summer’s Euros, which begins on Friday, was complicated by Spalletti’s predecessor Roberto Mancini jumping ship to Saudi Arabia in August last year.

‘Future greats’

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Spalletti has been entrusted to guide his nation out of another bout of deep soul searching and he has done so by casting aside the team which became national heroes by beating England at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final.

“I can see that we have players in the squad who will become future greats. They have the quality,” Federico Chiesa said on Thursday in an interview with UEFA. “We want to show what we’re made of at the Euros. Let’s see what we can do.”

Juventus forward Chiesa is one of the few graduates of the victory in 2021 still assured of a starting place, alongside Nicolo Barella, assuming he recovers in time from a thigh injury.

Spalletti is also sweating on the fitness of Barella’s Inter Milan teammate Davide Frattesi, who scored Italy’s only goal in Sunday’s encouraging warm-up win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Albania meanwhile are taking part in just their second Euros and the Eagles will be swept along by the enthusiasm of their supporters.

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Armand Duka, the head of Albania’s football federation, claimed in an interview with Sky that “more than half” of the Westfalenstadion will be taken up by his countrymen.

And with 10 of Sylvinho’s squad playing in Italy, there will be plenty of familiar faces for the Azzurri to deal with. “Italy will be a special match. In Dortmund we will play probably the most important match of our lives,” said Duka.

“We’d be delighted to get out of the group, but we’ll be happy in any case just to have taken part in the Euros.” 

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Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

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Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

Alison Lee fired a seven-under-par 65 to take a two-shot lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Meijer Classic on Thursday.

The 29-year-old from California relied on a red-hot putter and a steadily improving swing to reel off seven birdies and an eagle to pull clear of a crowded leaderboard.

Lee, who is still looking for her first victory on the LPGA Tour just under a decade after joining the professional ranks, revealed afterwards she spent the build-up to this week’s tournament in Michigan attempting to iron out kinds in her swing.

Yet despite long hours on the driving range last week, she remained uncomfortable even after teeing off at Blythefield Country Club on Thursday in suburban Grand Rapids. “There can be some days I don’t feel quite confident,” Lee said after her round.

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“You just have to work with what you got. That’s how I felt today. As the round went on I would say the last four, five holes, definitely felt a lot better with my swing.”

The highlight of Lee’s round came on her penultimate hole, the par-five eighth, where she nailed an eight-iron to within 15 feet with her second shot, before rolling in the eagle putt.

“It was definitely really nice to shoot a low one today,” Lee said. “Giving a lot of credit to my putter. I made a lot of really, really good par saves, and a lot of good birdies. “Overall really happy and pleasantly surprised about my round.”

No fewer than nine players are tied for second place behind Lee on five under after shooting 67s. The chasing pack includes Canada’s Brooke Henderson, who eagled the 18th to move up the leaderboard. Eleven players are a further shot back on four under.

This week’s tournament is the final tune-up before next week’s Women’s PGA Championship, which is being held at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington from June 20-23. 

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Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

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Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

 Haidar Sultan of Pakistan has bagged the first gold medal in the Weightlifting event of the Brics Games at the Kazan city of Rusia.

Sultan, who outclassed the Russian weightlifters in a tough fight and won the first gold medal for Pakistan in the Games, said a press release.

He contested in the 61kg weight category and lifted a total weight of 261kg i.e. 115kg in Snatch and 146kg in the Clean & Jerk.

It was his outstanding performance at any national or international competition. Sultan was far behind his Russian competitors in the Snatch event, but his third and final lift of 146 kg in the clean & jerk event turned conclusive, for his maiden victory at the international BRICS Games.

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Sultan was accompanied by the seasoned and professional coach Shuja Ud Din Malik, who himself had been the Commonwealth Games 2006 Gold Medalist and Record holder.

The motivation by Imdaullah Meman, the chef-de-mission, and the technical expertise of the coach Shuja ud Din Malik, maintained the fighting spirit of the Sultan, who was very happy about his victory.

Sultan thanked Pakistan Sports Board PSB for the financial and administrative support for the tour. Sultan hails from Gujranwala district of Punjab and represents the Pakistan Army at the national level. 

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