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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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Sinisterra signs long-term deal with Bournemouth

Sinisterra signs long-term deal with Bournemouth

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Sinisterra signs long-term deal with Bournemouth

Luis Sinisterra has made his move to AFC Bournemouth from Leeds United permanent, signing a long-term deal with the Premier League team on Friday.

Bournemouth reportedly agreed to a £20 million fee with Championship (second-tier) side Leeds.

The 24-year-old Colombian had been impressive since joining Bournemouth in September on a loan spell from Leeds United, with three goals and three assists in his 17 appearances.

“I’m really happy to make this move. I’m excited to play for Bournemouth for the long term,” Sinisterra said. “I feel really comfortable here and the fans are really nice. When I meet them in the streets, they show the love.”

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Andoni Iraola’s team are 12th in the table on 27 points, but are winless in their last four games. They play Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday. 

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Son and Bissouma ready for Spurs game with Brighton

Son and Bissouma ready for Spurs game with Brighton

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Son and Bissouma ready for Spurs game with Brighton

 Son Heung-min and Yves Bissouma returned to Tottenham Hotspur this week from international duty, and both are ready for Spurs’ game with Brighton & Hove Albion, manager Ange Postecoglou said on Friday.

Son was involved with South Korea at the Asian Cup where they lost to Jordan in the semi-final on Tuesday while Bissouma’s Mali exited the Africa Cup of Nations last weekend at the quarter-final stage.

Spurs, fifth in the standings on 44 points, host Brighton on Saturday, with Roberto De Zerbi’s side in eighth place on 35 points.

“Sonny and Biss they trained well. Sonny did recovery on Thursday and trained today,” Postecoglou told a press conference.

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“He is very disappointed for Korea’s exit, at the semi-final stage you feel so close. But he gave everything for his nation, no-one could question his commitment.

“I spoke to him after and he was keen to be back, so no surprise he was back training straight away.”

The manager also played down concerns over Bissouma, after media reports that he had played through the illness with malaria at the tournament.

“No, that’s not right. He had a slight form of malaria before the tournament, but it cleared up by the start of tournament. He’s 100 percent now.”

Manor Solomon hasn’t played since September and Postecoglou confirmed that the winger had another procedure on his knee earlier this week and is still another two or three weeks away from a return.

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Another injury concern was Giovani Lo Celso who missed the last three league games for Spurs.

“Lo Celso trained all week but he’s missed a fair bit of football so we’ll see whether he needs another week or not,” the manager said.

“It’s probably, for want of a better word, the healthiest squad we’ve had for quite a while anyway.”

Spurs conceded an added-time equaliser at Everton last weekend and lost to a late Nathan Ake goal against Manchester City in the FA Cup, but conceding late is not something that overly concerns their manager.

“It’s disappointing to concede goals at any point. People will want to analyse it,” Postecoglou said.

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“I’m sorry but we’re going to be a team that will score or concede goals late. The way we want to close out games is by trying to score goals late on.

“One thing we’re not going to do is jump at shadows and try to fix the latest thing being analysed.” 

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Fils ends ‘great champion’ Gasquet’s 956 weeks in top 100

Fils ends ‘great champion’ Gasquet’s 956 weeks in top 100

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Fils ends 'great champion' Gasquet's 956 weeks in top 100

 Rising star Arthur Fils beat fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet at the Auckland Classic on Tuesday to end the veteran’s run of more than 18 years in the world’s top 100.

The 19-year-old Fils cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 victory against the 37-year-old Gasquet, who had enjoyed a remarkable 956 consecutive weeks in the top 100, peaking at number seven in July 2007.

Gasquet was defending the Auckland title and points he won 12 months ago, so the first-round defeat will see him slide down from 76th in the world when new rankings are released next week.

Fils, with a booming serve that produced nine aces, broke at 2-2 in the first set and at 1-1 in the second and applauded Gasquet as he left the court.

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“He’s a great champion. He did an unbelievable career so I’m really happy to play on the court with him,” said Fils, who reached the quarter-finals of the Hong Kong Open last week.

“But it was a nice match for my part and I’m really happy.”

In other action, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov looked rusty in his first match since Wimbledon last year, losing Austria’s Sebastian Ofner 6-4, 6-2.

Roberto Bautista Agut was beaten by fellow Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 6-4 and eighth seed Max Purcell of Australia overcame New Zealand’s 716th-ranked wildcard Kiranpal Pannu 6-4, 6-4.

The top four seeds, Ben Shelton, Cameron Norrie, Francisco Cerundolo and Felix Auger-Aliassime, all had first-round byes. 

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