Brumbies think they have Smith

GEORGE SMITH is in hot demand from French rugby clubs including Toulon but the Brumbies remain confident of retaining the superstar breakaway. ACT chief executive Andrew Fagan spoke to Smith before he left for the European tour and said the Wallabies No.7 won’t be making a decision until February. "I was neither surprised nor concerned when I heard there was interest in George from French rugby," Fagan said. "If anything, I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it earlier given his stature in the game." Smith won the RUPA player of the year award on Friday but was still on holidays in Europe. There were some suggestions he stayed to speak to Toulon, Brive and Clermont. Fagan said Smith’s decision would not only be based on money. "Some people don’t realise that it’s not all financial … it doesn’t suit some guys to just move their family overseas." The possibility of granting Smith a sabbatical similar to that of Rocky Elsom has not been discussed but Fagan said it was likely to come up in negotiations. Sonny Bill returns
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Toulon’s star signing in 2008, Sonny Bill Williams , made his long-awaited return to the rugby field in the side’s 30-9 victory over Montpellier at the weekend. After spending three months on the sidelines with a leg injury, Williams played the final 20 minutes in the centres. "The leg pulled up a bit sore but I feel everything is going ahead as planned. I’m happy to be back," Williams said. Warner hits IPL jackpot

Power hitter David Warner will sign a rich deal with an IPL franchise in the next 48 hours. The NSW batsman has offers from Kolkata and Delhi, while there has been late interest from another club over the weekend. Under legislation introduced six weeks ago, franchises are allowed to sign only one non-internationally capped player before the auction in February and Kolkata has already signed Moises Henriques for $US300,000 ($456,330) a year. However, Kolkata say they started negotiations with Warner before the rule was introduced and may be able to purchase him. Other franchises are also trying to do the same with players including NSW leggie Steven Smith . If the IPL decides they’re not allowed to sign these players before the auction, the franchises will agree to make a bid for those players to the value of what they have offered, so players who have been offered these six-figure contracts are not suddenly left cashless and clubless after auction. Warner will be a very rich man by the middle of this week. Souths courting Maitua

Souths believe Reni Maitua could be the final piece of the puzzle that will catapult them into the finals next season. The Rabbitohs are pursuing Maitua after he was sacked by the Bulldogs earlier this month and club insiders say he could be used devastatingly on the flanks along with David Fa’alogo . Meanwhile, rumours that Maitua had a falling out with fellow Bra Boy John Sutton are wide of the mark. "That’s a lie," Sutton said. "I’ve spoken to him, trying to get him over to Souths. It would be good if we can get him, he is good all over the field and he has won a premiership." Stagg in their sights

Musical chairs is set to continue in light of Maitua’s axing. Broncos officials are all but resigned to losing utility David Stagg , who met Bulldogs types yesterday before flying back to Brisbane. "The Bulldogs have got a good set-up, I just have to weigh it up and make the decision that’s best for me and the family," Stagg said. The Dogs want Stagg as a replacement to Maitua and have offered him a two-year deal, while the Broncos have no room to move under the salary cap. Tah-ed and feathered

A no-holds-barred podcast talking all things Waratahs and rugby in general will be launched on Wednesday by former NSW media man Djuro Sen . Now that Sen has cut ties with the Tahs he will be able to reveal some deep and dark secrets on his new site ruggamatrix南京夜网. Among the guests on the first show will be Lote Tuqiri and Ewen McKenzie . NRL players blacklisted

NRL players have been banned from the swankiest party on New Year’s Day, the Day One event at Ivy’s model-heavy pool deck. A few players were left flummoxed when they tried to get tickets and were bluntly told that no league players would be allowed at the do. Nine’s bouncing back

Channel Nine says rumours they may go into receivership have no foundation. "Truth is Nine’s bouncing back, as reflected in every definitive ratings measurement available," a network source said. "It’s a hard road to be sure, as it is for all networks, but the joint ain’t gonna disappear." Say what?

"Perhaps I could return to save the division, if the Klitschko brothers decided to fight, I could imagine I would return to face the winner." Former heavyweight boxing king Lennox Lewis jokes after again being asked to come out of retirement to fight Vitali or Wladimir – who yesterday retained his IBF and WBO titles by stopping Hasim Rahman in seven rounds. WEEKEND WARRIOR: ADRIAN BREEN

Adrian Breen, a Drummoyne fitness trainer who sparred 99 rounds in succession on Saturday to raise money for prostate cancer. He raised nearly $4000. Why? "My dad John has prostate cancer. He had an operation three years ago and it has come back, he’s having chemotherapy at the moment. I’m just hoping he comes through it.

"You must be feeling sensational? "My body is pretty sore, my arms started cramping up in about the 34th round. I did 99 two-minute rounds with a 30-minute break after each 33 rounds. By the 76th round I started to get a bit of a headache, and with 20 to go it got really tough because you knew the end was near. I’ve got a black eye and a bruised nose but I’m OK – I’m going back to work [today]. "

Where did you get the idea? "I have always been into boxing and I’ve seen how they have fight nights for cancer fundraising. The clock in my gym only goes up to 99 rounds so I decided to fight 99 rounds. My mates have said next year they’re going to buy me a clock that reaches triple figures."

You’re not going to do it again? "Yes, this will be an annual thing, but I’m hoping to get other people involved so I won’t have to spar all 99 rounds." The hero - John Drake

The World Cup-winning All Black and respected rugby commentator died suddenly at his home in Mt Maunganui at the weekend, aged just 49. Drake, a tight-head prop, played eight Tests including the 1987 World Cup final against France – the All Blacks’ only title. Drake proved to be a brilliant analyst of the game in his media role, and his witty barbs will be missed. The number - 203

Votes club great Brett Kenny polled at the Parramatta Eels board election yesterday, helping the rebel ticket to power. The villain - golf carts

Robert Allenby said he "could have been killed" after a cart overturned at Royal Sydney, flinging him, Darren Clarke and caddie Col Burwood three metres into the air. The trio were driving back to the locker room during a downpour on Friday and the cart failed to handle the terrain, leaving Clarke’s right leg bruised and Allenby with a sore left thigh.

Fyfe forced to pay harsh penalty

AFTER yet another top-shelf performance, it was a cruel twist of fate that Sydney FC defender Iain Fyfe would give away the penalty that decided Saturday’s match.
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Replays showed Fyfe accidentally impeded the run of Central Coast striker Dylan Macallister, and with the home crowd still seething that John Aloisi was allowed to retake his missed penalty after a Mariners player entered the box, the referee pointed to the spot.

While the captain’s armband he carried implied a certain level of responsibility, Fyfe was left shattered and with a hollow feeling that he’d let his teammates down.

"It was just a really unfortunate incident," he told the Herald . "I went to block Dylan’s shot. I used my whole body for that, and I turned my back and Dylan kind of went over. But I haven’t seen the replay and I don’t know if it was a penalty or not. But if you’d ask me now, it was probably a 50-50.

"It was frustrating that there was a decision made in the 89th minute that cost us the game. It was probably a decision that could have gone either way. But that’s football."

Fyfe’s frustrations went beyond that solitary incident, with the temporary skipper admitting his teammates were shaded by their hosts in their approach.

"To be honest, I think the Mariners were more organised than us. They seem to keep great shape," he said. "They played the better football, they were always first to those second balls, and full credit to them, they were a much better team than us on the night.

"Crucially, they won the midfield battle. Their midfielders played a lot better than our midfielders. But in saying that, we were poor all over the park. It’s not just the midfielders’ fault, everybody has to stand up and take responsibility."

While coach John Kosmina alluded to the loss of Tony Popovic as a reason behind Sydney’s lack of organisation, Fyfe believes the time has come for those left to give more.

"Maybe we are missing ‘Poppa’ a little bit, but you can’t keep using that as an excuse, as far as I’m concerned," Fyfe said. "Every week we play well, like last week. We don’t miss him because we played well. It seems like every week that we lose, we’re missing Poppa.

"We can’t keep using that as an excuse. We’ve got to move on and other players step up."

Fyfe filled Popovic’s captaincy role with aplomb against the Mariners, barking instructions at every turn and doing his best to keep the younger players focused.

"It was something I really relished, and I love leading the boys out there, so it was a great feeling," he said.

While five Sydney players have committed to join other A-League clubs next season, both Fyfe and Robbie Middleby, who are heading to Adelaide and North Queensland respectively, are clearly intent on finishing their careers with Sydney in the best possible fashion.

Fyfe has resolved to leave no stone unturned in his final few months in the harbour city and is dedicated to helping fulfil the club’s lofty pre-season ambitions.

"We look around at training and see the quality, so it is there," he said. "It’s just so frustrating that we haven’t put it together over the past few months. It’s something we’ll have to keep working on. There’s only six games left in the season, and it’s important we get it right very quick or we’ll find ourselves outside the top four, and that’s unacceptable."

The seagull has landed for rookie Wood

IF RALPH MACCHIO and Jonny Wilkinson ever paired up for an appearance on Dancing with the Stars , Victorian golfer Tim Wood’s pre-shot routine is what you’d get.
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Some bizarre things were sighted at the Australian Open over the past week, but Wood’s slow, systematic and slightly silly routine would almost top them.

First, the left foot goes back and he dips his toe to the grass – as if about to curtsey to the ball, or at least begin a waltz with it. The club face is rested on the grass and the grip on his belly. He then assumes the pose Wilkinson has made famous as he lines up a conversion, before waving his arms like a conductor – or the Karate Kid. If that seems difficult to imagine, allow Wood to set the scene of silliness.

"If I pretend I’m going to catch a big, heavy medicine ball, if I’m back on my heels it’s going to knock me straight over, right? So my weight’s forward.

"Then my arms get too close, so my arm’s flying out – that’s another thing. I just put it together myself about five weeks ago [during the WA PGA]. You’ve just got to laugh about it. I’ve just got poor posture. I get into bad habits with my posture. I hate it, but it’s working."

Hates it so much, in fact, he tried to ditch it for the Open.

"In the range this week, I tried to … hit the shots without doing the routine, and in the first round I hit two shanks in the front nine," he said. "I was two over after eight holes, and my caddie goes, ‘You’ve got to go back to the seagull’."

The "seagull" comes from the "wounded seagull", the description used by television commentator Bruce Young during the NSW PGA at Riverside Oaks, which Wood won.

Early yesterday, Wood was equal leader by the eighth before he slumped with four bogeys and a double on the back nine to place 11th. Ironically, it was some bad habits his routine was devised to erase that led to his back-nine crash, which included a shank on the 13th that would have had a weekend hacker cursing. The shot was his "wake-up call".

His one-over round yesterday was as bizarre as his routine – it included just four pars and a near hole-in-one on the 14th to snap a sequence of five bogeys in six holes.

It began wonderfully. He hit the pin on both one and three for a remarkable eagle-birdie-birdie start. Once he got to the top, he appeared to suffer vertigo.

He will still pocket $27,900 for his troubles, wiping out a $20,000 loan he took out to keep playing midway through the year. The 27-year-old had returned from his second year on the Canadian Tour, where he was 55th on the Order of Merit with earnings of $C11,655.83 (just over $14,000) from 14 events, ready to give the game away.

"In 20 years time, a 20-grand debt’s nothing," he said. "It absolutely kills me, but I did it."

But his career appears to have turned. He was first emergency for the Australian Masters and played in the PGA at Coolum. Now he is hoping the door might open to Asia.

"I’m stoked," he said. "I played really well. I was never nervous. I never felt like I was out of my class, out of my league, which I should – look at all these great players."

If they can’t bring T Woods out to Australia, heck, T Wood would still provide some entertainment.

Winner Clark in a state of disbelief

SOUTH AFRICAN Tim Clark stood in the middle of the 18th green at Royal Sydney yesterday, scratching his head. He was dumbfounded but he was also the 2008 Australian Open champion.
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Firstly, New Zealander David Smail handed Clark and Tasmanian Mathew Goggin a reprieve. They were in the clubhouse at nine under the card for the week, ruing missed chances they thought had cost them the tournament, but suddenly, dramatically, Smail imploded.

Clark was eating a pie and chips in the clubhouse when he saw Goggin on the practice putting green. He thought he’d better join him. Shortly after, they were both on the practice range. Smail, who seemingly had an unassailable lead of four shots through nine holes, had doubled-bogey both the 15th and 16th holes – and he was one shot behind them.

Smail needed to birdie one of his final two holes to join them in a sudden-death play-off, but it wasn’t to be. He was gutted, almost breaking down, as he left the scorer’s hut. He plus Robert Allenby and West Australian Stephen Dartnall were tied for third – with Goggin and Clark left to battle it out.

On the first hole, Clark made a quite superb up and down from a greenside trap, holing the par putt from three metres. Then, the massive crowd around the 18th gasped. Goggin had a par putt from less than a metre but it lipped out. Stuart Appleby spoke of John Daly being a train wreck. We witnessed one yesterday.

"It was obviously a bonus to get in the play-off but I just feel bad for David for the way he finished," Clark said. "You never want to see that. Then in the play-off it was a shock to win it like that, too. It’s a tough way to win like that but I guess at the end of the day I am the winner.

"It will improve my world ranking [with double points loaded because it is a national open] so it’s a very important win for me with The Presidents Cup this year.

After Clark had finished with a final-round five-under 67 with a double bogey and a bogey on the back nine, "I spoke to my wife and said, ‘I think I’ve thrown away another tournament.’ I thought that was that. It is just a big shock to be here.

"I’ve seen a fellow competitor struggle coming in – and then for Mat to finish like that, I feel bad for that, too. It was certainly out of left field. Maybe later on or tomorrow I’ll celebrate but right now I’m still in a bit of shock. Obviously, I’m very happy but it’s tough to show any happiness because of what the two guys did."

Goggin had given away his golf balls and his gloves, confident that he’d finished second for a second week in a row. His coach Dale Lynch had to go to the locker room to rustle up balls and a glove for the play-off. At Coolum, he was devastated with the loss to Geoff Ogilvy but yesterday was far more philosophical.

"I feel for David really. He had a good tournament, he was playing well and to have such a horror finish is brutal for him. Obviously, my finish in the play-off … well, to get in the play-off was a bonus but to miss a short putt and not keep it going twists the knife a little bit. But, that’s part of it," Goggin said. "Tim and I didn’t deserve to be in a play-off at all. It wasn’t even in our heads. I don’t know how many times I’ve finished second now, but hopefully it is more in the mould of David Duval where you finish second a lot and then you win a bunch."

So sure was Clark that he would not win that he came in for a media interview before packing up his locker. Then, he said, "I am disappointed in the way I finished. The double bogey on the par three [14th] killed the momentum."

Clark, who has played the past three weeks in Australia, heads home for the South African Open this week. It will be interesting to see how he is received.

Before his surprise win, he’d said: "In all honesty, I feel more welcome here than I do at home. I don’t want it to sound like a knock on the South African tour, but I really have been made to feel very welcome here. I don’t feel that at home."

Clark will be back next year – as defending champion of the Open. His rounds these past four days were 70-73-69-67 for that nine-under total, one better than John Senden’s winning tally at Royal Sydney two years ago.

For Ogilvy, it was, in his own assessment, a horrible week in comparison with his deeds at Coolum.

"It could have been really special," he said of yesterday’s four-under 68. Putts shaved the hole, and he was dealt a couple of rough breaks by the bounce of the ball. It wasn’t easy in the wind gusting to 60kmh, just guesswork as to which way it would gust next. TOP FINISHERS Australian Open 279 – Tim Clark (RSA) 70 73 69 67 won on first play- off hole, Mathew Goggin (Aus) 65 70 75 69. 280 – Robert Allenby (Aus) 71 67 71 71, David Smail (NZ) 67 68 70 75, Stephen Dartnall (Aus) 65 68 75 72.

Denis is no menace: Kenny

DESPITE a very public debate that has at times become personal, Brett Kenny says he and his three fellow incoming Parramatta Football Club board members do not have a "big problem" with Parramatta Leagues Club supremo Denis Fitzgerald.
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Those in the lead roles were focused on unity after yesterday’s vote for the football club board, playing down the verbal stoushing during the lead-up.

"No more in-fighting or public brawling, that’s what we’re looking to do," Kenny said. "You want everyone going in the same direction. At the end of the day, what we’re looking to do is have the club become very successful again.

"We [the new football club board and Fitzgerald] had a short meeting after the general meeting, and it was very good, there wasn’t a problem there. We all spoke about what was put in the papers, and we all realised there was a lot of paper talk involved and now we have to go in the same direction …

"A lot of people don’t get on well in various companies, but when it comes down to making a decision for that company, you put your personalities aside, and that’s what we’ll be looking to do."

Fitzgerald said he was not surprised by the result, and urged all parties to "accept that decision, move on and work together for the betterment of Parramatta". "We had a meeting and I congratulated the board members," he said. "I’ve worked with those four guys before, three as players, and know them well and I’m sure we can work with them. I’d like to see a stop to any negative coverage the club may be getting. There had been a couple of the board members in Ray Price and Brett Kenny who had been very critical … but now they are on the inside, I’d like to think that’ll be over."