Peter Malnati continued his good form, shooting an eight-under 63 to lead the Bermuda Championship by a stroke after the opening round.

The American mixed nine birdies – including five straight from the ninth hole – with one bogey at Port Royal Golf Course on Thursday.

Malnati's five straight birdies tied his career-best for most consecutive birdies in a PGA Tour round, while it marked the third straight tournament at which the 33-year-old has posted a score of 63 or better.

Having last won on the PGA Tour in 2015, Malnati entered the tournament on the back of a runner-up finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship and top-five result at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Malnati is a stroke ahead of Doug Ghim and Ryan Armour, who both produced bogey-free opening rounds.

Doc Redman, Vaughn Taylor and Chase Seiffert are a shot further back.

Hunter Mahan, the former world number four who has slipped to 1,227th in the rankings and missed the cut in 20 of his past 29 events, is among a group of eight players at five under.

Defending champion Brendon Todd could only manage an even-par 71 in the first round to be back in a tie for 80th.

Meanwhile, Fred Funk, 64, carded a two-under 69 playing in the same group as his son, Taylor, who managed a 73.

Grigor Dimitrov ended third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas' Vienna Open hopes with a battling last-16 win on Thursday.

Tsitsipas, who took Novak Djokovic to five sets in the French Open semi-finals this month, had come from behind to beat Jan-Lennard Struff in his opener in Austria but was this time on the wrong end of a fightback.

The Greek edged the first set after a tie-break but failed to convert either of his break points in a 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-3 reverse.

It was Dimitrov who prevailed after two hours and 14 minutes for his first top-10 win of the season, securing a quarter-final against Dan Evans.

"It's never easy to come out of a situation like that," Dimitrov said. "I was focused, but he went for it.

"In the tie-break a few close calls here and there went his way. [There was] not much else I could have done, I felt. But I kept on believing and kept on doing the right things.

"I stayed in the match, which I think was the most important thing. He's such a great competitor. You always have to be ready. I was just focusing on the most simple things of the game."

The other seeds found life a little easier on Thursday, with Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev each through to face one another.

Reigning champion Thiem brushed aside Cristian Garin in straight sets, while Rublev was granted a walkover as Jannik Sinner succumbed to a foot injury early in their meeting.

Daniil Medvedev also advanced but needed three sets after dropping the first to Vasek Pospisil.

Djokovic was not in action, meanwhile, but learned the identity of his Friday quarter-final opponent as Lorenzo Sonego reached the last eight.

Max Jowitt scored a first-half hat-trick as Wakefield Trinity blew Leeds Rhinos away to claim a third straight Super League win on Thursday.

A miserable nine-game league losing streak following the competition's return in August had left Wakefield bottom, but they have responded in style.

Trinity moved off the foot of the table with a big win over Hull KR last time out, inspired by three tries from Ben Jones-Bishop, and this time it was Jowitt's turn in a stunning 30-6 success.

Leeds were without four players stood down amid previous opponents Castleford Tigers' coronavirus outbreak, but Jowitt showed little sympathy.

He went through after 11 minutes and then again 11 minutes later, with David Fifita also on the scoresheet before his hat-trick was completed on the stroke of half-time.

The Rhinos belatedly got off the mark with Ash Handley's score just after the hour mark, but Innes Senior added two late tries to complete a dominant victory.

Hull FC are hot on Leeds' heels as the pair chase the top four and a play-off place after beating Hull KR 31-16.

Rovers have replaced Wakefield in 11th place and folded after initially matching their rivals stride for stride.

Hull FC twice saw first-half tries and successful conversions cancelled out at the other end, but they forged ahead with tries from Ratu Naulago and Ligi Sao.

Bureta Faraimo's second score just after the restart appeared to put the result beyond doubt and Naulago soon doubled his own tally, making Rovers' late response a mere consolation.

New Zealand will look to wrap up another Bledisloe Cup series triumph and make a strong start to the Tri Nations when they face fierce rivals Australia in Sydney on Saturday.

The All Blacks cruised to a 27-7 victory over the Wallabies at Eden Park to take a 1-0 lead after the first match ended in a 16-16 draw.

New Zealand have dominated the rivalry in recent times, and you have to go back to 2002 for the last time their trans-Tasman rivals lifted the famous trophy.

While Australia are unable to end that wait this weekend, they could draw first blood in the opening Tri Nations Test and set up a Bledisloe Cup decider next week in Brisbane.

South Africa's withdrawal from the Rugby Championship leaves just Australia, New Zealand and Argentina to battle it out in a rebranded Tri Nations.

With the Pumas having to wait until November 14 for their opening contest with the All Blacks, we use Opta facts to preview another almighty battle at ANZ Stadium.

Australia v New Zealand

- New Zealand have lost only one of their last seven Tests against Australia (W5, D1); however, that single defeat did come in their last meeting on Australian soil, going down 47-26 in Perth last August.

- The All Blacks have won seven of the most recent nine Tests between the two sides at ANZ Stadium, including their last three. They have averaged 44.67 points per game in that three-match run.

- Australia have won four of their last five Tests at home, losing one. They have been victorious in the last three and the last time they enjoyed a longer winning run on home soil was a four-match span from September 2013 to June 2014.

- New Zealand have scored 70 tries at ANZ Stadium, their second-most at any Test ground outside New Zealand. They need two more to surpass their tally of 71 at the SCG.

- Marika Koroibete has scored 13 tries since making his Test debut in September 2017, the most of any Australia player in that time; New Zealand's Rieko Ioane (18) and South Africa's Makazole Mapimpi (14) are the only southern hemisphere tier one players with more in that period.

- Beauden Barrett needs one more try for the outright record of most in Tests against Australia by any player. He is currently level on 11 with Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu and has blanked in his last two Tests against the Wallabies.

Alia Atkinson and Guilherme Guido have been named co-captains for London Roar’s second round of competition set to begin on Friday.

Atkinson was impressive on debut for the International Swimming League franchise winning the 50m breaststroke on October 18. She was also a member of the Roar’s winning 4x100m medley relay team.

The affable Jamaican swimming star was humbled by the appointment.

“Such a privilege! So excited for Match #2,” she said on Instagram.

Atkinson is having her first season with the London Roar after competing for Team Iron last season. She was among 17 new additions to the London Roar roster prior to the start the current season.

Her co-captain is a  Brazilian backstroke swimmer who specializes in the sprint events and who has won gold medals at the World Short Course Championships and the Pan Am Games.

Jamaica Squash Association (JSA) is working towards the safe resumption of national squad training and competitions as soon as possible after suspending all tournaments earlier this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a year where very little has gone as expected, it is perhaps fitting that a backfired strategy contributed to the end of the Tampa Bay Rays' otherwise remarkable 2020 season.

With one highly controversial – and very questionable – managerial manoeuvre, Kevin Cash became a strong contender for Public Enemy No. 1, with his ill-fated decision to remove ace Blake Snell after 73 pitches and 5 1/3 virtually spotless innings in Game 6 of the World Series drawing the ire of the Twitterverse. 

Everyone knows the outcome by now – a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead turned into a 2-1 deficit two batters into replacement Nick Anderson's stint, and the Los Angeles Dodgers would end the night celebrating their first championship in 32 years.

As unfathomable and unpopular as Cash's move was, the numbers – for the most part – do support it. Snell was as dominant as any pitcher during the truncated 2020 season in his first 50 pitches of a start, limiting hitters to a miniscule .149 average and a .498 OPS.

He was considerably less effective in pitches 51-75 and struggled substantially beyond that threshold, as opponents batted .321 with an .892 OPS off the left-hander after the 75-pitch mark.

The reality is that Cash has been consistently – and successfully – employing the very same tactic with Snell not only for this season, but for the past three.

Only 11.3 percent of Snell's batters faced in 2020 came during the third time through the lineup, the exact point when he was lifted in Game 6. That's the lowest percentage of any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched this season.

Going back to his brilliant 2018 AL Cy Young Award campaign, only three pitchers with at least 300 innings faced a smaller percentage of batters during the third time in the order.

Lowest Pct. of Batters Faced – 3rd Time Through Lineup vs. Total Batters Faced Since 2018 (min, 300 IP)

Chase Anderson 13.0

Ryan Yarbrough 16.3

Wade LeBlanc 17.3

Blake Snell 17.7

So, was it the right move? The answer is no, only because it didn't work out. But no eyebrows were raised when Cash did the exact same thing in Game 1 of the Rays' opening round playoff series with Toronto, when Snell was yanked after 83 pitches with Tampa Bay holding a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning. The Rays went on to win 3-1.

The real takeaways from the series were twofold. First off, the Dodgers, with their parade of All-Stars past and present and cavernous financial advantages over the bargain-shopping Rays, were simply the better team like they were during the regular season, where their +136 run differential towered over the rest of baseball (in contrast, the Rays tied for the AL lead with a +60 differential). Secondly, the Rays didn't win in large part because they didn't hit.

The performance of overnight sensation Randy Arozarena notwithstanding, Tampa Bay's run production was abysmal for the majority of the six games as an offense that succeeded with patience and resourcefulness during the regular season morphed into a free-swinging, home run-dependent unit.

Rays hitters struck out in an astronomical 33.2 per cent of their plate appearances, the highest rate in World Series history, and reached base just 26.5 per cent of the time. Of Tampa Bay's 23 runs scored for the series, 13 came via the home run (56.5 per cent).

The Rays were the 37th team in World Series history with an on-base percentage of .265 or lower. Only six of those clubs wound up with the title, and three of them (the 1911 A's, 1939 Yankees, 1983 Orioles) had a higher OBP than their opponent.

Reliance on the long ball also hasn't historically been a recipe for World Series success, as only nine of 28 teams with over 50 per cent of their runs scored coming from homers went on to win a Fall Classic.

Tampa Bay were not that way during the regular season, as their .737 winning percentage (14-5) in games in which they failed to homer was by far the best in the majors. The Rays often offset that lack of big power by drawing walks, a part of their game that was too often non-existent against the Dodgers.

Tampa hitters induced free passes on 10.7 per cent of their plate appearances in the regular season, the fourth-highest rate in the majors. In the four games they lost in the World Series, the Rays walked a mere seven times in 132 appearances (5.3 per cent).

Now, the Rays were hardly an offensive juggernaut during the regular season, as they led the majors in strikeouts and ranked in the bottom third in batting average with runners in scoring position.

Tampa Bay were still able to produce the AL's best record due in large part to their terrific implementation of Cash's analytics-based strategy of "run prevention", utilising their deep pitching and strong defense to permit the fourth-fewest runs in the majors.

Those offensive shortcomings weren't exposed during the Rays' run to the World Series, mainly because their three earlier opponents (Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros) weren't good enough to do so (none of those teams finished higher than 12th in the majors in runs allowed).

The Dodgers, who yielded the second-fewest runs, were a far greater challenge, and that superiority in overall depth and talent ultimately proved to be too difficult an obstacle to overcome.

In essence, the Rays needed to be close to perfect to take the series. In Game 6, they simply weren't.

Thirteen Barbarians players have been charged by the Rugby Football Union for a breach of COVID-19 protocols which caused the cancellation of their match against England.

The Twickenham clash scheduled for last Sunday was aborted after RFU investigations established members of the Baa-Baas squad broke their coronavirus regulations.

It meant England's players were left without a warm-up match ahead of this Saturday's Six Nations showdown against Italy.

An RFU statement confirmed the players will face charges that include leaving the hotel without permission or without informing organisers of their whereabouts, and providing false statements during an investigation.

"The RFU recognises the pressure public scrutiny is placing on the players and therefore it will publish players' names, full judgements and sanctions after the hearings have concluded," said a statement from the RFU.

"There is no sanction table applicable to charges brought under Rule 5.12 therefore the Independent Panel can issue a range of sanctions at their discretion including fines and/or match bans and/or any other suitable sanction."

Players involved are set to attend virtual hearings over the next few weeks and face a range of sanctions, including playing suspensions and fines.

A number of the Barbarians players have since publicly apologised for the breach, with former England captain Chris Robshaw saying he was "sincerely remorseful" for his actions.

England coach Eddie Jones has lauded Ben Youngs and Jamie George as the duo prepare to make landmark appearances against Italy.

Leicester Tigers scrum-half Youngs will become just the second player, after Jason Leonard, to make it to 100 appearances for England when he takes to the field against Italy in Rome on Saturday.

England are chasing a bonus-point victory to keep them in contention for the Six Nations title, with leaders Ireland - one point better off - taking on third-place France in Saturday's later match.

Youngs is not the only player to be reaching an England milestone, with hooker George set to win his 50th cap.

The duo have been made to wait over seven months, with England having last played against Wales in March, prior to the coronavirus outbreak causing the suspension of the championship.

"I can only speak with great admiration of Ben," said Jones in a news conference.

"He had a difficult World Cup in 2015 and since then has worked extremely hard on his game. At his best he's close to the best half-back in the world.

"He's got a great running game, a good kicking game and he's an important, infectious character in our squad."

Jones added of George: "It's a great achievement for Jamie to be winning his 50th cap.

"He had a long apprenticeship but he's now fully established as our starting hooker."

Owen Farrell will captain the side, which features seven changes from the one which defeated Wales 33-30, and the Saracens fly-half echoed Jones' sentiments in regards to his team-mate Youngs.

"Everybody knows how good a player Ben is," Farrell said. "Not only or what he’s doing in recent times but for how long he's been doing it.

"He was in the England team when I was coming through, at a very young age, and he stepped up to the plate very quickly and has obviously been doing it ever since.

"He's brilliant to play with, he's a great driver of energy throughout the team which is brilliant for a scrum-half. He sees space very well and gets the team on the front foot."

Lewis Hamilton is the greatest Formula One driver of all time, according to former Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton won a record 92nd grand prix in Portugal last Sunday to surpass Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most race victories in history.

The six-time world champion has won 35.1 per cent of the 262 grands prix he has entered and converted 57 pole positions.

With a 77-point lead over Valtteri Bottas at the top of the driver's standings, Hamilton appears almost certain to equal Schumacher's record haul of seven titles.

Rosberg retired in 2016 after pipping Hamilton to his only driver's championship, but the pair are set to renew rivalries in Extreme E, an off-road racing series aimed at raising awareness of the climate crisis.

The German cannot wait to lock horns with his old team-mate and adversary again.

Speaking to Stats Perform News after the launch of the Extreme E championship, Rosberg said: "I was really thrilled to hear that Lewis is joining Extreme E as well.

"In parallel, I was planning my team and suddenly I hear that he's doing one too. That was awesome, because it gives us all the more opportunity in awareness of the championship, as he has a very big following as well.

"Of course, also in the racing itself, I really look forward to racing him, now as team owners on the race tracks around the world. That's going to be very, very exciting. It's a different challenge for us also, now in a different role and I go racing to win, to beat everyone else out there."

Looking back at 2016, when he won the title by five points, Rosberg said: "At that time, I was focused on making myself the best because I wanted to beat him.

"Lewis, as we could see recently, is the greatest F1 driver of all time. To beat Lewis driving the same car is never easy, so I am very proud I could make it. It is nice to revive our rivalry in this series but on different teams."

Rosberg, who will compete for Rosberg Extreme Racing, said of the event: "Extreme E combines real racing action, fierce competition, green technologies and zero-emission mobility and all that to help preserve our environment.

"Extreme E takes racing to uncharted territories, by bringing the action to some of the most remote locations, all of which are suffering from the destruction of our environment. We have already confirmed collaborations with local and international foundations, including the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, to leave a long-lasting local impact and, hopefully, reverse the damage done by climate change.

"Coming from F1 I have learned that it is almost always possible to find solutions to problems, as long as you're willing to fight that status quo and constantly search for better results. That is what racing is about and that is what Rosberg Extreme Racing is about."

Pascal Ackermann claimed victory on stage nine of the Vuelta a Espana after Sam Bennett was relegated for a shove in the final kilometre.

Tour de France points classification winner Bennett lived up to his favourite tag by seemingly powering to victory in Thursday's 157.7km leg from Castrillo del Val to Aguilar de Campoo.

However, his celebrations at what would have been the Irishman's second stage win of this year's event, were cut short as race organisers ruled Bennett was overly aggressive in the way he shoulder charged Emils Liepins.

Bora-Hansgrohe rider Ackermann started his sprint at the same time as Bennett but ultimately had less power and speed than his opponent, though in the end it was he who came out on top following a post-race review of the Liepins incident.

Jasper Philipsen tried to find a way between the pair but could not do so, the UAE Team Emirates rider finishing fifth behind Gerben Thijssen and Max Kanter, only to be pushed up by Bennett's disqualification.

"When I saw the video, it wasn't a fair action from him," Ackermann said. "I think, after all the crashes in the last week, we have to take care of the other guys. 

"If there is no hole, we have to stop. I feel sorry for Sam, but they took me out in Scheldeprijs and now we have to ride more fair. 

"I'm really happy about this victory and also for my team - they did an awesome job today, all from the front and I'm happy to give something back to them."

There was no substantial movement in terms of the General Classification as Richard Carapaz finished safely in the peloton, despite needing a bicycle change with 13km to go.

The overall race leader retains a 13-second gap on reigning champion Primoz Roglic, who dragged himself back into contention with an impressive victory on stage eight.

STAGE RESULT

1. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) 03:39:55
2. Gerben Thijssen (Lotto–Soudal) same time
3. Max Kanter (Team Sunweb) same time
4. Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) same time
5. Jakub Mareczko (CCC Team) same time

CLASSIFICATION STANDINGS

General Classification

1. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) 36:11:01
2. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) +00:13
3. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) +00:28

Points Classification

1. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 104
2. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) 81
3. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) 73

King of the Mountains

1. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) 27
2. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) 24
3. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) 24

What's next?

Friday sees the riders make the 185km journey from Castro Urdiales to Suances, a predominantly flat stage that includes a category three climb towards the end.

Lewis Hamilton made Formula One history last weekend with a 92nd race win and the Mercedes driver can match another record at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Michael Schumacher won 72 Grands Prix during his time with Ferrari, and six-time world champion Hamilton can reach the tally for the Silver Arrows if he wins at Imola.

The track is back on the calendar for the first time since 2006, though no fans will be able to attend due to a spike in coronavirus cases in Italy.

After his dominant victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix, Hamilton has won nine times this season as he closes in matching Schumacher's haul of seven F1 world titles.

We preview a race which starts at 13:10 local time (12:10 GMT).

 

LAST TIME OUT

It was a landmark win for Hamilton in Portugal, as the Briton surpassed Schumacher's record of 91 F1 victories.

Hamilton started on pole, but slipped to third place on the second lap before coasting to yet another victory ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

The 35-year-old leads the championship by 77 points and it is surely only a matter of time before he wraps up a fourth straight world title.

Alex Albon had been challenged by Christian Horner to make an impact in the Algarve, but the Red Bull driver got off to a slow start and never looked likely to challenge for points, ultimately finishing in 12th.

Carlos Sainz faded after a strong start, while Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel finished fourth and 10th respectively. 

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR AT IMOLA

All eyes will of course be on Hamilton, but Bottas will be looking to gain some of the limelight.

Bottas is 17 points ahead of Verstappen, and the pair might have to battle it out for second place with Hamilton riding on the crest of a wave.

If Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen finish on the podium at Imola, it will be the second-most repeated top-three in F1 history, behind a top three of Hamilton, Vettel and Nico Rosberg.

Albon will need to start mounting a response to his poor form if he is to cling onto his Red Bull seat next season, while Ferrari's Leclerc has not finished on the podium since the British Grand Prix at the start of August.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

Senna's legacy lives on – Ayrton Senna died in an accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. The legendary Brazilian took eight pole positions at Imola, more than any other driver at the Italian circuit.

Seven up for Mercedes – Mercedes are 12 points away from claiming the world F1 team championship for a seventh consecutive year, the best run for a team in F1.

History maker – This will be the 32nd different grand prix for Hamilton, who has won more races (27) and taken more pole positions (27) at different Grands Prix than any other driver.

Bottas' conversion issues continue – Bottas has claimed 14 poles in total, yet he has won just won five races after starting at the top of the grid.

Vettel's qualification woe – Vettel has failed to reach Q3 in the last eight qualifying sessions – the worst run in his F1 career. The four-time world champion has gone 15 consecutive races without reaching the podium.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS 

Drivers 
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 256 
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 179 
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 162 
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) – 80 
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 75 

Constructors 
1. Mercedes – 435 
2. Red Bull – 226 
3. Racing Point – 126 
4. McLaren – 124 
5. Renault – 120 

Thursday marks 17 years to the day since LeBron James made his NBA debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Sacramento Kings.

The number one overall draft pick, who had 25 points in his first game, went on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 2003-04 and has been at the forefront of the league ever since.

James has been MVP on four occasions and earlier this month collected his fourth championship ring, also winning Finals MVP for a fourth time at the age of 35.

Only three other players have been named Finals MVP after their 35th birthday: fellow greats Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, of course, Michael Jordan.

But how did they fare in the final years of their careers after being the main men on title-winning teams as veterans? And how might that colour what we can expect from LeBron beyond year 17?

We use Stats Perform Data to take a look.
 

WILT CHAMBERLAIN - 1972 Finals MVP, aged 35

The Finals MVP award was not introduced until the 1969 series when Chamberlain was already in his 30s – by then an NBA champion with the Philadelphia 76ers and a four-time MVP – but he was belatedly recognised as he guided the Lakers past the New York Knicks three years later, winning their first title since moving to Los Angeles.

But Wilt would not then go on to add to his honours as he played just one more season before retiring.

The veteran still played all 82 regular season games in 1972-73, averaging more minutes (43.2) than in the championship-winning campaign, but he endured the lowest scoring year of his career, with 13.2 points per game. He had peaked at 50.4 points 11 years earlier.

Shooting less regularly, there were still flashes of Chamberlain's old magic as he remarkably had the NBA's highest all-time field-goal percentage across a season (minimum 500 attempts) with 72.7 per cent made. Only DeAndre Jordan in three straight seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers – between 2014 and 2017 – has shot above 70 per cent.

The Lakers will certainly hope James does not go down the same path, having been backed to play into his 40s by LA assistant Jason Kidd and former Miami Heat team-mate Dwyane Wade.
 

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR - 1985 Finals MVP, aged 38

Abdul-Jabbar won his first Finals MVP with the Milwaukee Bucks the year before Chamberlain's but, despite collecting two more rings in the interim, had to wait until 1985 to be hailed again as the postseason's outstanding player. Kareem outperformed Lakers team-mate Magic Johnson – 12 years his junior – as they beat the Boston Celtics and he became the oldest NBA Finals MVP.

And yet his career was not over, with the support of Johnson surely an example the 2020 Lakers would like to follow as Anthony Davis aids LeBron.

Abdul-Jabbar's production actually improved in the season he turned 39 – scoring 23.4 points per game, up from 22.0 – but that would be the last year he averaged at least 20.0, ending a record 17-season streak that has since been matched by Karl Malone and James, who can surpass that mark in 2020-21.

The Lakers kept winning as Kareem's numbers understandably dropped, though, taking the title in 1987 and 1988 – led by Johnson and James Worthy.

A 42-year-old Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 after seeing his field-goal percentage dip below 50 per cent in a season for the first time at 47.5. His astounding 19-year stretch of making more than half of his attempts stands as a record, later tied by Shaquille O'Neal.


MICHAEL JORDAN - 1998 Finals MVP, aged 35

Jordan might be considered the clear rival to James in the 'GOAT' debate, but LeBron is not likely to follow in MJ's footsteps after his 'Last Dance' with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Beating the Utah Jazz, he won a third straight title and a third straight Finals MVP for the second time yet was done at the top level thereafter.

The 35-year-old retired from the sport again, only to return once more in 2001 with the Washington Wizards.

Jordan would donate his salary to relief efforts after the September 11 terror attack but struggled to deliver on the floor as he battled injuries.

The statistics when MJ did appear in 2001-02 – he made 53 starts in 60 regular season games – did not make for great reading. The five-time MVP ranked worst in the league for three-point percentage (minimum 50 attempts) at 18.9 per cent, making just 10. He was 41st of the 48 players who attempted at least 1000 field goals that year at 41.6 per cent.

Jordan quit the sport for good in 2003.
 

LEBRON JAMES - 2020 Finals MVP, aged 35

If Abdul-Jabbar provides the best example of how a superstar should treat the final years of his career, LeBron appears well placed to similarly profit.

With the arrival of Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, James' game changed to incorporate a second elite scorer, becoming a passer as he logged a career-high 10.2 assists per game.

LeBron became the oldest player in NBA history to average 25.0 points and 10.0 assists. No rival has ever managed such a performance past the age of 30, let alone 35.

Crucially, the former Cavs man was also more protected. He visited the foul line less often (down from 7.6 free-throw attempts to 5.7) and recorded fewer rebounds (down from 8.5 to 7.8)

And his 34.6 minutes per game – a career-low – represented the fewest in league history while scoring 25.0 points and 10.0 assists.

With a gruelling next season just around the corner, James is likely to play even fewer minutes again but, alongside Davis, still looks primed to make the difference when it matters most.

Legendary Wales wing JJ Williams has died at the age of 72.

Williams was a star wing of the Wales sides of the 1970s, scoring 12 tries in 30 Tests between 1973 and 1979.

A sprinter who competed at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, he was then part of the Welsh sides that won four Five Nations titles, including two Grand Slams.

Williams also made seven Test appearances for the Lions in tours to South Africa in 1974 and New Zealand in 1977.

During the former, he scored two tries in as many Tests against the Springboks and a record-equalling six in a 97-0 rout of South West Districts.

The clinical flyer sits third on the all-time list of Lions try-scorers with 22 in 26 games.

Williams leaves wife Jane and children Kathryn, James and Rhys, the former European champion and Commonwealth Games silver medallist in the 400metre hurdles.

Wales players will wear black armbands in Saturday's Six Nations match with Scotland in Llanelli, where Williams spent much of his club career.

Head coach Wayne Pivac said: "On behalf of the national squad, management and team, our thoughts and condolences go out to JJ's family and friends.

"It always is poignant when you have a player of that ilk passing away. We'll show our respects by wearing the black armbands."

Gael Fickou will move from centre to the wing in place of the injured Teddy Thomas for France's decisive Six Nations clash with Ireland in Paris on Saturday.

Racing 92 winger Thomas scored the last of France's five tries in last weekend's 38-21 victory over Wales but has been ruled out of the Ireland game at Stade de France with a hamstring injury.

Fickou shifts out wide in the absence of the clinical Thomas, with Arthur Vincent coming in at centre in the only change from the win over Wales.

Explaining his decision, France head coach Fabien Galthie said: "We know that Jonny Sexton uses his foot to put pressure on our wing. Fickou has this experience to deal with it.

"We had to manage the same thing against Wales. Arthur Retiere is also ready and is on the bench."

France are seeking their first tournament triumph in a decade as they gear up to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Les Bleus start their final game in Paris a point behind leaders Ireland and level with England, who face Italy in Rome.

"It's quite simple - we have as much chance of winning as England and Ireland," Galthie said. "But above all we try to be consistent. 

"We want consistency. We should not be weighed down with assumptions of what could happen."

Bernard le Roux again partners Paul Willemse at lock after his citing for an allegedly striking Alun Wyn Jones was dismissed by an independent panel.

The game has been given the all clear to go ahead despite French president Emmanuel Macron tightening the country's coronavirus restrictions this week.

Ireland announced their squad on Wednesday, with Robbie Henshaw replacing injured Leinster team-mate Garry Ringrose in their only change.

France: Anthony Bouthier, Vincent Rattez, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (captain), Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Arthur Retiere, Thomas Ramos.

Ben Youngs will win his 100th cap for England in their long-delayed Six Nations clash with Italy on Saturday.

The 31-year-old Leicester Tigers scrum-half will become just the second England player to tot up a century of appearances, after Jason Leonard, who won 114 caps from 1990 to 2004.

England's starting XV for the match at Rome's Stadio Olimpico shows seven changes to the side that beat Wales 33-30 in March, before the championship was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most are forced on coach Eddie Jones by injury, with Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, George Ford, Joe Marler, Courtney Lawes and Mark Wilson all sidelined, while George Kruis misses out as he heads to Japan to continue his career.

Hooker Jamie George wins a 50th cap, and he and Youngs will lead out the team, which will be captained by Owen Farrell.

Into the side comes full-back George Furbank, with Jonathan Joseph and Henry Slade lining up at centre as Farrell moves to fly-half, while Billy Vunipola and Mako Vunipola feature in the pack along with George and the uncapped Exeter Chiefs lock Jonny Hill.

Jones, whose side will be chasing a bonus-point win that would keep them in title contention ahead of Ireland's clash with France later in the day, said: "We've trained with good intensity this week and the squad are excited by the challenge of performing at our best against Italy.

"The team have prepared well and are looking forward to putting on an England shirt and showing what they can do.

"We will also celebrate two major achievements in Ben Youngs' and Jamie George's cap milestones.  It's testimony to their skill, hard work and love of playing for England, and there is more to come from both of them."

 

England: George Furbank, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Tom Dunn, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Ollie Lawrence, Ollie Thorley.

Alun Wyn Jones is set to become the most-capped player in Test rugby when Wales conclude their Six Nations campaign against Scotland on Saturday.

Wales captain Jones will break the record set by New Zealand great Richie McCaw when he makes his 149th appearance at Parc y Scarlets this weekend.

The 35-year-old lock made his international debut in 2006 and has featured in 139 Tests for Wales and nine with the British and Irish Lions.

Head coach Wayne Pivac said: "It's a fantastic day for Alun Wyn, isn't it. What can you say? We don't have enough time to talk about the guy. Just a tremendous leader in this group, leads by example.

"When he speaks, everyone listens. He's always matter of fact, to the point. Just a fantastic guy to have in our environment and I'm so pleased he's going to be able to do that.

"He's had to wait longer than we anticipated with the summer tour [called] off, but certainly to do it in a Six Nations match will be special for him."

Jones will be joined in the second row against Wales by Will Rowlands, who was handed a first Wales start by Pivac as one of six changes that also saw debutant Shane Lewis-Hughes and Tomas Francis named among the forwards.

George North makes way for Liam Williams on the wing and drops out of the 23-man squad, while Gareth Davies starts at scrum-half due to Rhys Webb's injury and Owen Watkin returns at centre.

 

Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Rhys Carre, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Alun Wyn Jones, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: Sam Parry, Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Cory Hill, James Davies, Lloyd Williams, Rhys Patchell, Nick Tompkins.

NBA players feel "negative" towards the proposal to restart the league on December 22, according to National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) executive director Michele Roberts.

The 2019-20 season was suspended for over four months during the coronavirus pandemic and was finished in a bio-secure bubble in Florida, though the regular season was reduced from 82 games, with the Los Angeles Lakers winning the NBA Finals on October 11.

The NBA is said to be hoping for a 72-game regular season for 2020-21, beginning three days before Christmas Day, with free agency commencing shortly after the draft on November 18 and training camps starting on December 1.

Roberts does not consider that to be a workable solution and says players she has spoken to are against the idea.

"Given all that has to be resolved between now and a December 22 date, factoring that there will be financial risks by a later start date, it defies common sense that it can all be done in time," Roberts told The Athletic.

"Our players deserve the right to have some runway so that they can plan for a start that soon. The overwhelming response from the players that I have received to this proposal has been negative."

The deadline for the NBA or NBPA to serve notice to terminate the collective bargaining agreement is set for Friday, though the parties can extend negotiations beyond that point.

"The union and the players are analysing all of the information and will not be rushed. We have requested and are receiving data from the parties involved and will work on a counterproposal as expeditiously as possible," said Roberts.

She stressed it was wrong to consider Friday "as a drop dead date”.

Roberts added: "This summer, up through just two short weeks ago, our players accepted the challenges posed by and risks to their personal health and safety in order to save our season.

"Separated from their communities and their families, these men lived in isolation for months. Each day could have been met with the news that this awful virus had invaded their space and they were exposed to likely infection. They stayed the course, followed the protocol and, as a result, were able to deliver fabulous competition and completed the season able to crown a champion.

"It has been reported that those efforts generated an additional $1.5billion of revenue to be enjoyed by the players – and the team owners."

Alfa Romeo will remain in Formula One for 2021 after extending their naming rights deal with Sauber.

Sauber signed a technical and commercial partnership with Alfa Romeo in 2018 and the following season saw the team rebranded, putting the Italian car manufacturer's name back on the grid after a 33-year absence.

To celebrate the announcement of the extension and F1 returning to Imola for the first time since 2006 this weekend, a one-off livery featuring the Italian flag on the roll-hoop and rear wing endplates will be run at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Team principal Frederic Vasseur said: "The extension of our relationship with Alfa Romeo is a true statement of intent from both parties. In Sauber, Alfa Romeo found a committed, performance-driven partner to which they could entrust their brand: we are honoured to carry the heritage and past success of Alfa Romeo in our name.

"Both parties always intended for this relationship to bear fruit in the long term: we have laid some solid foundations in the last three seasons and we aim to reap the rewards of this work in 2021 and beyond."

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