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Joshua sheds, Ruiz piles before ‘Clash on the Dunes’

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Ruiz and Joshua at the weigh-in ahead of controversial rematch © AFP / Giuseppe CACACE

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Dec 6Anthony Joshua on Friday weighed in more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds) lighter than heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr ahead of their controversial rematch in Saudi Arabia.

The leaner and meaner British boxer seeks to win back the IBF, WBA and WBO titles that he lost to Ruiz in a shock June defeat in New York in a high-profile duel on Saturday, dubbed “Clash on the Dunes”.

Joshua weighed in much lighter compared to their June encounter, hitting the scales at 16 stones and 13 pounds (107.5 kg) ahead of the fight, seen as the biggest test of his boxing career.

Ruiz, sporting a Mexican sombrero hat, tipped the scales at 20 stones and three pounds (128.36 kg), heavier than what he weighed in their June encounter in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Joshua weighed in at 247.8 pounds (112.4 kg) in June, but the boxer has shed muscle mass in order to improve his mobility around the ring.

“Before I was trying to bench press a house. I used my body to get where I needed but then I started realising the sweet science of the sport,” Joshua said.

“I am punching like a horse kicking backwards right now.”

The stakes could not be higher for Joshua, who would face a long road back to the pinnacle of the heavyweight division if he loses Saturday’s much-hyped fight.

Victory, by contrast, would re-establish his credentials in the division, opening the door to money-spinning fights against WBC champion Deontay Wilder or fellow Briton Tyson Fury.

Ruiz says he is ready to take on the British challenger despite his increased fitness.

“I know he’s lost weight and will try to box me around, but it’s just my job to prevent that,” Ruiz said earlier this week.

“I’m ready for whatever comes my way.”

The rematch will be taking place in a purpose built 15,000-seat arena in Diriyah on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia secured the staging rights to the rematch after reportedly offering an astronomical purse to promoters and fighters.

Joshua’s take is reported to be around $60 million while promoters Matchroom Boxing were handed an eye-popping $40 million site fee to award the fight to Saudi Arabia.

Ruiz, who was locked into a rematch at a set figure as a condition of his first meeting with Joshua, is expected to receive $9 million.

Meanwhile, Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wished Ruiz, who was born in the United States to Mexican parents, well for the fight.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist populist who took office last year, said in a video posted on Twitter: “I wish you all the best tomorrow in Saudi Arabia.”

Pointing to a Mexican flag — whose seal portrays an eagle devouring a snake — Lopez Obrador told the 30-year-old boxer: “You represent the Mexican people, our beloved country, home to your parents, grandparents and ancestors.”

After Ruiz’s June upset, Lopez Obrador invited him to the presidential palace in Mexico City, where he said he admired his “sacrifice, struggle, perseverence and stubbornness.”

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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.

“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.

“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”

With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.

There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Rugby Championship

There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.

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That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.

South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.

“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.

‘Seven Nations’

Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?

Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.

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England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.

Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.

Super Rugby

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Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.

The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.

Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.

South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.

‘Pro16’

Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.

“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.

While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.

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Currie Cup

The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.

First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.

But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections

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By NATION REPORTER

Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

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Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.

The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.

Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.

Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.

Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.

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