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Verstappen wins Austrian Grand Prix

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AFP

By AFP
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Max Verstappen overcame a poor start to storm to the sixth victory of his career and end Mercedes’ record unbeaten start to the season when he triumphed in Sunday’s thrilling Austrian Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old Dutchman, who won last year’s race at the Spielberg circuit, recovered after dropping to seventh and charged through to battle past Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in stirring fashion with two laps remaining.

His dramatic overtaking move was immediately announced as under investigation by the stewards, Leclerc feeling that he was given insufficient space as Verstappen forced him wide off the circuit.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas came home third ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari and defending five-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes, the series leader having suffered front wing and heating problems.

British rookie Lando Norris was an excellent sixth for McLaren ahead of Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull, Carlos Sainz who finished eighth in the second McLaren after starting from the back of the grid, Kimi Raikkonen and his Alfa Romeo team-mate Antionio Giovinazzi.

“After that start, I thought my race was over,” said Verstappen. “But after the pit-stops we were flying. It was hard racing – and if that’s not allowed, what’s the point in racing in F1. We may as well go home.”

His victory brought Red Bull’s engine supplier Honda their first win since the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix after returning to Formula One.

Leclerc said: “I had more degradation than I thought at the end – we touched and I had to go wide and I didn’t have a chance to fight back.”

The race, which was a perfect antidote for the sport after the previous week’s dreary procession in France, began in sweltering conditions with an air temperature of 35 degrees and the track at 58, Leclerc making a smooth start from his second pole position to lead into the newly-named Lauda Curve.

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Behind him, Verstappen – the other 21-year-old in the youngest front row in F1 history – was bogged down by his anti-stall and dropped to seventh as Bottas and the rest took advantage.

By lap 15, Leclerc led by 3.6sec ahead of Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen with Norris taking sixth ahead of Raikkonen.

Both Ferraris traded fastest laps while the Mercedes men fought to preserve their tyres before Bottas and Vettel dived into the pits on lap 22, followed immediately by Leclerc.

All switched to ‘hards’ in the pits, suggesting they hoped to drive to the flag while Hamilton continued on his original mediums. “Tyres are still good,” he told the team after clocking a fastest lap.

Soon after this, he reported front wing problems were costing him down-force and time. After 30 laps, he pitted for tyres and a new wing, in 11 seconds, re-joining fifth behind Vettel.

Verstappen led briefly, but also pitted, gifting Leclerc with the initiative again ahead of Bottas and Vettel. The Dutchman rejoined fourth with Hamilton fifth.

The champion, 13 seconds adrift in fifth, appeared unimpressed, especially by further instructions to lift and coast 400 metres before major curves to aid cooling.

With Hamilton out of serious contention, it was Verstappen who supplied the thrills as he surged past Vettel, and then, on lap 56 and to the delight of the ‘orange army’ baking in open grandstands, dived past Bottas at Turn Three.

For the Dutchman, it was ‘game on’ with 12 laps to go as he set after Leclerc with a fastest lap to trim the gap to 4.8 seconds. Within three laps, it was 3.7. “Blistering pace, Max, keep it up,” said Red Bull.

With five laps to go, it was down to less than a second. “Leave me alone,” said Leclerc as he saw Verstappen in his mirrors, knowing what lay ahead.

The Red Bull man made his first attack on lap 68, at Turn Three, but Leclerc resisted. One lap later, Verstappen made it stick as he swept inside him and pushed the Ferrari wide before racing to the flag.

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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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