LONDON, United Kingdom, Jul 17 – Leeds United were promoted to the Premier League on Friday after West Bromwich Albion’s 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield ensured the Championship leaders will end their 16-year exile from the top-flight.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side were able to celebrate promotion without kicking a ball as second placed Albion’s failure to take three points guaranteed Leeds will finish in the top two.
“We are back. Leeds United are Premier League,” the club said on their Twitter account moments after the final whistle.
Leeds are five points clear at the top and they can clinch the Championship title with a draw against Derby at Pride Park on Sunday.
Albion’s defeat means third placed Brentford will reach the top-flight for the first time in 73 years if they win their last two games.
A tense 1-0 win over Barnsley at Elland Road, secured by Michael Sollbauer’s own goal, had moved Leeds to the brink of promotion on Thursday.
Now they can look forward to renewing old rivalries with Manchester United and Chelsea next season.
Leeds goalkeeper Kiko Casilla tweeted: “We are BACK! We are in the Premier League! Yessssssssssss! We are Leeds.
“Many days dreaming of this Day. We deserve it. Proud of this TEAM, proud of our supporters. I can not describe this moment.”
Bielsa has earned iconic status in west Yorkshire after the Leeds boss finally put his club back on the football map.
Leeds are one of England’s biggest clubs, with their legion of fanatical fans following them around the country and regularly attracting home crowds of over 30,000 despite years of underachievement.
Their long-awaited return to the top tier completes a turbulent journey that saw them become a laughing stock when they languished in third tier obscurity.
Leeds have been away from the Premier League for so long that Twitter and Instagram didn’t exist the last time they played in the top-flight.
So it was fitting that Leeds winger Ezgjan Alioski took to Instagram to celebrate, writing: “The Whites are going up!”
Liverpool midfielder James Milner, who started his career with Leeds, tweeted: “Congratulations LUFC. #backwhereyoubelong.”
Leeds went through 14 different managers following their 2004 relegation from the Premier League, until the sleeping giant was awoken by former Lazio and Marseille boss Bielsa.
Bielsa has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the ‘Damned United’ by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as ‘Dirty Leeds’ in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Don Revie era.
The 64-year-old Argentine led Leeds within touching distance of promotion in his first season, but they crumbled in the final weeks and were beaten in the play-of semi-finals by Derby.
– ‘What a day’ –
Notorious for working his players so hard in training that they often burn out by the end of the season, Bielsa has benefitted from the coronavirus hiatus allowing his players to come back refreshed for the final furlong of the promotion race this term.
Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.
But since being relegated from the top tier, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.
Describing the club’s ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had “lived the dream”.
Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.
No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa, nicknamed El Loco for his intense personality, is so beloved after just two years in charge.
Former Leeds winger Aaron Lennon, until last month a Burnley player, was born in the city and summed up the joy at his old club as he tweeted: “Finally!!! Back in the Prem. Congrats @LUFC.
“What a day for everyone associated with the club and the city. Leeds Leeds Leeds.”
Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20 – World 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19
Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections
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.
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.
More to follow