Froome to adopt ruthless approach in Pyrenees

The Briton leads Italian Fabio Aru by 18 seconds and France’s Romain Bardet by 51 seconds and he will be watching them closely during a punishing 214.

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5-km trek in the Pyrenees ending with a short, brutal climb to Peyragudes.

Twice champion Alberto Contador and, to a lesser extent, Colombian Nairo Quintana, had bad days in the ninth stage in the Jura last Sunday, but Froome will not give them space.

“We don’t want guys who have lost time to get back into the game,” the defending champion told reporters on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the death of Briton Tom Simpson on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

The last 50 kilometres of Thursday’s stage are extremely brutal.

The riders will tackle the climb up to the Port de Bales (11.7km at an average gradient of 7.7 percent), a descent to the foot of the Col de Peyresourde (9.7km at 7.8 pc), a very short downhill and the final ascent to Peyragudes (2.4km at 8.4 pc) with gradients sometimes reaching 20 percent.

“It’s quite savage. I think if someone blows in those few hundreds of metres (at 20 per cent), there could be some really significant time gaps,” said Froome.

“It’s one of the key stages of this year’s race.”

Froome is likely to race conservatively.

“The number one priority is not to allow some guys to come back into the GC game and of course for me personally to keep a close eye on Aru,” the three-times champion said.

“I will stick to him like glue.”

Thursday’s stage is made even trickier by the fact that the following one is a punchy 101km trek in the Pyrenees – the kind of short stage that is hard to control.

“It’s hard to hold anything back on a stage like tomorrow but the following day will be on the back of our minds,” said Froome.

In 2013, in a similar stage, Team Sky were blown apart after repeated attacks early on and Froome was quickly isolated by his rivals.

“It’s going to be flat out racing, we know what to expect,” he said.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)

Mumford key in AFL derby midfield battle

Greater Western Sydney ruckman Shane Mumford doubles as both battering ram and barometer at the AFL club.

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Pleasingly for the Giants, Mumford seems to save his best performances for former side Sydney.

Mumford left the Swans following the 2013 season, having been squeezed out of the club to accommodate the arrival of superstar signing Lance Franklin.

The former boilermaker made an immediate impact at his new club, earning the three Brownlow votes in GWS’s season-opening win over the Swans in 2014.

In round five of this year, Mumford helped himself to 62 hitouts in the Sydney derby and was awarded the Brett Kirk medal as best on ground in GWS’s 42-point win.

“Hopefully he can replicate that for us,” GWS midfielder Dylan Shiel said ahead of Saturday’s Sydney derby at Spotless Stadium.

“The way he attacks the ball and attacks the man is as good as I’ve ever seen.

“Shane has a massive influence on our football club and in particular our midfield.

“When he’s up and going, everyone knows that he’s crashing packs.”

Few players in the league carry such a reputation for dishing out pain but the 31-year-old is also among the competition’s most skilled ruckmen.

Shiel noted Mumford and the Giants’ midfielders will need to lift for what shapes as a crucial battle with the Swans’ in-form engine room.

“They’ve definitely hit some really good form and they’re just competing really hard. They’ve got some really good midfielders,” he said.

“Contested footy is a really big strength of the Swans and over the last couple of months, they’ve been No.1 at it.

“We (GWS’s midfield) have been going OK, probably similar to the whole team, we’ve been inconsistent.”

The 13th derby shapes as arguably the most high-stakes clash between Sydney’s two clubs, with the exception of last year’s qualifying final at ANZ Stadium.

The Swans sit eighth on the ladder and their finals hopes will take a hit if they lose, while the Giants could be dislodged from the top two if they’re defeated.

“If you drop a couple of games you can definitely drop down the ladder fairly quickly. It’s going to be a massive match,” Shiel said.

Cronk’s cross-field kick one for the ages

All the sinews in Cooper Cronk’s body have done it again.

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If Wednesday night proves to be the veteran halfback’s State of Origin swansong, then he has left Queensland fans with a jaw-dropping moment to remember.

Cronk’s cross-field kick for Valentine Holmes’ second try in the 22-6 victory at Suncorp Stadium was pure perfection.

With the Maroons leading 6-0 just past the midway point of the first half, the 33-year-old reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out perhaps the best kick of his career.

Cronk was just five metres from Queensland’s tryline when he spotted Holmes on the left wing, having drifted a few metres off his marker, Blake Ferguson.

NSW players were expecting Cronk to take on the defensive line or dish off a pass but instead, he lowered his gaze and let rip with a precise drop punt.

It went 40 metres on an acute angle, stayed low and landed straight on Holmes’ chest – much to the bewilderment of the Blues, who seemed to have the life sucked out of them in an instant.

Cronk’s winning field goal in the 2012 series decider – the one where he famously said “every sinew in (his) body came together in one perfect whole” – might go down as his most important kick, but as far as technique goes, this one trumped it.

“It comes down to moments. Origin is about moments,” Cronk said.

“What anyone does on that field tonight and other big games, it’s about preparation, practice, repetition.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“As long as you’ve got more Maroon jerseys in the picture, it gives you an opportunity.”

It was certainly no fluke – Cronk said he had been working on the play with Queensland’s wingers throughout the entire series.

Indeed, Holmes looked like he knew exactly where he had to be.

“When you come into an environment like this, when you’ve got players from other clubs, it’s about fast-tracking them,” Cronk said.

“We did a little bit of work on that, not only this week but the first couple of games.

“I’m just glad it happened tonight.”

Loss is players’ fault, not Daley: Cordner

NSW captain Boyd Cordner has taken a bullet for coach Laurie Daley after the Blues slumped to their 11th series defeat in 12 years on Wednesday.

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This year’s fierce State of Origin series hit somewhat of an anti-climax after Queensland pummelled the Blues into submission with a 22-6 cakewalk at Suncorp Stadium.

Other than a 10-minute period when the Blues got within six midway through the second half, Daley’s side barely held a candle against the Maroons’ near-perfect use of the ball.

“We weren’t at our best and we got ourselves back into it but then again, there was a penalty and a couple of errors when you chase points,” Daley said after the match.

“First half our completion rate wasn’t good enough. They made 1-2 errors and were at 90 per cent, and we were high 60s, 70s. We didn’t have any field position in the first half.”

Daley was left to rue a series where his squad flexed their Origin muscle in game one to convince critics that the Maroon tide was finally set to be repelled.

However the Maroons’ fought back from the death in game two to force a decider before punishing NSW for their ill-discipline in game three.

Asked who should be blamed for their inconsistency, Daley said: “I think it’s the coaches.”

But Cordner interjected to take a shot for Daley, saying the Blues great had shown plenty of faith by sticking with the same 17 players for the entire series.

“I’ll step in there. I reckon it’s the players’ (fault),” Cordner said.

“Laurie and the coaching staff have been nothing but great every time I’ve been wearing a blue jersey, especially this series and we had the same team all the way through the series.”

He said he and his teammates needed to wear the blame after missing 31 tackles to 11, making more errors, and giving away more penalties.

“It falls back on myself being the captain and the playing group as well. We played really well game one and most of game two, it was really disappointing how that ended,” he said.

“Come up here tonight and we didn’t start the game off how we planned.

“It doesn’t come back on the coaches. It’s the players. I’ll put my hand up there, we dropped too much ball, we gave them too much field position and easy penalties.

“To do that to a side like Queensland especially playing at Suncorp, you can’t do that.”

New-look Maroons pack wins forward battle

They were pummelled in game one but Queensland’s renovated pack has laid the platform for another era of State of Origin supremacy.

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Led by rookie props Dylan Napa and Jarrod Wallace, the Maroons easily won the battle of the forwards in Wednesday night’s 22-6 victory over NSW.

All the talk heading into the series decider was that the Blues, led by chief destroyer Andrew Fifita, were supposed to have the clear advantage up the middle.

But that was never going to fly with Queensland’s new generation of brutes, who muzzled their star-studded opponents by simply working harder for longer.

“It’s no secret that we had a bit of a slow start to the series through the middle,” Napa said.

“I remember being here after game one and the feeling.

“We fixed it up.

“We went to Sydney, got a win there so we could push it to a decider in Brisbane. It worked perfect.”

Maroons coach Kevin Walters made wholesale changes up front after their limp Origin I defeat, dumping stalwarts Sam Thaiday, Nate Myles, Aidan Guerra and Jacob Lillyman in pursuit of fresh blood.

Not that their replacements inspired much confidence – most armchair punters had to hit up Wikipedia to figure out who Tim Glasby was, and even Coen Hess admitted he didn’t think he was ready for a rep call-up.

Matt Scott (knee) also didn’t play a minute of the series while Queensland were also without retired great Corey Parker for the first time.

All up, it was Queensland’s most inexperienced pack in 20 years.

“We had to introduce some younger players with a lot of energy,” Walters said.

“That was the key there. We were just out enthused there in game one.

“They really dominated us and you can’t win at this level without strong defence.”

Napa said he hadn’t given much thought to what the new, youthful Maroons pack might be capable of in the years to come.

“Every bit of experience is going to help in the future but right now I’m just enjoying the win with all the boys,” he said.

Bench weapon Hess, meanwhile, was too busy pinching himself.

“It’s pretty crazy how fast everything has come. I was playing Queensland Cup last year and now I have won an Origin series,” he said.

“It is pretty mind blowing.”