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Waratahs star welcomes away games

NSW Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps has welcomed a run of away games for the defending Super Rugby champions after their wretched home start.

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With the cricket World Cup taking over the Moore Park precinct for the rest of February and most of March, the Waratahs won’t play at home for five weeks.

Beaten at home by Western Force in their season opener last Sunday, NSW face away games against the Rebels, Reds and Highlanders.

“If anything, it’s quite good we get a load of our away games out early in the season,” Phipps said.

“There’s nothing better than being on the road and grouping together with the boys without any external distractions out there.

“It’s good that we will be able to get in and start forming those bonds in the rooms and the team room away on the road and get that tight sort of feeling amongst ourselves.”

While the Reds, Brumbies and even the Force have longer established rivalries with the Waratahs, the Rebels – who NSW face in Melbourne on Friday – have already developed plenty of passion for their clashes.

“When I was down there, it was always about playing NSW,” said Phipps, who spent three years with the Rebels.

“They will be firing up, This is their traditional big game.

“They will be happy to be playing at home at their self-appointed stockade and we’ll have to be on our guns to hold them out.”

Phipps hit out at people who criticised NSW coach Michael Cheika for doing both the Waratahs and Wallabies coaching jobs, and said their mentor was wrong to take the blame for last week’s loss.

“It was pretty unfair for him to be able to say that it was his fault and then people asking him questions about the dual role and is that affecting his coaching,” Phipps said.

“Thats absolutely rubbish. You can’t really coach too much about blokes dropping the ball cold and not having the intent to get there.

“It’s not his fault.”

With last week’s starting Rebels halfback Nic Stirzaker suspended, Phipps could this Friday directly oppose his former Sydney University clubmate and fellow Wallabies halfback Luke Burgess.

“When I was a younger fellow in the third grade colts, I always used to look up to Burgo, so it will be a good matchup there. We get on quite well, so we’ll be pushing each other,” Phipps said.

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Force expect floppy Reds to fire back

The Western Force are adamant they won’t be lulled into complacency when they take on the Queensland Reds in Saturday night’s clash at Suncorp Stadium.

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The Reds produced one of the shocks of round one – and not for a good reason – when they copped a 47-3 hammering at the hands of the Brumbies.

In contrast, the Force opened their campaign in the best possible way with a bonus-point 25-13 win over the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.

The Reds will be boosted by the inclusion of playmaker James O’Connor, meaning code-hopper Karmichael Hunt is likely to earn some respite at fullback.

Queensland players have vowed to make amends for their round-one flop, and Force scrumhalf Alby Mathewson said his team were preparing themselves for a torrid affair.

“We are actually not taking too much out of their weekend’s performance, because we expect them to be a lot better this week,” Mathewson said.

“They’re at their home ground, and they’ll want to put on a good performance – not only for themselves, but for their home crowd.”

The Force haven’t lost to the Reds since 2012 in a stretch that has featured four wins and a draw.

But with prop Pek Cowan (neck) and fullback Dane Haylett-Petty (foot) joining hamstrung skipper Matt Hodgson on the sidelines, the Force will have to dig deep into their reserves.

Mathewson played a key role in the win over NSW, with his deft chip setting up a crucial try for winger Luke Morahan.

The former All Black is signed on with the Force as one of its marquee players until the end of next season, and he is keen to extend that stay even longer if the Australian Rugby Union allows him.

Due to his foreigner status, Mathewson would only be allowed to re-sign if granted special dispensation by the ARU.

“It’s a tricky one with eligibility rules,” Mathewson said.

“But if I could, I’d like to finish my career here.

“I love it here. I love what we’re building. Everything about Perth – the people, all the boys.”

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Worner’s TV faith unshaken by writedowns

Seven West Media boss Tim Worner says he believes in the future of free to air television despite the broadcaster taking a near-$1 billion writedown on the value of its TV assets and a gloomy outlook for advertising revenue.

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Seven West announced a $993.6 million net loss for the six months to December 31 on Wednesday, the result weighed down by writedowns totalling $1.15 billion and concentrated on revised values of TV programming deals.

The massive half-year loss follows a $150 million profit in the same period a year earlier.

“This adjustment reflects the revision of future growth rates given recent subdued advertising conditions in the overall market,” Mr Worner said.

“This does not diminish our belief in the future of FTA television or our ability to maintain leadership, revenue share and cost control in the business.”

Always the core business of Seven West, television increased its share of revenue for the company – accounting now for 72 per cent of group revenue versus 70 per cent a year earlier as the newspaper and magazine businesses face tough trading environments.

Seven West’s television revenue was down one per cent on the previous half-year to $677.2 million – a symptom of a weak advertising market that Mr Worner expects to continue.

“In terms of our outlook for this financial year, our advertising market growth expectations for television are for a slight decline,” he said.

The Seven Network performed well against competitors in the tough conditions, increasing revenue share in markets around the country and claiming 40.8 per cent of national revenue in 2014.

Mr Worner flagged an increased focus on sports programming, where Seven holds broadcast rights for the AFL, the Australian Open and Wimbledon and the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

He also pointed to Seven’s stable of programs as a competitive strength.

Mr Worner said there was a 19 per cent increase in content sales for Seven programs compared to a year earlier, with Australian episodes of flagship My Kitchen Rules now sold in 100 countries around the world and sales of the MKR format to eight territories including Canada.

Underlying net profit for the group was $137.6 million – down 8.4 per cent, while group revenue was 3.4 per cent lower at $943 million.

Seven West’s newspaper business, publisher of The West Australian, suffered a 10.3 per cent slide in revenue to $125 million for the half, while its Pacific Magazines business had a 7.8 per cent drop in revenue to $114.1 million.

One analyst, who asked not to be named, said the dividend on offer was attractive but tempered by risks around Seven West’s earnings.

Seven West shares were at $2.24 in March, 2014. The shares ended Wednesday steady at $1.42.

SEVEN WEST SUFFERS UNDER TV WRITEDOWNS.

* Half year net loss of $993.6m, compared to interim profit of $150.1m in 2013.

* Revenue of $933.9m, down 3.4pct, from $966.3m

* Interim dividend of six cents, unchanged.

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McCartin could play in AFL against ‘Dons

St Kilda will unveil AFL No.

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1 draft pick Paddy McCartin at Saturday’s intraclub match and he could play in the much-discussed Essendon game.

Coach Alan Richardson is rapt with how the key forward has coped with his first pre-season, saying his only hiccup had been a skin infection before Christmas.

The Saints have confirmed McCartin will line up in Saturday’s game at their Seaford headquarters.

Richardson is unsure whether he will blood him in their opening NAB Challenge game against the Bombers on March 7 in Morwell.

Essendon will field a team heavy with top-up players as they await the verdict from the AFL anti-doping tribunal hearing into their 2012 supplements scandal.

“He’s preparing really well – if he was sitting here, he’d certainly be putting his hand up,” Richardson told SEN.

“We’ll make a decision for the team and if he’s in really good form, if he has a real understanding of his role, if physically he’s in good enough shape … without any compromise to his long-term, then absolutely he’ll play.

“There are a few ifs in there, but he couldn’t be doing any more.”

Richardson and chief executive Matt Finnis spoke at length on Tuesday about the state of the club, saying the Saints were raising expectations on and off the field.

After making the 2009-10 grand finals, the Saints have plummeted.

They were bottom last season and the widespread expectation is they will take the wooden spoon again.

They have also struggled badly with finances and membership.

But the Saints have a new major sponsor and are bullish about members, saying they are about 4000 ahead of this time last year.

Richardson plans to be much tougher on his team this year, saying players would have to earn senior selection.

“It would be fair to say that last year, some young guys got games because we were not overly healthy,” he said.

“We need to be much better and much more consistent with our performance.

“We are a young group, but if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

“We need to raise expectations.”

Finnis said they were continuing to look at the feasibility of making some sort of return to their old Junction Oval ground.

They are also committed to a redevelopment of their most recent home at Moorabbin and will base a VFL team out of there from 2017.

“People are quite sad – some are quite angry – that we’ve allowed Moorabbin to get into the state that it is right now,” Finnis said.

“It really doesn’t befit the standing, the heritage role it’s had in this club’s history.

“We’re going to revitalise Moorabbin … give it the respect it deserves.

“There’s no doubt we have to improve our connection with people and something like Junction Oval would be tremendously symbolic of moving closer to our heartland.”

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Urgent UN talks on response to IS in Libya

(Transcript from World News Radio)

 

The United Nations Security Council is set to hold an urgent meeting to talk about Libya.

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It follows the apparent execution of 21 Egyptian Christians there by IS militants.

 

The attack has heightened fears that the jihadist group, which is already active in Syria and Iraq, is spreading its influence further.

 

Phillippa Carisbrooke reports.

 

(SFX of church service)

 

Mass prayers at Cairo’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral.

 

The congregation in mourning for the 21 Coptic Christians believed killed by IS across the border in Libya.

 

(with translation) “May God comfort them. And give their parents, wives and young children patience. God is present.”

 

(with translation) “We do not consider those who committed these acts as human beings. Even in the jungle there is respect for the law of the jungle. These people are not human. Because they can butcher a person in this manner.”

 

Britain’s Ambassador to Cairo, John Casson, attended the service.

 

Speaking afterwards, he said the world had to unite to launch a strong response to IS, which is also known as Daesh.

 

“It is very important that we all work together as a single world community to put an end to Daesh (IS) in Libya and everywhere else it exists and that means a very strong security response. And it means a strong political response.”

 

Egypt, which launched retaliatory air strikes against the militants after video emerged apparently showing Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded, is calling for a UN resolution authorising an international coalition to intervene in Libya.

 

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has told Al Jazeera there must be a stronger international military effort against I-S.

 

“We have to open our eyes and really see the threat for what it is and not try to deal with this issue in any form of a duality of approach.”

 

But in a statement, the United States, Italy, France, Britain, Spain and Germany have said a UN led process to establish a national unity government in Libya provides the best hope for confronting the country’s violence and instability.

 

Opening a summit in Washington on preventing the spread of violent extremism, US Vice President Joe Biden has said force alone is not the answer.

 

“We’re here today because we all understand that in dealing with violent extremism that we need answers that go beyond a military answer.”

 

The White House, which is hosting the summit, has been criticised by some for not specifically focusing the meeting on combating Islamic extremism, or efforts to tackle IS.

 

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