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England end Sevens title drought with victory in wet Tokyo

Phil Burgess, Charlie Hayter and Tom Mitchell scored the tries in the final for the English, who bounced back from a thumping group stage defeat to Fiji on Saturday to win a first title since the Wellington Sevens in Feb.

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2013.

“I am unbelievably proud of this team. It’s a huge effort and we are so grateful to deliver this title,” skipper Mitchell said after victory at a wet Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

The 22 points moved them onto 100 and ahead of Australia into the fourth and final Olympic qualifying position available from the series. Further spots are available for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Games via regional qualifiers

South Africa still lead the way after collecting 19 for the runners-up spot to move onto 129, four clear of Fiji with only two rounds left in the series in Glasgow and London next month.

The Fijians, winners of the last two tournaments in Las Vegas and Hong Kong, picked up 17 points in Tokyo after edging Canada 21-19 to finish third.

The Fijian’s hat-trick bid was ended by the South Africans in a nervy, error-strewn semi-final that the Blitzbokke took 7-5.

New Zealand, winners of 12 of the 15 Sevens World Series titles and reigning World Cup sevens champions, endured a disappointing week in the Japanese capital, suffering a first ever loss to Canada in the quarter-finals.

The 19-15 defeat sent them into the second tier Plate tournament, which they won after beating France in the last four and then Scotland in the final after Dylan Collier’s try in the last play of the game. The 13 points keeping them third on 120.

Trans-Tasman rivals Australia dropped to fifth after a weekend to forget in Tokyo.

After losing to Portugal and Scotland in group play on Saturday, they then suffered a heartbreaking defeat to the United States in the lung-busting final of the third tier Bowl event.

Perry Baker scoring the match ending try in extra time as the ever-improving Americans prevailed 17-12.

Portugal won the Shield after edging Argentina 12-7 but last-placed Japan closed the gap on the Iberians to eight points in the battle to avoid relegation after picking up 10 for making a first Cup quarter-final.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Houlihan the man to beat in Stawell Gift

Just two years into his professional running career, big South Australian Luke Houlihan shapes as the man to beat in the Stawell Gift on Monday.

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Houlihan rocketed into $2.75 favouritism after recording the fastest time of 12.07 seconds in Saturday’s heats at Central Park.

The 23-year-old and his coach Anthony Tohl were encouraged by Houlihan’s fourth-placed finish at the prestigious Bay Sheffield race in Adelaide in December.

“From then, we just decided to press on and keep racing,” he said.

“I’ve stayed in good shape.

“It’s always hard to tell coming into a big meeting how well you are going to perform.

“It’s good to get the first one out of the way and now I can rest up and get ready for Monday.”

Houlihan – who is running off a 7.25m mark in Stawell – grew up playing basketball, touch football and Australian Rules before shifting his focus to sprinting.

The second favourite with TAB Sportsbet at $3 is Queensland beach sprinter Murray Goodwin (6.5m), who also caught the eye with a dominant heat win.

Goodwin’s coach Brett Robinson is a two-time Gift finalist who also coached Mitchell Williams to the 2011 title.

“I came down here last year and really just got a taste for it,” said the 28-year-old Goodwin.

“I hadn’t really put the work in that was required, but that just really got me motivated to put in the work this year and try and come away with a good result.

“But I don’t know about being the favourite.

“I guess the public will decide who is worthy of those sorts of things but I’m not really too interested in the betting to be honest.”

After edging through the heats, Australia’s fastest boy Jack Hale has avoided the title favourites in the semi-final draw.

But fellow rising teen star Darcy Roper has his work cut out after being drawn in the same semi as Goodwin.

Roper, 17, finished second in the long jump at last weekend’s Australian championships in Brisbane.

Australian 100m record holder Melissa Breen has the fiendishly difficult task of trying to win the women’s Stawell Gift off scratch.

She has been drawn in the same semi as 2014 Australian 400m champion Morgan Mitchell.

The prizemoney for the women’s Gift is now the same as for the feature men’s race, with $40,000 going to the winner.

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Grant Hackett seals swimming comeback

Simply looking at a bathtub once put Grant Hackett off a return to the water.

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Yet the dual Olympic champion still found the strength on Sunday night to cap one of the great swimming comebacks by earning a 2015 world titles team berth.

Needing a top-six 200m freestyle finish to seal what once seemed an unlikely relay nod, Hackett cruised to fourth in one minute, 46.84 seconds as Cameron McEvoy (1:45.94) defended his national title in one of the greatest fields assembled in Australia.

At 34, Hackett had initially claimed that making the team after just six months’ training and a six-year layoff would feel like “winning an Olympic gold medal”.

But clearly, his incredible result on Sunday night meant so much more after Hackett reflected on how much he had turned his life around in the past 12 months.

“If you had asked me 10 years ago if the only thing that got me on the team was on the relay it would be bitter disappointment,” Hackett said.

“But right now, it is one of the biggest achievements of my life.”

Hackett’s personal life fell apart last year as he sought treatment for sleeping pill addiction.

Yet, his professional demons went back as far as his last major meet, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where he was denied a record third straight 1500m gold medal.

Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli touched out Hackett in China.

“I will be honest. I hated the sport for a long time,” Hackett said.

“I got scared getting into a bathtub.

“To discover a love for something that has been such a big part of my life is really pleasing now because I don’t walk away with that taste of Olympic silver in my mouth by a few hundredths of a second.

“I can really enjoy the sport for what it is now.”

Hackett had been adamant he had not even launched a comeback after entering the 2015 national titles.

But, he allowed himself a moment to reflect on how far he had come in the past year while savouring the remarkable 200m result in which he shaved three seconds off his best time since his return.

“It was a challenging few years and I had to live it pretty publicly,” Hackett said.

“One thing I am good at is listening to people around me.

“I never sit there and feel too sorry for myself for too long. I take accountability for my actions – right or wrong.

“I tried to make the best steps forward – that is all I have ever tried to do.”

Meanwhile, Mitch Larkin (53.10 PB) claimed the 100m backstroke final in the fastest time in the world this year.

It would have claimed silver at the 2013 world titles.

Emily Seebohm (58.91) held out young gun Madison Wilson (58.94) to win her sixth national 100m backstroke title in seven years.

Taylor McKeown – a Commonwealth Games 200m breaststroke champion – surprised everyone including herself by claiming the 100m title (1:07.07) ahead of defending champion and Glasgow silver medallist Lorna Tonks (1:07.46).

And Chelsea Gubecka (16:23.95) won the 1500m freestyle final.

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Bulldogs put dark AFL season behind them

Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says the club’s bright 10-point round one win over West Coast will go some way to mending the wounds from their dark off-season.

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The Bulldogs lost their coach, captain and chief executive during a tumultuous few months.

For Beveridge, who kicked off his AFL coaching career with the 10-point defeat of the Eagles, there’s no better way to move on from the tough times than on the field.

“I’m really proud of the boys and the way they stuck at it,” Beveridge said.

“They’ve had a tough summer, our boys, they’ve had to deal with a lot of ridicule and innuendo,” he said.

“They copped a bit of the blame for certain things that went on here last year

“They don’t deserve that, none of it was their fault.

“Their brilliant young men, lots of integrity, plenty of character … and really deserved to win tonight.”

Only Tom Boyd was a new face in the Bulldogs side that emerged victors over the Eagles.

But Beveridge made a point of mentioning that several players had come from their VFL premiership outfit.

“There were eight boys who played tonight who played in last year’s VFL premiership side,” he said.

“That’s a real positive, it’s new life.

“Some of them really took hold of that tonight.”

That includes Lin Jong, who had plenty of the ball, Brett Goodes and Tory Dickson.

But there were strong performances too from 20-year-olds Jackson Macrae and Jake Stringer.

Forward Boyd was tightly held for much of the night before making his first goal for the club a crucial one in the final term.

Beveridge said even before Saturday night’s result, the mood at Whitten Oval has been transformed in recent months.

“It’s a positive vibe and I couldn’t be happier for everyone at the club,” he said.

“Our administration, our board, everyone’s gone through a really tough period.

“If we can win some games early and we can give our fans a bit of hope, and there’s a bit of light there, that’s really crucial for us at the moment.”

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Dockers pip Power by seven points in AFL

Fremantle gained a sweet slice of revenge for last year’s finals exit with a seven-point win over Port Adelaide in Sunday night’s AFL clash at Domain Stadium.

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Port Adelaide came from 31 points down to beat a wayward Fremantle in last year’s semi-final in Perth, with their famed running game spooking the rest of the competition.

But it was the Dockers who landed the defining blows when it mattered most in Sunday’s re-match, with the home side scoring four goals to three in the final term to secure the 11.9 (75) to 10.8 (68) win.

The Power led by seven points early in the last term.

But David Mundy produced a final quarter of epic proportions to will Fremantle over the line.

Mundy tallied 13 possessions and five clearances for the term, while skipper Matthew Pavlich booted two clutch goals to finish with four for the match.

Midfielder Nat Fyfe also starred with 31 possessions and a goal before Mundy and Pavlich took the game by the scruff of its neck.

Port Adelaide midfielder Brad Ebert was influential with 34 possessions and a goal, but he was placed on report late in the match for tripping.

The Power suffered a big blow before the match when ruckman Matthew Lobbe was forced to withdraw because of quad tightness.

Young forward John Butcher was parachuted into the 22, but Lobbe’s absence meant Paddy Ryder had to endure a heavy workload in the ruck work in his first match for the club.

Both teams produced their fair share of embarrassing errors in a hard-fought first half.

Power forward Jake Neade was looking for a hole to hide in after kicking it out on the full from his 25m set shot directly in front.

And in defence, Port veteran Alipate Carlile copped it from the 34,099 crowd after fumbling a high ball over the boundary with no one else around.

Fremantle’s errors proved more costly though.

Neade was gifted a goal from point-blank range when Chad Wingard’s set shot fell short and the Dockers’ defence failed to clean it up.

And in attack, Fremantle’s Michael Walters almost dribbled through a long-range goal – only for Hayden Ballantyne to fumble the ball through for a point in his attempt to scoop it up and score.

Apart from that moment, Ballantyne was at his frenetic best in the opening half, with the 173cm, 77kg pocket rocket using his body as a battering ram to apply mass pressure on the Power.

Port scored the next two goals after Ballantyne’s fumble to take a two-point lead into the long break, and they still led by three points at the final change despite having to withstand a Fremantle surge in the third quarter.

But the Dockers finished the match full of run to secure the win.

“They were able to convert when they needed it most and we couldn’t quite get what we wanted for a long enough period,” Power coach Ken Hinkley said.

“If it had gone for another quarter or two quarters, the same thing would have happened.

“It would have been more tough footy and they probably would have just come out in front, because they just won the couple (of contests) that they just needed to win.”

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon was proud of his team’s efforts.

“It was exactly what we thought it would be,” Lyon said.

“We knew it was going to be on. But I knew our group was going to give great effort. That last quarter was fantastic for willpower and desire – 20 entries for 4.4.”

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