international briefs

2019 RWC opener

TOKYO – Champions New Zealand will kick off their Rugby World Cup title defence with a heavyweight clash against South Africa, organisers said on Thursday, the only first round match between former tournament winners. Hosts Japan will open Asia’s first Rugby World Cup against a yet to be determined European side in Pool A, with Ireland next on their schedule. Ireland will play Scotland in their first match.

Organisers on Thursday announced the schedule for all 48 matches at the ninth Rugby World Cup, to be held Sept. 20 to Nov. 2, 2019, as well as their ticketing programme.

Brett Gosper, chief executive of World Rugby, told reporters the schedule was designed to maximise rest days and minimise travel time, calling it the “most balanced schedule” for teams in a bid to prioritise performance and competitiveness.

AC Milan held

ZURICH – Troubled AC Milan were held to a goalless draw by AEK Athens for the second time in a fortnight in the Europa League on Thursday and Everton were dumped out by Olympique Lyonnais after a 3-0 defeat in France. Arsenal qualified despite dropping their first points in Group H as they were held 0-0 at home by Red Star Belgrade while Lazio, Dynamo Kiev and FCSB, formerly Steaua Bucharest, joined them in the round of 32.

There was an extraordinary start at Vitoria Guimaraes where visitors Olympique Marseille had substitute Patrice Evra sent off before kick-off after players became involved in a brawl with fans of their own team.

An Olympique player identified by the media as Evra was seen aiming a karate-style kick at supporters who had invaded the area behind the goal.

World cup bid

Ireland can still win the race to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and will compete until the end despite the being ranked last in a report by the Board of the sport’s governing body, the bid committee’s chairman Dick Spring said on Thursday. South Africa were recommended to host the tournament ahead of France and Ireland after coming top in the evaluation document commissioned by World Rugby. Some unions, including New Zealand, have indicated that they will follow the Board’s choice. The Ireland 2023 bid committee has rebutted any suggestion that it should step aside ahead of the vote on Nov. 15, saying such a move would undermine the process. “There is in place a democratic process, whereby the council members of World Rugby, through their vote, are the ultimate arbitrators of who will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” Spring said in a statement.

New inclusions

England have called up the uncapped Tammy Abraham, Joe Gomez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek for their friendlies against Germany and Brazil at Wembley this month, the Football Association said on Thursday. Abraham and Loftus-Cheek, who are both Chelsea players out on loan at Swansea City and Crystal Palace respectively, have broken into the Gareth Southgate’s senior squad on the back of some impressive performances in the Premier League. Striker Abraham has scored four of Swansea’s seven league goals this season, while midfielder Loftus-Cheek has made six appearances for Crystal Palace despite missing some games with a thigh injury. Defender Gomez, who has rebounded well since returning from a 15-month layoff with a ligament injury in January, started seven league games for Liverpool this season.

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