Michalak keeps champions on course for knock-out stages

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James O'Connor (C) vies with Bath's Semesa Rokodugun during their Champions Cup match.

Frederic Michalak scored a penalty four minutes from time to keep champions Toulon in the hunt for the European Champions Cup knock-out rounds on Sunday.

The France international came off the bench to give Toulon a 12-9 victory over dogged Bath, who deserved more from a game they lit up with some ambitious and at times scintillating running rugby.

George Ford kicked two drop goals for the visitors but they came up short and a second straight Pool 5 defeat leaves them with little chance of making the last eight.

Toulon are now just two points behind group leaders Wasps, who must still come to the south of France.

The first half was far more entertaining than the scoreline suggested after Eric Escande scored a pair of penalties in response to Ford knocking over one and adding a drop goal in what had been an enjoyable match.

Ford knocked over another drop goal early in the second period as an adventurous Bath side frequently attacked from deep.

Toulon started to get their own running game into gear and Escande levelled matters for a third time.

But after resisting a long period of Bath pressure, during which time Ford narrowly knocked another drop goal wide, Toulon steam-rollered up the other end and won the decisive penalty.

Ulster produced a stirring second half fightback to keep Irish interest alive in the European Champions Cup as they won 24-23 at Oyonnax.

Paddy Jackson kicked a penalty three minutes from time to complete a remarkable turnaround after Ulster went into the break trailing 23-0.

That kick kept alive their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages as they closed the gap to Pool 1 leaders Saracens to six points.

With Munster eliminated on Saturday after a 27-7 defeat at Stade Francais, who played the entire second half with 14 men but still dominated, Ulster were the only Irish province still able to progress to the quarter-finals — Leinster were eliminated a month ago when losing to Toulon.

But it looked bleak for the Irish when Ulster turned around at the break in France with a large deficit.

Oyonnax, who had already been eliminated themselves having lost all their previous matches, played without fear and scored a try through Jeremie Maurouard after just seven minutes.

Nicky Robinson kicked the conversion and three penalties before Uwanakaro Tawalo picked up a loose pass from deep inside his own 22 and broke clear to score a second try, also converted, on the stroke of half-time.

But Ulster showed great heart in the second period, in which they almost never let the hosts out of their own half.

Rory Scholes got them on the board just three minutes in before tries from Craig Gilroy and Kyle McCall, all converted by Jackson, made it a two-point game with 12 minutes left.

Oyonnax, playing in their first ever European Champions Cup campaign, couldn’t hold out and Jackson had the final word.

Ulster probably still need to get a result away to Saracens in their final match in order to make the last eight, though.

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#360view: Big year ahead for Victoria Azarenka on WTA Tour

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Azarenka claimed a much-needed title in Brisbane.

With the first week of the WTA season put to bed, it’s hard not to feel that Victoria Azarenka’s title run in Brisbane could not have come soon enough.

The Belarusian ex-world No1 ended a near two-and-a-half year title drought – since Cincinnati 2013 – by defeating Angelique Kerber in Australia yesterday and you could almost hear the entire tennis following give out a huge sigh of relief.

Whether you are an Azarenka fan or not, it is undeniable how much the tennis circuit is richer with a fit and competitive version of her in it.

After winning back-to-back Australian Open trophies in 2012 and 2013, and reaching the US Open final in both those seasons, Azarenka’s ranking plummeted due to injuries and her comeback did not go as well as she had hoped.

The 26-year-old was getting mean draws due to her lower ranking, she parted ways with her coach of five years Sam Sumyk, and was fighting to get fit and regain her form.

In the meantime, Serena Williams was sweeping almost every grand slam and was miles away from Azarenka.
Prior to her injury woes, Azarenka had been the one player to consistently challenge Williams on the big stage.

She beat her twice in 2013, in the finals in Doha and Cincinnati, and stretched her to three sets in both their US Open finals in 2012 and 2013.

Their rivalry had started to seriously heat up before Azarenka succumbed to her physical problems.

Williams has not been invincible in Azarenka’s absence but her losses rarely came to the same player twice and she seems peerless at the majors.

But with Azarenka finally getting the monkey off her back by winning the Brisbane title, she could perhaps get the confidence boost she needs – as well as a ranking bump (she’ll move up to No16 tomorrow) – to seriously threaten at the slams.

With Williams reportedly struggling with a knee injury and a slew of the top-10 players all suffering from one problem or another, Azarenka is suddenly a real contender for the Australian Open crown this month.

She’s already won in Melbourne twice and seems fitter than she’s been in a long time. Her record there is both remarkable and daunting for her rivals as she will head to the opening slam of the season having won 35 of her last 39 matches at the Australian Open.

Her title in Brisbane wasn’t just another trophy – she won it dropping a mere 17 games in all five matches.

Could this finally be her time to reclaim her place amongst the sport’s elite? It’s highly likely and God knows the WTA is in desperate need for someone like her to push Williams.

Who else is one to watch in Melbourne? Agnieszka Radwanska who picked up where she left off last season by winning the title in Shenzhen yesterday, having snatched the WTA Finals trophy in Singapore last November.

When given an opportunity, Radwanska knows how to squeeze through and take it.

And if indeed all those top players are not in their best shape in Melbourne (Williams, Maria Sharapova, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep all retired/withdrew in week one), the Pole, who rises to No.4 in the world tomorrow, can capitalise on her top-four seeding and blast through the draw.

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Gareth Bale and Lionel Messi net hat-tricks in La Liga, Wayne Rooney scores late penalty

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Sport360's Tom Bushell brings you the latest headlines from our newsroom.

Good morning, Tom Bushell brings you the biggest sport stories that you are waking up to each day direct from Sport 360’s Dubai newsroom, in 360AM.

Catch-up on Barcelona legend Lionel Messi’s hat-trick, his 25th in La Liga, which helped Luis Enrique’s men to a 4-0 win over Granada while Zinedine Zidane’s reign at Real Madrid started in style as Los Blancos thrashed Deportivo 5-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu – with Gareth Bale also netting a hat-trick for the hosts.

Have your say on today’s stories on Twitter using the hashtag #360AM.

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