Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt has been injured after falling from a ladder.

According to the Herald Sun, Bolt fell almost four metres while gardening at his Melbourne home.

He has injured several ribs and broken his wrist “which has had to be pinned” a news item for the Melbourne tabloid reported.

Bolt was pruning a tree when he fell but landed “on a patch of grass between a concrete bench and path”.

Despite the incident, which will delay his return to writing for News Corp papers, he said he “was very fortunate”.

“I’m usually good at climbing trees and ladders but my problem was this time I didn’t work out a way to have a soft landing or something to grab on to if I fell,” he told The Australian.

Bolt was attacked outside a restaurant on Lygon Street last year when he was attending the launch of The Art of the Impossible, a book by RMIT associate professor Steve Kates about Donald Trump and the 2016 US presidential election campaign.

Bolt was pushed in the back before he responded by kicking and punching two men in the face and groin before they walked away.

At the time he called the assault “an example of how dangerous the city has become for conservatives”.

Left-wing activists united behind “anti-fascist action” appeared to claim a role in the incident after posting on Facebook that “some of our family in solidarity were attacked by Andrew Bolt while they were protesting”.

The media personality, who is no stranger to knocking people or issues down a peg or two, is also due back on air on Sky for his TV show, The Bolt Report. It is understood he will be back in the chair to entertain and inform his average audience of about 27,000 viewers on February 5.

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Australian swimmer, Shane Gould, competes in the second session of the NSW Championships at North Sydney Pool, 8 January 1972.SMH Picture by P. MOXHAM720108/35Wonderful, that both Evonne Goolagong-Cawley and Shane Gould were named in the Australia Day Honours List yesterday, with Evonne becoming an Companion of the Order of Australia, (AC) and Shane becoming a Member of the Order of Australia (AM,) both for their services to their communities, even well beyond sport.

The two, go back a long way and reached their highest points of fame at much the same time, with Evonne winning her first Wimbledon championship in 1971, just before Shane won her three Olympic gold medals at the Munich Games the following year. I would also argue that both have a kind of regal serenity about them, a noted capacity to be ever calm, no matter the tumult around, and, not surprisingly, they are firm friends!

Which brings me to my favourite story about them, confirmed to me by both women, about a decade ago. See, back in late 1972 a famous photo was taken of them in the pool together for a charity function, which both cherish. Fast forward three decades, and they both found themselves at an Indigenous Community sports camp held beside Uluru to encourage the most talented Aboriginal sports kids from across the nation.

When each woman had said her bit to the gathering and they were relaxing with the kids, Shane noticed that Evonne had racquets and balls in her car and had an idea.

“Thirty years ago you swam with me,” she said, “and now I want to play tennis with you.”

With which, Shane traced out in the red soil the outline of a court, poked in a few sticks to serve as the net, and they played for about 20 minutes in the shadow of the Rock, with 50 laughing Aboriginal kids chasing the balls. No press, no nonsense. Just two great Australian sportswomen going at it as the sun beat down.

True story, told to me by Evonne.

And it remains my favourite yarn, and image, from the Australian Sporting Dreamtime.???

Horn’s heroics mask bigger issue

Which brings us, of course to the Jeff Horn fight.

Of course, given my rant in these pages the previous week, saying in an enlightened world we can no longer sustain supporting a sport where the highest attainment is to damage the brain of your opponent, I took a little flak.

How dare you, ran one notably non sequitur argument, deny the skill and courage of boxers? I do no such thing. Their courage and skill is beyond dispute. That is not the issue. What counts is the horrifying consequences of getting regularly hammered in the head. Long after the carnival is over, boxers and their families pay their own price, and it goes for miserable decades. The last boxer as high as Horn in the public esteem for his ability to take punishment, was Jeff Harding, and to a lesser extent, Spike Cheney. Their lives in recent years have been nothing less than tragic, as it is for so many who, simply, get hit in the head too often.

The other, predictable flak, comes from those who maintain – blah, blah, blah – that concussion is also a problem in rugby, so what the hell am I on about? This. Look to the example of Sonny Bill Williams, who is a champion in both sports. In boxing, he rattles someone’s brain, he is a hero to beat them all, because he has achieved boxing’s highest attainment. In rugby, he rattles someone’s brain, he is shown the red card, as he was last week against the Lions. I think that is a fair old difference, yes?

Bravo to Dane Swan

Look, I wouldn’t know the former AFL bad boy star Dane Swan to kick him down the stairs, and I actually wouldn’t dare, unless three or four you come with me and . . .

And OK, no takers, I see!

For, you’re right, there is a glaring menace about Collingwood’s one-time Brownlow Medallist, a sense that he’d just as soon punch you in the face as shake your hand and, somehow or other, the fact that he has run out of skin on his arms and rippling, muscular torso to put fresh tattoos on, gives him the appearance of embodying Aussie bloke machismo. And I wasn’t watching I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here – HONEST! – I just happened to be flicking around at the right moment when …

When I saw Steve Price expressing his usual pre-1952 views, this one against the very idea that same sex marriage would, could, or should get up in Australia.

Full of surprises: Dane Swan with Casey Donovan and Natalie Bassingthwaighte. Photo: Nigel Wright

Pan across to Dane Swan, lying on his bunk, bored. OK. Let’s hear from Aussie machismo, I suppose. Surely he will express some gay slur, some sneer.

I was only half-right.

For while Swan did sneer, it wasn’t at the concept of Same Sex Marriage, it was at Price for holding, and promoting such backward views. And to be fair to Swan it wasn’t even really a dinkum sneer, it was more that he was gobsmacked that anyone could think there could be a problem with it!

“I certainly have no qualms if anyone wants to get married to a male, female, whoever they want to get married to,” he explained, “I couldn’t give a hoot. I can’t see why it’s not legal in this day and age that two people can’t get married to each other.”

The Same Sex Marriage crowd had just released a television advertising campaign, asking people to write to parliamentarians and tell them to get on with it – and it was a great ad. But public figures like Swan, saying stuff like that, as wider Australia watched was even more valuable. Good on him. And good on Johnathan Thurston, in a similar vein, speaking out about changing the date of Australia Day.

Time to pull our heads out of the water bucket

How old am I? I am so old, soooooo old, I remember when Australian swimmers only had to dip a toe in chlorinated water and they started growing gold medals on their chest! I remember when all it took for Kieren Perkins to beat American swimmers was to frown at them in the change-rooms, whereupon they’d burst into tears. And, yes, I can even remember when the World Swimming Championships were a big deal, with Ray Warren calling every race – “Hackett! Hackett! Hackett is world champion, I’ll tell a men he is!” – and they kept the Australian National Anthem on fast forward as they had to get through it so many times.

They are, of course, days long gone, and after these latest World Championships in Budapest – where our mob secured just a single gold medal, Australian swimming has not been at such a low ebb since the 1976 Montreal Olympics when Stephen Holland managed to get a bronze medal only.

Dominant: Kieren Perkins. Photo: Photographer Unknown

It is part of swimming folklore that when, shortly afterwards, the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, got the exhausted and bitterly disappointed Queenslander on the phone to congratulate him for getting at least that, Holland uttered just two words. The first of them rhymed with “buck”, and the second one was “off” – so annoyed was he with the lack of government support for his endeavours, all while he was up against swimmers from the college system of America, and the professionally prepared, and drugged, swimmers of the Eastern Bloc. It was that outburst which was the genesis of the whole AIS system.

But this time? There appears nowhere to go. The swimming program is well-funded and our swimmers cannot complain of lack of support. The simple reality is that not only has the rest of the world caught up, some of them have lapped us. And the real problem, as Australian swimming tries to find its way back? We gotta face it: in itself, the sport is not the most compelling of spectacles. It’s been fabulous over the years watching the likes of Perkins, Hackett, Thorpe and O’Neill motor down competitors over the final lap – but watching their heirs come second, third and seventh just doesn’t quite do it for us. I wish I cared more. Maybe it’s that, having seen the mental anguish so many of our champion swimmers go through in later life – having spent “six hours a day every day, with my head in a bucket of water,” as Perkins put it to me – I’m less fussed if the sport does recede a little. What they said

Johnathan Thurston, on why the date of Australia Day should change: “It’s not just about the First Fleet, it’s about the stealing of the land, the misplacement of the stolen generation and the injustices that were done over the years so there is a lot of hurt that is still there from our elders. Australia Day is meant to be inclusive of everyone but obviously some in our culture don’t feel included on this day. I think people need to be educated on why they don’t feel included on this day.”

American player of tennis, Tennys Sandgren, on whether he believes in the likes of American white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, whose stuff he has retweeted. “As a firm Christian, I don’t support things like that, no. I support Christ and following him.” The Christ I remember from Sunday School would have nothing to do with such vile bile. And nor would he amplify, by retweeting transparently false and bilious nonsense about Hillary Clinton being linked to a child sex abuse ring at a Washington pizzeria.

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, after his side upset the Minnesota Vikings. “We’re going to the Super Bowl!. We’re going to the stinkin’ Super Bowl!” They will be playing the New England Patriots, led by Tom Brady.

One of the twitterati on Nick Kyrgios’s tennis outfit. “Like an All-Sorts Licorice threw up.” I rather liked it!

Interesting outfit: Nick Kyrgios. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Kyrgios, back in May, channels Perry Mason at the French Open as he argues with the umpire: “If I was speeding and you don’t catch me, where is the evidence?” And if I ran over Schroeder’s cat, while speeding, but no one saw me, would I still be guilty? And if a man was arguing in the forest, with his wife not there to hear him, would he still be wrong? Still, Kyrgios in this last week or so has been vastly more mature.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino: “There are a lot of fake news and alternative facts about FIFA circulating. FIFA bashing has become a national sport in some countries. It was right but FIFA has changed now.” Calling public criticism “fake news” has become the knee-jerk reaction for fools and demagogues the world over. Discuss.

NRL’s chief medical officer Dr Paul Bloomfield: “The game’s concussion guidelines are stronger than they have ever been before.” He is correct. The next step is making sure they become actual RULES, and are rigorously observed.

Early in the season, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick saw his team go from 5-0 start, to 5-3 with three narrow losses, but was not fussed: “There is an art [to closing out matches], there is no doubt about that. In 2012 we had a similar patch. This side, many people will see, it has got some inexperience in it. We just need to make sure we get that a little bit better.” They did, and won the Premiership, in thrilling fashion.

Josh Caddy on Richmond winning the flag: “How it happens is pretty irrelevant. At the end of the day we’ve won a flag and that’s all that matters. I was thinking to myself a few times, ‘Am I really in a grand final?’ . . . We’ve done that so well. The critics said all year, ‘too small, no depth’, but at the end of the day – ‘too good’.”

Josh Dugan on leaving St George, who had thrown him a lifeline when no-one else would, on joining the Sharks: “Everyone talks about loyalty but at the end of the day loyalty won’t pay the bills when you’re 40.” Dugan is a mesmerising player to watch, like Hayne, but on balance just too much trouble follows him to be worth it. Like Hayne. Team of the year

Liz Ellis. Was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Australian Day Honours List, together with the cricket player and administrator Belinda Clark, AM, while our most successful female professional golfer, Karrie Webb, now also an AM, as is the finest female squash player we’ve ever produced, Heather McKay.

Primary Club Marathon Cricket Day. 9th annual event run by the Primary club happening this Monday at the SCG. Sports Celebrity All-Star T20 match featuring the likes of George Gregan, Stirling Mortlock, Phil Waugh, Steve Menzies, Bryan Fletcher and Brett Kirk happening at 4.30pm. Entry free for kids; $10 for adults.

Roger Federer. Is he great, or is he great? He is GREAT. Going into the semi-finals, he had not dropped a set.

Bert Van Marwijk. The Flying Dutchman who coached Saudi Arabia to World Cup qualification is the new Socceroos coach. I am told I am not allowed to ask him ANY questions!

Sam Kerr. Matilda superstar named Young Australian of the Year

RIP Graeme Langlands. Rugby League immortal passed away 76, suffering dementia. In this same week it has been revealed that his fellow Immortal and team-mate, Johnny Raper is also suffering dementia so badly he is in care, and now no longer recognises friends. True, many men who never played football also suffer dementia, but few so badly it kills them, or confines them. The obvious question thus bugs: was it their years of playing rugby league that did this to them?

Katherine Kirk. The Australian golfer won for the first time in 152 events on the LPGA tour.

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Should Glenn Maxwell give up Test cricket for life on the Twenty20 circuit? “It’s a question that’s been on my mind for the last six months,” Maxwell said. And it’s not one he is about to answer straight away either, but you don’t get the feeling one of the most mercurial batsmen in world cricket will be finishing his days as the old pro in the Sheffield Shield.

Not many players of his ability do any more since the emergence of Twenty20 leagues, which allow players to make six-figure sums for six weeks’ work.

Maxwell’s priority is still “100 per cent” to wear the baggy green, but if it becomes apparent his days in the international arena are numbered, he will consider his future in the game.

At 29, Maxwell is in the prime of his career but despite enjoying the best summer of his career he has lost his positions in Australia’s Test and one-day international teams.

He won a recall to the ODI side in the days after this interview, but it’s a Test berth he covets most. He made great strides in 2017, but 10 months after scoring his maiden Test century – and one of the finest by an Australian on foreign soil in recent years – he is not considered by selectors to be among the seven best batsmen in the country.

Australia are due to play a series against Pakistan in the Middle East in March next year. Whether Maxwell, who has played all his seven Tests in Asia, is picked could play a major factor in the route he takes.

“Subcontinent tours I’ve been more favoured than some other players – it’ll be interesting to see where I am, coming to that time,” Maxwell told Fairfax Media last week.

“I might have to make some decisions over the next one or two years. I’ll chat to a few of the guys at Cricket Australia and see where I sit. I’d love to play that 2019 World Cup, I’d love to be back in the Test side.

“If there’s no chance of me getting back into that Australian team, or they don’t find a place for me, I’ve got to start thinking about my career moves and what I want to get out of cricket moving forward.”

Maxwell has been both nowhere and everywhere this summer. He has not played a game for Australia but has seldom been out of the headlines. His relationship with Steve Smith was in the spotlight after the captain’s controversial “train smarter” comments in the wake of Maxwell’s axing from the one-day side.

They have since caught up over coffee – neither party has divulged what was said – but the public criticism took its toll on Maxwell’s family, particularly his parents.

“When I first saw my parents they were both in tears and pretty upset for me. It hurt them a lot more than it hurt me,” Maxwell said.

“That was the hard thing to take. For them to be upset at something that is pretty much uncontrollable. It felt like to them there was a red line through my name for a reason they didn’t know about. I couldn’t give them an answer, I couldn’t explain it to them.

“After chatting to Steven since and getting that clarity around it I was able to calm my parents down. Dealing with them being upset about something they can’t control but they just want to see their son be happy and successful. To see that in the media was painful for them.”

Maxwell is desperate to change perceptions of him as a limited-overs slugger who does not have the patience or technique to flourish in the longer format. He wants to be seen as the batsman who can survive the final over of a session, get through tough periods when the ball is moving and who can be trusted not to give his wicket away.

The captain and selectors clearly remain unconvinced otherwise they could easily have made a strong case for his retention based on his numbers on the two subcontinent tours of 259 runs at 37. Maxwell acknowledges he was probably one big innings away from sealing the deal.

“I’m hoping at some stage I can get back in there and make my spot my own and it can’t be taken away from me at all,” Maxwell said.

“That’s probably what I did wrong in Bangladesh; I gave them opportunity to give my spot to someone else.

“Looking back, if I could have turned one of those starts into a hundred, I got a start in every game, it’s pretty hard for them to drop you come Gabba time.”

His goals for the rest of the summer are to transfer his Big Bash League form into the Twenty20 tri-series and make the most of his omission from South Africa by posting what would be his first 1000-run season in the shield. He has three games left to achieve the latter.

“Even though there’s not another Test series until later in the year it’d still be nice to keep stacking up those numbers I was producing before Christmas,” Maxwell, who has 590 runs at 73.75 this season, said.

“If you perform well for Australia in any format, hopefully that goes a long way to putting your name up in lights and remind selectors what you can do.”

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Men’s 100 Metres Final Race. Rohan Browning just wins the Men’s 100 metres final. Photo Dion Georgopoulos Women’s 100 Metres Final Race. Riley Day wins women’s 100 metre final. Photo Dion Georgopoulos

Men’s 100 Metres Final Race. Rohan Browning (Left) wins the Men’s 100 metres final. Photo Dion Georgopoulos

Rising star Rohan Browning fired a timely Commonwealth Games reminder in Canberra on Friday night, edging out teen sensation rival Jack Hale to win the 100 metres titles at the ACT athletics championships.

But Canberra sprint queen Melissa Breen erred on the side of caution to avoid further injury to a nagging hamstring problem, deciding to withdraw from the women’s race to keep her sights firmly on the Commonwealth Games.

Breen is hopeful rest will ease the pain in her hamstring as she prepares for the national titles and Commonwealth Games trials in three weeks.

A race on her home track would have been a perfect chance to boost her confidence, but she will wait until her body is fully fit before chasing a spot on the Australian team for the Games on the Gold Coast in April.

Queenslander Riley Day stepped up in Breen’s absence to clock a personal best time and win the ACT title, beating Maddie Coates and Larissa Pasternatsky across the line.

But it was a tight men’s battle that set the track alight on the opening night of the championships as Browning, Hale and Trae Williams all stopped the clock at 10.23 seconds with minimal wind assistance.

Officials moved the 100 metre finals to the back straight at the AIS to give the athletes the best chance to clock personal bests and Commonwealth Games qualifiers.

They had to scramble for times in a photo finish when Browning, Hale and Williams crossed the line in a near triple dead heat

In the end, Browning won in a time of 10.225 seconds, but nothing could separate Williams and Hale at 10.228 seconds.

It continued Browning’s perfect season and the 20-year-old is now unbeaten in three 100 metre and three 200 metre races, and he will now turn his attention to the Commonwealth Games trials on February 15-18 on the Gold Coast.

Hale has commanded much of the attention since breaking on to the national stage three years ago, but Browning has been hot on his heels and says the competition between the trio will drive them to greater results.

“When it comes down to the like that, that’s racing. Pure and simple, and it was fun,” Browning said.

“You always know Jack is going to get out well. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, but sometimes that plays tricks on you.

“I’ve still got the undefeated streak going this season, so that was a bit of pride and ego [on the line]. Every time you race these guys you put that on the line so it was good to just edge them out.

“It’s funny because it’s the same crop of guys who were coming through in 2014 when we were 16 or 17 … look at the potential relay team, it’s nuts.”

Day, 17, took another step towards her Commonwealth Games debut with a strong win in the women’s event, clocking a personal best and finishing 0.07 seconds ahead of Coates.

Day competed at the world championships last year in the 200 metres, and will back up in her pet event in Canberra on Saturday.

“I’m very happy with that one, I didn’t expect it,” Day said.

“I knew I had some stiff competition coming into it … so I’m really happy with it. It’s a PB for me. I’m working really hard to get to [the Commonwealth Games], but if it doesn’t happen I know I’ve done all I could.

“It’s a shame I couldn’t go up for Mel, but I wish her well for her recovery. I’m in a good mind frame to go into the next competitions.”


Saturday and Sunday: Events start from 1.30pm on Saturday. Sunday from 8.30am. Entry is free.

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SYDNEY FC 3 (Bobo 60m, 78m pen, David Carney 84m) d VICTORY 1 (Besart Berisha 58m pen)Venue: AAMI Park. Crowd: 21,037.

Too good. Simply too good.

Melbourne Victory’s long losing run against champions Sydney continues after Graham Arnold’s men came from behind to win 3-1 in the Australia Day “Big Blue” in front of 21,037 fans at AAMI Park, all the goals coming in the second half, two from penalties.

Sydney move nine points clear of second-placed Newcastle and the Premiers Plate looks in their grasp. Victory remain in fourth position, four points behind Melbourne City and eight off the Jets.

Kevin Muscat’s men began at a furious pace, with a high-intensity approach that would have seen most other A-League sides bend to their will.

But Sydney are not most other sides, as their tremendous record over the past two seasons illustrates.

Graham Arnold’s men have the capacity to soak up punishment, take some heavy pressure but retain their defensive shape. Few have been better in the short history of this league at absorbing the blows and hitting hard on the counter.

They certainly had to handle some heavy pressure in the opening 20 minutes as Victory, mindful of the fact that they have not beaten the Sky Blues for two years (since an Australia Day win at AAMI Park in 2016) pushed and pressed all over the pitch in a bid to wear the visitors down.

Victory probed and punched, with Kosta Barbarouses, in hot form these past few weeks, looking to take on Sydney left-back Michael Zullo whenever he could.

Mark Milligan and Carl Valeri looked to force the early pace in midfield, and Besart Berisha was his normal combative and industrious self whenever the ball came into the forward third, either attacking the goal when Victory had possession or seeking to defend from the front when Sydney had the ball.

But Sydney have not earned their exalted reputation simply by playing rope-a-dope-football. They knew they would have to weather a ferocious storm, but after that opening Victory assault the men in Sky Blue began to impose themselves on the game.

Adrian Mierzejewski found Zullo twice in the space of a few minutes wide on the left as the full-back managed to get forward, both times his crosses just failing to find a target.

Mierzejewski then broke in on goal, his run only halted by a scything Rhys Williams challenge that earned the centre-half a yellow card.

The ebb and flow of the game was changing and the Pole almost gave the visitors the lead in the 38th minute with a beautifully struck shot hit with power and accuracy from the edge of the area. He was only denied by a tremendous diving save by Lawrence Thomas.

The goalkeeper then had to save smartly from the same player after Thomas Deng, Victory’s left-back, failed to clear the ball from the danger area.

Mierzejewski, who was carded in the first half for dissent, was lucky not to get another and be sent off after he elbowed Williams in the head as the pair went up for an aerial duel shortly after the restart.

Victory got their noses in front just before the hour mark when Jai Ingham was upended in the penalty area by Josh Brillante after the wide man chased down Troisi’s flicked pass.

Berisha, who has missed from the spot this year, showed his nerve was intact by stepping up to send Andrew Redmayne the wrong way and navy blue hopes rose that a sequence of five losses in a row, including a grand final defeat, would be ended.

The hosts joy was short-lived, however, as Sydney were back on terms within two minutes with a well-worked move in which Mierzejewski played a key role.

The Pole picked up the ball outside the Victory area and played a reverse pass to the overlapping Luke Wilkshire. The ex-Socceroo flighted over a delightful chip that Brazilian striker Bobo headed home for his 17th goal of the season.

The game turned into an arm wrestle, but it was the champions who were able to deliver the knockout blow 14 minutes from time when Bobo went down under a Jason Geria challenge.

Referee Jarred Gillett pointed to the spot and brandished a red card to dismiss the Victory defender while the Brazilian got up and fired past Thomas.

Substitute David Carney ensured the points went north – and that Victory’s unenviable record continues – when he netted with seven minutes remaining after being played through by Mierzejewski.

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Australia’s men survived a heart-stopping first outing against ‘giant killers’ the US in their opening match of the Sydney Sevens on Friday.

The Aussies played a near-perfect half of rugby to go into the break 19-0 up but had to overcome a serious bout of second-half wobbles and shut down a late raid by the US, prevailing 26-19 at Allianz Stadium.

“The first seven minutes was probably some of the best football we’ve ever played and that’s where possession is everything,” coach Andy Friend said.

“We probably fell asleep a bit there but the pleasing thing is we came back and managed to score at the end. We needed to win that lineout and we didn’t, but we managed to shut them down at the end.”

The win was an important pre-emptive strike ahead of remaining pool games against Canada and Scotland on Saturday, and a solid shot of confidence for a young team.

“It’s a massive one, they’re a tough side, USA, and we’ve struggled against them in the past,” Friend said.

Scotland smashed Canada 52-5 in the final match of the day, making them the team for Australia to beat on Sunday.

Australia were rampant in the first half, feasting on turnover ball, intercepts and a yellow card against America to score three tries in the first six minutes.

Sydney boy Boyd Killingworth opened the scoring and Ben O’Donnell was next, notching his 10th world series try after the US went down a man. John Porch scored next for Australia putting the home side up 19-0 at the break.

The US struck back hard and fast to narrow the gap to five points just three minutes in and draw level a moment later.

The man they call ‘Speed Stick’, Perry Baker, wrought havoc, dancing around two defenders to score and make break after break to test the defence. Martin Isefo scored next and a Baker break helped put Ben Pinkleman over in the 11th minute.

Youngster Tim Anstee put Australia ahead again with a minute left, making it 26-19 after the conversion, but the match looked headed for a draw when America stole an Australian line out and track star Carlin Isles took the ball to the outside.

Veteran Jesse Parahi, returning from a stint on the sidelines, made his contribution count off the bench, wrapping up Isles to close out the match.

The US were the surprise packages of last year’s world series, finishing fourth – one spot above Australia – in a season that saw flyer Baker top the try-scoring stats and earn the title of world men’s sevens player of the year. The Americans have struggled this season, finishing sixth in the first leg at Cape Town and going winless in Dubai.

Australia are without young gun Simon Kennewell, who injured his knee in training this week. Considered one of the squad’s best players, if not the best, Kennewell’s sudden absence threatens to derail the side’s plan to take home the cup this weekend.

Earlier in the day, Olympic champions Fiji demolished Samoa five tries to one and reigning world series champions South Africa blitzed Papua New Guinea eight tries to none.

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Fiji’s Olympic gold medal-winning coach Ben Ryan believes World Rugby needs to sharpen up its World Sevens Series and consider the idea of knockout tournaments to prevent an oversupply of unnecessary rugby.

Ryan said it was tedious at times watching 16 male and 12 female teams play all of their games on the main stadium.

For the first time in Sydney, all men’s and women’s fixtures will be played on Allianz Stadium across three days, unlike last time when some women’s games were controversially held on a back field.

As a result, on Saturday and Sunday there will be more irrelevant games that fans have to sit through before they can watch the exciting knockout clashes.

Not all World Series legs feature both men and women but even those that are just one-gender, Ryan believes a truncated schedule needs to be put in place.

“I like the idea of changing the format almost to a straight knockout where you start with 16 and go down pretty quickly,” Ryan told Fairfax Media. “Coaches would hate it because you’re going to get upsets and the pressure is on but that’s good for supporters and this is a brand we’ve got to build a bit more.

“They [World Rugby] need to look at the format and just sharpen it up a bit.

“I don’t think it works having the format that it currently is, which is every team playing six games and lower level teams. It’s too much rugby. You could be a rugby nut but you’re not going to sit here and watch 80 games of sevens over three days.

“The HSBC World Series is getting more and more popularity but we need to shorten it all.”

Asked whether some of the non-important matches – like a 13th place play-off for example – could be moved to a back field, Ryan replied: “You could do, or just get rid of them. I know there is some need for classification but you don’t have to have those games. People want to watch the big games, the big knockouts. Finding a way to put pure knockout in the tournament is a good way to go.”

Ryan, who coached Fiji to an historic gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016, has coached properly for just 30 minutes since that day.

He is a consultant to the French sevens team and manages to keep himself busy. He has written a book that will be released in Australia in May.

The 46-year-old does, however, miss coaching but does not think he’ll be head of a team come the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I’m not done with coaching,” Ryan said. “I would like to go back into a sevens program at some point. XVs [coaching] didn’t excite me enough and that probably told me that sevens is where I want to stay. The Olympics is pretty addictive.

“It’s probably too soon [to coach at Tokyo]. It’s qualification next season. I haven’t seriously thought I’d be there in 2020.”

As for Australian women’s coach Tim Walsh, who has announced he will leave his position after the Commonwealth Games in April, Ryan expects him to be snapped up quickly by other nations, if not his own.

“He’s an outstanding coach and I’m sure in the back of his mind he’ll be going: ‘right, well I’ve knocked off the women’s gold medal, I’ll try and get a men’s’,” Ryan said. “He’d be a very good men’s coach on whatever team that is.”

Meanwhile, Ryan has defended his recent comments that have caused a stir in Fiji. He suggested the nation he guided to Olympic glory should not waste their money trying to bring a World Series leg to their country.

Ryan wrote a lengthy Facebook post explaining why he thought the Fiji Rugby Union, which has very close ties to the government, should not spend $FJD1 million ($617,555) on overseas consultant fees when there are more important issues at hand.

“I’m going to get myself into trouble sometimes because I stand up for the causes I think are important,” Ryan said. “If I see that there are people who are living in tents still after Cyclone Winston and they’re spending a million dollars on two overseas consultants ??? they are effectively wasting their money to put a bid together.

“It probably means I’m the No.1 hated man at the FRU and probably that moves into government. I don’t really care. You’ve got to be authentic. They’ve got to put players first instead of last and that’s what they’ve been doing since I left.”

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American sprint sensation Perry Baker is fuelled by more than just the need for speed.

The reigning world men’s sevens player of the year is still haunted by the unsolved murder of his childhood best friend, a tragedy that helped propel him to the top of the global game and drives him still as he plots a life beyond rugby and a career in criminal investigation.

Baker was a basketball-obsessed eight-year-old when the murder of his best mate Dimitric Moore turned his life and the lives of the New Smyrna Beach, Florida, community upside down.

The two boys had spent a Sunday afternoon riding their bikes around the neighbourhood, feeding horses, playing basketball and video games, before going their separate ways at dusk on April 23, 1995.

Baker was the last person to see Moore alive, a circumstance that put him in the witness stand when Moore’s mother was tried and later acquitted for manslaughter.

“When the streetlights come on, my parents used to say it was time to go home,” he said.

“We were out riding bikes, there were four or five of us, playing basketball … we were feeding a horse right around the corner from my grandma’s house, then we went back to my grandma’s house and when the streetlights came on my grandma said ‘it’s time for you to come in and you guys can go home’. He only lived four or five blocks from me.”

Moore hopped on his bike and rode away.

“I will never forget it, I can still see it to this day,” Baker said. “Going to school and he’s not there, the next day he’s not at school, they come out with these flyers on the third day and I was like ‘what, where has he been?’ and people said he was missing, everyone’s freaking out.”

Moore’s body was found in the boot of his mother’s car and the investigation and court case that ensued left a lasting impression on Baker.

“After that, in my head, I wanted to be a police officer. I just wanted to catch bad guys,” he said. “As I got older I realised that’s not a police officer, that’s a homicide detective. That’s why I went into the field I went into.”

A talented high school footballer, Baker studied criminal justice on scholarship at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. He had already been introduced to rugby – by his high school football coach, ironically – and continued to dabble in the sevens format even as he tried to crack the NFL. An undiagnosed knee injury brought that chapter to a close just as he was close to signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. He tried to play his way back via the Arena Football League but by 2013 viewed rugby as his best chance of a professional sporting career.

The challenges kept up. Naysayers said Baker was too small and too late to master rugby, but he worked nights as a campus security guard to put himself through a private rugby academy in Ohio, while friends back home staged fundraisers to help keep the dream alive. Next came a stint selling sports therapy goods and then work as a pest controller. He had just sprayed a house when the call came through that changed everything.

“They said they wanted to offer me a contract, I just lost it,” he said. “I’m in the truck, bawling my eyes out. I called my parents straight away and then had to move to California by the weekend.”

That was July 2014 and three months later he made his world series debut on the Gold Coast. In the three seasons that followed Baker and his teammates helped transform the USA Eagles from the minnows of world rugby to giant killers, capable of knocking off the traditional powerhouses. A season-topping haul of 57 tries and 285 points last year and an electric partnership with track star Carlin Isles helped the US finish fifth in the world and earn Baker the world player of the year award.

Now 31, the 185cm juggernaut they nicknamed “speed stick” has two things on his mind: helping the US shed the giant killer tag and regularly crack the top three on the sevens circuit ahead of the first Sevens World Cup to be held on US soil. The San Francisco tournament is targeting 100,000 tickets across three days in July this year and is already sitting around the 60,000 mark with five months to go.

Baker will also figure out how he can make a difference off the field when the rugby dream finishes. He interned with the New York Police Department’s homicide squad over the northern hemisphere summer last year, shadowed officers in the Portsmouth Police Department and sat in on divorce cases at a law firm in New Hampshire.

In Sydney playing in the third leg of the world series, though, his thoughts are squarely on how handsomely the hard yards have paid off.

“This is it for me, I just want to give it my all,” he said. “This is for all the people who helped me along the way, who believed in me, raised money for me.”

It might also be for eight-year-old Perry, who learnt about the darkness in the world a good few years too early. And for Dimitric, the little boy who never made it home.

“He was really really fast, that’s why we became friends,” Baker said. “He hit me and ran and I couldn’t catch him, and we became best friends.”

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General practitioners could be banned from prescribing strong painkillers in an attempt to prevent Australia following the United States into an opioid overdose epidemic.

Australia’s drug regulator has warned the nation is “trending down a similar path” to countries enduring pharmaceutical drugs crises. More than half a million Australians are estimated to be dependent on their prescription painkiller.

In a consultation paper, the Therapeutic Goods Administration flagged the idea of preventing some doctors prescribing well-known schedule 8 opioids including morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and pethidine.

This could mean the drugs no longer being offered by GPs, with people instead having to see specialists in palliative care, cancer or pain medicine.

It is one of a number of potential regulatory responses detailed by the drug authority and comes at a time when access to opioid painkillers is already being curtailed. Codeine products such as Nurofen Plus will no longer be available over the counter at pharmacies from Thursday.

Instead, access to these medications will require a doctor’s prescription.

The move also follows growing concern about the unnecessary use of opioids, which many experts say is not effective for chronic pain or for use over long periods.

In 2016, there were about 11 deaths in Australia each week from prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine. The death toll over five years was about 2700 people.

Accidental drug overdoses are now far more likely to be caused by pharmaceutical drugs than illegal drugs.

Matthew Frei, clinical director of drug and alcohol service Turning Point, said many Australians had come to believe they should not suffer from any pain at all, and a cultural change was needed from consumers, doctors and regulators.

“Unfortunately, I think this storm has aligned itself in North America and Australia at a time these drugs were marketed and promoted for non-cancer pain very strongly by the pharmaceutical industry,” Dr Frei said. “I think we are in a very concerning situation.”

But he cautioned against removing prescription powers for GPs, saying the nation’s limited addiction services probably did not have the staff to handle the resulting wave of people seeking help for opioid dependence.

The idea was also criticised by Bastian Seidel, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who said that while the review into schedule 8 painkillers was needed, he felt the Therapeutic Goods Administration had unfairly targeted GPs.

“We need to move away from blaming a particular group,” he said.

Although the report suggested that the rules could allow remote GPs to keep their access to stronger opioids, Dr Seidel said city doctors also often performed care that needed schedule 8 opioids, including as palliative care doctors visiting people in the community.

Australia has the eighth-highest rate of opioid consumption in the world, ahead of Britain, New Zealand and France.

The United States leads the globe in its heavy use – more than double the rate of Australia, at about 50,000 daily doses per million inhabitants.

If you live in America and are aged under 50 years, you are now more likely to die from a drug overdose than anything else, with deaths now exceeding those at the height of the HIV epidemic.

Overdoses have claimed the lives of more than half a million Americans over 14 years – including about 20,000 deaths from powerful opioid fentanyl in 2016.

The agency is seeking submissions about ways to regulate access and curtail misuse of opioids in Australia. Other possible changes include reducing maximum pack sizes, new warning labels and mandatory education for doctors prescribing controlled substances.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration said “any regulatory response must not unduly restrict informed, rational prescribing of opioids”.

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Government spending on tax breaks is set to hit a record $170 billion this year, largely as a result of an explosion in the value of concession for the family home.

Treasury’s Tax Expenditures Statement required under the Charter of Budget Honesty and released quietly after the close of business on Thursday puts the value of the exemption from capital gains tax for owner occupiers at $74 billion this financial year, up from $66.5 billion last financial year, which was itself $5 billion more than Treasury had forecast.

Four years ago, before house prices shot up, it was worth $46.5 billion. Treasury says by 2020-21 it will be worth $91 billion.

The exemption releases owner occupiers from the obligation to pay capital gains tax on profits made from the sale of their primary residence. Those profits have soared in recent years as prices have climbed, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. Investors pay capital gain at half the income tax rate, a concession the Treasury costs at $10 billion, up from $4.4 billion four years ago.

The cost of tax expenditures is tabulated so that the government can compare the budgetary impact of direct spending in the form of grants with indirect spending in the form of tax breaks.

The government costs assistance to the aged at $64.3 billion and assistance to the unemployed and the sick at $10 billion.

The concession tax treatment of superannuation contributions is costed at $16.9 billion. The concessional treatment of super fund earnings is costed at $19.25 billion. The two figures can’t be added together to get a total for super tax concessions, because if contributions were fully taxed the funds would earn less.

The exemption of so-called fresh foods from goods and services tax costs $7 billion per year. Among the items exempt because they are used to prepare food at home is sugar, although commercially prepared products containing sugar such as soft drinks are subject to the GST.

The GST exemption for education services including private school fees will cost $4.55 billion in 2017-18 and $5.65 billion in 2020-21. The exemption for medical services costs $4.1 billion.

The cost of the farm management deposit system, which gives tax advantages to qualifying farmers, is is expected to double from $245 million in 2016-17 to $560 million in 2017-18.

The figures come as the government attempts to find savings to fund personal income tax cuts in the May budget and reduce the deficit of $21.4 billion. Tax Break Top 10

The 10 biggest tax expenditures identified by the Treasury

Revenue forgone per year

Capital gains tax exemption for family home: $77 billion

Tax relief for superannuation earnings: $19.25 billion

Tax relief for superannuation contributions: $16.9 billion

General capital gains tax discount: $10.27 billion

GST exemption for fresh food: $7.1 billion

GST exemption for education: $4.55 billion

GST exemption for health services: $4.1 billion

GST concession for for financial services: $3.4 billion

Tax relief for termination benefits: $2.4 billion

Concession for superannuation life insurance: $2.37 billion

Source: Commonwealth Treasury 2017 Tax Expenditures Statement

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The sale by Blackstone of its share of Westpac’s headquarters at 275 Kent Street, Sydney, for a rumoured $800 million, marks the start of what is forecast to be a very busy year for the national office markets.

With the low vacancies, partcularly along the eastern seaboard capital cities and demand high from a range of new and traditional businesses, rents will also rise, according to agents.

Next Thursday, February 1, the Property Council of Australia will release its Office Market reports for the end of December, which are tipped to show a decline in official vacancy rates across the three main markets of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

According to CBRE senior director, capital markets, Neva Courts, Melbourne’s strong fundamentals were propelling continued interest in office investment opportunities from both local and offshore investors.

This had driven a continued tightening in investment yields, which had sharpened five basis points in the fourth quarter of 2017 and 50 basis points over the 2017 year to reach a new benchmark of 5 per cent.

”Forecasts of continued strong rental growth have underpinned investor appetite for core Melbourne assets as highlighted by a series of significant transactions in 2017 fourth quarter,” Ms Courts said.

”Among them were the three assets sold by TrustCapital Advisors, which received over 30 bids and set pricing records.”

Ms Courts said that the $100 million to $200 million price bracket was particularly competitive.

“Numerous underbidders from 2017 campaigns are yet to get set and many local funds remain underweight to Melbourne. This is expected to underpin significant interest in any available opportunities, with Melbourne still perceived to be good value relative to Sydney by both local and offshore investors,” Ms Courts said.

One of the larger developments in Melbourne is the Lendlease’ third and final commercial tower at Melbourne Quarter.

Named Two Melbourne Quarter, the 25-storey office tower at 697 Collins Street, will feature 40,000 sqm of office space to accommodate about 4500 workers and adjoining retail space.

Lendlease managing director urban regeneration and infrastructure development Mak Menhinnitt, said planning approval for the Woods Bagot-designed tower coincided with a period of strong demand for ”high quality” office space in the Melbourne CBD.

Sydney’s property market remains the national front winner with unprecedented investment in infrastructure and development across most sectors.

According to Savills Research, Sydney’s standout performance is fundamentally underpinned by a material restriction on development potential owing to the landlocked nature of the CBD.

As such, the investment outlook for Sydney is largely dictated by the supply side into the short term, which is severely constrained as further withdrawals for government infrastructure projects and upcoming developments proceed.

This geographic supply hindrance provides the market with lower supply-led downside risk, continues to attract both local and offshore investment, drives rental growth, and justifies tighter return hurdles. This environment has resulted in continued yield compression.

The strong local and off-shore investment demand is expected to continue for all assets due to the potential to unlock positive rental reversion, secure a trophy asset in a transparent market.

Savills Research anticipate continued rental growth as tight leasing market conditions drive benchmarks further through to 2019-21.

CBRE’s data points to another bumper year for office sales, with last year’s national tally eclipsing the $15.37 billion in deals achieved in 2016 and tracking well above the 10-year annual average of $10.9 billion.

CBRE’s NSW state director, capital markets, James Parry said a strong uplift in Sydney office rents had underpinned continued interest in core and value-add investment opportunities.

“Rental growth in Sydney has outperformed the country over the past two years and this has driven strong demand and sharper pricing,” Mr Parry said.

“This was particularly in evident in the fourth qurater when $1.6 billion in Sydney office transactions were concluded, including 231 Elizabeth Street for $350 million, 130 Pitt Street for $229 million and 1 Castlereagh Street for $218 million.

Mr Parry said that foreign purchasers represented 60 per cent of the total transaction value and purchased five of the six sales over $100 million.

Simon Hunt, Colliers International managing director of office leasing said in the Sydney CBD, Colliers International recorded a 6 per cent increase in demand for office space to 185,555 sqm in the fourth quarter of 2017, up from 174,330 sqm in the same period of 2016.

The Melbourne CBD saw a slight decrease of 9 per cent overall in the fourth quarter of 2017, but recorded a 46 per cent increase in demand for small office suites under 1,000 sqm.

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Australia finally tasted one-day victory, just their second since last Australia Day, but Glenn Maxwell is firming for a return to the XI on Sunday after another shaky performance from their top six, including a potentially career-ending failure for Cameron White.

England already had an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series but it was going to take a miraculous effort from the tourists to continue their winning streak after Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ran through their top order in Adelaide, leaving England crippled at 5-8 after 6.2 overs.

But England recovered sufficiently to post a semi-competitive 196, and if not for home-town hero Travis Head, Australia would have been vulnerable to losing the unloseable. Head marked his return to the XI by almost repeating his feat of Australia Day 12 months ago when he scored his maiden ODI ton against Pakistan. Bookending those knocks from Head, Australia had lost 10 of their 11 completed ODIs, and Head had been dropped.

However, in the absence of the injured Aaron Finch, Head again showed he can be a valuable opener, with his strong driving helping to ensure Australia will avoid a first whitewash in a bilateral ODI series at home. He fell four runs short of another ton, caught at mid-on as he tried to deal with bounce from Mark Wood.

This was Australia’s first match since chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns announced a review into the team’s one-day operations, and while there was plenty to like from the bowlers, the batting is not yet out of its rut.

Steve Smith (four) and David Warner (13) both continued their lean spells in this form of the game. Australia’s captain and vice-captain are surely safe in the review, but the same cannot be said of White.

The veteran, surprisingly recalled ahead of Maxwell, sensed heading into this game that it was now or never for his international career. But he was trapped lbw for three by Tom Curran, and with three disappointing innings since his call-up, his dream could well be over at 34. Maxwell, who flew to Adelaide on Thursday after Finch strained a hamstring, is lurking in the wings ahead of Sunday’s game at Perth’s new Optus Stadium.

Wicketkeeper Tim Paine ultimately had to steady the ship, steering Australia home by three wickets with 78 balls to spare. Spinner Adil Rashid took 3-49 for England.

A myriad of records had earlier looked under serious threat as Hazlewood and Cummins returned to their dominant Ashes form. Mitchell Starc had been rested, although Australia didn’t end up needing him, as his fellow frontline quicks crippled England with fiery opening spells on a helpful pitch.

Only once in ODI history had a team lost its first five wickets for fewer runs, and that was Canada against the Netherlands.

Fears of a ridiculously early finish were allayed, though, as Moeen Ali and Eoin Morgan lifted England into double figures, and then some way beyond. Morgan fell for 33, but Chris Woakes picked up where his captain left off, before Moeen was caught in the deep for 33 to become Andrew Tye’s first ODI scalp.

Woakes kept fighting, though, putting on 60 for the ninth wicket with Curran, before holing out for 78 to on long-on, caught by substitute fielder Maxwell. Curran, who had come into the side for Liam Plunkett, was the last man out for 35, with England bowled out inside 45 overs. Cummins finished with career-best ODI figures of 4-24 from his 10 overs, while Tye – who had replaced Starc – took 3-33 and Hazlewood 3-39. As if to reiterate that there are too many meaningless ODIs, the crowd for this supposed marquee fixture was an underwhelming 24,329.

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