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Force expect Sth African rugby onslaught

The Western Force are aiming to snap out of their recent funk against South African teams in their bid to land a dream Super Rugby finals berth this season.

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The Force are sitting pretty in fifth spot following five wins from their opening eight games, but the Perth-based franchise are yet to be tested by any South African opposition.

That will change over the next month when the Force take on the Bulls (Perth), Cheetahs (Bloemfontein), Stormers (Cape Town) and Lions (Perth) in what shapes as a season-defining period.

The Force have lost seven of their past eight games against South African opposition, and coach Michael Foley knows his charges will need to turn that record around if they are to stay in the hunt for a top-six berth.

South African sides are renowned for their strong scrummaging work – an area the Force were badly exposed in during last week’s 22-16 loss to the Melbourne Rebels.

Foley said his team also needed to improve their lineout if they were to come away with a positive record over the next four games.

“For us, having the four South African sides means we have to meet some of those challenges over the next four weeks if we’re to have a successful year,” Foley said ahead of Saturday night’s clash with the Bulls at nib Stadium.

“Every season you go into, you think about the ultimate goal, which would be to win (the title) or make the finals.

“But there’s a lot of things we’ve got to achieve before we get to that point.”

The ninth-placed Bulls appear ripe for the picking following three straight defeats on their Australasian tour and the loss of a host of key players.

But Foley remained wary of a side captained by legendary Springbok Victor Matfield.

The Force welcome back fullback Jayden Hayward and lock Sam Wykes, but winger Luke Morahan (hamstring) and scrumhalf Alby Mathewson (ankle) remain grounded by injury.

Although the Bulls love to scrum and maul, Foley has also warned his team to expect lots of high balls.

“Bjorn Basson as a winger sets the benchmark for the tournament in terms of coming through and contesting that ball,” Foley said.

“It’s ok to say ‘we’ve got to catch them’.

“But there needs to be a response from the whole team to get behind that ball and then play out of that situation.”

Royals say cheerio to Australia

It was as though Prince George didn’t want to leave Australia.

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The baby prince let out a last-minute wail just before his parents, Prince William and his wife Catherine, were about to embark on their long journey home to London.

With a royal wave and beaming smiles, the young royal family said goodbye at Canberra airport on Friday afternoon.

The royal couple formally thanked the police guard surrounding their motorcade, before being farewelled by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and his wife Lynne, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.

George frowned as he looked over his mother’s shoulder at what he was about to leave, and made his feelings known: he furrowed his eyebrows and let out a wail.

Spectators cheered and waved as the royal couple’s plane took off.

Nicolette Ellis brought her four children to see the young family off.

“I hope to see them back again. They’ve definitely brought some life back into the royals,” Ms Ellis told AAP.

Her father Ross Brown – who has seen his share of royal tours – gave this one his stamp of approval.

He said it was refreshing to see a younger royal couple Down Under, because they were much more open than previous counterparts.

“Will and Kate are so normal. They really got out amongst the people.”

The royal couple spent their final day in Australia commemorating Anzac Day in the national capital.

They made a surprise appearance at the dawn service, laid floral wreaths at Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, and at the Australian War Memorial planted a seedling cultivated from seeds collected following the Battle of Lone Pine.

It capped off a successful 10-day national tour that took them to the Northern Territory, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.

Theirs was a visit focused on meeting the young of their generation, who they may one day rule as monarchs: mixing beats with Adelaide DJs, playing with kids at Canberra’s National Arboretum, and meeting young guns like sailor Jessica Watson and sports star Ellyse Perry.

It was also about acknowledging the past: respecting the traditional owners of the land with a welcome to country in the NT, paying homage to Charles and Diana with a sunset stroll at Uluru, and becoming the first royal couple to attend Anzac Day services in Canberra in 50 years.

They came to meet a populace still tossing up the concept of a republic.

They saw parts of the country.

And they left, charming a nation.

New generation embraces Anzac spirit

Among the rain-sodden crowd at the Sydney Anzac Day march, a woman in a yellow raincoat held a hand-written sign for the passing diggers.

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“We love our freedom,” it read.

Beside her a man held another sign that added: “Thank you”.

Ninety-nine years on from the terrible Gallipoli landings, Anzac Day is being embraced by new generations of Australians, resulting in huge turnouts at ceremonies across the country and overseas.

And as older diggers fade from the ranks of marchers, younger servicemen and women are taking their place.

Iraq veteran Benjamin Lesley Gillman was among the many veterans of recent conflicts encouraged to march at the front of the Sydney march.

“What I just did then is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” the 29-year-old said.

Rodrick Stewart, a 78-year-old Vietnam veteran, was watching the march and was heartened by the growing crowds attending Anzac events.

“It’s very encouraging,” he said.

“You think you actually did some good.”

Across the nation and in places of significance around the world people stopped on Anzac Day to remember extraordinary sacrifices made by brave young Australians and their allies nearly 100 years ago.

At Gallipoli in Turkey, a smaller than expected crowd of 4400 mostly Australian and New Zealand pilgrims gathered to mark the 99th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, a year before 10,500 will squeeze on to the site for the centenary.

Veterans Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson told the quiet, reverential gathering that those soldiers who landed at Anzac Cove 99 years ago were, by their own admission, ordinary men.

“They did not seek glory, nor did they want their actions to be glorified,” he said.

“That these ordinary men, however, did extraordinary things is beyond doubt.”

In France, on the World War I Western Front battleground at Villers-Bretonneux, a crowd of 4500 Australians, Kiwis and French locals watched the dawn service.

London-based Australians Jessica Farlow, 23, Jess Rainsford, 19, and Tom Mills, 24, were among those honouring the Anzac tradition.

“It’s sort of like a rite of passage for people of our generation,” Ms Farlow said.

In Thailand, at the jungle site of the World War II Death Railway, 1200 people, including three Australian former prisoners of war, now in their 90s, marked Anzac Day.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were surprise arrivals among the 37,000 people who attended the Canberra dawn service at the Australian War Memorial.

Prince William and Kate were also present for the national Anzac Day ceremony later in the morning, planting a pine sapling grown from seeds gathered at Gallipoli.

Later generations of war dead were honoured as well: in Hobart, a photo of Victoria Cross recipient Cameron Baird, killed in Afghanistan last year, adorned the official Anzac Day program and a permanent memorial to Cpl Baird is planned in his Tasmanian home town of Burnie.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the looming Anzac centenary should give Australians fresh cause to ponder the example set by their forebears.

World War I had a profound impact on Australia, with 417,000 Australians enlisted.

Of those, 62,000 never came home while a further 152,000 were wounded.

“We should be a nation of memory, not just of memorials, for these are our foundation stories,” Mr Abbott said in a speech.

Norma Holmes, 75, came to watch her relative, World War II veteran Keith Roberts, in the Sydney march.

Big public turnouts for Anzac Day were not always the case, Ms Holmes said.

“When I was growing up, it wasn’t mentioned,” she said.

In the crowd beside her, Kate Cohen was attending her first Anzac Day.

“I felt a connection with it and wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

Record crowds at Anzac Day services

Tens of thousands of people have turned out at Anzac Day services across the nation, honouring Australian men and women who have fought and died in war.

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Crowds have reached record proportions with the centenary of the famous and disastrous Gallipoli landing just one year away.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

It’s 99 years since the First World War events that sparked the great Anzac legend on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

Unprecedented numbers of Australians have gathered around the nation, pledging to never forget the sacrifices of their forebears.

(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)

At one Anzac Day service in Canberra, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has sombrely reminded Australians of the horrors of war.

“Our commemorations today, as throughout the centenary, do not and will not glorify war. Rather, they honour what’s best and noblest in human nature. Australian soldiers have been called upon to do the terrible deeds that war requires, but have remained decent people. Mateship, humour and respect for an honourable foe, as well an implacable will to win have characterised the Australian soldier from that day to this.”

At the frosty dawn service at the Australian War Memorial, Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Ben Roberts Smith also honoured those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in more recent years.

He’s described the 40 Australians who died in Afghanistan as men who, like the first Anzacs, cared more about freedom and the Australian way of life than their own suffering and loss.

“Everything we understand to be the Anzac spirit is what these people dig deep and long for every day. Courage, stoicism, humour, laughter, warmth, generosity and a determination never to give in or be a burden on others. The Anzac spirit and the values it demonstrates remain our common bedrock, creed and source of hope and confidence through difficult and uncertain times in our world and our communities.”

Chief of the Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison marked Anzac Day with Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland’s far north.

Lietenant-General Morrison told the ABC the sacrifices of Indigenous Australians in wartime have been enormous.

“Aboriginal men and women have served in the armed services of the country for over a hundred years. Of course for a large part of that time they returned from their service and weren’t bestowed the dignity we would want to enjoy as citizens which made their commitment and their sacrifice all the more noteworthy. And it’s just great to be able to be up here.”

And in a sign that Anzac Day is relevant to Australia’s increasingly multicultural society, thousands of new Australians have turned out for services across the country.

13 year old Jamilla’s family is originally from Lebanon.

They travelled from Sydney to Canberra to honour the sacrifices made for their adopted country.

“Well, we’ll show like respect of they fought for our country and if they didn’t do that here there would be a war.”

Sridevi’s family migrated from India over a decade ago and says the story of Anzac has become part of her story.

“My brother is marching. He’s part of the Australian Defence finance section. So he’s working there so we are here to support him. There are many of his colleagues from very different backgrounds so he finds it very multicultural and nice to fit in.”

On the final day of their Australian tour, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended two Anzac ceremonies in Canberra, arriving at the first service unannounced and under the cover of darkness.

The second-in-line to the throne is a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot.

‘Dons boss regrets self-reporting to AFL

Essendon chairman Paul Little has suggested the club got it wrong by self-reporting their supplements crisis to the AFL.

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As ASADA continue their investigation of the Bombers’ 2011-12 supplements program, Little said the club gave away too much control of how the process unfolded.

The scandal went public in February last year, when then Essendon chairman David Evans, chief executive Ian Robson and coach James Hird fronted the media.

They announced the AFL and ASADA would start a joint investigation of the supplements program.

The AFL hit the club with massive penalties last August, but the ASADA probe is ongoing.

“I have this view that maybe self-reporting didn’t work all that well for us,” Little told Triple M on Friday.

“We gave away all of our leverage.

“We gave away all of our own rights to control a situation.”

Little acknowledged that self-reporting meant various authorities had unfettered access to people within the club.

“(But) I just think it perhaps could have overly-complicated a process that didn’t need to be quite that complicated,” he said.

Little took over as chairman in August last year after Evans’ sudden resignation because of health problems.

Robson resigned over the scandal and Hird is serving a 12-month suspension as part of the AFL penalties.

Little said the Bombers accepted the AFL punishment, where the club was kicked out of last year’s finals.

“We accept we were guilty of some of the lesser charges … and we’ve copped that penalty,” he said.

“But in any situation, you’ve got to retain some sort of control over your own destiny.”

Little also said the Bombers are hopeful interim coach Mark Thompson will stay once Hird returns at the end of this season.

He said the decision is entirely Thompson’s and they will discuss it when the time is right.

Essendon also hope to announce their new permanent chief executive by June 30.

Little said interim chief operating officer Xavier Campbell would be a very strong candidate for the job.

Ryan set for return against Penrith

Sidelined throughout Cronulla’s disastrous start to the season, Beau Ryan is set to finally make his 2014 debut in Saturday’s clash with Penrith at Remondis Stadium.

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The 28-year-old winger hasn’t played this season due to a neck injury, but is poised to be rushed back into a Sharks side that sits at the bottom of the NRL ladder, with just one win from seven games.

Ryan was named on an extended bench by interim coach Peter Sharp, but if cleared will come into the starting side at the expense of Jonathan Wright, who has struggled on the flank this year.

Winger Sosaia Feki and centre Ricky Leutele will continue to combine on the Sharks’ left side.

Ryan’s inclusion will add some spice to what is sure to be a desperate battle, after Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward took umbrage at the part-time comedian’s depiction of him on Channel Nine’s Footy Show earlier this month.

Ryan has since apologised for the skit and has stopped airing it.

Meanwhile, Panthers prop Tim Grant says he is keen to put his contract dramas behind him and put in a big performance up front for Penrith.

Grant last week signed a four-year deal with South Sydney starting in 2015, but is keen to make an impact in his final season with his junior club.

“I have a lot of unfinished business here at Penrith,” Grant said.

“For me I’m really excited about moving onto South Sydney.

“(But) that contract is in the filing cabinet. I still feel lucky to be coming to training every day and to be pulling on a Panthers jersey.

“I’m just enjoying being here playing footy and looking to finish off with a big year here, starting with the Sharks this weekend.”

Prop Sam McKendry (ankle) remains sidelined with Grant to start in the front-row alongside Brent Kite, with Jeremy Latimore and Nigel Plum on the bench.

Cambridges join Aussies at dawn services

Australians and New Zealanders have shown they will not forget the Anzacs.

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One year out from the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, at least 150,000 attended dawn services in Australian capital cities, with thousands more at services in suburbs and towns and in New Zealand.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made an unexpected appearance at the national dawn service at the Australian War Memorial and appeared touched by the Anzac tradition.

“I said to them it means a great deal to our nation that you should honour us by attending the dawn service,” AWM director Brendan Nelson told Sky News.

” … without hesitation they had an immense sense of pride in actually being here.

“But in the end … it’s not about the royals, it’s not about the governor-general … it’s about the men and women we honour.”

Prince William and Kate, who will return to the war memorial to attend the national service, were among the more than 35,000 who heard Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith urge Australians to remember those who have fought for their country.

“We are Australians, we are born of the Anzacs. We are the custodians and stewards of their spirit now and into the future. We must take good care of them,” Cpl Roberts-Smith said.”

Dr Nelson said it was a remarkable dawn service with an estimated 37,000 visitors.

“I am delighted with the number of people who came to the service. Anzac Day is Australia’s most significant national occasion, marking the 99th anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli,” he told reporters.

Dr Nelson said he would expect even more would attend the dawn service and national ceremony for next year’s 100th anniversary.

In Melbourne, an estimated 60,000 people gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance for the city’s dawn service.

Louise Percival went to the service for the first time wearing medals in honour of her grandfather, Gallipoli veteran Donald McKenzie.

“(It was) a very beautiful service,” she told AAP.

In Sydney, thousands of people crammed into Martin Place at dawn, with NSW Governor Marie Bashir pronouncing the Anzac Day Dedication.

In his address, retired lieutenant-general Ken Gillespie said the sacrifices made by diggers “will continue to influence our society and give us great courage for the future”.

At Adelaide’s war memorial, RSL spokesman Bill Denny told a crowd of more than 5000 that Anzac Day was about commemoration, not celebration.

“We must be very careful not to allow the oft-implied romance of war to overshadow the brutal reality, pain and loss that war delivers,” Mr Denny said.

In Brisbane, many in the crowd at Anzac Square attended for the first time, spurred by the coming 2015 centenary of the landing at Anzac Cove.

At Hobart’s dawn service, 6000 people were told Australia’s servicemen and women remained the heroes of a new generation.

“They provide today’s generation of people with heroes to look up to and inspire us to be selfless, honourable and to draw upon reserves of courage we never knew we had,” school student Jonah Lilley told the service.

Later on Friday, thousands more Australians and New Zealanders will attend the dawn service at Gallipoli, a prelude to major commemorations for next year’s centenary.

Smaller crowd falls silent at Gallipoli

This year’s Anzac Day at Gallipoli was billed as a dress rehearsal for the 2015 centenary, but a smaller-than-expected turnout made it a very intimate affair.

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Some 4400 mostly Australian and New Zealand pilgrims attended the North Beach dawn service 12 months out from the 100th anniversary when 10,500 people will be crammed on to the site.

The crowd on Friday was reminded that reverential silence on the often eerily quiet Turkish peninsula is a tribute to the diggers who died in 1915.

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson said the soldiers who landed at Anzac Cove 99 years ago were, by their own admission, ordinary men.

“They did not seek glory, nor did they want their actions to be glorified – for it was they who quickly came to know the true horror of war,” the minister said as the sun rose over the Gallipoli cliffs.

“That these ordinary men, however, did extraordinary things is beyond doubt.”

Senator Ronaldson said the Anzacs left a vanquished fighting force but “were victorious in helping forge the identity of our two new nations”.

“As the dawn of this new day breaks over the peninsula our tribute to the spirit of Anzac is a reverential silence,” he said.

Some 8700 Australians died during the eight-month campaign alongside 2700 New Zealanders.

It’s estimated up to 87,000 Turks lost their lives.

Young Australian Erinn Cooper camped out overnight to represent her father and grandfather at the dawn service.

The 22-year-old comes from a military family – her father served in East Timor and Iraq while her grandfather fought in World War II.

“It’s really mind-blowing to be here,” she said.

“Anzac Day is our biggest day of the year. It’s a really big thing in our family.”

Ms Cooper considered applying to attend in 2015 but decided the ballot process was too risky.

“Coming this year was something we could actually make happen.”

After the joint Australian and New Zealand dawn service Aussie pilgrims climbed up to the Lone Pine cemetery and memorial where in August 1915 Australia suffered its greatest casualties.

At the start of the service students read out epitaphs from some of the nearby headstones.

“How much of love and life and joy is buried with our darling boy,” one reads.

Another states: “Could I clasp your hand once more just to say well done.”

Senator Ronaldson noted that Australians and Turks at Lone Pine “battled just metres from one another in a desperate bid to take and hold this high ground”.

Organisers saw this year’s Anzac Day as a dry run for 2015 – hence an additional 3000 grandstand seats installed at Lone Pine went unused.

While the crowd will be much bigger next year it’s possible it will actually be more manageable as the event is ticketed.

Further, the pilgrims will be older on average because 1600 passes were set aside for direct descendants and veterans.

Australian authorities think it’s likely Prince Charles will attend the centenary service in Gallipoli although his spokeswoman has told AAP it is “too early to say”.

Anzacs remembered fondly in France

Anzac Day pilgrims have again turned out in force in northern France in a further sign of the growing understanding and appreciation of Australia’s contribution on the Western Front.

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Australians young and old stood side-by-side with French locals on Friday at a moving dawn service at the Australian National Memorial on the outskirts of Villers-Bretonneux.

Villers-Bretonneux is the site of one of Australia’s great victories of World War I, but the nation suffered heavy losses on the Western Front, with 46,000 of the 295,000 who served there never making it home.

The battle of Villers-Bretonneux marked a key turning point in the war when the Australians stopped the German forces advancing toward Paris.

But their success came at a heavy cost. More than 1,500 were killed or wounded in the battle, which began on the night of April 24, 1918, and ended on Anzac Day.

Many of those who died fighting on the Western Front have never been found and 10,764 names are etched on the Australian memorial’s stone walls honouring the lost.

Angie and Stephen Connelly, from Lennox Head in NSW, went to the service because Angie’s great uncle, Hubert O’Neill, is one of those listed.

“There was a fair investment here (the Western Front) in terms of lives it’s great that so many people are coming here to have a look and remember,” Mr Connelly said.

Katrina Moane’s grandfather, Frederick Marks, survived three years at Flanders in Belgium and at the Somme during World War II.

Along with her husband, Stuart, she was attending her first dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux. The Newcastle couple have visited many Western Front battlefields.

“That’s one of the major reasons we’re here, plus we go to an Anzac Day ceremony every year,” Mr Moane said.

The event has grown steadily in popularity since it was first held in 2008, with officials saying 4500 people attended this year’s service – believed to be a record turnout.

The head of the Villers-Bretonneux ceremony, Major-General David Chalmers, predicted earlier this week it would become Australia’s most significant national service beyond next year’s centenary commemorations in Gallipoli.

As dawn broke on Friday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told those gathered the brave efforts of diggers on the Western Front helped make the country what it is today.

“The war was no less than the crucible that forged modern Australia,” she said.

Ms Bishop said the turnout in the remote French location showed a broadening of Australia’s WWI focus, particularly among young people.

“The crowds here today are clearly conscious of the sacrifices that were made here at Villers-Bretonneux and other places on the Western Front,” Ms Bishop said.

“It’s become somewhat of a pilgrimage for young people to go to Gallipoli but I think Villers-Bretonneux, Bullecourt and other places on the Western Front might likewise become those sacred places that attract young Australians.”

Watson’s two-iron comes out of the locker

It will get an outing this week though as the twice Masters champion prepares to use every tool at his disposal to solve the riddles of links golf that have so far proved beyond his skills.

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With it’s undulating fairways, deep fairway bunkers, sculking hollows and fresh sea breezes, the Royal Liverpool course could not be more different to the manicured Augusta layout the big-hitting Watson conquered again this year.

Low ball flight and imagination will be key factors around the 7,300 yard layout alongside the Dee estuary, which is why Watson has added an otherwise redundant club to his bag.

“I’ve played the last couple of days with it and I’ve hit it pretty decent,” left-hander Watson, whose best finish at the British Open was 23rd in 2012, told reporters.

“Now, on the pressure of the tournament, it might not feel the same. I haven’t used it all year until this week. But it feels good right now.”

Despite struggling to adapt his game to the British links course, fan favourite Watson, who launches balls with mind-boggling power with his trademark pink-shafted driver, is a keen student and says watching compatriot Phil Mickelson storm to victory at Muirfield last year was a motivation.

“Watching Phil win for the first time, seeing Rickie Fowler play pretty good the last couple of years, it’s inspiring,” Watson, who is an 80-1 shot with some bookmakers, said.

“But because I’m inspired doesn’t mean I’m going to hit good shots. But I’m going to give it my best shot.

“I love the creativity this kind of golf provides,” he added. “I haven’t been successful at it yet, but hopefully over the next few years I can get better at it.”

Watson will be in good company if he wants to pick up some tricks on Thursday and Friday after being paired with Mickelson and another former winner, South Africa’s Ernie Els.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)