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Lancaster: England are not at crisis point

RUGBY: England head coach Stuart Lancaster (pictured) denies a deteriorating autumn has reached crisis point as pressure mounts following a fifth successive defeat.

The third QBE International against Samoa on Saturday is a match England dare not lose after New Zealand and South Africa stormed Twickenham over the last two weekends.

Only 10 games remain until next year's home World Cup and a sense of urgency has gripped the hosts as they seek to address their declining self-belief, brainless decision making and the collapse in form of half-backs Danny Care and Owen Farrell.

However, a defiant Lancaster refutes the suggestion England are in crisis.

"I don't think that's true at all. If you say

that, you're talking about a team that has no belief in what they're doing, has no sense of direction," said Lancaster.

"You're talking about a group of players who are not aligned with what you're trying to do, not agreeing with where you're going and have poor discipline on and off the field.

"That's a team in crisis. For me at the moment, I don't see any of those traits in this England team."

All Blacks must improve: Keven

RUGBY: Keven Mealamu says that New Zealand "need to do better" in the critical breakdown area as they target a winning tour finale against Wales this Saturday.

The All Blacks have not been beaten by Wales for 61 years and they will start as red-hot favourites to end 2014 with another victory at the Millennium Stadium, where Mealamu made his Test debut in 2002.

Now 35, the 122 times-capped hooker remains an important part of New Zealand coach Steve Hansen's plans, and if Mealamu is involved on Saturday then he knows how key a factor the breakdown could prove.

"Part of the game they do well up here is contest the breakdown," he said.

"As All Black forwards, it is a constant work-on for us, and we have to make sure we keep improving.

"It is a vital part of our game, and if we nail it well it sets our team alight. We need to do better there and we realise that. We will make sure we put in the work this week.

"As an All Black, especially one who has been around a little bit longer, you never know when it is your last Test, and you want to make sure everyone is a good one."

Federer plans for Davis return

TENNIS: Roger Federer is optimistic he will be fit for next weekend's Davis Cup final after his dramatic withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals.

The world No2 had been scheduled to play Novak Djokovic in a highly-anticipated climax to the tournament at London's O2 Arena but pulled out with a back injury suffered in his epic semi-final victory over Stan Wawrinka.

Federer and Wawrinka are due to play together next weekend in Lille as they attempt to beat France and earn Switzerland a first Davis Cup title.

It is one of very few major trophies missing from Federer's glittering CV and the occasion was shaping up to be one of the highlights of the season.

Federer said: "The way I feel right now, there's no way I can compete at any level really. Probably in a few days it's going to be better, but right now it's not good enough."

Grace progresses at Worlds

BOXING: It was a day of mixed fortunes yesterday for Team Ireland at the AIBA World Women's Elite Championships in Jeju, South Korea, with European bronze medallist Claire Grace advancing but Joanne Lambe bowing out.

Callan's Grace was involved in a tough bout with Romanian welter Cristina Stanca before emerging to victory on a unanimous decision.

Lambe lost to Qiong Lu of China on a unanimous decision after a close 57kg contest.

Olympic champion Katie Taylor begins her title defence today against Valerian Spicer of Dominica, while Michaela Walsh is in against Jamaica's Sarah Joy Rae.


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