Rooney and Wilshere seal England win in Slovenia

Jack Wilshere earlier twice smashed the ball into the top corner from outside the area, his first international goals, as England moved within touching distance of the finals in France with 18 points from six Group E games, nine above second-placed Slovenia.

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Milivoje Novakovic had coolly given the hosts a 37th-minute lead after a series of England errors and Nejc Pecnik made it 2-2 late on before a defensive howler set up Rooney for his 48th England goal, one behind record holder Bobby Charlton.

“It was a long time ago when England last went a season unbeaten and we’re proud of that achievement,” Rooney told ITV after the Three Lions managed the feat for the first time since 1990-91.

“We need to keep improving now over the next season and make sure we qualify for the Euros. We’re certainly a team that is progressing.”

Raheem Sterling missed a golden chance early on for England and also shot narrowly wide after 14 minutes with his mixed performance under particular scrutiny.

He was kept in the starting line-up despite being booed in the recent 0-0 friendly with Ireland because of an average display and his behaviour in requesting to leave Liverpool.

Novakovic then grabbed the opener against the run of play.

Right back Phil Jones bungled a throw-in and Slovenia quickly broke up field where England played too high a line and enabled the 36-year-old to amble on to a through ball and calmly slot beyond Joe Hart.

Jones was substituted for midfielder Adam Lallana at halftime, with media reports blaming an ankle injury, and midfielder Jordan Henderson was employed at right back.

England made three starting changes from the bore draw in Dublin with Kieran Gibbs replacing Ryan Bertrand at left back and Fabian Delph and Andros Townsend coming into midfield.

The trio had their moments but Lallana’s introduction made the difference with the tricky player having a hand in both Wilshere’s wonderful strikes, in what was the best game in an England shirt for the Arsenal man.

Club team mate Gibbs was as fault for Slovenia’s equaliser with former Sheffield Wednesday player Nejc Pecnik climbing above him to head home after 84 minutes.

But just a minute later, Rooney latched on to misplaced intervention from Bojan Jokic and, having missed two easier chances earlier, fired home as England almost booked their passage to France with the top two qualifying automatically.

(Writing by Mark Meadows; editing by Martyn Herman)

Froome sends Tour warning with Dauphine win

The 2013 Tour champion, who will feature among the top favourites for the July 4-26 race, made his move 2.

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5 kilometres from the finish in the final climb to Valfrejus and never looked back.

He quickly swallowed fellow Briton Stephen Cummings (MTN Qhubeka), who had spent the day in the breakaway, and distanced yellow jersey holder Tejay van Garderen.

Team Sky rider Froome, who also prevailed in Saturday’s uphill finish in St Gervais, beat another Briton, Simon Yates (Orica GreenEDGE), to take the day’s laurels with an 18-second advantage.

At the end of Sunday’s 156.5-km trek from St Gervais, Van Garderen was fourth, behind Rui Costa, both 18 seconds behind Froome.

Overall, Froome beat Van Garderen (BMC) by 10 seconds with Portugal’s Costa (Lampre) in third place, one minute 16 seconds off the pace.

“The Tour de France is the big objective,” said Froome, who achieved the Dauphine-Tour double in 2013. “I think the team is ready and I think I’m almost ready. I’m really excited.

“If you take the race by its horns like that, stick to the plan, sometimes it pays off. I could not be happier right now.”

Van Garderen, fifth in the 2012 and 2014 Tours, told reporters: “Every race you go to you want to shoot for the top. I am certainly happy with second place and I am really happy with how I am stacking up to all of my Tour rivals. I think it is a good sign for July.”

Among Froome’s main Tour de France rivals, defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali looked far from his best.

The Italian took 12th place, 4:32 behind Froome after being unable to follow the best in the climbs on Saturday and Sunday as well as in Thursday’s fifth stage to Pra Loup.

Nibali, however, also looked under-par last year in the Dauphine before going on to smash his rivals on the Tour.

Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished ninth, 3:12 adrift. Exciting prospects Romain Bardet of France (AG2R La Mondiale) and Yates were sixth and fifth respectively.

Other Tour contenders were not racing the Dauphine, the most prestigious warm-up event for the three-week extravaganza.

Leading favourite Nairo Quintana (Movistar) of Colombia and double Tour winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) of Spain, who won last month’s Giro d’Italia, will take part in La Route du Sud in France next week.

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), third in last year’s Tour, is riding the Tour de Suisse where he is among the leaders after two stages on Sunday.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alan Baldwin)

Qld halves know what is coming: Maroons

Queensland forward Jacob Lillyman admits targeted halves Johnathan Thurston and Daly Cherry-Evans “know what is coming” in State of Origin II in Melbourne on Wednesday night.

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And while the likes of Maroons “bodyguard” Sam Thaiday have vowed to stand up for the playmaking pair, Lillyman believes they’re tough enough to take care of themselves.

NSW have stoked the fire ahead of the MCG showpiece, promising retribution for Queensland’s alleged grubby tactics in Origin I.

Beau Scott is expected to place Thurston in his sights yet again while Blues teammate Ryan Hoffman has a history of targeting Cherry-Evans when the Manly playmaker has filled in for injured Maroons halfback Cooper Cronk in the past.

Asked about the extra attention his 6 and 7 are likely to face, Lillyman said: “They know what is coming.

“(But) JT has got a few tricks of his own up his sleeve – he will probably pull a few of them out.”

Thaiday, meanwhile, has put his hand up to defend Cherry-Evans.

“It’s been something I have done my whole career pretty much,” Thaiday said.

“I have had Locky (ex-skipper Darren Lockyer) outside of me, Cooper outside of me and now DCE outside of me.

“These guys can handle their own otherwise they wouldn’t be in that position but I will be out there giving them a hand whenever I can – that’s all I can do.”

Lillyman says he doesn’t really expect any angst as Queensland look to seal their ninth Origin series win in 10 years with a victory.

“The game is so quick I don’t think you have time for the niggly stuff or dirty tactics,” he said.

“Speaking personally, you are that fatigued … those thoughts don’t enter your head.

“If you are thinking about that it could divert your attention away from what can help your team.

“I haven’t noticed anything untoward out there.”

Williamson, Taylor guide New Zealand to victory

The exemplary Williamson struck 12 fours in his 118 before he was caught at mid-off by Mark Wood off David Willey the ball after lofting a sweetly-timed straight six.

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Grant Elliott fell for five but by the time Taylor played a ball from Willey on to his stumps for 110 his side needed only 13 off the last 4.1 overs.

Luke Ronchi tried to finish the job in spectacular style by smearing Ben Stokes over the boundary rope but was caught by Jason Roy. It only delayed the inevitable, though, and Tim Southee hit the winning runs with an over to spare.

New Zealand lead the series 2-1 with two matches left.

“300 was certainly well within the game but I think what cost us was Kane and Ross’s partnership,” England skipper Eoin Morgan said at the presentation ceremony.

“They played really well today and all credit to them.”

After the fireworks of the first two matches which produced a combined 1,369 runs, Sunday’s clash at the Rose Bowl was a slightly more sedate affair, but gripping nonetheless.

England ultimately paid for failing to bat out their allotted 50 overs and several dropped catches.

Wicketkeeper Jos Buttler allowed Taylor to escape on 67 and the same batsman was dropped by Stokes at short mid-wicket — both off Wood who himself contrived to fumble a simple chance shortly after Williamson reached his century.

England won the toss and made a steady start before opener Alex Hales nicked one to Southee at second slip to give Ben Wheeler his first international wicket and Roy was bowled by Southee.

Captain Eoin Morgan (71) added 105 for the third wicket with Joe Root (54) but New Zealand’s attack never lost control.

Stokes scored 68 from 47 balls and with Sam Billings smashing 34 off 16 balls England looked set for a charge before the wickets started tumbling.

Wheeler ended with three for 63 while Southee was the pick of the bowlers, taking three for 44.

New Zealand lost openers Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum with less than 40 on the board, but Williamson and Taylor gave a masterclass in calm, measured batting to propel their side towards victory.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ed Osmond)

Blues invite Maroons to target Farah

NSW captain Paul Gallen says he welcomes any Queensland attempts to target Robbie Farah’s troublesome shoulder in State of Origin II.

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Farah made it through both of the Blues’ contact sessions at their Coffs Harbour base over the weekend, before they flew to Melbourne on Sunday afternoon.

The Wests Tigers skipper is certain to take his place in the Blues side for Origin II at the MCG on Wednesday, even if aided by a painkilling injection.

Gallen said he has no concerns about Farah lining up in the Blues defence.

“He’s a hooker, they all get targeted,” Gallen said.

“The hooker and the halves get targeted every game, that’s probably the reason he made 60 tackles (in an Origin in 2012) and makes 50 every week at club level.

“They’re always targeted because they are generally smaller. Not only that but they try to take some of their attacking ability away. Robbie will be fine. I’m not worried about it. They (Queensland) can do what they want.”

Farah has worked overtime on rehabilitating his injured left shoulder after suffering the problem in a first half tackle from Justin Hodges in Origin I.

Gallen said Farah’s determination to play Game II was an inspiration to his teammates.

“He certainly deserves to be here, he has looked great at training,” Gallen said.

“It shows how important it is to everyone but particularly him and particularly where he’s come from in the past couple of years.

“It was only a few years ago he wasn’t picked, he probably never cemented his spot until 2012 it might have been where he had the 60-odd tackles so he’s cemented his spot in the team now, he wants to keep it.

“Sometimes when you get an injury your attitude can be down because you’re concerned about your injury but there’s no sign of that at all, he’s chirpy around training, he’s calling plays, everything has gone really smoothly.”