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Sevens No.1 priority for ARU in 2016

ARU boss Bill Pulver says winning an Olympic gold medal is an even greater priority for 2016 than Test match rugby and he will support Wallabies stars being made available to play Sevens in Brazil.

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Australia will throw everything at winning the 2015 World Cup, but after that Pulver says the No.1 focus will switch from Tests to Sevens and giving Michael O’Connor’s team the best possible players and preparation for Rio.

But despite the prestige of an Olympics and the valuable exposure Australian rugby could gain by winning gold, it’s an approach which could raise eyebrows amongst the game’s traditionalists.

In the bread and butter of Test match football, the Wallabies haven’t lifted the Bledisloe Cup in 12 years and last won the Rugby Championship/Tri Nations in 2011.

Pulver says the ARU board must first come up with a strategy to balance the 15s Test schedule with the Sevens circuit, but believes if Wallabies players are keen on putting in the 12 months preparation required to go to the Olympics, then red tape shouldn’t stand in the way of them being considered.

“I personally take the view that if you look at the objectives for 2016 for Australian rugby, I think winning a medal in the men’s and women’s events is right up there as our No.1 priority for that year,” Pulver told AAP.

“I’m clearly committed to the fact that where players are eager to represent their country in the Olympics and Michael O’Connor wants them to be available, that we will find a way to make that happen. How we do that is to be worked out.

“But there’s a balancing act here because in 2015 the priority, by a long way, is to win the World Cup. Once you’re into 2016 it will be to win Olympic gold.”

Australia are currently ranked fifth in Sevens rugby, and many believe injecting the likes of Israel Folau and Quade Cooper could boost the team’s chances of knocking over heavyweights New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa for Olympic gold.

However, Sevens coach O’Connor wants Wallabies players wishing to make themselves available for Rio, to spend 12 months on the IRB circuit familiarising themselves with the specialist game, and Pulver has backed that assertion.

“A lot of people think just take your dream team and run them on in the Olympics – it doesn’t work that way. That’s a recipe for disaster,” Pulver said.

“The best rugby teams are those that are made up of players who have been playing together for a long time and form combinations and understand how each other plays.

“You’ve got to give Michael O’Connor a runway to prepare that team to be ready to win and I think that runway, presuming you qualify, is at least the full year after the World Cup.”

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Melbourne ready for a giggle at festival

The test of true love for Celia Pacquola will be not incorporating a future partner’s weird anatomy or quirks into her comedy routines.

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She will join comics from across Australia and overseas at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) in March.

On Valentine’s Day eve, romance was the theme of the day at the festival launch, with comics `speed dating’ journalists.

“I am actually single so this is good practice,” Pacquola says.

Her last MICF show was about relocating to London and having a long distance relationship.

“Everyone thought it wasn’t going to work out,” she says

“But it totally worked out – and now we’ve broken up.”

Pacquola’s new show, Let Me Know How it All Works Out, is about not planning for the future.

She says she only dates her friends because she doesn’t trust strangers.

“Basically I’ve just been kissing my friends because I don’t trust people I don’t know because I think they are going to write something mean about me on Twitter.

“I don’t trust people to not mid-date be like `oh my God, she is so boring #i’mleavingwhenshegoestothetoilet,'”.

Pacquola says she will know any future relationship is serious if she manages not to share with her audiences anything strange about her partner.

“People always say to me `No one is going to want to date you Celia because they’ll be worried you’re going to talk about them on stage’, which is absolutely fair enough.

“Particularly if they’ve got weird genitals, or anything weird about them.

“I think that will be a test of true love, is if I can keep that to myself.”

Em Rusciano’s show Divorce The Musical is about her split with her husband a year ago.

Her 62-year-old father will make his MICF debut, joining Rusciano on stage playing guitar, as well as carrying her feathers and glitter.

“It’s an uplifting show. It’s also about how my dad and I got much closer and he got me through it all,” Rusciano says.

She and her daughters now live with her parents in Melbourne.

“My Dad’s (who is Italian) ultimate goal is to have everyone he knows living in the same house.

“It’s not as tragic as it sounds. No, it is, but it works for me at the moment.

“It’s not the greatest pick-up line: `hey, I’m 34 and I live with my parents'”.

Rusciano says her best advice for others going through divorce is to be in the moment and not worry about the future.

“Just know at some point you’ll look back and go `I’m really glad that happened’.

“Believe it or not, I’m so glad that I had the most horrendous year last year because I’ve learnt so much about myself.

“And I’m alright.

“It’s going to be alright.”

* The Melbourne International Comedy Festival runs from March 26 to April 20, 2014.

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Optus lifts profit 40%, improves coverage

Optus has lifted its quarterly net profit by more than 40 per cent, but concedes it still needs to address network coverage and bill shock.

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Optus boss Kevin Russell says the telco is also working to improve customer satisfaction as complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman dropped to around 1000 in the December quarter, the lowest rate in a decade.

“Satisfied is absolutely not where we are,” Mr Russell told reporters after the company’s quarterly results were released on Thursday.

“We’ll continue to push hard to improve the service.”

Mr Russell said billing remained a challenge for the Singapore Telecommunications-owned telco which was working to address roaming and data bill shock.

“Expect to see improvements in both of those areas,” Mr Russell said.

He added that Optus’ network quality would improve substantially once the company was given access to additional spectrum.

Optus made a net profit of $227 million for the three months to December 31, up from $160 million for the same period a year ago.

That was despite a five per cent slide in revenue, which Optus attributed to a mandated reduction in termination fees, lower equipment revenues and service credits associated with device repayment plans.

As well as lifting profit growth the company was regaining market share, despite a slide in revenue from mobile customers.

Mr Russell added that customer complaints about the network had halved over the past 12 to 18 months.

The number of customers on its 4G network rose more than 30 per cent during the quarter to 1.8 million.

Optus is expanding its 4G network to cover 70 per cent of Australia’s metro population by April 2014.

“We’re seeing improvements in terms of 4G satisfaction levels and 4G uptake,” he said.

The company is focused on delivering sustainable profit growth and making significant improvements in the customer experience.

Singapore Telecommunications shares were six cents, or 1.9 per cent, higher at $3.15 at 1503 AEDT.

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Buckley pleased with early AFL umpiring

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley hopes he is seeing the start of a more relaxed umpiring outlook this AFL season.

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Only 27 frees were paid in Wednesday night’s start of the NAB Challenge in which the Magpies lost to Geelong by two points.

“I prefer it that way – to see that is heartening,” he said.

“As long as there’s consistency in how it’s applied, then you can play around it and coach around it.”

Buckley added he had noticed more lenient decisions late last month when VFL umpires controlled a Collingwood intraclub game.

The AFL has directed umpires to allow more body-on-body contact in marking contests.

“I thought there was a bit more relaxation on grappling into a (marking) contest and not just that, but in ground-level balls.

“I don’t mind that, but once a bloke was pinged, they really pinged him.

“What I saw last night was a little bit more of that, allowing the bodywork into the contest.”

It was a solid hitout for Collingwood, with star onballer Scott Pendlebury shining in his first game as captain.

The two-time club best and fairest and four-time All-Australian has taken over from Nick Maxwell, who was captain for five seasons.

“You give the bloke a title and all of a sudden someone wants you to grow an extra leg or be faster or taller than you were before,” Buckley said.

“In the end, Pendles will be himself and the best version of himself.

“Every year, year on year, he’s improved and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t do that.”

Buckley was encouraged by Wednesday night’s clash, which was played at a high standard.

The only real setbacks were injuries to young players Nathan Freeman (hamstring) and Tim Broomhead (hand).

“They’re setbacks, part of the game, but they both got a taste of it and that will fuel them for their understanding of what’s required,” Buckley said.

Collingwood’s next pre-season game is on February 22, against Richmond in Wangaratta.

Buckley is confident that stars such as Dane Swan and Ben Reid will be ready by then after sitting out the Geelong match.

“Rather than push guys up for NAB one when they’re 95 per cent ready, let’s get another two or three training sessions into them and be ready for the week after,” he said.

“All things being equal, 80 per cent of the guys who didn’t play last night will be available for selection.”

Collingwood will need to hit the ground running next month for the start of the regular season, given their first three opponents are preliminary finalists Fremantle, Sydney (away) and Geelong.

“We’re far from thinking that we’re where we need to be,” Buckley said.

“But after four quarters of evidence, we weren’t expecting to be there anyway.”

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Kaizer Chiefs’ record bid dashed

Kaizer Chiefs’ hopes of creating a South African Premiership record for consecutive wins has been dashed by a 2-2 midweek draw at lowly Maritzburg United.

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The Soweto club had won nine league games in a row as they chased the record of 11 set by Mamelodi Sundowns en route to the 2007 title.

Leaders Chiefs, the most successful and popular football club in the republic, equalised twice against opponents who mocked their lowly position with a spirited show.

But ex-South Africa striker Katlego Mphela – a mid-season signing from Sundowns – could have secured maximum points for Chiefs had he been on target with a late close-range shot.

“I cannot complain about the result after a game that produced some fantastic football on a pitch not conducive to good football,” said England-born Chiefs coach Stuart Baxter.

“We displayed character by not panicking when falling behind twice and continuing to play good football,” added the former Finland manager.

Ryan de Jongh got United off to a flying start with a 60-second goal at a packed Harry Gwala Stadium in KwaZulu-Natal capital Pietermaritzburg.

Zimbabwean Kingston Nkhatha levelled on six minutes only for Bhongolwethu Jayiya to nudge Maritzburg ahead again by converting a first-half penalty.

Centre-back Tefu Mashamaite brought Chiefs level 10 minutes from time by nodding a free-kick past goalkeeper Shu-Aib Walters and then Mphela fired wide when well placed.

Collecting one point lifted defending champions Chiefs to 40, nine ahead of pre-season title favourites Sundowns, who have two matches in hand.

Thuso Phala and Bennett Chenene scored as SuperSport United defeated Mpumalanga Black Aces 2-0 and rose to third – 11 points behind Chiefs with the same number of games played.

Bloemfontein Celtic forced a 0-0 draw at Platinum Stars while the Free State Stars-Orlando Pirates fixture in central town Phuthaditjhaba was postponed owing to inadequate floodlighting.