Crusaders snatch late win over Sharks

A late try to captain Kieran Read has carried the Crusaders to a tense 19-14 win over the Sharks in Durban, leaving no unbeaten teams in Super Rugby.

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The South African side suffered their first loss, starved of possession by a dominant Crusaders forward pack who bossed the scrums and snatched a swag of lineout possession.

However, the visitors failed to translate their dominance into points, eventually needing Read’s try in the 72nd minute to see off the stubborn hosts, whose two tries were long-range, opportunistic scores to winger Lwazi Mvovo.

The Sharks record drops to three wins, one draw and a loss while the Crusaders have now won three in a row after dropping their opening match against the Chiefs.

It also means New Zealand teams are unbeaten in their last 11 games against offshore opponents in the expanded competition.

The Crusaders cause wasn’t helped by sloppy goalkicking display from first five-eighth Richie Mo’unga, who missed four of five shots, including three handy penalty chances.

His one success was the conversion of a 25th-minute try to fullback David Havili, who capitalised on a slick offload from winger Nemani Nadolo.

Mvovo levelled the scores 7-7 just before halftime when he intercepted Mo’unga’s pass and raced 60m.

The speedy winger was at it again just after the break, pouncing on a loose ball 40m out and outpacing the cover defence.

The Crusaders’ hopes appeared to nosedive when Havili was shown a yellow card for a relatively innocuous push off the ball.

However, they responded with a try to Nadolo and nearly had another to wing Johnny McNicholl from long range but centre Kieron Fonotia put his foot on the touchline.

It took a short pass from Ellis to put Read across, cracking a Sharks defence which hadn’t conceded a second-half try in any game this season.

The Crusaders’ tour continues with games against the Lions and Force.

Southern Stars through to World T20 semi

The Southern Stars have advanced to the World Twenty20 semi-finals with a little help from New Zealand.

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Australia crushed Ireland in their final pool game, restricting the winless minnows to 7-91 then hauling in the target in 13.2 overs with seven wickets in hand at New Delhi.

South Africa could have leapt into second spot on the group A table if they defeated both NZ and Sri Lanka.

But the White Ferns walloped South Africa on Saturday night by seven wickets, ushering themselves and Australia into the knock-out phase of the tournament.

The Southern Stars, shooting for a fourth straight T20 title, will return to Feroz Shah Kotla for Wednesday’s semi.

England, currently the top-ranked side in Group B, are their most likely opposition.

“It’s always a good match-up whenever we play England,” Megan Schutt said, having been named player of the match against Ireland after grabbing figures of 3-29.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a game when either of us has blown the other out of the park.

“No matter what the conditions are, we will both have to adapt, but I think it will be a cracking game.”

It will be Australia’s third World T20 match at the ground, while England are yet to play at the venue during this tournament.

“Obviously it’s a bit of an advantage to see the ground before the opposition,” Schutt said.

Ireland, who finished the tournament without a victory, briefly threatened to cause a boilover after losing the toss.

Clare Shillington and Cecelia Joyce belted Australia’s attack, powering their side to 0-33 in the fifth over.

Schutt created the initial breakthrough when Shillington popped up a catch to Beth Mooney at mid-off.

Legspinner Kristen Beams and left-arm tweaker Jess Jonassen both recorded miserly figures of 0-14 from four overs.

“Our bowlers really set the tone early. They certainly got away in the powerplay but I thought we dragged it back really nicely,” skipper Meg Lanning said.

Alyssa Healy and Lanning fell cheaply but Elyse Villani and Ellyse Perry shared a 54-run stand.

Lanning was confident her side was hitting form at the right time in the tournament, having banked two wins following a six-wicket loss to NZ.

“We’ve got some really good momentum over the last couple of games. Our batting has clicked a lot more,” she said.

“Semi-finals are always tough … anything can happen.”

Self-belief key to sinking Smith: Kohli

India maestro Virat Kohli has implored his teammates to attack with self-belief when they’re bowling to Steve Smith.

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Kohli and Smith, two of the best batsmen in the world, will play a big part in deciding whether Australia or India advance to the World Twenty20 semi-finals.

The two sides clash at 1am AEDT on Monday at Mohali in a virtual quarter-final.

Smith isn’t capable of muscling the ball over the rope with ease but a captain’s knock of 61 not out against Pakistan was a reminder of his immense value in the format.

“Top quality players around the world do tend to have answers for them more often than not. You just have to make life as difficult as possible for them and take up the challenge,” Kohli said of Smith.

“(Think that) yes he is a very good player. He’s a world-class player but I’m going to get him out today.

“It’s all about the mindset.

“How you prepare for a particular game and how much you believe you can actually get the opponent out. I believe it all boils down to that.”

Smith and Kohli both dominated the 2014-15 Test series in Australia, scoring four tons each.

“It’s just one of those things. It just happens sometimes you can get on a bit of a roll against an opposition and you’re hard to stop,” Smith said earlier this month.

“If we come up against India again it’d be nice to get on that sort of roll.”

Kohli has likewise saved his best for Smith’s side.

The 27-year-old’s average against Australia is better than his overall average in all three formats.

“They play with a lot of passion and I believe in playing the same way so I like that challenge,” Kohli said.

“I’ve always enjoyed playing against Australia but … you just can’t sit in your dressing room thinking that if it’s Australia I’m going to end up scoring runs.

“You still have to respect the conditions, the bowlers.”

Kohli added that Smith played an underrated role in T20 cricket.

“Smith gives them that solidarity in the middle overs. Which is great for any team,” he said.

“You can have a person who can play the least number of dot balls and still keep the scoreboard ticking, while the others are having a go at a few bowlers.

“It always helps.”

China rolls out green carpet for California on climate

Since Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate deal, China has repeatedly vowed to uphold the accord and work with American states that share its determination.

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Giving a warm welcome to California Governor Jerry Brown, an opposition Democrat and self-described “envoy for humanity”, while cold shouldering US Energy Secretary Rick Perry signalled Beijing was happy to bypass Washington to make that happen.

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“I think the message is that irrespective of the decision of Donald Trump, China is willing to work with individual states and cities in the United States,” said Willy Lam, an expert on politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

‘Losing ground’

Brown and Perry arrived in Beijing for a ministerial-level clean energy meeting just days after Trump’s shock announcement. 

While Perry maintained a relatively low profile during his visit, Brown, who had described Trump’s move as “insane”, went on a public relations offensive as he sought to fill the vacuum left by the US leader in the climate change fight.  

“We are losing ground. We are not moving at the pace needed to prevent catastrophe,” Brown warned Thursday on the sidelines of the gathering. 

Brown used several public appearances in Beijing to drum up Chinese support for California’s aggressive efforts to curb climate-warming carbon emissions, including face-to-face talks with Xi in the Great Hall of the People, a venue normally reserved for meetings with visiting heads of state. 

His efforts yielded results.

By the end of a week-long tour Brown said he had secured several preliminary agreements relating to clean energy and the establishment of a China-California climate institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing. 

China is a “major economic engine that is investing in the low-carbon economy and California is doing things that are similar, on a smaller level of course,” Brown told AFP.

Chinese officials have made it clear they want to work with the American state and beyond.  

California has “a lot of experience that is beneficial to the rest of us”, Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator, told a forum attended by Brown on Thursday.

“We will not only continue to strengthen cooperation with California, but also strengthen concrete cooperation with other US states, cities, enterprises and scientific research institutions in fields including clean energy.”

WATCH: What is the Paris Climate Agreement?

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Perry snubbed?

Trump’s backsliding on the Paris deal is viewed as handing China the mantle in the battle against global warming – an opportunity Beijing welcomes as it seeks to become a world leader on everything from globalisation to the environment.

But it also fits with China’s domestic political agenda of being seen to do more to clean up its polluted air and rivers and find new ways of spurring economic growth.

Perry called for Sino-US cooperation on clean energy, noting America was still keen to work with China despite Trump’s decision to exit the global climate agreement.

“We have extraordinary opportunities to be partners to work on clean energy issues,” said Perry, who was granted a reception with China’s number seven, Zhang Gaoli, in the central leadership compound.

While Perry’s meeting with Zhang could be interpreted as a diplomatic snub to the US official, analysts said it may also mean that China has not given up on Washington. 

“It’s probably trying to send some signal that China is still trying to cooperate,” said Tom Rafferty, China regional manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

 

No gas without GST change: WA premier

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan is threatening not to connect a gas pipeline to the east coast until his state gets a fairer share of GST revenue.

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The WA Labor leader made the threat sitting next to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other premiers at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Hobart on Friday.

The COAG meeting ended with no resolution on changing the GST revenue sharing system.

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman, who hosted the meeting, said he was delighted there had been no agreement on changing the formula, as the current system was based on the notion of a “fair go for all Australians no matter where they live”.

But Mr McGowan told reporters his state, which gets back 34 cents in the dollar from the GST, had been “comprehensively dudded”.

“WA is a major gas producer in the nation but we would expect action on GST before such time as we approve a gas pipeline across WA to connect to the eastern states,” he said.

“We are prepared to take tough measures and take the issue up forcefully.”

Mr McGowan proposed to the meeting that a proportion of state mining royalties be excluded when calculating a state’s capacity to raise revenue.

“If you exclude 25 per cent of mining royalties from the GST distribution, the states that have a mining industry and encourage it will be rewarded for doing so,” he said.

He also suggested counting gambling revenues in the formula, which would also work as an incentive to reduce the number of poker machines – which WA does not allow.

“You get more GST if you have less gambling,” he said.

Mr McGowan reiterated his support for a floor in the GST, which the prime minister has previously backed but indicated would need to wait until it could be guaranteed no state loses out.

ANZ shifts rates mix against interest-only

ANZ is raising variable rates on its interest-only mortgages by another 0.

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3 percentage points as it reins in riskier lending in response to regulatory changes.

And the lender further increased incentives for customers to shift away from interest-only mortgages by announcing it will cut variable rates on principal and interest home loans by 0.05 percentage points and scrap fees for switching.

The moves announced Friday apply to both residential and investor mortgages from June 16.

“While we know those only paying interest on their loans will be disappointed, we need to manage our regulatory obligations and we are now required to hold additional capital against our home loans,” ANZ group executive Australia Fred Ohlsson said.

In March, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority told banks to limit higher risk interest-only loans to 30 per cent of new residential mortgages.

That prompted the big lenders to hike those rates to make loans less attractive in comparison to principal and interest loans, while increasing the amount of capital they generate.

The move appears to have worked, with a drop in investor lending driving a total 1.9 per cent seasonally adjusted fall in housing-related lending for April.

“This is no surprise given the combination of out of cycle rate hike largely aimed at investors and the introduction of additional macro prudential regulation by APRA in late March,” ANZ senior economist Jo Masters said.

“The data suggest those measures have had an immediate impact.”

ANZ already lifted its interest-only variable rate by 0.25 percentage points in March, and the following month hiked some of its fixed rates for interest-only borrowers by 0.4 percentage points.

ANZ said that more than 80 per cent of owner-occupier borrowers would benefit as its standard variable rate for owner occupiers comes down to 5.20 per cent.

APRA curbs weigh on home loan approvals

Home loan volumes fell by more than expected in April in another sign that tighter lending conditions are starting to cool the runaway property market that has worried regulators.

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The number of home loan approvals fell 1.9 per cent during the month – compared to a 1.0 per cent dip forecast by economists – for a third straight monthly decline.

The value of mortgages declined by a seasonally adjusted 1.6 per cent to $32.4 billion, according to data released on Friday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“Today’s numbers capture the early impact of APRA’s latest rule changes, which limit new interest-only lending,” CBA economist Kristina Clifton said.

“However it is likely to take a number of months before the full impact of these changes can be assessed.”

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority capped interest-only mortgage lending on March 31, telling lenders to limit higher risk interest-only loans to 30 per cent of new residential mortgages.

That set off a fresh round of rate increases by the major lenders, with banks repricing their loan book to make interest-only and investor loans more expensive.

The decline in April was driven by a 2.3 per cent fall in the value of loans for investment housing, while the value of loans approved for owner-occupied housing fell 1.1 per cent.

JP Morgan economist Henry St John said it was still too early to assess the efficacy of macro-prudential policy, but noted that lenders have continued to tighten rates in recent weeks.

“Moreover, there is evidence the Sydney and Melbourne property markets are cooling, which supports the view that these revamped macro-prudential measures are having the desired effect,” he said in a note.

On Friday, ANZ announced it is raising variable rates on its interest-only mortgages by another 0.3 percentage points.

The lender further increased incentives to shift away from interest-only mortgages by announcing it will cut variable rates on principal and interest home loans by 0.05 percentage points and scrap fees for switching.

The Reserve Bank of Australia this week kept the cash rate at 1.50 per cent despite weak economic growth, because of fears of further fuelling risks in the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets.

Economists expect further slowing in the investor segment in coming months and a broad cooling in the housing market.

What the states said about COAG

WHAT THE STATE PREMIERS SAID ABOUT THEIR COAG MEETING WITH THE PRIME MINISTER

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Mark McGowan ramped up Western Australia’s attack against the GST distribution, threatening to withhold the state’s gas resources from needy eastern states if action isn’t taken.

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“WA is a major gas producer in the nation but we would expect action on GST before such time as we approve a gas pipeline across WA to connect to the eastern states. We are prepared to take tough measures and take the issue up forcefully.”

VICTORIA

Daniel Andrews was happy about a special COAG meeting on terrorism but insists it must result in concrete steps to keep Australians safe. “I think we are at a point in our nation’s history where we have to give very serious consideration to giving law enforcement some tools and powers that they don’t enjoy today.”

QUEENSLAND

Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed the Finkel review, insisting that while her state was already playing its part on national energy supply it was prepared to do more. “We have opened up over 400 square kilometres of gas exploration, solely used for domestic supply. We are happy to continue that.”

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Jay Weatherill wasn’t happy about schools funding, insisting his state still misses out on $265 million under Gonski 2.0. “It is a long way short of what we agreed. We are going to continue to press that.”

NSW

Gladys Berejiklian acknowledged the federal government’s adoption of needs-based funding for schools but maintained it fell short of the original Gonski agreement.

ACT

Andrew Barr said the federal government’s national rail program needed to fix the 19th century rail service between Sydney and Canberra.”One that is befitting of the national capital and Sydney as Australia’s international city being properly connected by a rail service that doesn’t travel at a speed that someone could run faster next to the train.”

NORTHERN TERRITORY

Michael Gunner said a COAG agreement to develop northern Australia needed to be done in full partnership with Aboriginal Australians. “The first people are 30 per cent of our population. They own 80 per cent of our coastline and 50 per cent of our land. We have to work with them.”

Qld Cross River Rail funding hopes dashed

The Queensland government’s hopes of a last-minute federal injection to Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project appear to have been dashed, with the prime minister refusing to commit to funding.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk raised the topic of federal funding for the project during discussions at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Hobart, but did not receive a pledge.

“My government has already committed $850 million to Cross River Rail. We expect a matching commitment from the Turnbull government so work on Cross River Rail can get under way,” she said after the discussions.

The state Labor government has previously urged the commonwealth to at least match its funding commitment or risk delaying the start of the rail beyond the end of this year.

But this year’s federal budget overlooked the $5.4 billion project, instead including a multi-billion dollar federal rail fund which could be used to pay for the Brisbane proposal, but not before 2019.

In the absence of federal funds, the Palaszczuk government would have to decide whether to go ahead alone, or seek other funding arrangements, possibly from the private sector.

During a meeting three weeks, ago Mr Turnbull told the premier there were outstanding requests for information from Infrastructure Australia.

Ms Palaszczuk on Friday said that information had since been provided, while the project had also received the support of the Brisbane City Council.

“The prime minister now has no excuse for the people of southeast Queensland for continuing to fail to fund Cross River Rail and help alleviate traffic congestion,” she said.

Deputy Premier and Transport Minister Jackie Trad said Mr Turnbull’s refusal to commit to funding came on the same day the project secured all major state approvals necessary.

At a pre-budget address on Tuesday, Treasurer Curtis Pitt said he “had a plan” to fund the project, but that didn’t mean federal funds would be unwelcome if they were offered.

Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls called on the government to release its business case.

“If it’s such a good business case, why are Annastacia Palaszczuk and Jackie Trad refusing to release the details?” he said.

What now for Brexit after UK vote?

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party has failed to win a parliamentary majority in Britain’s election on Friday, a shock result that plunges domestic politics into turmoil and could delay Brexit talks.

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Below are details of what happens next:

WHO GETS POWER?

For the election to produce a majority government, the biggest party theoretically must win at least 326 seats of the 650 United Kingdom constituencies. In practice, the threshold for a majority is around 323, because the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party takes up no seats that it wins in Northern Ireland.

As incumbent, May has the right to make the first attempt to form a coalition, though her tough stance on Brexit is likely to make finding a suitable partner difficult.

Until a new government is formed, May and her team of ministers remain in charge and retain their full legal powers to act on behalf of the country, although by convention they would be expected to avoid taking major decisions.

MINORITY CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT

May signalled she could attempt to lead a government without commanding a majority, relying on her opponents for support in parliament on an issue-by-issue basis.

Speaking as results were still being counted, she said Britain needed a period of stability and that she would take responsibility for delivering it if, as forecast, she won the most seats.

This will test the cross-party support for her pre-election pledges.

While her hardline Brexit strategy is opposed by all other major parties, Britain has already started the process of leaving the bloc by triggering a two-year negotiation period with Brussels. It is unlikely she would agree to stopping the Brexit divorce.

Nevertheless, May’s plans still rely heavily on being able to pass legislation through parliament. Firstly to convert EU law into British law, and then to form new post-Brexit policy on issues like immigration and tax.

Delays or outright blockages on this legislation would place doubts over how Britain would control its borders and trade with the EU after Brexit.

2010 REDUX: CONSERVATIVE-LED COALITION

The Conservatives formed a coalition in 2010 with the centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats as junior partner. They governed together until 2015.

The two parties are unlikely to be reunited in coalition without major compromises on the central principle of their election manifestos: Brexit.

The Conservatives’ other coalition options are limited. They can traditionally rely on the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which holds 10 seats.

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which was forecast by media commentators to win 35 seats, are at ideological loggerheads with the Conservatives.

LABOUR-LED COALITION

A hung parliament could play in Labour’s favour even if it won less seats than the Conservatives because it is politically closer to smaller rivals on several issues. Labour has said it would try to form a minority government, and Corbyn has refused to discuss forming a coalition after June 8.

He is committed to heeding the results of Britain’s EU membership referendum a year ago in which 52 per cent voted Leave against 48 per cent in favour of Remain.

However, Labour has fought to water down May’s Brexit strategy which could make it easier to reach a compromise with either the Liberal Democrats, which has ruled out any coalition, or the pro-European SNP, which says it wants to stop another Conservative government.

Leaders vow to toughen anti-terror laws

Stronger counter-terrorism laws appear inevitable as Australia’s state and territory leaders move swiftly to keep potential attackers behind bars.

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Premiers and chief ministers on Friday agreed to toughen bail and parole rules for people who have demonstrated support for or have links to terrorist activity.

There would be a presumption against their release, even if they hadn’t been in jail for a terror-related offence.

It follows Monday’s deadly siege in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, where Yacqub Khayre killed a man, injured three police officers and took a woman hostage while on parole.

He had a long history of violence and had been charged, but later acquitted, for plotting a terror attack in 2009.

“This presumption is a vital element in keeping these people who are a threat to our safety, and our safety of our families, off the streets,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters after the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Hobart.

“Violent criminals with terrorist links should not be walking the streets.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who announced her own suite of new counter-terrorism measures earlier this week, backed the plan.

“It will have far-reaching and positive consequences in terms of minimising as much as possible letting people out who could cause harm to others,” she said.

Mr Turnbull also announced that security-cleared corrections officers will be part of joint counter-terrorism teams across Australia.

That will ensure even closer co-operation and greater information sharing between agencies.

Leaders have also agreed to review counter-terrorism laws and practices at a special national security meeting in the coming months.

The prime minister says it’s not an area of policy where you can “set and forget”.

“We’re going to be very proactive, constantly upgrading our defences.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews welcomed the meeting, saying there was some unfinished work left after Friday’s COAG gathering.

“I think the community will take a very dim view of each of us if, after that meeting, we do not have a detailed list of concrete, common-sense steps, doing what has to be done to keep every Australian safe,” he said.

Mr Andrews believes Australia has reached a point where it needed to give serious consideration to giving law enforcement tools they don’t now enjoy.

“It may mean taking the rights and freedoms of a small number of people (but) that is what will be needed in order to preserve and protect a great many more.”

The premier has already floated the idea of building a new federal maximum security prison to hold Australia’s most dangerous terrorists – a notion quickly rubbished by cabinet minister Christopher Pyne.

Leaders on Friday also discussed the work being done to protect Australians in crowded places and areas of mass gathering.

It followed briefings by the director-general of domestic intelligence agency ASIO, the acting commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, the prime minister’s cyber security advisor and counter-terrorism co-ordinator.

Heeney believes Swans can play AFL finals

Sydney’s Isaac Heeney is fast getting back to his best and believes the Swans are still a big chance of playing finals footy despite their slow start to the AFL season.

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The Swans have won four of their past five after starting the season 0-6.

Heeney missed the the first four rounds with glandular fever but has played the past seven.

He logged a personal season-high 31 touches in Thursday’s 46-point home win over the Western Bulldogs, in which Sydney’s relentless trademark pressure was evident after it went missing earlier in the campaign.

“All the focus is on next week with the Tigers, but I think the boys are confident that if we can bring the pressure and the hardness that we provided last night, we can get into the finals,” Heeney said.

“l think it’s such a level playing field at the moment that we’re definitely still a chance if we can play that style of footy consistently.”

Heeney is averaging a career-best 22 disposals a game this year, despite his delayed start.

“I don’t think I’m quite back to 100 per cent, but I’m not far off,” Heeney said.

“I’m able to run games out now without cramping, so that’s a positive.”

Heeney said he was getting plenty of extra sleep and paying attention to his diet after getting tips from teammates Heath Grundy and Kieren Jack, both of who also suffered from glandular fever.

“They just said diet and sleep is really all you can do, there’s no medication for it,” Heeney said.

Heeney has popped up all over the field this year, describing his role as “a bit all over the place”.

He has licence to switch his position in mid-match without waiting for instructions from coach John Longmire.

“I think you’ve got to trust yourself and you’ve got to have confidence in yourself,” Heeney said.

“If I’m in the midfield, Horse backs me to go forward and try and take marks and kick a few goals as well.”

Heeney backed dropped ruckman Kurt Tippett to fight his way back, though Sam Naismith and Callum Sinclair dominated against the Bulldogs.

“The big boys played really well last night, but I think Tippo is just not playing as well as he would like to play at the moment,” Heeney said.

“He’ll go back to the NEAFL and just get confidence back; but I’m sure he’ll be back in the team soon.”

Election dents Scottish nationalists’ hopes for independence

Last year’s vote for Britain to leave the European Union had fuelled separatists’ ambitions to take Scotland out of the 300-year-old British union but the latest poll could serve to dash them again.

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“Indyref2 is dead, that’s what we have seen tonight,” Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said, using the separatist slogan.

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Davidson led her party to its best result in Scotland for three decades, in contrast to Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s dismal showing elsewhere in the UK.

The separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) nevertheless remains Scotland’s biggest party despite some punishing losses, including former first minister Alex Salmond as well as the party’s current deputy leader Angus Robertson.

Asked what the implications of the result would be for her hopes for independence, Sturgeon told the BBC: “I’m going to take time to reflect on this.

“I’m not going to rush to hasty judgements or decisions but clearly there is thinking for me to do about the SNP result,” he said.

She admitted that the prospect of independence had left Scotland “feeling uncertain”.

Scotland voted by 55 percent against independence in a 2014 referendum, but the defeated nationalists voted en masse for the SNP in 2015 handing them 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland.

May called a snap general election in an attempt to strengthen her hand in forthcoming Brexit talks — and quell the nationalists’ ongoing agitation for a second independence referendum.

She lost her parliamentary majority following a late surge for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The election also saw a partial revival for Labour, which once dominated politics in Scotland but was reduced to just one Scottish lawmaker in 2015.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said her new MPs will be firm opponents of a second independence referendum.

She said: “The SNP vote is crumbling in their heartlands…it’s a very bad night for the SNP.”

Professor Iain Begg, from the London School of Economics, said it was a “disastrous” election for the SNP.

“The Scottish nationalists, losing more than 20 seats, that is very bad news for them and for any ambition Nicola Sturgeon has to call a second referendum,” he told AFP.

The SNP is expected to remain Britain’s third-largest party, giving Sturgeon the chance to seek a “progressive alliance” with Labour to lock May’s Conservative Party out of government.

Asked if there was a role for the SNP in a future government, Sturgeon said: “There may well be, but it is perhaps too early to say that.

“But we will want to play a role…in trying to, if we can, secure a progressive government at Westminster.”

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