Thursday lunchtime was quiet at the Ekupholeni Cocktail Lounge. The clearing up after Wednesday's Ladies' Night was out of the way. Another busy weekend lay ahead.

The Sunday Soul Session - tickets 70 Rand in advance, R80 on the door, R100 with VIP privileges - was looking like selling out. And on Saturday, just like every Saturday, the venue that first flung open its doors three years ago was guaranteed to be heaving.

"Saturdays are always busy," says Tumla Hani, who works at the bar.

The Ekupholeni sits on Skefile Street in Zwide, a largely down-at-heel black township that sits just north of Port Elizabeth.

This is the district where Siya Kolisi grew up in poverty.

Kolisi is now the captain of South Africa's mighty Springboks.

Their first black captain.

Twenty or so years ago he was an impoverished boy, living with his grandmother, and his favourite toy was a brick. Kolisi's vivid imagination meant he got by.

On Saturday he will lead out the Boks in the Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan, and win his 50th cap. It will be standing room only in the morning at the Ekupholeni.

 

A favourite son of Zwide

A five-minute brisk walk from the Ekupholeni, past rows of rudimentary single-storey homes, sits Emsengeni Primary School, where Kolisi began his formal education. The Dan Qeqe Stadium, where Kolisi launched his rugby life with the African Bombers under-nines, is a similar trot away in the opposite direction. Qeqe, who died in 2005, campaigned passionately during the apartheid era for non-racial sport.

The Lifa & Mafa Butchery, said to be a favourite 'braai' hangout of Kolisi, is in the same neighbourhood. The Zwide Stadium, where a hastily-hired big screen will show Kolisi as the Boks take on England, is not far away.

Kolisi sought out a local tavern to watch the Boks beat England in the 2007 final, he revealed this week, because there was no television at home.

The Ekupholeni might be welcoming in future Bok leaders on Saturday, but in all probability the crowd will be a recognisable older set, eschewing the outdoor screening to share familiar company.

"We're showing the game on our TVs," says Tumla Hani. "The people come to watch the game. There will be lots here. It will be full here. We're always full here on Saturdays anyway, and it will be special."

She expects the atmosphere to be joyous, as it was when South Africa took down Wales in the semi-finals.

Drinks flowed, and even after emotions had been scrambled by the late drama of that match, there was dancing and delirium.

"The singing as well - did you see that?" Tumla asks.

I did, thanks to a Facebook video, which is why I'm calling. The singing was born of pure joy. An impromptu, refreshed South African choir belting out grand hosannas routinely beats the typical English pub trudge through Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

 

Arriving at a time of change

Kolisi was born on June 16 1991, a day before the apartheid era was officially repealed, and 16 months after Nelson Mandela was freed from Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town after 27 years of incarceration.

Books have been written, and films might follow, about Kolisi's rags-to-riches story.

He tells a story of turning up to Eastern Province junior rugby trials in "silk boxers, because I didn't have shorts". The boy in the strange garb caught the eye, inevitably, and he was soon offered a scholarship to the prestigious Grey High School in Port Elizabeth, which includes the great cricketer Graeme Pollock and former England rugby star Mike Catt among its alumni.

Kolisi, who together with over 90% of Zwide's population has Xhosa as a first language, needed to learn English. On the pitch, his rugby would do the talking, but to fit in at Grey - which he now describes as "the English school" - Kolisi had to buckle down and study.

He has gone from having no command to being one of the most eloquent and erudite English speakers in sport.

Kolisi's mother, who gave birth to him at the age of 16, died when he was still a Grey student.

But by then the boy was growing into a warrior of a man, and despite his grief, Kolisi's rugby potential was being fulfilled. He went to Western Province, played for the Baby Boks and eventually graduated to the Stormers.

 

Born to lead his country

A day before turning 22, Kolisi made his Springboks debut against Scotland. At the age of 25 he was made captain of the Stormers, and a year later the same status was bestowed upon him with the national team.

He is married now, to Rachel, with two children, lives as a devout Christian, and enjoys a lifestyle that bears scant comparison to his childhood years.

Bryan Habana, the now-retired wing superstar, has said a Kolisi-led Springboks winning the World Cup might surpass South Africa's 1995 triumph, when President Mandela presented Francois Pienaar with the Webb Ellis Cup.

Success frequently breeds success, and Kolisi dreams of the day when youngsters from Zwide do not need to leave, as he did, to achieve their potential.

"It'd be so awesome... It's something I think will happen one day," Kolisi said.

His father, Fezakele, is making his first overseas trip to take in the final at first hand.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

My dads are on their way  Utata's first overseas trip - what a time to be alive 

A post shared by Rachel Kolisi (@rachel_kolisi) on 

In Zwide, whether enjoying the warm atmosphere of the Ekupholeni or the outdoor big-screen community party, it matters to the townspeople that the Springboks get the job done on Saturday.

But what matters most for now is that Kolisi, the talisman of the team in green and gold, is proudly one of their own.

England and South Africa are tantalisingly close to glory as they prepare to face off in the Rugby World Cup final.

Ahead of Saturday's much-anticipated showdown in Yokohama, we asked Lewis Moody - a World Cup winner with England in 2003 and a losing finalist against the Springboks four years later - to talk us through what it will take to emerge victorious in rugby's biggest game.

Here is the former flanker's guide to securing World Cup success.

 

'HOW DO YOU KEEP THOSE EMOTIONS IN CHECK?' - GETTING THE MINDSET RIGHT

Players from both sides will try to prepare for the contest as if it is any other game, although Moody acknowledges this is "easier said than done".

"Everyone, including the players, knows what's at stake," said Moody, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

"The hardest thing is keeping your energy in check so you don't burn yourself out, whether that's through anxiety, nerves or excitement. You can sort of play the game in your head and then your body has emotionally played it already. So you've got to keep that composure and unleash it at the start of the game. 

"You have to figure out what works for you, how do you keep those emotions in check? For me, it was going to the cinema the night before a game, completely switching my brain off from anything rugby-related and just having a laugh.

"All the work has been done, you know all the moves, you're fit. It's just about figuring out what mindset you need to be in to deliver on that day and for me it was about being as relaxed as possible. Each player prepares in a different way - and just allowing them to do what's normal for them is key."

 

'FIGHTING A BATTLE IN YOUR OWN BRAIN' - THE AGONY OF THE FINAL HOURS BEFORE KICK-OFF

If the days leading up to the game are tense, the final hours in the lead-up to kick-off present the toughest mental challenge of all.

"Without doubt the worst part for me was the evening before and then the morning of [the game], because that's when the anxiety [is at its highest]," explained Moody.

"You're in your room, all you're thinking about is preparing for the game. Have you got your kit bag ready? Have you got your tracksuit and everything you're going to be wearing? Is it the right stuff? Have you got a spare pair of boots in case one breaks, a spare gumshield? It's just going through this list of things and then going to sleep and hoping you actually get some.

"You just want that time to disappear; you want to be on the pitch. Your comfort zone is when you've crossed that white line and you're right into the thick of it doing what you know. Up until then you can't control anything and your body is just playing tricks.

"Your mind is trying to maintain all those positive moments, the impacts you want to have, but the other half of your mind is allowing the gremlins to creep in. You don't want to be the person who makes the mistake [that costs your team the game]. So you're fighting a battle in your own brain until you cross that white line. That's when it all relaxes and your body just goes into doing what it does, that muscle memory takes over and life becomes simple."
 

'ULTIMATELY IT WILL COME DOWN TO DISCIPLINE'

Amid heightened emotions, maintaining discipline looks sure to be vital, while Moody also feels much will depend on whether South Africa can deny England quick ball at the breakdown.

"Ultimately it will come down to discipline, because it's going to be a tightly fought game," he argued.

"The key for me will be the speed of ball that the forwards can get for the backs and that will come down to the breakdown. New Zealand, for whatever reason, swapped Sam Cane out [in the semi-final] and it meant England had free rein at the breakdown, really. We also had 19 turnovers against the All Blacks, which is an unprecedented number. 

"I think having Tom Curry and Sam Underhill there, who clearly haven't been phased by any of the players they've played against or any of the occasions - if they can boss that breakdown and keep England's momentum going, then that will be decisive.

"They're going to be coming up against some serious units in the South African backline, in [Siya] Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and [Duane] Vermeulen, who will be doing their utmost to impose themselves on that English triumvirate. It will be a fascinating contest and there's no way in my mind South Africa will allow England the same speed of ball and momentum that they gained on Saturday [in their semi-final win over the All Blacks]."

 

'ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS TURN UP AND DELIVER IN THOSE 80 MINUTES'

England could hardly have performed better in their last-four victory over defending champions New Zealand, as they mixed a stunning defensive display with a slick and composed attacking performance to secure a 19-7 win.

Yet Moody, a veteran of 74 Tests between 2001 and 2011 including three for the British and Irish Lions, does not feel Eddie Jones' side will necessarily need to deliver the same all-round showing on Saturday. 

"It's not about delivering the same performance. It's about delivering the performance that is necessary to beat this opposition," he said.

"Last weekend it was that type of rugby, this week it might be drop goals, penalties, a hard-fought forward battle. It's about doing what it takes to win the match that's in front of you.

"The reality of a final is its one game, all you have to do is turn up and deliver in those 80 minutes. And that's where it can all change.

"We saw it in 2011. New Zealand were far and away the best side in the world that year and yet they only beat France by one point. All of a sudden the pressure and the anxiety came on. Even in '03 we should have beaten Australia by 15-20 points really with the opportunities we had - it just shows how pressure can get to you some times."

 

--- Land Rover is an Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.  With over 20 years of heritage supporting rugby at all levels, Land Rover is celebrating what makes rugby, rugby. #LandRoverRugby ---

South Africa stand on the brink of making history when they face England in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final.

The Springboks have already lifted one trophy this year after winning the Rugby Championship in August, and Rassie Erasmus' team are looking to do something that has eluded rivals New Zealand and Australia in the past.

In the previous five years when there has been both a Rugby Championship – or its previous incarnation the Tri Nations – and a World Cup, the winners of the first tournament have subsequently failed to also deliver success on the global stage.

With South Africa in a position to finally end that sequence, we take a look at those who have previously conquered the Southern Hemisphere only to fall short at the World Cup.

 

1999: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND, WORLD CUP WINNERS – AUSTRALIA

The All Blacks won the first two Tri Nations and made it three in four years by thrashing South Africa 28-0, beating Australia 34-15 and claiming another victory over the Springboks.

However, a 28-7 loss to the Wallabies in the final fixture suggested New Zealand were not so invincible...

At the World Cup, the great Jonah Lomu scored eight tries yet France stunned New Zealand 43-31 in the last four, with Australia then winning the final against Les Bleus.

2003: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND, WORLD CUP WINNERS – ENGLAND

Four wins out of four delivered another Tri Nations triumph for New Zealand.

The All Blacks scored 282 points in their four World Cup pool games in Australia too before easing past South Africa 29-9 in the quarter-finals.

But Elton Flatley's accuracy from the tee consigned New Zealand to another semi-final loss and sent Australia back to the final, where Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal in Sydney delivered a famous success for England.

2007: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND, WORLD CUP WINNERS – SOUTH AFRICA

Neither Australia nor South Africa could deny the All Blacks another Tri Nations title in 2007, though it was a Northern Hemisphere nation who would stop their run at the World Cup.

New Zealand led 13-3 in the first half of their quarter-final against France only to suffer another knockout loss to their World Cup nemesis as Yannick Jauzion scored a brilliant converted try 11 minutes from time to seal a 20-18 success.

Defending champions England beat France in the semi-final but Percy Montgomery won the battle of the boots with Wilkinson in the final as South Africa secured their second World Cup.

2011: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – AUSTRALIA, WORLD CUP WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND

In the final Tri Nations before Argentina joined to form the Rugby Championship, Graham Henry's team lost their last two matches as Australia triumphed for the first time in a decade.

The World Cup was hosted in New Zealand and after years of being the nearly men, it was the All Blacks' turn to taste global glory again.

France were their final opponents and, in a tense, low-scoring contest, New Zealand won 8-7.

2015: RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS – AUSTRALIA, WORLD CUP WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND

Four years ago, Australia beat the other three nations to win the Rugby Championship, and came out on top of a World Cup pool that included Wales and hosts England.

The Wallabies narrowly saw off Scotland 35-34 and ousted Argentina 29-15 to set up a final with a New Zealand side that had hammered France 62-13 in the last eight.

No team had ever retained the World Cup before but Dan Carter shone on his international farewell to ensure Steve Hansen's side lifted the Webb Ellis Cup again.

Kawhi Leonard haunted his former team as the Los Angeles Clippers topped the previously unbeaten San Antonio Spurs 103-97 in NBA action on Thursday.

Leonard – who spent seven seasons with the Spurs before joining the Toronto Raptors and winning an NBA championship in 2018-19 – dropped 38 points and 12 rebounds in Los Angeles on Halloween.

After sitting out Wednesday's loss to the Utah Jazz due to load management, Leonard returned to snap the Spurs' winning start to the season following three successive wins.

Montrezl Harrell added 24 points for the Clippers, who improved to 4-2 for the season, while DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs with 29 points.

Highly rated prospect Michael Porter Jr made his NBA debut for the Denver Nuggets, who lost 122-107 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Nuggets used pick 14 to secure Porter and the 21-year-old capped his Denver bow with 15 points in 20 minutes.

 

Nunn ignites Heat

Miami Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn had 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting in a 106-97 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Hawks' Hunter struggles

Hawks rookie De'Andre Hunter had four points on one-of-nine shooting.

 

Harris dunks on Okafor

Gary Harris threw one down over Jahlil Okafor.

 

Thursday's results

Miami Heat 106-97 Atlanta Hawks
New Orleans Pelicans 122-107 Denver Nuggets
Los Angeles Clippers 103-97 San Antonio Spurs

 

Lakers at Mavericks

The veteran duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis takes on the up-and-coming pairing of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. This game is going to be dynamic.

England made light work of New Zealand as they won their Twenty20 opener in a rematch of the dramatic Cricket World Cup final.

New Zealand lost a thrilling World Cup decider to England on boundary count-back in July and that heartbreaking defeat was still fresh in the memory of both sides.

However, hosts the Black Caps were unable to exact a form of revenge as England cruised to a seven-wicket victory with nine balls remaining in the opening game of a five-match series in Christchurch on Friday.

James Vince top scored with 59 but captain Eoin Morgan (34 not out) hit the winning runs – a six – to lead England to 153-3, in pursuit of New Zealand's 153-5 target.

Playing without star captain Kane Williamson due to a right hip injury, New Zealand were sent into bat by England at Hagley Park and made a slow start.

England debutant Sam Curran – in the side as the tourists rested many of their World Cup stars ahead of the Test series – struck the first blow, dismissing Martin Guptill (2) in the third over.

Curran was then clubbed for three sixes within four balls by Colin Munro (21) and Tim Seifert (32) as the Black Caps duo tried to spark their team's innings.

However, Chris Jordan (2-28) removed Munro in his first over before Adil Rashid's wicket of Colin de Grandhomme (19) left New Zealand 72-3 in the 11th over.

New Zealand managed to surpass the 150-run mark on a good batting deck, but they lost wickets whenever a promising partnership threatened as Seifert and Ross Taylor (44) – who fell victim to another debutant in Pat Brown (1-33) – departed and Daryl Mitchell finished unbeaten on 30.

England were comfortable in reply as they reached 37 without loss before Dawid Malan (11) succumbed to Mitchell Santner in the sixth over.

Black Caps spinner Santner tried to stop England almost singlehandedly, having claimed all New Zealand's wickets with figures of three for 23 after sending Jonny Bairstow (35) and Vince back to the pavilion.

However, it was another successful day for England against New Zealand following the country's stunning Rugby World Cup semi-final triumph over the All Blacks in Japan last week.

The San Francisco 49ers preserved their perfect NFL record with a 28-25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday.

San Francisco spooked Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium on Halloween to stay undefeated and improve to 8-0.

The 49ers remain the only perfect team in the NFC and are just one of two sides in the NFL alongside Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots yet to lose a game. 

San Francisco continued to utilise a defense that at times was exposed by the Cardinals' attack, but ultimately the visitors came away with the victory.

 

Three takeaways from the 49ers' road win over the Cardinals

Jimmy G? Joe Montana?

Jimmy Garoppolo seems to be the winner the 49ers have been looking for. He has led the team to their first undefeated 8-0 start since the legend Joe Montana did it in 1990.

Garoppolo continues to impress despite San Francisco's relatively easy schedule.

He finished 28-of-37 passing for 317 yards with four touchdowns, including a pass to Dante Pettis – who had a thrilling celebration. He threw zero interceptions.

Garoppolo might be light years away from Montana, but Garoppolo is winning — and winning big.

49ers defense held strong

It was not always pretty. 

The Cardinals were able to find the few weak spots in the 49ers defense, but the unit — who have been the driving force in the team's season — done enough early on to keep Arizona trailing.

Kyler Murray was sacked three times for a loss of 37 yards and the Cardinals were held scoreless in the second quarter. Despite San Francisco coming out of the half a little lacklustre as Murray led two touchdown drives and set up a 36-yard field goal, the Niners continued to be efficient in stopping third-down conversions. Arizona finished two of eight when trying to convert.  

Arizona needed a balanced attack

What helped the Cardinals win three consecutive games was a balanced offense. Behind the arm of Murray and the running attack from both David Johnson and Chase Edmonds, Arizona looked decent — some would say good — as they came back from the horrible start.

However, just as things were looking up both Johnson (back) and Edmonds (hamstring) were ruled out with injury. It has greatly affected the offense. In the Cardinals' 31-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints last week, they totalled 40 rushing yards — compared to the 220 passing yards. If Arizona wanted to have a chance against San Francisco, the Cardinals needed a balanced attack and a big game from a new trio of running backs in Zach Zenner, Alfred Morris and Kenyan Drake.

Drake set the stage early. He was traded to the Cardinals on Monday and seemed to fit right in with an early 36-yard carry.

Drake continued to lead the rush and recorded 110 yards for the night. 

All-in-all, the Cardinals ran for 153 yards, compared to their 204 passing yards.

Murray finished 17-of-24 passing for 241 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ben Simmons rejected claims he was not a peacemaker in the brawl between Philadelphia 76ers team-mate Joel Embiid and Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns.

Embiid and Towns were hit with two-game suspensions without pay for their fight during Philadelphia's 117-95 NBA win over Minnesota on Wednesday.

Sixers All-Star Embiid and Towns got tangled up in the third quarter and eventually exchanged blows before the benches cleared and the two needed to be separated prior to their ejections.

Simmons was seen on top of Towns during the fight with his arm around his throat, with the Timberwolves reportedly alleging the 76ers guard had been the aggressor.

"I don't really have anything to say about it," Simmons – who escaped punishment – told reporters when asked about the claims.

"My team-mate and Karl went at it, I tried to grab them and separate them and get Karl to relax a little bit because I know Karl. People know me, they know I'm not that type of player so it is what it is.

"As a team, we have each other's backs, no matter what, no matter what the situation is. We're always going to have each other's backs with whatever happens on the floor.

"But at the same time, we're a physical team. We're not coming out here trying to fight people but that at the same time, we're a physical team."

On the comradery of the team, Simmons added: "We're close. We're brothers. I think that's huge for us, going to eventually playoffs and further down the track.

"I think right now where we're at is a great place and everyone's feeling comfortable and knows we all support each other."

Brett Brown was asked about the incident and allegations directed at Simmons and the 76ers head coach replied: "I most definitely have thoughts.

"I've been advised to keep them to myself and I'm aware of [the Timberwolves' accusation of Simmons]. I understand what's going on."

"We intend on playing and feel that we do play the game in the spirits that it should be played," Brown continued. "But this is Philadelphia and we play a certain way and playing sort of as a unit, as a team, covering each other is important in any case and I feel like some of that was achieved."

LeBron James said the Los Angeles Lakers are looking forward to welcoming Kyle Kuzma back from injury.

Kuzma has yet to feature for the Lakers this NBA season due to a stress reaction in his left ankle, missing the team's opening four games.

However, Kuzma – who suffered the injury whilst on duty for Team USA ahead of the FIBA World Cup – is set to make his season debut against the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.

"It's going to take him a little bit to get into game shape," James told reporters of the 24-year-old after Thursday's practice.

"He hasn't played since USA basketball when he had the stress reaction. Obviously he's been training and working out, but like I always tell you guys, there's no substitution for game fatigue and game stamina.

"That will come, though. It's great to have him back on the floor. We definitely missed him."

Kuzma averaged 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 2018-19 as the Lakers missed the playoffs in James' first season in Los Angeles.

"Yesterday [Wednesday] was kind of the most running I've done, so to wake up and not really have too much discomfort was a good sign," Kuzma said.

"Getting out here and doing the same thing [on Thursday], and so hopefully it's the same for tomorrow's game."

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel added: "[The training staff is] saying around 20 minutes. So there'll be a little bit of a restriction there."

 

 

Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers have both been suspended for two games after their brawl.

Wednesday's clash between the 76ers and Timberwolves in Philadelphia erupted when Embiid and Towns clashed and were ejected at Wells Fargo Center.

Towns and Embiid got tangled up in the third quarter of the Sixers' 117-95 win and eventually exchanged blows before the benches cleared and the two needed to be separated.

On Thursday, the NBA handed down bans, while 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons was not suspended or fined for his involvement.

Simmons was seen on top of Towns during the fight with his arm around his throat, leading many to believe the NBA would discipline the young guard.

But that did not seem to be the case after the league conducted its review of the event.

The unbeaten Sixers (4-0) travel west to take on the Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) on Saturday, while Minnesota (3-1) face the Washington Wizards (1-3).

 

Novak Djokovic may have sounded croaky but the four-time Paris Masters champion stayed in the hunt for another triumph in the French capital.

A 7-6 (9-7) 6-1 victory over Great Britain's Kyle Edmund carried the Serbian through to a tough-looking quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Greek youngster Tsitsipas was a 6-3 6-4 winner against Australian Alex de Minaur, while Rafael Nadal dug deep for a gritty 6-4 6-4 win over Stan Wawrinka.

Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev were significant casualties, as the fifth and sixth seeds suffered respective defeats to Grigor Dimitrov and Denis Shapovalov.

And there was plenty of French joy, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils thrilled the home crowds with dramatic three-set victories.

Djokovic eyes revenge

Djokovic lost to Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters in October but will fancy his chances of avenging that loss on Friday.

Despite his voice sounding far from healthy, Djokovic is feeling better after battling illness this week, and he is positive about the state of his game.

"The second set was the best set I've played so far in the tournament," Djokovic said, according to the ATP website. "Finished off with a winner, finished off with amazing return game. So, of course, the sensation is very positive. And I'm convinced that I'm headed in the right direction so that tomorrow will be even better."

The 32-year-old hopes to end the year at number one in the world rankings for the sixth time, even though Nadal is certain to be in pole position heading into the ATP Finals in London.

 

Tsonga next for Nadal

Nadal was not at his best against Wawrinka, yet he still extended his dominance over the Swiss three-time grand slam winner with a 19th win in their 22nd meeting.

He took two of the three break points he engineered to stay in the hunt for a first Paris Masters title. Given his immense success elsewhere - his 35 Masters 1000 titles is a record and he has landed 12 French Open titles - Nadal's limited success in Paris is a shortcoming he will be eager to address.

He should have enough for Tsonga on Friday, but the veteran Frenchman has come out punching this week and is beginning to look like the player who was a top-10 fixture for so long.

Tsonga landed a 2-6 6-4 7-6 (8-6) victory over Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff and said: "When you play the best, it's always beneficial and it's not important whether you win or lose.

"When you play Rafa in the first round, it's a problem. If you play Rafa in the quarter-finals, it's normal. Of course, it's better for me to meet Rafa in quarter-finals after having played a few matches rather than during the first round."

Monfils keeps ATP Finals hopes alive

There is one place to fill at the season-ending ATP Finals, and Monfils is desperate to sustain his run this week to stay in contention.

After a 4-6 6-4 6-1 win against Romanian Radu Albot, the 33-year-old Parisian is on the brink but still not quite there and must see off Shapovalov to earn his ticket to London ahead of Matteo Berrettini.

Given Shapovalov's 6-2 5-7 6-2 win against Alexander Zverev, that could be a tall order for Monfils, whose French compatriot Jeremy Chardy could not boost the home contingent in the final eight, going down 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 7-6 (8-6) in a nail-biting thriller against Chilean Cristian Garin.

Despite the defeat, Zverev is certain to be involved in the English capital after sealing his spot on Wednesday.

With Week 9 underway, we take a look at all that is happening around the NFL. 

From a few injury updates, the New England Patriots moving on from a key player, and the Washington Redskins possibly starting yet another quarterback — we cover it all in this edition of NFL news and notes.

 

Three things that matter

Redskins' Williams reveals he had cancer

Trent Williams, who just ended his season-long holdout, revealed he was diagnosed with cancer this offseason and had a piece of a tumour removed.

Williams was diagnosed with DFSP – a rare skin cancer that develops in the middle layer of skin. The Redskins player revealed the cancer was weeks away from reaching his brain.

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Williams said the growth started nearly six years ago and he was told by the Redskins it was nothing serious. He thought he was dealing with a cyst until he received the DFSP diagnosis. Williams said he nearly lost his life and spent two weeks in a Chicago hospital without a single visit from anyone in the Redskins organisation.

"I think the diagnosis they gave me at the beginning, they underestimated it. It was far more advanced than they realised," he said.

Broncos QB Joe Flacco to miss 4-6 weeks

The Denver Broncos will be without their starting quarterback for an extended amount of time. Veteran Joe Flacco is expected to miss 4-6 weeks as he deals with a herniated disk in his neck, according to ESPN.

Denver announced earlier this week that Flacco would miss Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, with backup Brandon Allen starting in his place. The Broncos initially feared Flacco's season was in jeopardy, but that feeling seems to have shifted in wake of the recent news.

Flacco, who was traded from the Baltimore Ravens to Denver last offseason, has started eight games this season throwing for 1,822 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions while completing 65.3 per cent of his passes.

Patriots releasing Josh Gordon

Josh Gordon's time in New England has come to an end. Super Bowl champions the Patriots will release Gordon off injured reserve Thursday, according to multiple reports. Gordon, 28, will then be placed on waivers where he hopes to "land in a good and supportive situation," according to ESPN.

Gordon, who caught 20 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown in six games, was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury on October 23. It was reported at the time that the injury was minor, and Gordon hoped to be released by the organisation so he could join another team.

New England recently acquired wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons on October 22, hinting that Gordon's time could be coming to an end soon.

Gordon's departure marks the third wideout to leave New England this season after the team traded Demaryius Thomas to the New York Jets in August and cut Antonio Brown in September in wake of sexual misconduct allegations.

Two things that don't matter

Redskins QB Haskins "excited to put a first start on film"

Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins could finally get his chance to start as veteran Case Keenum remains in the concussion protocol. Haskins took the majority of the first-team snaps on Wednesday and Thursday, putting him one step closer to making his first NFL start. 

"I get hyped every day I get to put a helmet on," Haskins said. "Even more excited to put a first start on film, even more excited about it."

Washington have struggled to find consistency with their quarterbacks this campaign since Alex Smith suffered a horrific season-ending leg injury during Week 11 last term. Keenum started the first four games of the year, but left Week 4's game against the New York Giants early with a foot issue. Haskins went in to replace Keenum, but he completed just nine of 17 passes for 107 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Redskins opted to go with Colt McCoy, who had not played since December after suffering a season-ending leg injury, in Week 5 over Haskins. Keenum returned as the starter for Weeks 6-8, but was replaced by Haskins last Thursday in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings when McCoy entered the concussion protocol at half-time.

Haskins, 22, has completed 54.5 per cent of his passes for 140 yards with four interceptions and no touchdowns in two appearances. 

Jets' Adams upset about trade talks; Bell comments

Jamal Adams was not holding back in expressing his frustration with the Jets, saying the trade talks that went on behind his back "definitely hurt." 

Adams said: "The [Los Angeles] Rams don't take calls on Aaron Donald. The Patriots don't take calls on Tom Brady. That's where I hold myself in that regard. Regardless of that I understand that you have a job to do. That's the way I took it."

Le'Veon Bell, who held out all of the 2018 season in hopes of reaching a new contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then later signed with the Jets, says he understands Adams' frustration and that he would have reacted the same way when he was his team-mate's age.

The Dallas Cowboys reportedly offered a first-round pick for Adams, but that was not enough for New York. 

One video you have to see

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who dislocated his right kneecap in a victory against the Broncos, looks good in practice. He was taking snaps behind quarterback Matt Moore.

Thursday's tweet of the day

The Browns had high hopes this season, but are 2-5 entering Week 9. Odell Beckham Jr. admitted Thursday he and quarterback Baker Mayfield are still figuring out a learning curve.

The Vince Lombardi Trophy will make a historic first appearance in Jamaica on Saturday, November 2.

Scottie Scheffler surged into the Bermuda Championship lead with a nine-under-par 62 at Port Royal.

Scheffler – a three-time Texas state champion – is playing his fifth event on the PGA Tour and made a flying start at the inaugural tournament on Thursday.

The only blemish in Scheffler's round, which the 23-year-old began on the back nine, was a bogey at the ninth when he had a 60 in his sights.

Fellow American Wes Roach sat second after an opening-round 63, with Rob Oppenheim, Bo Hoag and Scotland's Russell Knox tied one shot further back.

Oppenheim was seven under through eight holes, but then parred his way home in Southampton Parish, Bermuda.

"It's kind of a dream start to come out here and birdie seven of the first eight," Oppenheim said. "Made a lot of putts. ... I didn't play much different, just the putter was hot one nine and kind of a little cold the last nine."

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