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Rooney visits the sick, Brazil's refs hit the bottle to calm their nerves and Blackadder wins a bet.

'Doing really well'

Wayne Rooney has visited Fabrice Muamba in hospital. "He's doing really well. He can almost string a sentence together," said Muamba.

Legless referee
Meanwhile, in Brazil, soccer referees are taking sobriety seriously. Whistler Jose Roberto Marques says he was "not drunk, just anxious" when officiating a match, despite CCTV showing him "buying liquor in a gas station ... while being held upright by girls" just hours before kickoff.


Club official Luis Antonio Oliveira thought the ref was behaving oddly. "When he arrived for the game he had 20 cups of water and kept laughing at the players. He then told a ballboy to take a corner. I felt that was strange."

Blackadder's diet tips
Top rugby coaches, coming as most do from professional playing backgrounds, don't like losing anything, except perhaps body fat. Combine this with a competition which puts their money on the line and you have a formidable recipe for weight loss.

That's why there is a lot less of Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder these days. Blackadder and his assistants Daryl Gibson and Dave Hewett, determined to lose weight after a season travelling the world and eating whenever their players ate (ie, all the time).

The trio put a tidy sum on who could lose the most - a sum claimed by the former All Black captain. He lost 16kg and now weighs about 102kg. His method? A lot of mountainbiking and eating mainly protein. Even so, "I had to prise the money out of Hewett's hands."

Whitelock watch
The crowd at Christchurch's excellent new stadium are so close to the action they can hear the players' calls, as well as the other stuff that goes on in a Super 15 match. It's a far cry from the former Lancaster Park, which featured redeveloped stands so far from the action fans needed binoculars to identify players.

In last week's victory over the Cheetahs, a Crusaders player shouted "George" when new flanker Luke Whitelock was running with the ball. Brother George, who normally wears the No 6 jersey, was watching injured from the stands.

Recession news I
Times are tough down in Hamilton. Fonterra's miserly payout to dairy farmers this year means cow-cockies will be able to buy only one new car before Christmas, and they've had to scratch the third holiday with the missus to the Gold Coast.

The Chiefs are feeling the pinch, too. Here's an official release about tomorrow night's Waratahs game: "One lucky fan will be invited to kick for $0000 cash at halftime in the ... 'Kick for Cash' competition."

Recession news II
Also dealing with the recession: Plymouth soccer club (former home to Rory Fallon) has gone into administration. No worries, the administrators made $663,000 selling players at knock-down prices. The administrators' fee: $682,000.

Southern ping pong
New Zealand might struggle when it comes to winning table tennis gold at Beijing, but a New Zealander has triumphed in the southern-most ping pong competition in the world.

Outdoor survivalist and Westport native James Hamilton, based at Australia's Casey Station in Antarctica, kept his cool in the final of the Casey Ping Pong championships to defeat Brad Robson, a Convict. It was the kind of two-sets-to-nil drubbing that Ed Hillary was no doubt musing upon as he drove his Massey Ferg across the ice back in 1958.