Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Caddie Chemistry Not Always a Given


In 2002 Darren Clarke made the final rounds of the Murphy's Irish Open thanks to advice of his stand-in caddie for the day - after his regular caddie Billy Foster had flown back home to Manchester after the birth of his second daughter. Following a call to his friend Paul McGinley, the Dubliner's caddie JP Fitzgerald was the late replacement and his presence proved pivotal at the 18th - according to Clarke.

Speaking at the time Clarke said: "At the last JP said, 'If you lay up and miss the cut by one you'll be as sick as a dog'. 

"So. I said right, I'll have a go at it. And I hit a great shot from the top of the hill. I punched in a five-iron. I had 209 to the front. I didn't know what they cut was going to be, par or one under but it was the right decision in the end," explained Clarke 

At the start of the following year Clarke embarked on a series of drastic changes with his golf in order to challenge for the Majors again and switched back to Butch Harmon as his coach, parted company with Foster, after six years together, and signed a deal to play with TaylorMade clubs. The complete overhaul came after a Christmas letter from sports psychologist Bob Rotella and as part of his new look team he added J P. Fitzgerald. 

Despite much promise the partnership did not last and they subsequently split with Clarke accepting that he is one of the more demanding players on tour to work for, and both parted company following the 2004 Masters - despite winning the 2003 WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone. 

"I know I've been very hard on JP. My demands were too great, I expected him to pick the right club every time, and while I wasn't jumping down his throat non-stop, I was complaining," said Clarke at the time.

Originally from Castleknock, Fitzgerald represented Baltray as an amateur and actually beat Clarke in the semi-final of the Irish Close Championships in 1987. After attending East Tennessee University on scholarship, Fitzgerald was recruited by his close friend Paul McGinley, helping with that infamous putt in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry. 

The short spell with Clarke was followed by two seasons in the US with Greg Owen and returned to the big time when Ernie Els called him in late 2007. It was Els manager at the time, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, who summed up the fragility of the caddie’s role when he explained why Fitzgerald was the ideal replacement for Ricci Roberts 

“JP happens to be in the right place at the right time.” 

“Ernie and Ricci are such close friends that the caddying part of it was putting a strain on their relationship. 

Roberts started back with Els in May of 2001 - after a split in the latter part of 1998 – with two U.S. Open victories in 1994 and 1996 to their credit. In the period of Roberts absence there were only a couple of PGA wins for the South African and it fell well short of what was achieved on Ricci’s return when Ernie won The Doral, The 2002 Open Championship, and The Sun City post season event. In that time, the pair also added the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth. 

Ironically, Ricci Roberts joined Darren Clarke in April 2011 playing their first event at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco with Clarke’s manager Chandler no doubt playing a role in the decision. 

In the same week, almost much ink and paper met on the why’s and wherefores of what went wrong with Rory McIlroy at the tenth tee box on the Sunday of The Masters at Augusta National. The last moment the young McIlroy was to lead the 2011 tournament. After which much of the focus started to move in the Fitzgerald direction. 

In the musical chairs environment that exists in the caddy shack, those cannot have been good days for the Dubliner - as no one was short of helpful analysis. In some cases, drawing comparisons with other such golfing collapses by Greg Norman or Jean van de Velde. As well as Sergio Garcia 

Makes one recall some of those memorable Masters stories. 

Like when Bruce Edwards recalled the walk up the 18th fairway in 1996 at Augusta with Greg Norman's bag, who turned to him and said, 'I guess it's better to be lucky than good.' A remark that left Edwards stunned given Faldo had outplayed the Australian all day. Edwards reply was tough as he turned to Norman and said, 'I just want to caddie for someone who has heart.' 

For McIlroy, it was a touch of the same when Schwartzel chipped in at the first and then eagled a blind shot so dramatically at the 3rd. It was clear from those early moments that destiny was marking the South African's card and in all the post analysis the role of fortune and luck got no mention. The reality is no major has been won without it. 

Nor any other sporting event for that matter. 

At Sandwich for the 2011 Open it was the turn of John Mulrooney to be in the right place at the right time and Clarke was generous in the praise of his caddie when collecting the Claret Jug on the eighteenth green. One hoped that it was the start of a longer terms thing. But it was not to be that enduring.

One of more enduring partnerships is Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” McKay. Which undoubtedly has been tested to its limit with all challenges in Phil's private life, given his wife, Amy’s, battle with cancer. Compounded by a similar fate befalling his Mother, along with Phil’s own health worries of sporadic arthritis.

Those events notwithstanding Mickelson won his third green jacket in 2010 with a tournament winning shot on the 15th which commentators suggested his caddie should have advised him against. These days it makes for uplifting footage that confirms that destiny was with Lefty that day and the gap between those pine trees was never an issue. 

In the most high-profile team of Tiger Woods and Steve Williams the toughest of personal challenges beset the player. With indiscreet remarks by the New Zealander also problematic at times for his employer. Although others were fired for less Williams offered some key components on the course to the former world number 1 and was richly rewarded for his efforts. So much so the Kiwi commuted almost weekly across the Pacific Ocean as he tried to maintain his own personal life intact as well as caddying. 

Having been fired by Norman in 1989 Williams admitted he had got too close personally to Norman, although both remain good friends to this day. To the point that Norman later admitted he had made a mistake during the Kiwi and tried to rehire him. The fall out last year between the Woods and Williams team showed that nothing lasts forever.

On the other hand, the stories of swift caddie changes that have led to dramatic results also abound. 

The addition of Phil “Wobbly” Morbey to the side of Ross Fisher shortly before the 2011 3 Irish Open as a replacement for Andrew Morrow proved immediately successful. Fisher won the €500,000 cheque in Killarney with the caddied that had done the same with Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn previously. 

“I think Wobbly has given me that extra bit of added confidence, some self-belief, and like I say, he's great on the bag. He tells me exact little how it is. Doesn't beat about the bush. Tells me exactly where I need to go, what club it is and it's just real positive. So far, the relationship is good and fingers crossed, we can go a very long way,” explained Fisher in July 2010. 

JP Fitzgerald has been part of the more enduring partnerships in golf history. Becoming one of the most successful with four major titles to his name.

Good thing Rory ignored all those experts back in 2011


OSM - All rights reserved


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Muguruza Beats Venus to Win Wimbledon


Garbine Muguruza beat Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 to win her first Wimbledon title and second career Grand Slam tournament, having beaten Serena Williams in the final at the 2016 French Open. Muguruza is the first woman to beat both Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final. Muguruza also became the second Spanish woman to win Wimbledon, joining Conchita Martinez, who is serving as her coach for this tournament.

Muguruza became the second Spanish woman to win multiple Grand Slam titles, joining four-time Slam champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who won three French Open titles and a US Open crown. Sanchez-Vicario won three of her four titles before turning 23, winning once more (1998 French). Muguruza is 23 years old, turning 24 in October.

She won this title despite being a 14-seed, the fifth double-digit-seeded woman to win Wimbledon in the Open era, joining Venus Williams (twice), Marion Bartoli and Maria Sharapova. Only Bartoli (15th) and Williams (23rd) were seeded lower than Muguruza.

By beating Williams 6-0 in the second set, Muguruza became just the third woman in the Open era to clinch a Wimbledon title in that fashion. She joins Williams, who did so in 2001, and Petra Kvitova, who did so in 2014.

Venus Williams was thwarted in her bid to become the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam final, and mistakes were her undoing. She committed 25 unforced errors and hit just 17 winners in the match. She was 0-for-3 in break-point opportunities while Muguruza broke Williams' serve four times.

Williams has played 224 completed sets at Wimbledon, including Saturday's final, and this is the first time in her career she's lost a set at the tournament 6-0.

The 14-year age gap between the finalists was the fourth-largest between two women's Grand Slam finalists and the largest since Wimbledon in 1994, when a 22-year-old Martinez defeated 37-year-old Martina Navratilova -- the same Martinez who coached Muguruza this week.



Froome Recovers Lead as Sunweb Take Stage


Following two frenetic days of racing in the Pyrenees, no one would have bet a cent on a change of leadership on Saturday after Stage 14, a rolling 181.5-kilometre (113-mile) ride with no major difficulty.

But a short and steep climb to the finish in the southern town of Rodez was enough for Chris Froome and his mighty Sky team to recover the yellow jersey they lost two days before in the mountains.

The day's big loser was Fabio Aru, the Astana leader, who cracked in the last 500 meters and relinquished the coveted tunic to the three-time champion.

While the Team Sky train hit the front in the technical and twisting final kilometres at high speed, Aru was at the back and didn't come back before the peloton split in the climb. He lost touch with the leaders in the sharp ascent of the Cote de Saint Pierre and crossed the line 25 seconds behind stage winner Michael Matthews.

Froome was well positioned and had no problem tackling the final climb. He finished hot on the heels of Matthews.

"It's a beautiful surprise today," said Froome, who lost his jersey after enduring a bad day on the road to the ski station of Peyragudes.

Froome said he had no explanation for Aru's breakdown. But Astana team director Dmitryi Fofonov said the Italian climber simply paid for his efforts in the previous days.

"He was on his own, isolated," Fofonov said. "We had crosswinds the whole day, we needed to be up front all the time to avoid the splits. Then the finish was explosive, with sprinters climbing very fast. Not Fabio's favorite ground. Today we lost a battle, but not the war."

Froome, who had a six-second deficit at the start of the stage, is enjoying an 18-second advantage over Aru, who is paying for the weakness of his Astana team. The Kazakhstan-funded team lost key member Jakob Fuglsang on Friday after he broke a wrist and elbow, and Aru had not enough teammates to help him stay at the front.

French rider Romain Bardet, the runner-up to Froome last year, limited his losses to five seconds. He is 23 seconds back from the leader, in third place.

In fourth is Rigoberto Uran, who stuck with Froome on the final climb. He trails the Briton by 29 seconds overall.

Froome could hardly believe he won back so much time on a stage that, on paper, didn't seem set up to pose such difficulties for Aru. He thanked his teammates for their essential role in keeping him at the front, allowing him to pounce on the final climb while Aru was stuck.

In the last frenzied dash, Froome said teammate Michal Kwiatowski was urging him on over their radio system, yelling: "Froomey, go, go, go! There are gaps everywhere!"

Froome remained wary, because the top five were still close to each other. He said he'd always expected this Tour to be very open, with its atypical route over all five of France's mountain ranges, a prediction that is coming true, with just 29 seconds separating the top four.

"Everyone is fighting for every second they can get," Froome said. "The time I made up today could be very vital."

Froome has never faced such a close battle at this stage of the race. In the three Tours he won, he had the race all but wrapped up at this point. He had a lead of 1:47 after Stage 14 in 2016, of 3:10 in 2015 and 2:28 in 2013.

Matthews, who beat Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet in the sprint to claim his second stage win at the Tour, said he'd targeted the stage win all year, and trained specifically for the last climb.

He was so assured of victory that he sat up at the end and cruised over the line. "I've been dreaming of winning like that since I started cycling," he said. "I could sit up and enjoy the win in the Tour de France."

It was the second consecutive win for the Sunweb team, after Warren Barguil's victory on Friday, Bastille Day.

The stage on Sunday will lead the peloton to Le Puy-en-Velay in Massif Central during a spectacular 189.5-kilometer (118-mile) ride on rolling terrain with four climbs that could offer more surprises. But Sky promised they won't be caught off guard.

Froome's teammate, Luke Rowe, said the British squad riders were "very disappointed" when the team leader relinquished the yellow jersey to Aru in the Pyrenees, having worn it for seven days.

"He won't do it again," Rowe said.


#letour 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Porte and Thomas Crash Enroute to Chambery


An eventful stage 9 of the 104th Tour de France saw the victory of Colombia's Rigoberto Uran in Chambéry after a fierce battle in three Hors-Category climbs. In a 6-man sprint including yellow jersey holder Chris Froome, the Cannondale-Drapac rider took his revenge over Frenchman Warren Barguil who deprived him of a highly awaited success in stage 16 of the 2013 Vuelta a España at Aramon-Formigal. Robert Gesink, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte successively abandoned after different falls.

193 riders started stage 9 in Nantua. As Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) was the first man to attack right after the flag off up the first hill of the day, stage 8 runner up Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates) were forced to abandon the Tour de France after crashing. A leading group of 40 riders was formed after the côte des Noyelles at km 5. It enabled Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) to crest the first two climbs of the day in the first position. After losing Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo-Oscaro) in a crash at km 17, the front group was made of Jan Bakelants, Axel Domont and Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jesus Herrada and Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Alessandro De Marchi and Amaël Moinard (BMC), Bakhtiar Kozhatayev and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Kristjian Durasek and Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott), Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Robert Kiserlovski and Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), Tiejs Benoot, Thomas De Gendt, Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Michael Matthews, Nikias Arndt, Warren Barguil, Simon Geschke and Laurens ten Dam (Sunweb), Nicolas Edet and Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Pierre Rolland and Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Tsgabu Grmay and Javier Moreno (Bahrain-Merida), Brice Feillu and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro).

The 39-man leading pack started the first Hors-Category climb of the 104th Tour de France with an advantage of four minutes over the bunch led by Team Sky. Roglic crested the col de la Biche in first position. The three AG2R-La Mondiale riders split the group into pieces in the descent before Geraint Thomas (Sky) crashed in the peloton and abandoned with a broken collarbone. Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Tiejs Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Warren Barguil (Sunweb) rode away up the Grand Colombier. Barguil was first at the summit six minutes before the yellow jersey group and a 12-man group was reunited in the valley on the way to the Mont du Chat. They passed the intermediate sprint at km 126.5 in the following order: Matthews, Bakelants, Gallopin, Geschke, Benoot, Roglic, Mollema, Barguil, Navarro, Pantano, Vuillermoz and Betancur.

Bakelants and Gallopin went on after the sprint and rode as a duo to the Mont du Chat. Gallopin soloed with 33km to go at the beginning of the climb but Barguil passed him 6km before the summit. The Frenchman from Sunweb also crested Mont du Chat alone in the lead but got caught at the end of the downhill by Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) who rode away from the yellow jersey group after Richie Porte (BMC) badly crashed and abandoned the Tour de France. Bardet was alone at the front from 12 to 2km to go but five riders came across to him. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) launched the sprint from far out to repeat the victory he got after climbing the Mont du Chat at the Critérium du Dauphiné but Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) and Barguil passed him. Uran, aged 30, was declared a Tour de France stage winner for the first time in this very tight finish.

#letour

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Rookie Calmejane Break Win Stage 8


Frenchman Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie soloed to victory on stage 8 to Les Rousses, mimicking his compatriot Sylvain Chavanel who did it seven years ago and winning at the age of 24 the same way he did as a neo pro at the Vuelta a España last year. It was a very eventful race with top class contenders in the different breakaways but Chris Froome managed to retain the yellow jersey ahead of grueling climbs on the way to Chambéry.

193 riders started stage 8 in Dole. As expected on a stage dedicated to attackers, many skirmishes took place from the gun. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Gianluca Brambilla (Quick-Step Floors), Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac) formed the first breakaway of the day. It didn't work out but Chavanel went again, accompanied by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana). Beaten by André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) increased his lead in the points classification over runner up Arnaud Démare (FDJ) who struggled badly in the first climb of the day, as well as Team Sky's Luke Rowe. Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) rode away after 50km of racing. Sütterlin was substituted by Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) in the leading quartet but it was all together again at km 70.

46 riders managed to go clear after 75km of racing. 16 of them formed a leading group with 98km to go: Jan Bakelants and Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Koen de Kort (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Schär and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Michael Valgren (Astana), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Emanuel Buchmann and Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Warren Barguil and Laurens ten Dam (Sunweb), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac). Barguil and Pauwels rode away in the col de la Joux with 92km to go. The Frenchman and the Belgian were still part of a group of seven riders who climbed the côte de Viry at the front before a regrouping. At the initiative of Van Avermaet, they went again before the top of the hill where Barguil outsprinted Bakelants and an eight-man group was formed with 48km to go: Jan Bakelants (AG2R-La Mondiale), Nicolas Roche and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Warren Barguil (Sunweb), Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac).

Michael Valgren (Astana) rejoined the leading group at St-Claude with 25km to go. In the first category Montée de la Combe de Laisia les Molunes, Calmejane rode away solo as there were 17km remaining before the finish. He suffered cramps with 5km to go but managed to overcome the pain to maintain his 40 seconds advantage over lone chaser Gesink. It's his first Tour de France victory and the second for a French rider this year after Arnaud Démare on stage 4 in Vittel. Calmejane also took the polka dot jersey while Chris Froome retained the lead in the overall ranking.

Simon Yates 
“It was an extremely fast pace today. Everybody expected that. Chances for guys to really go for the break were high. There was a lot of chaos at the beginning. I'm not sure about tomorrow, it's a really tough day. It could be raining too. Many riders today were worried about tomorrow.”

Lilian Calmejane 
“I hope everyone enjoyed the show. As a team, we had decided to go on the offensive and it paid off. In the finale, I knew Gesink wasn't far behind. But I didn't give anything away. I got a bit scared when I cramped between 6 and 4km to go but I had the experience of the same thing happening at Tour de l'Ain last year and I knew what to do. What a relief when I crossed the line. It's fantastic. This is the way of racing I like. I'm a rider with a lot of panache. I don't like chasing World Tour points or a place on GC. We'll see what my future is like. I'm not the future Bernard Hinault. This is my first Tour de France. It's too early to tell what lies ahead for me. As per the polka dot jersey, there are a lot of points tomorrow, so the jersey will be on someone else's shoulder. I'll be in the unknown after spending so much energy today, maybe a bit more than the other riders, but later on in the race and in years to come, the polka dot jersey could become a goal because the points scale makes it accessible to attackers as well as pure climbers.”
18:56 

Guillaume Martin
 "For my first discovery of the mountains in the Tour, to finish third is obviously a super stage for me. It was fast, very fast all day. There were a lot of attacks. When I saw the first group, or should I say bunch, go away, I was a little frustrated not to be in it. But then we made it back. I was feeling good, I tried to anticipate the big battle and eventually they did not come back. I did not take a lot of time for the GC but I'm still glad about this stage. For the stage win, the gap was too important. For my first Tour, for the first Tour of my team, it's fantastic, we're making a great Tour debut, we're in the breakaways everyday. It's nothing but pleasure."

Marcel Kittel 
“I had only one goal today: the intermediate sprint at km 45. It's been one of the hardest sprints I contested since the beginning of the Tour but at the end of the day, it's a good day for the green jersey.”

Arnaud Demare
My two guardian angels, Mickael Delage and Ignatas Konovalovas were truly exceptional. I struggled to recuperate from the last couple of days. I didn't rebuild my stock of glycogen like I should. I'm not ill, I'm dreadful. Clearly today I was dreadful. Thanks again to my guardian angels. The way they rode today was not work, it was love. Tomorrow is another day, the gruppetto will take shape earlier."

Chris Froome: 
"Today some teams wanted the yellow jersey. I guess Pierre Latour was up for it, or Mathias Frank, so we couldn't let them go. We've had to ride at the very high tempo behind them. After the hard stage we've had, tomorrow can be a very decisive day. The incident I had in a corner was a little bit of a reminder of how quickly things can change in the Tour de France. It can the moment that end your race but Geraint Thomas is alright and I didn't fall.


#letour

Friday, 7 July 2017

Boasson Hegen Pipped By Kittel in Nuits St George


Marcel Kittel was over the moon as he claimed his third stage victory in the 104th Tour de France in Nuits-Saint-Georges, the wine growing town after which the St George crater has been named on the moon. It was a very tight bunch sprint finish in Burgundy as photo-finish was necessary to determine that the German has beaten Edvald Boasson Hagen. Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey.

193 riders started stage 7 in Troyes. Maxime Bouet (Fortuneo-Oscaro) attacked from the gun to give birth to a four-man breakaway with Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates), Yohann Gène (Direct Energie) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac). It didn't take a long time for the peloton to get organized with three domestiques setting the pace: Olivier Le Gac (FDJ), Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors), at the service of sprinters Arnaud Démare, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel respectively. They were followed by the whole Team Sky wearing the yellow helmets of the leaders of the teams' classification and protecting race leader Chris Froome. As the maximum time gap was 3.40 at km 30, the escapees quickly understood their chances of success were minimal.

The race situation remained stable until the race reached the vineyards of Burgundy with 50km to go. The undulating and curvy terrain, as well as some wind with many changes of direction, inclined the peloton to speed up. Their deficit went below one minute within 40km to go. But they waited for the right moment to catch the four breakaway riders and no attempt to split up the bunch was reported. The leading quartet surrendered with 6km to go.

The FDJ team of green jersey holder Arnaud Démare was very visible in the run in but Dimension Data caught the right moment for South African champion Reinardt Janse van Rensburg to lead Edvald Boasson Hagen out. The Norwegian was close to claim his third Tour de France stage victory after he did so in Lisieux and Pinerolo in 2011 but the photo-finish eventually designated Marcel Kittel who himself didn't know if he had won or not. But it was his third success in this Tour de France and his twelfth one since he first started in 2012. He equals Erik Zabel to become the most successful German stage winner ever at the Grande Boucle.

#kittel #letour

British and Irish Lions 1971

1971 British Lions  Squad to tour New Zealand 

British Lions Tour Party Team Group

Back-row (left to right): Dr Doug Smith, Mike Gibson, Chris Rea, Ian McLauchlan, Fergus Slattery, Sandy Carmichael, Derek Quinnel, Mike Roberts, John Spencer, Sean Lynch, Delme Thomas, Mike Hipwell, Peter Dixon, Carwyn James.

Middle Row: Ray “Chico” Hopkins, Willie-John McBride, Mervyn Davies, Gordon Brown, John Dawes, Bob Hiller, John Bevan, Alistair Biggar, John Taylor.

Front Row: Ray Mcloughlin, Arthur Lewis, John Pullin, Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Frank Laidlaw, Gerald Davies, JPR Williams and David Duckham.


Possible Rugby Immortality Awaits Gatland Lions


All Blacks return to the nation's capital this weekend for the final meeting in the three test series with the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park. A venue where the hosts are unbeaten in 23 years and the place that Graham Henry and Richie McCaw finally secured the rugby world cup in 2011. A triumph that was first achieved in the inaugural world cup in 1987 at the same venue The history and the statistics favour the home nation in Saturday's third est series decider with the Lions hopes revived by a most unexpected win in Wellington last saturdy. For the historic contest Warren Gatland has chosen to field an unchanged side leaving no room for a return for Peter O'Mahony who captained the opening test a coupe of weeks ago and Sam Warburton remaining also as the Lions captain.

The Welshman missed the series-clinching third Test win over Australia in 2013 with a hamstring injury.

"It feels like all the sacrifice over the past four years and all the little things I have done have come to this moment," Warburton told BBC Sport.

Warburton was on the bench for the opener in Auckland, which ended 30-15 to the hosts, having suffered an ankle injury against the Provincial Barbarians, but returned to the starting XV for the thrilling 24-21 triumph in Wellington.

The 28-year-old has been beset by injuries in recent years, missing six weeks at the end of the domestic season with a knee injury, while in October 2016 he suffered a fractured cheekbone that put him out of action for three weeks.

"I am delighted that my body has held up more than anything," said the Cardiff Blues flanker. "That is half the battle with me, my fitness.

"I was delighted when I heard my name read out for the third Test and to have the chance to finish a Test series and potentially to win it.

"For me four years ago does feel like unfinished business because I was gutted I could not play that third game - even though I was over the moon and it was a career highlight to win, you still, as a player want to be involved in that and have your small contribution to the game.

"So for the past four years in the back of my mind I have set my sights on this tour and I wanted to be in the Test team and play in the last game."

The British and Irish Lions have named an unchanged team and bench for the third and decisive Test against New Zealand. It means they will field the same starting XV in consecutive Tests for the first time since 1993.

A victory on Saturday at Eden Park would give the Lions only their second ever series win in New Zealand.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who saw his side win 24-21 win in Wellington last week to level the series, said: "It is not very often on a Lions tour that you get to pick the same 23 for the following game.

"We felt we should reward the players for the result and the courage that they showed in coming from behind from 18-9 down, digging themselves out of a hole and then finishing strongly in that last 10 to 15 minutes [to win the second Test]."

Gatland has decided to retain the 10-12 partnership of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell from the second-Test win on Saturday.  The creative duo gives the Lions more attacking options and Gatland has clearly decided that is more important than shoring up a defensive channel that was targeted by the All Blacks last time out.

Ngani Laumape - who came off the bench to replace the red-carded Sonny Bill Williams and was sent down that channel with some success in Wellington - will make his first start for the All Blacks on Saturday.

England loose-head Mako Vunipola - the target of criticism after an ill-disciplined second half that saw him sin-binned last weekend - retains his number one shirt. Wales' Liam Williams has shrugged off injury concerns to once again start at full-back.

Gatland said the Lions are expecting a "backlash" from the world champions in Auckland but added: "We still feel there is another level in us.

"This is a huge chance for this group of players to show their abilities and reap the benefits of the work everyone has put in. It is their chance to make Lions history."

Lions: Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Elliot Daly (England); Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Conor Murray (Ireland); Mako Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England) Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales) Sam Warburton (capt, Wales), Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

Replacements: Ken Owens (Wales), Jack McGrath (Ireland), Kyle Sinckler (England), Courtney Lawes (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Te'o (England), Jack Nowell (England)

New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.

Replacements: Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.

#AllBlacks #LionsOfficial 


OSM - McIlroy Needs to Drive More Carefully




Back to back winners at the US Open are a rarity in recent times with that honour going to Curtis Strange in 1989, during a period in his career when the American was virtually unbeatable – as Sir Nick Faldo discovered in the play off the previous year at The Country Club in Brookline. 

With a trip to the Bay Area imminent - for the US Open - the chances of the current champion Rory McIlroy becoming the first player to retaun the title this century looking less probable. In fact, very unlikely given the current form, as it includes missed cuts at The Players in  Sawgrass, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week, and The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village this week. 

At the end of the final day last year at Congressional it looked a formality given the sheer dominance McIlroy had shown over ten four days – with Sunday proving a sheer exhibition of his golfing talent and ability. 

But like many a major winner it seems that the Northern Ireland Walker Cup winner, 2012 Ryder Cup winner and major champion has been unable l to battle the natural laws of gravity that have followed most other winners. None less that his fellow Northern Ireland major winner, Darren Clarke, who since the winning putt at Sandwich last July and leaving the Royal St George locker room has failed to come close to lifting another trophy. As both golfers conclude their twelve month reigns, the trophies are due to be returned when McIlroy arrives at The Olympic Club, and Clarke checks-in at Royal Lytham. 

On current form it would seem that Sunday night celebrations at ether venue look unlikely. 

But life golf can be stranger than fiction and as Padraig Harrington showed at Royal Birkdale in 2008, back to back major wins are not impossible. In fact watching Harrington that Sunny Sunday afternoon alongside Greg Norman, it all looked rather easy when his five wood on the seventeenth rolled so kindly to within a gimme of the flag. And having won the play off at Carnoustie twelve months earlier and also buried the burden of winning a major, and also slayed the ghost of no home winner at the Irish Open in 25 years at Adare Manor in 2007. 

A helpful memory for Clarke no doubt when he sets off on the wild Lancashire coast next month,. 

For Rory though there is the confidence knowing that he won this year at The Honda Classic, and two second places – Accenture World match play in Arizona and at The Wells Fargo on his return to his happy hunting grounds of Quail Hollow. And if the absence of from is viewed as something temporary then a win at the US Open is not a stench of the imagination. Albeit worrying that there is only one tournament – the FedEx St Jude Classic – to get things right and banish any demons that may be lurking unbeknown to the rest of us. 

But as this year’s Masters proved, McIroy is capable of bouncing back at any time. 

Unfortunately though during this period the scrutiny will return once again about lifestyle, his caddie, tournament preparations and overall focus until he returns to winning. Or reclaims the world number one spot. Given McIlroy lives his life on twitter, shares his personal life with world number 4 tennis player, Carline Wozniacki, with his followers he is no doubt accustomed to the scrutiny. But it certainly does not become any easier and photos attending The White House in March look good when you’re winning. However attracts all sorts of criticism when the winning goes amiss – adding to the pressure – raising questions about some of the decisions over the past year about his management also. 

Although with the Irish Open this year at Royal Portrush one has to believe that McIlroy has winning plans for the Dunluce Links this summer. By then we will know the outcome of the US Open in San Francisco. 

The signs though of concern are there already after Rory added the FedEx event to his busy schedule - a departure from his usual routine of not playing the week before a major championship. Indeed airing the news on twitter. 

“In Heathrow about to go to the US. Excited about the next 3 weeks! Memorial, Memphis and then defend the US Open in San Fran,” he tweeted. 

McIlroy last played in the FedEx St. Jude Classic two years ago, tying for 29th before missing the cut at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach a week later. 

In six starts on the PGA TOUR this season, McIlroy has a win, two runner-up finishes and a third. On The European Tour he has 2 top-5 finishes and is currently conceded his world number title to Luke Donald – who is the epitome of rocky steady. 

After Wentworth Horizon Spots CEO, Conor Ridge came out and said: 

“'I said to Rory after Wentworth that every day is a school day, you're always learning in this job, and what we know about Rory is he is a really fast learner. 

'People can say what they want. I view these two missed cuts as a positive, to be honest, going forward.' 

“Like any 23-year-old, his schedule is still a bit of a trial and error process and we'll tweak it accordingly as we go along,' said Ridge. 

But we know McIlroy does care and was supposedly furious with himself for being so ill-prepared for the BMW PGA Championship. The failure at the Memorial would have only added only added to that fury - and so look out St. Jude. 

The only worry though is a comment made by Rory's father, Gerry, in the immediate aftermath of the Rory's crash out of the BMW PGA Championship 

"There's always tomorrow. It's not the Olympics," 

Wrong. 

Albeit not tomorrow, in two weeks it’s The Olympic Club and the US Open.  So Rory, Conor, JP and Gerry need to be ready to match the Strange history - and win back-to-back.


Copyright OSM


A Tale of Two Tests - Lions 2013

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Two tests, two last minutes kicks at two different venues is the summary of the Lions Tour Downunder thus far, leaving the two teams heading to Sydney for the winner takes all decider next Saturday, July 6th. A marketing dream no doubt for all the Lions commercial interests. And if the Lions support at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne is any indication, the final game in the series will no doubt see more pilgrims arrive in Australia from the Northern Hemisphere. A trip that will prove memorable if Lions captain Sam Warburton and Head Coach Warren Gatland can secure the Holy Grail in the final showdown in just under seven days. 

Ironically the fate of the two captains could prove pivotal, as Warburton is nursing a hamstring injury incurred in the second half, which in his own words, leaves him in uncharted territory given it is an injury he has never suffered before. His opposite number, James Horwill, faces the IRB appeal process on Monday, which may dictate his availability for the vital 3rd test. An issue he was reluctant to address in the post-match euphoria at the Etihad, given it would be unthinkable that he would not lead his beloved Wallabies. 

However, both those outcomes for the moment are floating in the ether.

As for the match, well, it ended as the first did on the Gold Coast, with a kicker facing a chance to win the game outright as Lions Leigh Halfpenny was unable to close out the series when he had a 55 metre opportunity in the 82nd minute of play. Even for a kicker of his calibre it was always going to be tough, as it rested just outside his comfort range. And having hit the crossbar early in the first half from inside the half way line, the Wales fullback was in the lap of the Gods. yet for different reasons than those suffered by Kurtley Beale in Brisbane, the Lions kicker also missed, and as a result set the Wallabies into fits of joy and the series to another round.

In a match that was from a flowing spectacle the sight of the Australian backs running into space in the dying quarter showed once again that Wallabies coach Robbie Deans maybe reaping the reward of his two years developing this squad. The movement of these athletic set of runners is a joy to watch when on form, albeit on this Melbourne night a high level of handling and passing errors restricted their opportunities to capitalise on their possession. Given they had four clean breaks that went aground.

But fortune favours the brave and the home side never gave up, reaping the win as their reward.

Perhaps aided by a number of substitutions made by Gatland's that included Ben Youngs, Jamie Heaslip, and Adam Jones within minutes of each other midway through the second half. Enough variation in the structure perhaps to lose some of the Lions momentum and allow the hosts score the games only try. In sport the margins for the victors are more often than not, based on that kind of momentum.

The loss of Warburton may too have been crucial. 

Although the arrival of the Tullow Tank would have been more than adequate replacement, as Sean O’Beirne has been close to earning a test spot in his own right all week. Although it has to be noted on Saturday night the Wales captain had an outstanding game at the breakdown and was more than a handful even for referee Craig Joubert, who spent most of the night reminding "number seven red" on the laws of the game. Where at the breakdown where the visitors racked up 21 turnovers – as against conceding 15.

All a welcome change for the Lions captain who has been fighting the backchat in the early weeks of this tour as to the merits of being guaranteed a test place - given the form of so many of the players in the squad. But should Warburton fail in his recovery then other options will no doubt be more easily found given the current strength in depth in the back row. Where the Lions may need to have a more profound look is in the back line where beyond scrumhalf Youngs the movement seemed restricted on the night, lacking creativity and always second best in the onslaught from the Wallabies. 

Albeit in defence the work rate was intense and heroic, even if Brian O'Driscoll became over enthusiastic and conceded a number of needless penalties.

It will be in that area that the selectors may show their ruthlessness as the case for the iconic Irish centre automatic test selection may now be under review. The lack of penetration through the Australian back line becoming more notable as the game progressed. Although Johnny Sexton completed the task at hand his influence seemed stifled, even if the failure to get Tommie Bowe running was more down to Dean’s homework it has to be said. Whereas George North once again showed how difficult he is to stop once he gathers a high ball on the counter. 

In the end though the Wallabies broke more tackles, handled 150 passes versus 70 and flashed three times more offloads than the rampaging Lions. All of which supports the final result for the Wallabies, who were worth their win on the night. A point that both coaches were very in tune with post match as the third game gives Deans the revival he has been desperately seeking for a while. Offering the Lions coach Gatland a glorious finale as heads to Sydney with an all to play for in game 3. 

In the words of Warburton nothings has changed though, he woke on Saturday morning with one test left to settle the series, and leaves Melbourne with that unchanged after the 82 Etihad minutes.

However those euphemisms mean little to the players, who for the most part were deflated having been so close to winning test two, and yet so far. As Sexton said when speaking pitch side after the match.

"Leigh had a long-range attempt, but it was always going to be a tough ask for him to hit that," Sexton added. "It was from all of 50 metres or so. It was an extremely difficult kick for him. It didn't come down to one kick - we need to examine how we played.

"We probably felt he could get the kick, and Leigh felt he could too. We've seen him knock them over from that kind of distance before, but it's right on his range.

"It was a very tough kick, and you have to also remember how tired he must have been right at the death. It's small margins, but like I say, you can't look at one man. There was plenty wrong with our performance as a team.

"We were 1-0 up and we should have gone 2-0 up, and we didn't. At times it felt we were wishing the game to finish, rather than going out and going after it. That's how I felt, anyway."
“But talking about making history is not going to win you the game. It's about executing the moves, the game plan, being good in defence and stopping their moves."

On the night though there was one record shattered at the Etihad Stadium as the attendance surpassed the venue’s previous record – funnily enough set 12 years ago when the Qantas Wallabies last played the Lions in Melbourne. 

A total of 56,771 supporters came through the gates with the previous record being 56,605, set on Saturday 7 July 2001. 

The first Test of the DHL Australia 2013 Lions Tour also produced a ground record crowd for Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, with 52,499 attending the series opener.

Now we just need to see what records are broken in the final Test of the Tour at ANZ Stadium in Sydney next Saturday night.

A Lions win maybe?



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