Saturday 14 February 2015

England v Italy - Preview

England will be looking to build on their impressive Six Nations start when they host Italy at Twickenham on Saturday.

England silenced Cardiff with an impressive second-half display to beat Wales 21-16 at the Millennium Stadium in their Championship opener last Friday.
Scott Quinnell gives his prediction on the 6 Nations clash between England and Italy

Head coach Stuart Lancaster has kept the faith in the side who beat Wales by naming the same 23 for the visit of the Azzurri.

Jonathan Joseph will make his Twickenham debut as he resumes his promising centre partnership outside Luther Burrell with George Ford once again pulling the strings at fly-half.

Tighthead prop Dan Cole is given another chance to gain match fitness after a year interrupted by neck and foot problems, while on the other side of the scrum Joe Marler continues to be first choice loosehead.

England backs coach Andy Farrell has been impressed with how the young players have adapted to the international game

Italy coach Jacques Brunel has made four changes to his team for Saturday’s clash plus two further positional changes.

Veteran lock Marco Bortolami extends his caps record for Italy to 111, replacing Newcastle's Josh Furno in the second row.

Another Azzurri stalwart, flanker Mauro Bergamasco will pick up his 101st cap in place of Alessandro Zanni, who partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in last week’s 26-3 defeat to Ireland in Rome and has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

Sale Sharks prop Alberto De Marchi, who started on the bench last week, swaps places with Matias Aguero at loosehead in the other change in the forwards.

Michele Campagnaro will miss the rest of the Six Nations after injuring his left knee, so Luca Morisi has moved out one spot to fill the vacant outside centre position. Wasps star Andrea Masi will be at inside centre, switching from full-back. Sale's Luke McLean moves to No 15 from the left wing.

Giovambattista Venditti, who started on the bench in Rome, comes on to the left wing.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 1 Joe Marler, 2 Dylan Hartley, 3 Dan Cole, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 George Kruis, 6 James Haskell, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 8 Billy Vunipola,

Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Kelly Haimona, 9 Edoardo Gori, 1 Alberto De Marchi, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 5 Marco Bortolami, 6 Mauro Bergamasco, 7 Francesco Minto, 8 Sergio Parisse (c).

Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Joshua Furno, 20 Samuela Vunisa, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giulio Bisegni.

Captain Morgan Leads Defeat

England’s World Cup campaign started in disappointing fashion as they were thrashed by Australia at the MCG.

Eoin Morgan’s men were bowled out for 231 in pursuit of The Baggy Greens’ imposing total of 342-9 to register a 111- run defeat.

James Taylor (98no) top scored for England with his highest ODI total, while Mitchell Marsh (5-33) outgunned Australia’s senior bowlers with his first five-for.

Aaron Finch (135) had earlier starred for the co-hosts with the bat, crunching his sixth one-day ton on his World Cup debut after being dropped on nought by Chris Woakes.

Glenn Maxwell (66 off 40) also added quick-fire late runs for Australia, before Steven Finn (5-71) claimed the first hat-trick by an Englishman in World Cup cricket.

England, who picked Gary Ballance instead of Ravi Bopara, elected to bowl in Melbourne and should have had an early breakthrough but Woakes somehow shelled Finch at mid-wicket in the first over.

Finch made the most of his lifeline, firstly putting on 57 for the first wicket with David Warner (22) and then, when Warner and Shane Watson (0) fell to consecutive Stuart Broad deliveries and Woakes bowled Steven Smith (5), adding 146 with skipper George Bailey.

Right-hander Finch, who brought up his century of 102 balls, was run out by Morgan in the 36th over and Bailey dragged a Finn delivery onto his poles shortly after.

But Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh (23 off 20) and Brad Haddin (31 off 14) did not let Australia’s innings dwindle, plundering 116 from the final 12 overs.

It was a bizarre finish to Australia innings as Steve Finn ended the innings with a hat-trick and five-for. The game is live on Sky Sports World Cup.

Finn (5-71) finished Australia’s knock in good spirits, though, dismissing Haddin, Maxwell and Mitchell Johnson (0) in successive deliveries in the final over.

England were soon in trouble in their reply, however, with Moeen Ali (10) miscuing a pull shot and holing out to mid-on, and Ballance (10) chipping Marsh to short mid-off.

Ian Bell (36) had seemingly bedded in but he slogged to Starc at midwicket to hand Marsh a second scalp and the 23-year-old had a third next ball when Joe Root (5) top-edged behind to Haddin.

Taylor, shunted down to six with Ballance taking his No 3 spot, was next in but he wasn’t batting with his captain for long, as Morgan (0) presented Haddin with another catch to record his fourth duck in five innings.

Haddin showed his athleticism to dismiss Morgan, but that was nothing compared to Smith, who produced a stunning dive at short cover to pluck a firmly-hit stroke from Jos Buttler (10) out of the air and complete Marsh’s five-for.

England were 92-6 at that stage, though they increased that to 184-6 thanks to some good scampering between the wickets by Taylor and Woakes (37) and latterly some lusty blows.

However, the 92-run partnership ended when Woakes skied to Smith and when Broad (0) was bowled by for a golden duck and Finn (1) went caught-and-bowled, Taylor – who was dropped twice and survived a caught-behind review – was left with last man Anderson.

The Notinghamshire player moved to within two runs of his hundred, though after he successfully reviewed an lbw decision, Anderson (8) was run-out by Maxwell off the same delivery, with Taylor's pleas of dead ball falling on deaf ears.

Ireland v France - Preview

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has recalled the Lions trio of Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip for the game against France.

Hooker Rory Best has recovered from a concussion and has completed all the return-to-play protocols.

Another Lion, prop Cian Healy, is on the replacements bench following surgery on a hamstring injury.

France make just one change with prop Eddy Ben Arous replacing the injured Alexandre Menini.

Ireland: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Jared Payne, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Simon Zebo, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 1-Jack McGrath, 2-Rory Best, 3-Mike Ross, 4-Devin Toner, 5-Paul O'Connell (c), 6-Peter O'Mahony, 7-Sean O'Brien, 8-Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Cian Healy, 18-Martin Moore, 19-Iain Henderson, 20-Jordi Murphy, 21-Isaac Boss, 22-Ian Madigan, 23-Felix Jones.

France: 15-Scott Spedding, 14-Yoann Huget, 13-Mathieu Bastareaud, 12-Wesley Fofana, 11-Teddy Thomas, 10-Camille Lopez, 9-Rory Kockott; 1-Eddy Ben Arous, 2-Guilhem Guirado, 3-Rabah Slimani, 4-Pascal Pape, 5-Yoann Maestri, 6-Thierry Dusautoir, 7-Bernard Le Roux, 8-Damien Chouly

Replacements: 16-Benjamin Kayser, 17-Uini Atonio, 18-Vincent Debaty, 19-Romain Taofifenua, 20-Loann Goujon, 21-Morgan Parra, 22-Remi Tales, 23-Remi Lamerat.

The performances by both France and Ireland in their opening matches of the 2015 Six Nations were described in their respective country's media in a mixture of unflattering terms such as: 'less than convincing', 'disjointed and lacklustre', 'little to please the eye' and 'battle of attrition'.

Despite them both winning, each side is under pressure to show a little more 'joie de vivre' at the Aviva.

This is a fixture that has been particularly tight in recent years with successive draws followed by a nerve-jangling Championship-clinching win in Paris for Ireland last year by just two points. 

A win on Saturday for the Irish would carry greater significance than just being another step towards retaining their title as both these sides are in the same World Cup group. Winger Tommy Bowe says that beating the French would put them "psychologically in a great position"ahead of the tournament, having already seen off Italy, another Pool D opponent, last weekend.

The Irish are boosted for this game by the reappearance of three Lions to their starting line-up, with another on the bench. The player generating the most headlines on his return is Johnny Sexton. The scourge of the French last year is back at number 10 after an enforced three-month absence following four concussions in 2014.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre went public this week with his plan to put an undercooked Sexton under pressure by saying they should "test him early on", given his last game was against Australia in November.

However, given the Racing Metro fly-half's knowledge of his French opponents, and 17 points at the Stade de France last year, he is unlikely to be fazed by an early French bombardment.

France looked rusty on their return from a three-month break of their own as they lumbered past Scotland. Old-fashioned forward power ground them out of trouble, but Saint-Andre will have spent this week concocting a plan of how to better release a dangerous back division that weren't given enough chances to shine.

He also spoke of the importance of finally winning away at a major team, something that leaves a yawning gap on his CV with Les Bleus.

Referee : Wayne Barnes (ENG)
Touch judges : Nigel Owens (WAL) & Stuart Berry (RSA)
TV : Graham Hughes (ENG)

Thursday 12 February 2015

Tiger Not Out of the Woods

Tiger Woods has admitted his golf is not acceptable for the US PGA Tour and he will not return until it is.

Woods, the world No62, shot a career-worst 82 to miss the cut at the Phoenix Open by 12 this month and was playing poorly at Torrey Pines the next weekwhen he withdrew after 11 holes because of tightness in his back.

Woods said on Wednesday on his website that the issue is not related to the back surgery he had last spring but he is having therapy every day. He hopes to contest the Honda Classic from 26 February but will not do so if his game is not in shape.

“The last two weeks have been very disappointing to me, especially Torrey, because I never want to withdraw,” Woods wrote.

“Unfortunately, lately injuries have made that happen too often. This latest injury is not related to my previous surgery. I am having daily physical therapy and I am feeling better every day.

“Right now, I need a lot of work on my game, and to still spend time with the people that are important to me.

“My play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf. Like I’ve said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.

“Next week I will practice at Medalist and at home getting ready for the rest of the year. I am committed to getting back to the pinnacle of my game. I’d like to play The Honda Classic – it’s a tournament in my hometown and it’s important to me – but I won’t be there unless my game is tournament-ready. That’s not fair to anyone. I do, however, expect to be playing again very soon.

“I want to thank the fans in Phoenix and San Diego. They were amazing. I greatly appreciate everyone’s support.”

Saturday 7 February 2015

Ireland Win Roman Battle

Getty Images
Ireland opened the defence of their Six Nations title with a stuttering 26-3 victory over Italy in Rome.

Tries from Conor Murray and Tommy O'Donnell as well as 14 points from the boot of Ian Keatley gave the defending champions the perfect start to this year’s campaign despite a disjointed display.

Ireland suffered an early disruption to the match when they lost Sean O’Brien to an injury during the warm-up. His place in the starting line-up was taking by O'Donnell and Robbie Diack was called onto the bench.

There had been rain leading up to kick-off, making for slippery conditions in the opening exchanges - and the early handling reflected that.

The first half played host to typically bullish Italian defence, but as is often the case with Italy it was not long before the constant tackling took its toll. To the hosts' credit they did not concede a try in the first half, but Keatley kept Ireland ticking over with his boot.

Keatley did not enjoy a good start in the No 10 jersey with ball in hand, but missed no kicks at goal on the day, and he took his team to a 9-0 lead in the 35th minute.

By the time the teams headed into the break Italy had added a penalty of their own, but it was Ireland who started the second half with more purpose.

Italy’s disciplined defence during this period, and uncharacteristically poor execution from Ireland, meant that it took until the close of the third quarter for Ireland to finally add to that scoreline with another kick from Keatley. At that point Leonardo Ghiraldini was shown a yellow card for a professional foul at a maul, and thereafter Ireland began to pile on the pressure as well as points.

Conor Murray was the first to cross over when Ireland had the extra man advantage, darting over from close range at the side of a ruck, and his score was followed two minutes later by a solo break from O'Donnell. Both scores were converted.

Italy appeared to have scored in the dying minutes but Kelly Haimona was denied his first international try when the TMO spotted a knock-on from Sergio Parisse in the build up to it.

AP McCoy Plans Retirement

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Tony McCoy announced his decision to retire by the end of the season, after riding his ninth double-century, but revealed his "broken heart" at not being able to ride 300 winners this season.

Just minutes after Mr Mole gave McCoy his 200th winner of the season after favouriteSire De Grugy unseated three out in an incident-packed Betfair Price Rush Chase at Newbury, the champion jockey told Channel 4 Racing of his intention to stop riding.

Not seen since following up his Champion Chase success at Sandown last April, the Gary Moore-trained Sire De Grugy was sent off at odds-on but made a bad mistake four from home before parting company with Jamie Moore at the next.

That left a simple task for Mr Mole, who will test his credentials at the top level in the two-mile championship next month.

All that was overshadowed, however, when McCoy revealed his retirement plan.

"It's going to be the last time I ride 200 winners," he said.

"Having spoken to Dave (Roberts, agent) and JP McManus, I am going to be retiring at the end of the season."

McCoy said: "I want to go out at top, I want to go out as champion jockey and it will be my 20th year if I can win the jockeys' championship.

"I want to go out while I still enjoy riding and am still relatively at the top."

His wife Chanelle said: "It's a decision he's battled with very much, some days he's at peace with it and some days he's sad. It will be great for him to go out on a high and hopefully we will get him out in one piece."

She went on: "It's a very big decision and a decision like that he has to live with, so he has to make it himself.

"He knew my preference for him to retire at the end of the season, but I never pushed him. He's very much his own man and he makes up his own mind."

Richard Johnson has long had to play second-fiddle to McCoy in the jockeys' championship, and he said: "It wasn't the biggest shock in the world I suppose, but it's more set in concrete now.

"There'll be a few people relieved and will have a few more chances, but it's a great loss to lose him from the weighing room.

"We all know we'll get to that point sometime. It will be an even bigger shock after Sandown (end of the season) I suppose, but I'm sure we'll still see him around the racecourse and his achievements will live on for a long time."

McCoy said he will "really miss" riding when he retires at the end of the season, adding: "Time waits for no man, so it's not going to wait for me."

He later admitted that he had nearly decided to quit last April, but had decided to wait and see if he could ride 300 horses this season.

"I probably, believe it or not, had actually spoke to JP about it in April, that it was a possible. I got a real thing about going out in a blaze of glory and I thought through the early part of the season that I was going to ride 300 winners.

"Then I got injured at Worcester and I went back riding a few days after having been in a lot of pain. That probably wasn't the brightest thing to do, but I thought I had to - if I was going to ride 300 winners, I thought I had to keep riding.

"That kind of broke my heart a little bit. I thought that I could ride 300 winners and the fact that was taken away broke my heart a little bit.

"It's emotional because I'm retiring from something I like doing. That's tough."

AP McCoy Facts & Figures
Champion jockey: 1995-6, 1996-7, 1997-8, 1998-9, 1999-2000, 2000-1, 2001-2, 2002-3, 2003-4, 2004-5, 2005-6, 2006-7, 2007-8, 2008-9, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14
Best season: 289 winners in 2001-2
1,000th winner: Majadou, Cheltenham, December 11, 1999.
2,000th winner: Magical Bailiwick, Wincanton, January 17, 2004.
3,000th winner over jumps in Britain and Ireland: Restless D'Artaix, Plumpton, February 9, 2009.
4,000th winner over jumps in Britain and Ireland: Mountain Tunes, Towcester, November 7, 2013.

Champion Hurdle winners: Make A Stand 1997, Brave Inca 2006, Binocular 2010.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner: Mr Mulligan 1997, Synchronised 2012
Champion Chase winner: Edredon Bleu 2000.
King George VI Chase winner: Best Mate 2002.
Grand National winner: Don't Push It 2010.

:: McCoy started working with horses at the age of 13, working full-time from leaving school at 15. His weight rocketed after some time off with a broken leg following a fall whilst employed at Jim Bolger's and this was the deciding factor which drove McCoy from Flat to jumps racing.

:: McCoy's riding injuries have included: broken middle and lower vertebrae, both shoulder blades, both collarbones, ribs, ankle, cheekbones, wrist, ankle and leg plus a dislocated thumb and chipped teeth.

:: It took McCoy 15 attempts before sealing an elusive first victory in the Grand National aboard the gambled-on Don't Push It in 2010. Bookmakers recorded a loss of around £50million on the race.

:: McCoy has been the retained jockey for owner JP McManus for 10 years.

:: In 2003 McCoy was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours and an OBE in 2010.

:: He became BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010, beating Phil Taylor and Jessica Ennis-Hill to the coveted trophy. It was the first time a jockey had been awarded the honour.

:: His first novel 'Taking the Fall' was published in November 2013 by Orion. Its central character is Duncan Claymore, a super-talented conditional jockey who is nonetheless struggling.

:: AP spends at least two hours a day and six days a week sweating in the bath or sauna (equivalent of 1.3 years of his life). On average AP sweats off 2-4Ib per session.

:: McCoy was crowned champion conditional jockey at 21 after riding 74 winners in the 1994/1995 season, when attached to the yard of trainer Toby Balding.

:: McCoy has been crowned champion jockey 19 times.

:: McCoy was 17 when riding his first winner, Legal Steps, to victory for Jim Bolger at Thurles in 1992.

:: McCoy rode his first winner in England aboard the Gordon Edwards-trained Chickabiddy at Exeter on September 7, 1994.