Formula 1: Not the ideal situation for any of the British drivers

It was a tough time for all three British drivers in Malaysia last weekend, for a range of different reasons.

Embed from Getty Images

Prior to the start of the 2015 Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Will Stevens may have been forgiven for thinking the year would pan out slightly differently. Although currently top of the standings, world champion Hamilton was expecting another dominant Mercedes show battling rival Nico Rosberg, rather than having to fend off the resurgent Ferrari and, particularly, Sebastian Vettel. Button rode out a frustrating 2014 to sign a new contract, teaming up with Fernando Alonso in the new Honda partnership that should have been extremely promising, but in reality has led to McLaren struggling to even make Q2, never mind finishing a race at all.

New full-time racer Will Stevens has had it tougher than most. The Manor Marussia driver took part in the season-closer in Abu Dhabi for Caterham last year, which is significantly longer than he has spent in a car this year. His new team failed to do any running in Australia and, although he posteed decent times in practice last week, he suffered “complex fuel problems” and had to watch as team-mate Roberto Mehri took part in his stead.

Manor’s sporting director Graeme Lowdon has had to fend off conspiracy theories since Stevens’ no-show, with some believing they are unable to run two cars at once: “I can guarantee you if that car could have moved, it would have raced,” Lowdon told racing website Autosport. “The systems and the people were perfectly happy with the results of everything in [practice] one, two and three from that point of view, and if you look at the run plans we weren’t going round and round and round in one, two and three because we had very specific tasks in ticking things off.
“Quali we had very clear run planning for both cars, and we would have definitely raced with two cars.”

In Stevens’ mind, Manor are only going in one direction. “There were some positive signs at Sepang with the running I was able to achieve, so I’m looking forward to building on that here in China. It’s been good to have the data from Roberto’s race there for the team to work with and I’m hoping that we can start to get into a good rhythm from this weekend. It’s always good to tackle a circuit I’ve never raced at before and this one has some nice challenges for both car and driver, so it will be good to experience those and to start getting to grips with the car a little more.”

At the other end of the grid, Lewis Hamilton is likely to be pushing his already stellar performance at previous Shanghai meetings and is the favourite for pole and outright victory once again. Just ahead of Vettel in the standings, he has won 3 times in China, as well as securing 4 poles, 2 fastest laps and 6 podiums in all, whilst leading more laps than any other driver. “Shanghai is one of my favourite locations – simply because of the fans. I don’t know how, but from the moment we land at the airport they know we’re there. It really is amazing to see the support we get. The circuit itself is a different challenge to Albert Park and Sepang – but it’s one I really enjoy and it suits my driving style quite well.”

However, Hamilton may be hampered by the statistic that shows that, since the inaugural race in 2004, no other driver has ever won consecutive Chinese Grands Prix, so the 2014 winner may end up conceding victory to one of the drivers around him. Despite progress in Sepang and being the man who has led in the most Shanghai races (6), Button doesn’t feel that it will be him. “China’s two long straights – each preceded by slow- to medium-speed corners – will place extra emphasis on the power-unit. And there is a feeling that the expected cooler weather will make it harder to generate tyre temperature – which could mean that any progress we make doesn’t necessarily translate to a laptime benefit.”

The weekend starts this Friday with first practice early in the morning, UK time.

F1_pictogram

Posted in Formula One | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Shooting: World Cup season starts for Rifle and Pistol, with Jonathan Hammond

Olympian Jonathan Hammond is the sole British representative at this week’s pistol and rifle World Cup in Changwon.
Embed from Getty Images
Hammond’s last appearance in the Korean city was in 2011, taking 13th place in the 50m Rifle Prone event. This time last year, the action was in Maribor, Slovenia, where he upped his level to take 11th place, a result he repeated at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. However, it was generally a poor year up until that point.

A two-time Olympian, Hammond led his country in London 2012 and posted a competitive score of 593 in qualification. However, since becoming a junior World Champion in Barcelona 1998, 34-year old Hammond has failed to really kick on and his best major result was fourth place in the European Championships in Granada 2007, and only 29th on the World Championship stage.

Although Hammond is partial to the 50m Rifle 3 Positions event, he is sticking to Prone this week and will be hoping to kick off qualification for Rio 2016 in style. Elimination for the competition begins at 12pm local time on Saturday 11th, with qualification the following day.

Shooting_pictogram

Posted in Shooting | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tennis: Aljaz Bedene in the main draw for Trophee Hassan II

British number two Aljaž Bedene has reached his first main draw since switching from representing Slovenia after advancing through the qualifying stages of the Trophee Hassan II in Casablanca.
Embed from Getty Images

Agree with his decision to abandon his home country and establish himself as British tennis’ other Top 100 player alongside Andy Murray or not, Bedene has taken to his new nation with aplomb. Seeded first in the qualifying competition, his first win as a Brit came against France’s Maxime Chazal in straight sets and the pattern would continue throughout the weekend. He would go on to defeat Michael Linzer of Austria in the same way, before this morning finishing the job of qualifying with another dominant win, this time over Argentina’s Pedro Cachin, stopping him 6-2 6-2.

Although currently unclear who Bedene will go on to face in the first round proper of the Moroccan tournament, he has the chance of meeting eighth seed Diego Schwartzman or wildcard Nicolas Almegro of Spain. Whatever the first opponent, he will not be slated to face top seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez until at least the semis, although a quarter-final match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia is a possibility.

Elsewhere, Heather Watson will be hoping to put her Miami Open disappointment behind her by taking on Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the first round of the Katowice Open, taking place from 3pm today. In the doubles, top pairing Jocelyn Rae and Anna Smith take up one of the slots in the main draw of the Katowice Open, but face a tough start to the week against top seeds Klaudia Jans-Ignacik (Poland) and Kristina Mladenovic (France). Unfortunately, the week is already over for Alexander Ward, who bowed out of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in the first qualifying round with a straight sets loss to Argentinian Facundo Bagnis.

Tennis_pictogram

Posted in Tennis | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Premier League Darts 2015: Tickets on sale now!

Tickets are now on general sale for the 2015 edition of Premier League Darts, which begins on February 5th.

Embed from Getty Images

Although the final line-up won’t be confirmed until the end of the season, when the Order of Merit determines who the top four players of 2014 were, the PDC have already confirmed that 16-time World Champion Phil Taylor will be present, joined by current champion Raymond van Barneveld and world number one Michael van Gerwen.

As for the others – it’s all up in the air. In 2014, the top four qualified through the rankings, with a further four given wildcards by the PDC and another two by Sky Sports, the host broadcaster. On current form, this will see Adrian Lewis and Peter Wright join the other three. Wildcards could potentially go to anybody, but it would be hard to overlook Gary Anderson for his fifth straight year having reached the playoffs earlier this year. James Wade may also return after a year out, whilst more left-field options could be Lakeside champion and PDC débutante Stephen Bunting and in-form youngster Michael Smith.

Wes Newton has now finished ninth in both of his appearances and there must someone better out there that could take his place. Robert Thornton may hold on to his place with three Players Championship victories this year and currently ninth in the Order of Merit. His stock is also championed by his part in the historic occasion of scoring a nine-darter in the same match as Wade in last week’s World Grand Prix in Dublin. Dave Chisnall has a decent chance of holding on to his spot despite not reaching a single final in 2014 so far.

There are relatively few tournaments left to affect a change in the Order of Merit. Four Players Championships and the finals in November aside, the calendar now just holds the European Championship (the draw for which was completed yesterday), the Masters and the Grand Slam of Darts, the latter seeing four new entrants announced this week. After all this, the 2015 World Championship begins and the Premier League is soon upon us.

The competition runs from February 5th to the final on May 21st, which also includes the Youth World Championship final. Tickets range from £20 (tiered seating) to £40 in front row tables. Booking fees may apply at all arenas and the event in Dublin has a minimum ticket price of €25.

Venues/Dates
Feb 5 – First Direct Arena, Leeds
Feb 12 – BIC, Bournemouth
Feb 19 – Echo Arena, Liverpool
Feb 26 – Odyssey Arena, Belfast
Mar 5 – Westpoint Arena, Exeter
Mar 12 – Capital FM Arena, Nottingham
Mar 19 – SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Mar 26 – 3Arena, Dublin
Apr 2 – Phones4U Arena, Manchester (Judgement Night)
Apr 9 – Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield
Apr 16 – GE Oil & Gas Arena, Aberdeen
Apr 23 – Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Apr 30 – NIA, Birmingham
May 7 – Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
May 14 – The Brighton Centre, Brighton
May 21 – The O2, London (play-offs)

Posted in Darts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Results: 6th to 12th October 2014: Trophies for Liverpool Ladies, Alison Waters, St Helens, Lewis Hamilton

Don’t worry, I won’t be making a habit of this. With some time to myself, here’s a list of last week’s results, separated by sport. With a bit of luck, I’ll looking to carry on putting some sport-by-sport summaries in the future to carry on covering the minority sport that nobody else is. Enjoy.

AIR SPORTS

With just one round to go in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, veteran Paul Bonhomme has slipped off the boil with a poor performance in Las Vegas.

Embed from Getty Images
The championship leader before this race, Bonhomme could only manage seventh place in qualifying. High winds affected the first round of the race proper, seeing it cancelled and points being assigned by qualifying position. Actually good news for Bonhomme as a poor first run would have seen him miss out on the Super 8 round. Better news for Nigel Lamb; his second place sees him rise to the top of the standings with just an Austrian race to go.

Qualifying only:
Nigel Lamb – 2nd, 49.734 sec
Paul Bonhomme – 7th, 51.092 sec

=

BADMINTON

This week saw the inaugural National Badminton League evening, with four teams vying for the first top-spot. Surrey Smashers took the honour with a 4-1 win over MK Badminton, with Birmingham Lions hot on their heels after a 3-2 victory against Team Derby.

They might have been opponents on the night, but Birmingham’s Fontaine Chapman and Derby’s Rajiv Ouseph were the best performers at the Dutch Open, both reaching the semi-finals – in Chapman’s case, being her first Grand Prix semi. The event saw a testing of new rules bringing in best of five sets (first to 11 in each) rather than conventional three.

Semi Finals
Rajiv Ouseph 0-3 Ajay Jayaram (IND)
Fontaine Chapman 0-3 Yu Po Pai (TPE)

Quarter Finals
Pangua Riou 1-3 Yu Po Pai (TPE)
Heather Olver/Lauren Smith 1-3 Eefje Muskens/Selena Piek (NED)

Second Round
Rhys Walker 0-3 Brice Leverez (FRA)
Peter Briggs/Chris Coles 1-3 Chia Hao Lin/Chia Hsuan Lin (TPE)
Sophie Brown/Emily Westwood 0-3 Maretha Dea Giovani/Rosyita Eka Putri Sari (INA)
Harley Towler/Emily Westwood 1-3 Riky Widianto/Puspa Richi Dili (INA)

First Round
Michael Spencer-Smith 0-3 Pavel Florian (CZE)
Sam Parsons 1-3 Dmytro Zavadsky (UKR)
Kieran Merrilees 0-3 Arvind Bhaat (IND)
Toby Penty 0-3 Eric Pang (NED)
Nicola Cerfontyne 0-3 Beiwen Zhang (MAS)
Harley Towler/Paul Van Rietvelde 2-3 Chia Hao Lin/Chia Hsuan Lin (TPE)
Chloe Birch/Alyssa Lim 1-3 Shendy Puspa Irawati/Vita Marissa (INA)
Matt Nottingham/Alyssa Lim 2-3 Jorrit De Ruiter/Samantha Barning (NED)

==

BASKETBALL

BBL new boys Leeds Force and Bristol Flyers both had good weekends in the BBL Cup, both progressing to the quarter finals. Bristol also enjoyed success in the league, earning an away victory over Manchester Giants. Fellow advancers in the cup are Leicester, Glasgow and Cheshire.

BBL Cup, First Round
Leeds Force 80-69 Manchester Giants
Bristol Flyers 93-92 Plymouth Raiders
Leicester Riders 98-80 Surrey United
Glasgow Rocks 62-56 London Lions
Cheshire Phoenix 88-65 Durham Wildcats

British Basketball League
Newcastle Eagles 95-84 Sheffield Sharks
Plymouth Raiders 91-99 Leicester Riders
Manchester Giants 73-82 Bristol Flyers

==

BOWLING

In ten-pin bowling’s version of golf’s Ryder Cup, Team Europe staged their own “Miracle of Medinah” with a last-minute comeback to usurp Team USA and retain their Weber Cup trophy. Going into Sunday morning, Europe were 4 points behind an American team who only needed 3 more to win. Fortunately, USA crumbled and, coming right down to the wire, Dominic Barrett threw the winning score to seal an amazing final session. Stuart Williams was the other Englishman in the team that beat USA 17-16.

Elsewhere, England’s Samantha Hannan won the women’s division of the Dubai International and also made it on the reserves list for the open competition. Tracey van Dyk also reached the stepladder but was knocked out in the second of five steps.

==

BOXING

Lee Selby earned himself a shot at the featherweight title with a ninth round stoppage of Australia’s Joel Brunker. Despite starting to fall behind, Selby, who had vacated his European title for a chance at this fight, unleashed a flurry of punches in the ninth, leaving the referee no choice but to jump in.
Embed from Getty Images

Olympian Anthony Joshua made it nine in nine with a brutal second round stoppage of Denis Bakhtov. Although not immediately, the WBC International title holder is being lined up to fight David Price.

==

CYCLING

The Tour of Beijing is ongoing this week but Simon Yates was making good progress on Sunday, finishing 11 seconds behind Philippe Gilbert in 22nd. Team Sky’s Ben Swift was in 52nd and also held 30th in the points competition. Stephen Cummings of BMC abandoned in the first stage. The event is due to finish today.

==

DARTS

Phil Taylor was unable to win a 12nd World Grand Prix, knocked out by James Wade in the quarter-finals. The seventh seed went on to challenge Michael van Gerwen in the final but lost out 3-5.

Final
James Wade 3-5 Michael van Gerwen (NED)

Semi Finals
Stephen Bunting 0-4 Michael van Gerwen (NED)
Gary Anderson 3-4 James Wade

Quarter Finals
Mervyn King 2-3 Michael van Gerwen (NED)
Richie Burnett 1-3 Stephen Bunting
Phil Taylor 1-3 James Wade
Kevin Painter 2-3 Gary Anderson

Second Round exits
Dean Winstanley
Terry Jenkins
Peter Wright
Andrew Gilding
Robert Thornton
Michael Mansell
Adrian Lewis

First Round exits
Michael Smith
Dave Chisnall
Wes Newton
Jamie Caven
Ronnie Baxter
Steve Beaton
Darren Webster
Andy Smith
Justin Pipe
Brendan Dolan
Ian White
Daryl Gurney
Andy Hamilton

==

EVENTING

Great Britain finished second behind an experienced New Zealand in the Boekelo leg of eventing’s Nations Cup. The team featured Emilie Chandler, Gemma Tattersall and Laura Collett and accrued 178.8 points between them, Chandler earning the fewest.

==

FOOTBALL

A dramatic Women’s Super League came to a close with Liverpool Ladies edging their rivals to the title. Despite the top spot being wide open at the start of the day, Chelsea Ladies threw it away with defeat to Manchester City Women and Birmingham City Ladies were unable to thwart Notts County Ladies, leaving the door open for Liverpool to hold on to their trophy.

Arsenal Ladies 3-1 Everton Ladies
Birmingham City Ladies 2-2 Notts County Ladies
Liverpool Ladies 3-0 Bristol Academy Women
Manchester City Women 2-1 Chelsea Ladies

The men were also in action with European Championship qualifiers. Last week, England snook in 2 performances, a regulation win against San Marino and a much more unconvincing win against Estonia. Wales held Bosnia to go top of their group, and Scotland and Northern Ireland rounded off a quartet of Home Nations clean sheets with wins against Georgia and Faroe Islands respectively. Gibraltar continued their tough entrance to world football with a 7-0 loss to Ireland.

England 5-0 San Marino
Wales 0-0 Bosnia
Scotland 1-0 Georgia
Republic of Ireland 0-7 Gibraltar
Northern Ireland 2-0 Faroe Islands
England 1-0 Estonia

==

FORMULA 1

Lewis Hamilton pushed ever closer to his second World Championship win with victory in the inaugural Russian Grand Prix, held in Sochi’s Olympic Park.

He had rival Nico Rosberg to partially thank, his team-mate making an error on the first corner that put himself out of contention. Jenson Button was uncharacteristically down after a great fourth-place performance and Max Chilton did well to even get in the car whilst Marussia colleague Jules Bianchi lies in intensive care – although he was forced to retire with problems early in the race.

==

FUTSAL

Midlands Group

Birmingham 5-4 Loughborough
Bristol City 7-2 Gloucester

South Group
Baku United 8-0 FC Baltic United

==

GOLF

The 2014-2015 got into full swing with the Frys.com open and Scotland’s Martin Laird secured third place in the first tournament of the season, tied with three others. Ryder Cup winner Lee Westwood was also present, finishing just outside the top ten.

Martin Laird – 3
Lee Westwood – 12
Russell Knox – 68
Missed cut: Brian Davis/Greg Owen

However, the European Tour season is just reaching the exciting end with players picking up vital points in the Portugal Masters. Inclement weather reduced play to 36 holes, meaning no use for a cut.

Places
4 – Richard Bland
7 – Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Scott Jamieson, Michael Hoey
12 – Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Waring
17 – Graeme Storm
21 – Marc Warren
30 – Ryan Evans, David Drysdale
33 – Ross Fisher, Simon Khan, Steve Webster, Peter Whiteford
47 – Daniel Brooks, David Horsey, Andy Sullivan
58 – Matthew Baldwin, Tyrrell Hatton, Tom Lewis, David Lynn, Matthew Nixon, Eddie Pepperell
68 – Seve Benson, John Parry, Lee Slattery, Anthony Wall, Oliver Wilson, Chris Doak, Paul Lawrie
80 – David Howell, Gareth Maybin
89 – Simon Wakefield, Darren Clarke
97 – James Morrison
101 – Oliver Fisher
107 – Simon Dyson, Craig Lee, Jamie McLeary
116 – Robert Rock
Withdrawn – Mark Foster, Richie Ramsay, Stuart Manley

==

GYMNASTICS (ARTISTIC)

The World Artistic Gymnastics Championships went out with a little bit of a whimper this weekend as Great Britain were unable to show their recent muscle on a global stage. Max Whitlock was the only real success, earning a silver in the Individual All-Around event – but it was one he almost missed out on. Nile Wilson earned the place above him in qualifying but had to retire with a wrist injury, handing Whitlock the place.

Men’s Finals
Great Britain Men – Team All-Around – 4th place, 269.17
Team contained Daniel Keatings, Daniel Purvis, Courtney Tulloch, Max Whitlock, Nile Wilson, Kristian Thomas
Max Whitlock – Individual All-Around – 2nd place, 90.473
Daniel Purvis – Individual All-Around – 11th place, 87.699
Daniel Keatings – Pommel Horse – 8th place, 15.133
Courtney Tulloch – Rings – 6th place, 15.400
Nile Wilson – Horizontal Bar – 4th place, 14.766

Women’s Finals
Great Britain Women – Team All-Around – 6th place, 168.495
Team contained Ruby Harrold, Gabrielle Jupp, Rebecca Downie, Claudia Fragapane, Kelly Simm, Hannah Whelan
Claudia Fragapane – Individual All-Around – 10th place, 56.098
Ruby Harrold – Individual All-Around – 11th place, 55.615
Claudia Fragapane – Vault – 5th place, 14.716
Rebecca Downie – Uneven Bars – 5th place, 15.166
Ruby Harrold – Uneven Bars – 8th place, 13.166
Claudia Fragapane – Floor – 8th place, 13.1

Qualification
Nile Wilson – Individual All-Around – 13th place, 88.323 (see above)
Daniel Keatings – Individual All-Around – 19th place, 87.465
Daniel Purvis – Floor – 11th place, 11.433
Max Whitlock – Pommel Horse – 11th place, 15.233
Kristian Thomas – Vault – 9th place, 15.033
Kristian Thomas – Horizontal Bar – 9th place, 14.800
Rebecca Downie – Balance Beam – 12th place, 14.200

==

HANDBALL

Super 8 Men
Olympia 22-30 Warrington Wolves
London GD 29-25 Cambridge

==

HOCKEY

Men’s Premier Division
Beeston 7-1 Brooklands MU
Surbiton 2-0 Hampstead and Westminster
Canterbury 1-2 Cannock
Wimbledon A-A Reading (abandoned after 60 mins, Reading were 2-0 up)

Women’s Premier Division
Beeston 2-4 University of Birmingham
Canterbury 2-0 Buckingham
Clifton 1-2 Surbiton
Holcombe 2-2 Leicester
Bowdon 0-2 Reading

==

ICE HOCKEY

Nottingham Panthers finished their first Champions Hockey League campaign with a punishing loss, falling the wrong side of a 6-0 scoreline against the Hamburg Steelers, a team they beat at home. With just one victory out of six, it was a tough tournament for the Elite Ice Hockey League team and they finished bottom.

Back home, there were a number of League, Challenge Cup and Conference matches throughout the week.

Challenge Cup
Sheffield Steelers 6-3 Hull Stingrays
Braehead Clan 4-3 Fife Flyers
Cardiff Devils 7-2 Hull Stingrays
Belfast Giants 7-1 Dundee Stars
Sheffield Steelers 3-1 Coventry Blaze
Hull Stingrays 2-3 Sheffield Steelers

Elite League only
Edinburgh Capitals 0-4 Braehead Clan
Nottingham Panthers 3-4 Fife Flyers
Coventry Blaze 1-3 Cardiff Devils
Dundee Stars 0-4 Braehead Clan
Fife Flyers 1-2 Nottingham Panthers

==

JUDO

Natalie Powell was Britain’s most successful judoka at the Grand Prix Astana, the only one to win gold in Kazakhstan. Nekoda Davis came close with bronze.

Lewis Keeble (-66kg), second round exit
Tom Reed (-81kg), second round exit
Max Stewart (-81kg), second round exit
Nekoda Davis (-57kg), third place
Stephanie Inglis (-57kg), first round exit
Gemma Howell (-63kg), second round exit
Jodie Mullen (-63kg), first round exit
Megan Fletcher (-70kg), fifth place
Natalie Powell (-78kg), winner
Sarah Adlington (+78kg), fifth place

==

KARATE

Premier League Final, Salzburg
Aimee Sell (Kata), 5th place
Albert Forsythe (+84kg Kumite), 11th place

==

KORFBALL

The England Korfball League returned last week and it was a tough new season for Birmingham City. They only just survived relegation in 2013-14 and were made to remember this with a pummelling 5-21 loss to semi finallists Nomads.

Birmingham City 5-21 Nomads
Bec 26-16 Norwich Knights
Trojans 22-16 Kingfisher

==

MOTOGP

Motegi GP
Bradley Smith – 9th place
Scott Redding – 16th place
Michael Laverty – 18th place
Cal Crutchlow – DNF

==

RUGBY LEAGUE

Old Trafford welcomed the traditional Super League curtain call once again this weekend and it was a resurgent St Helens that wrenched the title from Wigan’s hands with a 14-6 Grand Final win.

However, it will be remembered more for a cowardly attack by Wigan’s Ben Flower, punching Lance Hohaia whilst on the ground. The incident got Flower sent off, possibly ruining their chance of defending their crown, whilst Hohaia has also been banned from his next match.

==

RUGBY SEVENS

Whilst one rugby season, another begins. England got off to a great start, reaching the semis before losing to Fiji, although they secured third place in the fledgling HSBC World Series standings with a 19-0 win over South Africa. Scotland and Wales reached the semis of the Bowl and Plate competitions respectively in Australia’s Gold Coast.

England
Cup Third Place: 19-0 South Africa
Cup Semi: 7-48 Fiji
Cup Quarter: 7-31

Scotland
Bowl Semi: 0-26 France
Bowl Quarter: 24-12 American Samoa

Wales
Plate Semi: 5-39 New Zealand
Cup Quarter: 10-31 Fiji

==

RUGBY UNION

Aviva Premiership
Leicester Tigers 22-16 Harlequins
London Welsh 3-23 Newcastle Falcons
Exeter Chiefs 44-24 London Irish
Saracens 28-21 Gloucester
Northampton Saints 43-10 Sale Sharks
London Wasps 29-22 Bath

Guinness PRO12
Munster (IRL) 6-17 Scarlets
Edinburgh 24-10 Newport-Gwent Dragons
Ulster (IRL) 29-9 Glasgow Warriors
Ospreys 26-15 Cardiff Blues

==

SHOW JUMPING

Great Britain fielded an understrength team in the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, with the quartet of William Whitaker, Joe Clee, Spencer Roe and Michael Whitaker finishing sixth. Birmingham, meanwhile, hosted the Horse of the Year Show, John Whitaker finishing second on Argento in the main event, the “Leading Show Jumper of the Year”.

==

SPEEDWAY

Coventry Bees booked their place in the Elite League final with a 50-45 win away to Swindon Robins, making it an aggregate victory of 99-86.

On a more global scale, Tai Woffinden finished sixth in Torun for the final Grand Prix of the season. The defending champion congratulated new winner Greg Hancock from USA, Woffinden himself finishing the year in fourth. Chris Harris came 15th out of an overall 35 competitors this season.

==

SQUASH

The Carol Weymuller Open leaked into last week with the final taking place on Monday and it was England’s Alison Waters that beat Omneya Abdel Kawy of Egypt 3-1.

The US Open began on Saturday for the men but there have already been a number of casualties. Top seed Nick Matthew wasn’t one of them, pushing aside England’s Eddie Charlton.

US Open First Round exits
Adrian Grant 0-3 Alan Clyne
Greg Lobban 0-3 Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY)
Joe Lee 0-3 Max Lee (HKG)
Eddie Charlton 0-3 Nick Matthew

==

TENNIS

Andy Murray didn’t make his task to reach the ATP World Tour Finals any easier with a third round exit in the Shanghai Masters. However, he was the best player in a bad week for British tennis.

Shanghai Masters
Andy Murray 1-2 David Ferrer (ESP), Third Round
James Ward [Q] 1-2 Kevin Anderson (RSA), First Round
Jamie Murray/John Peers (AUS) [Alt] 0-2 Eric Butorac (USA)/Raven Klaasen (RSA)

Japan Women’s Open
Heather Watson 0-2 Yulia Putintseva (KAZ), Second Round
Heather Watson/Christina McHale (USA) 1-2 Lisa Raymond (USA)/Sam Stosur (AUS)

Generali Ladies Linz
Naomi Broady 0-2 Johanna Larsson (SWE), First Qualifying Round
Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith 0-2 Lucie Hradecka/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (CZE), First Round

==

TRIATHLON

World Cup Cartagena
Thomas Bishop (Men’s), 16th place, 1:49.17
Emma Pallant (Women’s), 31st place, 2:01.34

==

VOLLEYBALL

Men’s Super 8
CBL London Polonia 3-1 Malory Eagles (London)
Solent 2-3 Wessex BU M1

Women’s Super 8
Polonia SideOut London 3-0 Surrey Orcas
City of Salford VC 3-1 Team South Wales
Team Northumbria 3-0 Team South Wales

==

WATER POLO

Men’s Division One
Cheltenham 9-7 Bristol Central
Invicta 13-10 Polytechnic
Bristol Central 13-11 Polytechnic
Cheltenham 20-10 Invicta
Cheltenham 20-11 Polytechnic
Bristol Central 20-9 Invicta

Women’s Division One
Manchester 5-10 Liverpool Lizards
Caledonia 10-12 Otter Lutra
Manchester 10-2 Otter Lutra
Liverpool Lizards 21-1
Manchester 14-4 Caledonia
Liverpool Lizards 18-3 Otter Lutra

==

WORLD TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP

Mixed fortunes for Britain’s racers this weekend in Shanghai.

Lada’s Rob Huff was the only one to finish the first race but crept in a lap behind the winner in 15th. Race 2 was altogether different, with Huff retiring 4 laps in and Tom Chilton and James Thompson crossing the line in 7th and 10th respectively.

Posted in Air Sports, Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Boxing, Cycling, Darts, Equestrian, Eventing, Football, Formula One, Futsal, Golf, Gymnastics, Handball, Hockey, Ice Hockey, Judo, Karate, MotoGP, Results, Rugby League, Rugby Sevens, Rugby Union, Show Jumping, Speedway, Squash, Tennis, Triathlon, Uncategorized, Volleyball, Water Polo, Winter Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eve Muirhead and Lauren Gray fall short in Stockholm

Olympic bronze medallist Eve Muirhead and compatriot Lauren Gray both failed to impress in last week’s Stockholm Ladies Cup, although both can take heart in the fact that they only narrowly missed out on a place in the quarter finals.
Embed from Getty Images
Eve Muirhead and the team at Sochi 2014
Muirhead, teamed up with usual suspects Anna Sloan, the third for Great Britain at Sochi 2014, and second Vicki Adams, as well as relative new girl Sarah Reid. The quartet got off to a fantastic start with a “dominant win” against Canada’s Sherry Middaugh, although they were edged out of the day’s second game, losing 5-7 to Michèle Jäggi of Switzerland. The damage was done in the fifth end with a loss of 3 points which Muirhead’s rink never recovered from.

It was another tight affair in the third game, taking the fight against Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg to an extra end before the eventual tournament winners stole the honours. Despite saving the scoring in the fourth and final match against Swede Jonna McManus to the end, the Scots managed to win 6-3, ending the weekend 2-2 overall. Unfortunately, although they matched Middaugh and Jäggi with their performances, the ranking was decided on the Draw Shot Challenge, an average of the Last Stone Draws over the weekend. These “LSDs” are used before a match to determine who plays first and Muirhead’s average proximity to the centre of the target proved to be the worst of the trio.

Also representing Scotland, Gray, accompanied by Jennifer Dodds, Vicky Wright and Mhairi Baird, found themselves in a tough Group D. Although they picked up a win against Melanie Barbezat from Switzerland, they were also thumped 2-9 by home favourite Margaretha Sigfridsson. In the end, they were level with two other rinks and shouldn’t feel too hard done by in a tough international competition.

Similarly, Muirhead’s team won’t feel too bad about the performance over the weekend. It is still early in a long curling season and they will still be finding their way with Reid joining the team as the new lead. Olympian Claire Hamilton opted to leave the rink in May of this year to pursue other goals but Reid’s appointment isn’t entirely out of the blue; Reid was Muirhead’s skip in her debut year back in 2006 before Muirhead quickly moved on to her team. This new move could lead to further glories when the European Championships come around in November.

Whilst the ladies toiled in Stockholm this weekend, the men’s teams were chilling out up in Gleneagles, watching the European golfers stomp on their American counterparts in the 2014 Ryder Cup. David Murdoch and his rink will be back in action next week for the Swiss Cup Basel. He won’t be alone either, as he will face competition from “Podium Potential” skips Tom Brewster and Kyle Smith amongst the 32-strong field.

==

To take a look at the tight match between Muirhead and Hasselborg (the team known as Golldreson for sponsorship reasons), check out this video on the Curling Champions Tour Youtube channel.

Curling_pictogram

Posted in Curling, Winter Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grant Sheldon hits ideal Commonwealth preparation in European Triathlon Championships

Grant Sheldon made a big step into his senior triathlon career last week with a 12th place in the European Championships in Kitzbuhel.

#180369136 / gettyimages.com – Grant Sheldon wins bronze in London last year

The Scot, who recently announced he would be in the Commonwealth Games team in Glasgow, had a modest swim and a bike ride that surpassed that of eventual winner Alistair Brownlee, but his run of 32:47 reined in his overall success. Nevertheless, in a field of 59 finishers, Sheldon’s 12th is his first result in a European Championship and is poised to go onto greater things.

Having finished third in the Youth World Championship series last year, the former swimmer has made his first foray into top-level World Triathlon Series events with a 12th place in Auckland followed by a similar result in Yokohama. That result prompted Sheldon to declare that WTS race would probably be the “last one this year to focus on big goals this season”. With the European Championships out of the way, the next “goal” will be representing Scotland in his home nation.

“I’ll be competitive and I think that’s the main aim — to be in the race, to be up there challenging the top guys,” Sheldon told the Daily Record. “It would be awesome if I could win a medal. I think, being realistic, the first two places are probably sewn up. You shouldn’t really say that, leading into a race, because anything can happen, but if it goes according to form, then that will be the scenario.”

Those “two places” are likely to fought between the Brownlee brothers, with Alistair having recently won in the European Championships, younger brother Jonny not entering. The European gold is the first victory of the season for either brother, although they have both been up there all year and are much more likely to earn a Commonwealth title without Spanish powerhouses Javier Gomez and Mario Mola attempting to steal the show.

Elsewhere in the Europeans, Sheldon’s fellow Scot David McNamee made his competitive return to triathlon with an impressive sixth place in Kitzbuhel. Matthew Sharp also snook into into the top ten with an overall time of 1:55.48. Marc Austin was the other finisher in 23rd. British females weren’t as represented, but Lois Rosindale earned 5th place, a welcome reprieve following disqualification in London last month. Holly Lawrence finished in 11th, 28 seconds behind her compatriot.

*****

Triathlon_pictogram.svg

Outside of top-level racing, the African Cup event in Larache hosted two Brits hoping to make a global impact. Beau Smith made his first appearance of the year with 16th place, progress from the 31st he reached in Antalya last year. Elliot Smales also made his senior debut, finishing 28th and in a time just short of 65 minutes.

Posted in Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

William Fox-Pitt heads five-man team for World Equestrian Games

William Fox-Pitt is the star name leading the Great Britain three-day eventing team into this August’s World Equestrian Games.

Embed from Getty Images

Four-time Olympian Fox-Pitt is one of five names selected to take part in the 2014 championships, alongside Zara Phillips, Tina Cook, Oliver Townend, Izzy Taylor and Pippa Funnell. He has already won a major event this year, the Kentucky international being his third success in the competition in the last five years. This time, he’s taking horse Chilli Morning as his companion and will be hoping to improve on 2010’s showing, with a silver in the individual event and gold for the Great Britain team.

“I am thrilled, it is always an honour to be able to secure a place on the team and this year we look hopefully very strong as a team, so I hope we have a good result and get a qualifying result for Rio,” Fox-Pitt told British Eventing. “This is my fourth WEG; these Games are always so special and it’s a privilege to get the chance to represent our country.”

Fox-Pitt’s ride is relatively unproven on the global stage. Although he propelled the Brit to a recent win at a one-day Bramham event, the combination retired from the 2013 Kentucky event and could only manage third place in last year’s European Eventing Championships.

Even so, Fox-Pitt has a strong team on his side. He finds himself reunited with fellow London 2012 silver medallists Tina Cook and Zara Phillips, the latter only recently returning to eventing since her pregnancy and finds herself riding the talented High Kingdom. Mary King is one of the names missing out on the WEGs, an omission perhaps partly related to her recent two-month suspension following dangerous riding at the Bramham event. Nicola Wilson also misses out, her only major appearance this season being a withdrawal from Badminton prior to the show jumping.

Riding Black Tie II, Oliver Townend is one major name to be looking out for at these Games and could cause an upset. Townend finished an impressive second at Badminton being Australia’s Sam Griffiths and was also the highest place British rider at June’s Luhmuhlen event, placing fourth. Coupled with a smattering of wins throughout in the year in smaller events, including a Nations Cup win, and Townend really has the potential to go far.

“It was a really nice surprise to hear I had been called up for the team. We went to Luhmühlen for his first CCI4* last weekend without any real expectations yet he exceeded anything we could have hoped for him and more,” said Townend of his selection. “Last time I went to a WEG I was just a young lad of 23! It is a fantastic competition as you know that everyone there is the best in the world and it will be great to spot some of my equestrian idols again, some that I have followed since I was young.”

This year’s event appears to be ready to kick off under the shadow of a number of competition-based deaths in June 2014, but organisers are committed to ensuring the safety of everybody entering the four-yearly event. The eventing portion of the World Equestrian Games begins on the 28th August, with two days of dressage followed by cross-country racing and the show jumping finale.

Posted in Equestrian, Eventing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moeen Ali has confidence, but haven’t we seen it all before?

Worcestershire spin-bowler Moeen Ali is almost certain to make his England debut this week as the national side resume battle with Sri Lanka in a 2-Test series. His reaction to the step-up to Test level has been a confident one but his selection – along with fellow newcomers Chris Jordan and Sam Robson – could be doing little more than papering over the gaping cracks.

Embed from Getty Images

Ali’s appointment comes at a time when we have very little else in the vein of top-class England spinners. Lead spin coach Peter Such declared that the “spin crisis” won’t last, but it’s hard to have any faith in this point of view when our next best option, a perennial second-best, is Monty Panesar, who was dropped by Essex last week for poor time-keeping. His disciplinary history is chequered at best and would detract from an England team attempting to put the discord of the past few years behind them. Alternatively, Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan have each had Test debuts to forget and aren’t viable options.

So it’s Ali, then, who will pair with Joe Root as the spin options whilst a pace-bowling attack led by the experienced James Anderson and Stuart Broad attempt to do the most damage. Following their tour stalemate with Northamptonshire, Sri Lanka vice-captain Lahiru Thirimanne revealed that his team don’t particularly fear the spin options that England are presenting, although they are well aware that the rest of England’s attacking prowess when it’s their day. Crucially, Thirimanne acknowledged that his opponents are a side in progress: “In English conditions, I think the England attack is the best in the world. But at the moment, they have some new fast bowlers – so we have a little bit of a chance, because they are regrouping their side.”

If Sri Lanka aren’t too worried about Ali, why then he is feeling so confident? The Worcs bowler also offers a few options in the batting department, only last week netting his first century of the season with a score of 162 in his last County Championship match against Surrey at The Oval, admittedly a Division Two affair. However, it’s his bowling he’s focusing on and has been working on being the first Englishman to perfect a doosra – a bluffing off-spin delivery designed to confuse the batsman into making a poor shot – which he’s learned from fellow County player Saeed Ajmal. On unveiling this tactic at international level: “I’ve worked really hard with it over the last month or so,” Ali was quoted as saying. “If I feel confident and get a couple of good days in practice then I’ll be ready to bowl it.”

Ali’s promotion to Test cricket has been a welcome distraction from England’s final ODI with Sri Lanka, which featured the stumping of Jos Buttler in “controversial” fashion with the batsman straying out of his crease one too many times. The debate has raged on for far too long; was this dismissal against the “spirit of the game”. Now, I’m by no means an expert on cricket, but this notion seems ridiculous. It’s in the rules, Buttler was warned several times and, in essence, he’s cheating. England have done similarly suspect things in the past. Time to move on.

Both this debacle and the new national line-up hides the underlying problem of all forms of the England squad being inept at winning. From the Test side’s utter capitulation in the 5-0 Ashes reverse whitewash, the embarrassment of a 45 run defeat to the Netherlands in the World Twenty20 and, more recently, the one-day side all out for 99 (although, admittedly, only 3 days before a 10 wicket win against the same team), nobody fears England any more. They’ve lost that effect that visiting teams had when stepping onto Lord’s or Trent Bridge and the like. Bringing in Ali, Jordan, Robson and the return of Liam Plunkett might have the coincidental effect of forging a random one-off win but can it really be considered to be the start of a new golden generation of English cricket? Haven’t we been here before, with the debuts of Nick Compton and Michael Carberry being solid, but uninspiring affairs? New players often inspire confidence, and may start reassuringly well, but one player does not make a match-winning team.

Embed from Getty Images

Kevin Pietersen was once an exception to that rule, but it’s probably for the best after the months and years of media speculation regarding the changing room. Admit or not though, but England have continued to suffer without him. Graeme Swann’s retirement and Jonathan Trott’s prolonged illness don’t help, either. We’ve still got ECB Player of the Year Ian Bell to lead the line when on top form and captain Alastair Cook can sometimes be relied on to produce a top score. But it’s not enough. The team is too often devoid of top talent in the big games.

It really is too soon to expect too much from these two Tests. It’s a long-term rebuilding process and the three new players can’t be expected to produce miracles. Chris Jordan has been a revelation in the shorter forms of the games and maybe, just maybe, he can translate that into top-level international cricket in the years to come. Maybe Moeen Ali will prove to be a viable, long-term option in the spin department, supplementing this with middle-order batting.

The real answers will come when India come calling, just two weeks after Sri Lanka depart and it’ll be then when the new breed need to show they are ready to be in the England side.

Cricket_pictogram

Posted in Cricket | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Nations League’ is UEFA’s least ridiculous idea in years

UEFA are supposedly considering a ‘Nations League’ approach to future “non-competitive” international football matches – and I’m all for it.

Football_pictogram.svg

Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet revealed that the European governing body are seriously considering scrapping international friendlies and replacing it with something that looks a lot like the Davis Cup, tennis’ premier tournament featuring countries. Unlike the Davis Cup, or the corresponding Fed Cup in women’s tennis, this is exclusively for us Europeans. None of those Argies or Yanks, right? Oh yes…

Well, why not? If this idea is going to ahead – several divisions competing in a league system that includes promotion and relegation – then why restrict it to Europe? Despite this continent containing the majority of the world’s footballing powerhouses, to leave out the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and even the USA would diminish a competition somewhat. After all, we already have the European Championships. Why do we need another national European competition?

UEFA seem to have recognised that problem and are already setting about ruining their noticeably longer-running tournament. Last week, advisers of UEFA boss Michel Platini discussed the possibility of some of the above South Americans, Mexico and Japan entering the European Championships. I’ll say that again – the European. Championships. As accommodating as I’d be towards a World League, we already have a World Cup so another global knockout cup is beyond pointless. With this speculation, as well as confirmation that Euro 2020 will be held in various locations across the continent, I believe that the people in power at UEFA have lost their minds.

They have got one thing right, though, with this potential Nations League. I can also see why they wouldn’t want the rest of the world involved – primarily because it’s UEFA’s idea, not FIFA’s thank you very much. Even if world football did get in on the action, the logistics would be a nightmare! Can you imagine the San Marino minnows travelling to the Caribbean to play the Turks and Caicos Islands, a team with which they share the bottom of the world rankings?

Even so, if the league format spread throughout the world with each organisation holding their own series of tournaments, what’s stopping FIFA enhancing the Davis Cup parallels and creating a ‘World Group’. For instance, should Spain win Division 1 of the inaugural UEFA Nations League, they would take their place the following season in the World Group, against the likes of Brazil, South Korea and, uh, Tahiti. Actually, considering this year’s so-so Confederations Cup, this idea may need a little bit of work.

So, where would our Home Nations fit into this scenario? Well, for a start, we can put to rest this silly idea of resurrecting the Home Nations Championship, as our nations will actually play teams more at their level. The Guardian article on this story suggests that England would be in the top group of six alongside Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Portugal. Despite their current ranking of 11th in Europe putting them closer to ties with Russia and Bosnia, playing against the best Europe has to offer could go one of two ways – England could raise their game and really show why many a deluded fan consider the Three Lions to be one of the best “bunch of lads” in the world. Or they could get massacred. Relegation to Division 2 or 3 would be a blessing in my eyes, allowing the FA to stop kidding themselves and do more than put together a commission. That’s for another day, though.

The future would look much bleaker for the other three British countries, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have suffered torrid qualification campaigns for next year’s World Cup. Northern Ireland are in the worst position at 39th, and a six-per-group allocation would currently see them travel to the likes of Estonia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. A riveting prospect. An honourable mention must go to UEFA new boys Gibraltar, the tiny nation having to prove themselves against Liechtenstein, Andorra and the Faroe Islands. Boasting the smallest population in Europe, they’d struggle to not become the league’s whipping boys, something I never thought I’d say with San Marino in the picture. Even so, for all of these teams, regular competitive fixtures with each other may raise their game and give fans something to celebrate instead of the possibility of a 10-0 drubbing away from home.

I’ll need to stop the Davis Cup comparisons soon as Great Britain haven’t been well known for international success in recent years. Their promotion to the World Group in 2014 was mainly down to Andy Murray making himself available for the playoff (although the others did brilliantly to get there). Aside from Gareth Bale (who’s always injured anyway), no British side really has that stand-out player to keep their side in the top echelon of a Nations League.

In the end, these are still friendlies. Managers will experiment with their teams in preparation for important qualifiers. Come to think of it, aren’t the European qualifiers already a bit of a Nations League? Forgive my sudden rambling tangent, but performing well in these mini-leagues rewards more ranking points, which improves a team’s chance of getting seeded in future tournaments. It’s kind of like getting promoted, I guess. Although, in this case, “promotion” means more of a chance of playing Malta, less chance of playing France, so the jury’s out.

This blog’s gone on way too long and I’ve not really touched on the title – my bad. The Nations League is a great idea, a way of removing pointless friendlies and adding a little spice to neighbouring countries. All teams will benefit, from top teams playing each other frequently to the underdogs all getting the chance to better themselves in “Conference level” ties. It’s a no-brainer.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment