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Norwich 1 Aston Villa 4: Match report

Norwich 1 Aston Villa 4: Semi-final relief for returning Lambert but Bent hobbles off in rare start

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UPDATED:

21:42 GMT, 11 December 2012

Darren Bent made a rare appearance for Aston Villa, but may wish he hadn't after limping off after 35 minutes as Paul Lambert made a winning return to Norwich with his side booking a place in the Capital One Cup semi-finals.

The Canaries took the lead through Steve Morison, but Brett Holman brought Villa back on terms after 21 minutes.

Bent was then taken off with what looked like a hamstring problem but Villa went on to book their place in the semis with two second-half strikes from Andreas Weimann and a goal from Christian Benteke.

Brace yourself: Weimann's double secured Villa's spot in the semi-finals

Brace yourself: Weimann's double secured Villa's spot in the semi-finals

Match facts

Norwich: Bunn, Martin, Barnett, Bassong, Tierney, Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Pilkington, Holt, Morison.

Subs not used : Rudd, Turner, Jackson, Fox, Elliott Bennett, Garrido, Francomb.

Scorer: Morison

Aston Villa: Given, Clark, Herd, Baker, Lowton, El Ahmadi, Delph, Holman, Lichaj, Benteke, Bent.

Subs not used: Guzan, N'Zogbia, Agbonlahor, Albrighton, Bannan, Weimann, Williams.

Scorers: Holman 21; Weimann 79, 84; Benteke 90.

Attendance: 26,142

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)

Game over: Bent hobbled off after half an hour in a rare start for Villa

Game over: Bent hobbled off after half an hour in a rare start for Villa

Game over: Bent hobbled off after half an hour in a rare start for Villa

Andrew Flintoff showed heart if not technique – Mike Dickson

Mike Dickson: What Flintoff lacked in elegance he made up for with sheer heart

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UPDATED:

01:48 GMT, 1 December 2012

Andrew Flintoff never took a step back on the cricket field and, when it came down to a huge test of nerve and courage last night, he remained resolutely on the front foot to record the first win of his reality boxing career.

We knew he could fearlessly smite short balls from Brett Lee off the tip of his nose, that he could bully the world’s finest batsmen with barrages of short-pitched bowling, and now we know he can hold his own inside the ropes before a baying, breathless crowd.

What he lacked in elegance he made up for with sheer heart to surge forward continually and defeat an opponent two stones heavier, albeit one who lived down to expectations, on a 39-38 points decision to the delirious acclaim of the MEN Arena in Manchester.

Pure heart: Andrew Flintoff was unrefined but brave and persistent

Pure heart: Andrew Flintoff was unrefined but brave and persistent

Caught off balance by the otherwise hapless Richard Dawson in the second round, Flintoff was floored by a clipped left hook in a rare show of aggression from the American, who had all the mobility of a giant water butt.

But recovering from that was a typical show of character from the former England all-rounder, who must now decide if he wants to go through all this again. ‘I don’t know, but the feeling of being back in front of a crowd and winning was incredible,’ he said. ‘It’s been amazing, humbling in fact.

‘It wasn’t one for the purist but it was everything I had hoped for and more. It was like an out-of-body experience. It was similar to how I played cricket: a bit ragged but I wanted to leave everything in the ring.’

His relieved and delighted mentor Barry McGuigan added: ‘He forgot everything I taught him in the excitement of it all but he got the job done.’

A few of the Celebocracy in which Flintoff moves these days were among the 6,000 crowd, including comedians John Bishop and Jack Whitehall and a smattering of former Test colleagues such as Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison.

Made it through: Flintoff survived his first foray into the ring to win on points

Made it through: Flintoff survived his first foray into the ring to win on points

When Ricky Hatton had fought a week earlier, the 19,000 tickets had gone within a week, the appetite for an authentic comeback from a credible star of the sport obviously greater than the desire to see a much-loved cricketing hero take this strange and rather brutal voyage of self-discovery.

You could not fault Flintoff’s courage but it was hard for any outcome to glorify the image of the noble art. A quick knockout or stoppage would have been the farce that many in the game had feared and predicted. Lasting the course as he did, even in this bare minimum format of eight minutes, did not suggest that the skill levels required to turn professional are stratospheric.

Something you could not criticise Flintoff for was his dedication to this cause, the loss of more than three stone sculpting his body into a sharper form than the one which, even at the height of his playing days, always had something of a built-for-comfort look about it.

He clearly answered the demands of McGuigan with four months of the kind of discipline that might have elongated the main part of his sporting career had he employed it then.

Get back up: Flintoff stumbled but recovered to emerge victorious

Get back up: Flintoff stumbled but recovered to emerge victorious

The last time he shared a sporting arena with a Richard Dawson it was the spindly Yorkshire off-spinner, not the former gang member from small town Oklahoma who had forged a more traditional, redemptive path into the sport.

Dawson, 23, has the sort of moobs that Simon Cowell might blush at, but unlike the Lancastrian he had the benefit of several amateur fights before two at professional level, albeit against equally unknown opponents.

Flintoff entered the ring wearing a Lancashire Twenty20 shirt, but he will never have heard a cacophony like this.

Compared to the earlier fighters on the bill Dawson was less nimble than a mobile home and after a cagey beginning Flintoff had him rocking back on the ropes.

Crowd favourite: 'Freddie' connects with Dawson's head

Crowd favourite: 'Freddie' connects with Dawson's head

That was until the left hook that had the home favourite sprawling across the canvas, forced to take a count of eight. Our hero survived through to the end of it and into a third round which saw much grappling, pushing and shoving, and the odd jab from both men.

With chants of ‘Freddie! Freddie!’ ringing around the arena and Dawson being reminded about his copious flab, Flintoff surged forward in the fourth round and landed his best combinations of the bout.

The late flurries, while somewhat ungainly, were enough to guarantee him the points decision after eight minutes of a different sort of fame.

Ricky Ponting retires: An apology to the Australian legend… We"re sorry for all the jibes and most of all, for calling you Ratty

Ricky Ponting – an apology: We're sorry for all the jibes and most of all, for calling you Ratty

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UPDATED:

11:12 GMT, 29 November 2012

Ricky Ponting we are sorry.

Sorry for accusing you of cheating. Sorry for pilloring your unsporting behaviour (of which there's been plenty). We're even almost sorry for calling you Ratty Ponting – but not quite.

Like all the greatest villains, we loved to hate you. Like all Australians, we've loved making fun of you. Above all else we loved beating you – and we'd gotten used to that.

The sad truth is we wish more of our sportsmen and women were like you. And that's why we must say sorry.

Ratty Ponting

Ricky Ponting

King Rat: How Sportsmail mocked Ponting in 2009 (left) inspired by the surely Aussie's image (right)

Almost fond farewell: Ricky Ponting has announced his retirement from international cricket at a press conference in Perth. Sportsmail owes him an apology

Almost fond farewell: Ricky Ponting has announced his retirement from international cricket at a press conference in Perth. Sportsmail owes him an apology

Kevin Pietersen's Twitter reaction

Ricky Ponting RETIRES…. ONE OF THE GREATS! I always got excited playing AUS, so I could watch him bat up close. Well done Punter! #legend

Your dogged determination, fierce patriotism and considerable talent made you a fearsome adversary.

We have loved your two-facedness. Remember Cardiff in 2009 You blew your top when we… sorry England, sent 12th man Bilal Shafayat on with spare gloves as Monty Panesar and James Anderson were grinding out a famous draw. Stalling for time, you said. You'd know all about that, cobber.

Old Trafford, 2005… your Aussies were clinging on for a draw when out pops little Stuart MacGill, 12th man, with a towel – yes, a towel! – for flustered Glenn McGrath as he and Brett Lee fought off a late onslaught.

We have loved your on-field lack of grace. Off it you're a charmer, a sporting prince. But when Michael Hussey was the only Aussie to applaud Alastair Cook's century in the Fifth 2010/11 Ashes Test at Sydney we lapped up your snarling unsporting behaviour.

Enlarge

Glove affair: How the Daily Mail covered the controversial Cardiff Test in 2009 when Ricky fumed at England's 12th man

Glove affair: How the Daily Mail covered the controversial Cardiff Test in 2009 when Ricky fumed at England's 12th man

Rodent times: How Ratty Ponting appeared in our pages in 2009

Rodent times: How Ratty Ponting appeared in our pages in 2009

We'll ignore you claiming Phil Hughes's catch when Cook was on 99, which clearly hit the turf first.

If one of ours hadn't celebrated the new year by making your mob chase leather around the park, we'd have really been angry. Your reaction just wasn't cricket, old bean.

We still love Gary Pratt for what he did to you. The sub fielder running you out at Trent Bridge in 2005 was not the best bit. Your fuming and finger-pointing at England coach Duncan Fletcher, who was sitting up in the pavilion was classic King Rat.

You were angry. You were hurt. We were laughing. So was big Dunc.

Ricky Ponting, Australian captain, is run out by England substitute fielder Gary Pratt

Gary Pratt (centre), substitute fielder for England, is congratulated by team mates after running out Ricky Ponting

Making a Pratt of himself: Ponting is run out (left) by substitute fielder Gary Pratt, who was hailed by England's Test stars (right) at Trent Bridge during the famous 2005 Ashes Series

Then there were the runs – we haven't loved those. All 2,476 of them against England at an average of 44.21. Not quite your overall 52.21, but still formidable.

In 2009 this newspaper dubbed you Ratty Ponting in a bid to put you off your stride. You averaged 48.12 in that series including a memorable 150 at Cardiff, but England still triumphed.

As a foe we celebrate you. As a cricketer we applaud you. As a personality we shall miss you.

There are some out there who will hope you add another century to your prolific haul of 41 at Perth tomorrow.

You'll understand of course, that we hope you get a duck.

Goodbye Ricky, it's by no means good riddance.

Farewell: Australia's Ricky Ponting always celebrated like it was his first victory

Farewell: Australia's Ricky Ponting always celebrated like it was his first victory

Aston Villa 2 Swansea 0: Matthew Lowton and Christian Benteke strike

Aston Villa 2 Swansea 0: Lowton and Benteke lift hosts to first win of the season

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UPDATED:

16:47 GMT, 15 September 2012

Goals from newcomers Matthew Lowton and Christian Benteke earned Aston Villa their first Barclays Premier League win under Paul Lambert – and ended Swansea's unbeaten start to the campaign.

Right-back Lowton broke the deadlock with a 20-yard first-half volley and substitute Benteke wrapped up the points with two minutes left.

It was another encouraging performance from a new-look Villa side being assembled by Lambert after their 1-1 draw at Newcastle.

Opening salvo: Matthew Lowton gave Villa an early lead

Opening salvo: Matthew Lowton gave Villa an early lead

MATCH FACTS

ASTON VILLA: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Vlaar, Lichaj, Holman (N'Zogbia 78), El Ahmadi, Ireland (Westwood 69), Bannan, Weimann (Benteke 70), Bent. Unused subs: Given, Agbonlahor, Bowery, Bennett.

Goals: Lowton 16

Booked: Lowton, Clark, Lichaj

SWANSEA: Vorm, Rangel, Tate, Williams, Davies, Britton (Shechter 78), De Guzman, Michu, Dyer, Routledge (Hernandez 56), Graham (Moore 70). Unused subs: Tremmel, Sung-Yeung, Agustein, Richards.

Booked: Michu

Referee: Lee Mason

Att: 34,005

Lambert had promised to entertain and
this Villa side look more likely to create opportunities than the dour
football served up under former manager Alex McLeish.

Another newcomer in winger Brett
Holman caused problems but of equal encouragement was the solid look
about the back four in which keeper Brad Guzan and centre-back Ciaran
Clark were outstanding.

After a promising start, the Swans
seldom looked like adding to the 10 goals netted in their opening three
games despite the promptings of Jonathan De Guzman in midfield.

Villa started on the offensive and a shot on the turn from Andreas Weimann was blocked by Alan Tate.

But Swansea were soon into their stride and Clark produced two fine tackles to halt runs from Danny Graham and Nathan Dyer.

Mobbed: Villa players congratulate Lowton after giving them an 16th-minute lead

Mobbed: Villa players congratulate Lowton after giving them an 16th-minute lead

It needed two superb reflex saves in
the space of 60 seconds from Guzan, again preferred to Shay Given, to
prevent Swansea from breaking the deadlock.

First the United States
international reacted quickly to turn over a powerful close-range header
by Ashley Williams from a De Guzman corner.

Then Guzan went full length to finger-tip a dipping 20-yard drive from Dyer over the bar.

Villa retaliated and a superb strike from Lowton put them in front after 16 minutes.

Ben Davies was forced to concede a
corner after a good move involving Holman, Stephen Ireland and Darren
Bent. Barry Bannan's resulting cross was headed out by Williams but
Lowton brought the ball under control and volleyed an unstoppable shot
past Michel Vorm from just inside the area.

Clark became the first player to be yellow-carded after lunging in at Swansea defender Angel Rangel.

Lowton and Miguel Michu were also
cautioned for fouls on Ben Davies and Eric Lichaj respectively. Vorm
reacted sharply to turn aside a first time attempt from Andreas Weimann
after being set up by Bent.

But on the stroke of half-time
Graham failed to make contact with a low cross from Dyer with the goal
at his mercy after a late run into the danger area.

Swansea were having problems coping
with set pieces and a Bannan corner at the start of the second period
found its way to Clark at the far post and his shot struck the legs of
Vorm.

Leon Britton then headed a Weimann shot on the turn off the line after the visitors failed to deal with another Bannan centre.

Lambert was increasingly animated on
the touch-line reminiscent of the manager he calls 'gaffer' in former
Villa boss Martin O'Neill. Villa's 7million transfer deadline day
signing,

Eyes on the prize: Villa's Karim El Ahmadi (left) and Swansea's Michu (right) battle for the ball

Eyes on the prize: Villa's Karim El Ahmadi (left) and Swansea's Michu (right) battle for the ball

Benteke, came on for Weimann and
instantly had a shot deflected wide. Bannan's corner again troubled the
Swans with Clark's header tipped over by Vorm.

Villa ended on top and Karim El Ahmadi was denied by Vorm before Benteke wrapped up the points.

On it's way: Lowton thumps home the first goal

On it's way: Lowton thumps home the first goal

Late show: Christian Benteke celebrates scoring his side's second goal two minutes from time

Late show: Christian Benteke celebrates scoring his side's second goal two minutes from time

Williams headed back pass fell short
of Vorm and Benteke nipped in to lob the ball over the keeper before
applying the finishing touch.

No way through: Lowton (right) tangles with Wayne Routledge

No way through: Lowton (right) tangles with Wayne Routledge

Swans dive: Ashley Westwood (right) ghosts past Swansea's Pablo (left)

Swans dive: Ashley Westwood (right) ghosts past Swansea's Pablo (left)

Rugby League Challenge Cup: Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield reaction

Leeds skipper Sinfield stoical after suffering fifth Challenge Cup final defeat

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UPDATED:

14:24 GMT, 26 August 2012

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield put on a brave face after picking up a fifth losers' medal from the Carnegie Challenge Cup final.

The 32-year-old England international stand-off has led the Rhinos to five Grand Final victories in eight years but is still waiting to get his hands on the Challenge Cup after yesterday's 35-18 defeat by Warrington.

It was Leeds' sixth defeat since their last triumph in 1999 and their third in a row at Wembley after losing to the Wolves in 2010 and Wigan a year ago, but Sinfield remained stoical in defeat.

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield suffered the disappointment of a fifth Challenge Cup final defeat against Warrington Wolves on Saturday

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield suffered the disappointment of a fifth Challenge Cup final defeat against Warrington Wolves on Saturday

'We're still alive,' he said. 'I think there are far worse things that can happen, certainly in and around the world at the minute.

'Ultimately it's a game and it does hurt a great deal. Obviously we're disappointed but I thought the best team won.'

The Rhinos had genuine hopes of ending their 13-year wait when Sinfield kicked the first of two penalties to edge his side 8-6 in front after 23 minutes, after earlier converting Ian Kirke's first try of the season.

They trailed only 12-10 at half-time and were desperately unfortunate to have a try from Brett Delaney disallowed by video referee Phil Bentham two minutes into the second half.

Warrington full-back Brett Hodgson had no complaints over the tackle from Kylie Leuluai that forced him to spill the ball but Bentham ruled out the score due to a knock-on.

It was the pivotal moment of the match, with the Wolves going on to dominate the last 30 minutes, but Sinfield was not looking for excuses.

Sinfield, 32, had hoped to end the Leeds Rhinos' 13-year wait for the Challenge Cup

Sinfield, 32, had hoped to end the Leeds Rhinos' 13-year wait for the Challenge Cup

'I'd like to see it again,' he said. 'Warrington seemed to get the ascendancy from it.

'But I'm not one to moan about refereeing decisions. I thought Warrington played that last 30 minutes really well.

'We struggled to get out of our own 40 and that shows how well they played. Sometimes you've just got to cop it on the chin.'

Leeds second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who went off with a knee injury towards the end of the first half, collected a fourth losers' medal and admits time is running out for the team's older generation to get their hands on the elusive trophy.

Jamie Peacock is the only Leeds player to have won the Cup – he achieved the feat with Bradford – but Jones-Buchanan believes the crop of youngsters emerging through the ranks could enjoy more successful times in rugby league's famous knockout competition.

The Rhinos had 18-year-old Stevie Ward in their starting line-up and little-known Jimmy Keinhorst making only his fourth senior appearance alongside established youngsters Kallum Watkins, who scored two late consolation tries, Zak Hardaker and Ben Jones-Bishop.

Warrington took the trophy for the eighth time after a 35-18 win at Wembley

Warrington took the trophy for the eighth time after a 35-18 win at Wembley

'They've got another 10 or 15 years left in them and experiences like that are only going to make them stronger players as time goes by,' Jones-Buchanan, 31, said.

'That's what it's about. Myself and Kev and Rob (Burrow) and Danny Maggs are not going to play forever and at some point that ball is going to have to be passed down to the younger lads.

'Maybe they will win three or four Challenge Cups in the future.'

More immediately, Jones-Buchanan is hoping history will repeat itself before the end of the season.

The Rhinos bounced back from last year's Wembley heartache to win the Grand Final from fifth place and, currently sitting in fifth spot, he sees no reason why they cannot re-produce those heroics.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan (left), Jamie Peacock (centre) and Darrell Griffin stand dejected after the final whistle

Jamie Jones-Buchanan (left), Jamie Peacock (centre) and Darrell Griffin stand dejected after the final whistle

'For sure, I don't see why not,' Jones-Buchanan said. 'You've just got to pick yourself up and carry on.

'Last year it was a bit of a catalyst for kicking on for the rest of the season. There's a bit of rugby to be played yet. The season is not written off.'

Leeds have only five days to pick themselves up for the visit of Salford but Sinfield was not yet ready to think about that in the immediate aftermath of his latest disappointment.

'I don't want to think about Friday, if I'm honest,' he said. 'We'll go back to work on Monday, roll our sleeves up and get ready to go.

'But, at this moment in time, being honest, rugby is the last thing I want to think about.'

Brian McDermott baffled by decision to disallow Leeds try

I can't see why that try was ruled out, says Leeds coach McDermott

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UPDATED:

22:12 GMT, 25 August 2012

Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott admitted he was baffled by the decision to disallow a try in his side’s defeat by Warrington.

Video referee Phil Bentham said there had been a knock-on after a collision between Kylie Leuluai and Brett Hodgson left the Warrington full-back out cold and Brett Delaney picked up the loose ball and ran over the line.

The Super League champions have now lost on their last six appearances in the Challenge Cup final and McDermott said: ‘I didn’t see a knock-on from anybody. I just thought the ball came out of the back of his arm.

Veterans: Hodgson (right) lifts the Challenge Cup with Adrian Morley

Veterans: Hodgson (right) lifts the Challenge Cup with Adrian Morley

'That said, Warrington were the better team on the day. They played well and deserved the win. We spent the majority of the first half without momentum and I thought we were in good nick to come within touching distance. We dust ourselves off, stay tight as a group, learn from it.

'We have a hell of a lot of young players in that group who have gained some valuable experience from that.’

Hodgson said he was ‘humbled’ to receive the Lance Todd Trophy for his starring role in his side’s Carnegie Challenge Cup final win.

The veteran Australian set up two critical tries and capped a fine display by kicking five goals and crossing for a late try.

Try time: Michael Monaghan jumps for as Hodgson crosses for a try

Try time: Michael Monaghan jumps for as Hodgson crosses for a try

Hodgson said: ‘It’s huge. I have been very fortunate through my career to play with some great players, win an NRL Grand Final and now this.

'It is very humbling to receive such an honour. It is going to be something I look back on with great admiration and I am very excited and honoured to accept it.’

Hodgson, who is 34, has recently signed a contract to remain with Wolves for the next two seasons.

Coach Tony Smith praised him and the rest of the Wolves old guard, including 34-year-old Lee Briers and captain, Adrian Morley, 35, whose introduction to the field ignited the game.

Man-of-the-match: Hodgson was outstanding at Wembley

Man-of-the-match: Hodgson was outstanding at Wembley

'They make me look younger,’ he joked.

'Brett was terrific,’ said Smith. ‘He copped a pounding. He is not the fastest or the strongest or the best looking, but he knows how to coach footy. He schemed well. What he lacks in pace and size he makes up for with quickness between his ears. Those tries were all planned by him, not the coach. He was out back organising the next play and the play after that.

'Adrian really lifted us when he came on, so did Lee Briers, who is an old wily fox.

Crowded out: Hodgson is tackled by three Leeds players

Crowded out: Hodgson is tackled by three Leeds players

'There were probably a lot of crucial points but it is about taking your opportunities when they arrive.

'In these sort of matches sometimes you only get a few and if you don’t take them it can hurt you. You have got to make them happen and I thought we did make them happen, particularly in the second half.’

Ryder Cup race hots up between Nicolas Colsaerts and Padraig Harrington

Tiger v Rory can't blot out the Ryder race as Harrington and Colsaerts step up a gear

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UPDATED:

23:41 GMT, 23 August 2012

Golf blog

Nothing on Thursday’s busy golfing agenda could top Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy playing together for the first time on the US Tour. But boy, did Padraig Harrington on one side of the Atlantic and Nicolas Colsaerts on the other do their level best.

As things stand, this pair are seemingly fighting it out for one wildcard spot for Europe’s Ryder Cup team, with the latter justifying his hot-favourite status ahead of Monday’s announcement with an opening 69 in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. No sooner had he signed his card, however, than Harrington was compiling a brilliant 64 in the first round of The Barclays in New York, the first tournament in the four-event series comprising the FedEx Cup play-offs.

Colsaerts can still make Europe’s team by right with a top-two finish and has certainly started in confident vein, finishing two shots off the lead held by Aussie Brett Rumford and little-known Norwegian Knut Borsheim. If the Belgian does make it by right, Harrington has certainly done himself no harm regarding getting a pick alongside Ian Poulter.

All smiles: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (right) share a laugh at the Barclays in New York

All smiles: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy (right) share a laugh at the Barclays in New York

So to the main event, then, with most eyes in New York trained on Woods and McIlroy. How curious that it should take the Northern Irishman 163 rounds on the US Tour before finally getting a match-up with his boyhood idol. He began seemingly hell-bent on showing Woods exactly why he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

Starting from the 10th, McIlroy fired a trademark aggressive iron shot at the 11th to within 12 inches of the hole for a tap-in birdie. At the 13th he rolled in a 20 footer for another birdie to move two clear of Woods, who rapped in a birdie putt of his own at the 14th. But another wonderful iron approach set up a further routine birdie for McIlroy at the 15th, his third in six holes for an early share of the lead.

Showdown: McIlroy took one more stroke than Woods during his first round of 69 shots

Showdown: McIlroy took one more stroke than Woods during his first round of 69 shots

Life as a double major champion had begun sweetly, therefore, with the 23-year-old starting out how he had finished off at the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in his previous outing.

Thereafter, however, there were one or two reminders as to why there’s a rather famous sign by the first tee at fabled Bethpage Black regarding the difficulty of the course and recommending it ‘for highly skilled golfers only’. Over the next 12 holes, a trio of errors from McIlroy resulted in three bogeys.

Woods was more successful at keeping mistakes at bay. From two behind McIlroy after six, he had moved two ahead until matching the bogey made by his playing partner at the fifth. McIlroy responded to the third of his bogeys with an instant redemptive birdie at the sixth to halve the arrears, and that’s how it remained. Woods signed for a 68 and McIlroy a 69.

Hitting form: Padraig Harrington plays from the 18th fairway during a fine first round at Bethpage State Park

Hitting form: Padraig Harrington plays from the 18th fairway during a fine first round at Bethpage State Park

Much was made in the build-up to The Barclays of Harrington’s arch rival Sergio Garcia saying the Irishman was no sure-fire Ryder Cup wildcard. Why all the fuss I think the world of Harrington but I wouldn’t give him a wildcard either, as things stand.

He took a step forward here, however. Now let’s see if he can keep it going. Harrington shot 61 on the first day of the Transitions Championship in Florida in March and ended up finishing tied 20th. Good opening rounds can often end up being all flash and little substance.

Good position: Nicolas Colsaerts in action during the first round of the Johnnie Walker Championship

Good position: Nicolas Colsaerts in action during the first round of the Johnnie Walker Championship

One down, three rounds to go: Belgium's Colsaerts putts on the 18th green at Gleneagles

One down, three rounds to go: Belgium's Colsaerts putts on the 18th green at Gleneagles

In all, though, this was another good day for Europe’s captain Jose Maria Olazabal. After a worrying couple of months, members of his team have won the last two events on the US Tour and are starting to show some real form, with the match now just over a month away.

The aforementioned Garcia, for example, followed up last week’s stirring victory in the Wyndham Championship with a wonderful 66. World No 2 Luke Donald opened with a useful 68 while Lee Westwood shot 69 to make his first taste of the FedEx play-offs a satisfying one.

Over at Gleneagles, two more team members, Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari, opened with rounds of 68.

A close look: Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal is in Scotland for the conclusion to the Ryder Cup points race

A close look: Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal is in Scotland for the conclusion to the Ryder Cup points race

Widnes 42 Hull 16

Widnes 42 Hull 16: Vikings stun Airlie Birds with shock victory

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UPDATED:

19:34 GMT, 18 August 2012

Hull's top-four hopes suffered a jolt with a shock defeat at bottom side Widnes.

The Vikings, who had lost three games in a row, led 20-10 at half-time with full-back Shaun Briscoe turning in a top show against his old club.

Briscoe, plagued by injury this season, was back after a six match lay-off but was in devastating form.

He scored two of Widnes' eight tries as his side fought back from a 10-8 deficit midway through the first half.

Hull, who thrashed Widnes 58-10 at the KC Stadium in March, went into the clash defending an eight-year unbeaten record against the Vikings.

Widnes were missing Patrick Ah Van, Ben Cross, Steve Pickersgill and Chris Dean but skipper Jon Clarke and vice-captain Briscoe returned.

Paul McShane, on loan from Leeds, was also back on the bench after a one-match ban with coach Denis Betts recalling Ben Kavanagh and Paddy Flynn for his 100th appearance.

Hull were also strengthened by the return of Joe Westerman from suspension and Richard Horne after a three-week injury lay-off.

But Kirk Yeaman and Danny Nicklas were out with Hull targeting their fourth win in five games.

Hull made a shaky start with both Brett Seymour and Ben Crooks throwing passes straight into touch.

The Airlie Birds recovered their composure to go ahead after seven minutes with Seymour and Ryan McGoldrick combining to send Jordan Turner over.

But Widnes had a Willie Isa try disallowed by video referee Ian Smith before the winger scored a legitimate touchdown after 13 minutes when Tom Briscoe failed to deal with a high kick.

Isa took Shaun Briscoe's pass to cross in the corner before the ex-Hull man cleverly put Flynn over on his landmark appearance to open up an 8-4 lead.

Hull regained the lead with a well-timed McGoldrick pass putting Westerman through and Jamie Foster tagged on the conversion.

Referee Steve Ganson had words with McGoldrick and Clarke after a brief skirmish following the try.

It was entertaining fare with Shaun Briscoe continually prominent against his old club who grabbed two touchdowns in two minutes just before the break.

Briscoe fired Widnes back in front when he was quickest to react to Hanbury's kick and Danny Craven landed the straightforward conversion to edge his side ahead 14-10.

The Vikings extended the lead when Frank Winterstein scored from another kick on the last tackle to make it 20-10.

Hull needed a good start to the second half but it was Widnes who went further ahead when Willie Manu failed to gather Horne's pass with Craven hacking the loose ball forward to score and stretch the lead to 24-10.

Hull's problems mounted up when Isa notched his second try courtesy of Hanbury's inside pass with McShane booting the goal.

Hull then lost youngster Tom Lineham who was helped off after a heavy tackle with the incident placed on report.

Tom Briscoe was denied a try for Hull as they battled to get back into the contest, but Aaron Heremaia took advantage of some good fortune to notch Hull's third try after 57 minutes with Foster's conversion closing the gap to 30-16.

McGoldrick was placed on report for a high tackle on Hanbury and Hull were let down by elementary handling errors and lack of discipline.

Shaun Briscoe scored his second try from another inside pass from Hanbury 10 minutes from time after a Tom Briscoe mistake with McShane's conversion opening up a 20-point lead with eight minutes left.

Hanbury then claimed the Vikings eighth try as Hull folded to extend the lead.

Warrington 50 Bradford 22: Mick Potter considers exit

Warrington 50 Bradford 22: Do or die for Bulls as Potter feels pinch

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UPDATED:

22:17 GMT, 29 July 2012

Mick Potter admitted he will be forced to walk away from Bradford if a rescue deal is not concluded early this week.

Potter has been working on a voluntary basis for Bradford’s last three games, but conceded that he can no longer afford to work for nothing after this nine-try defeat.

Potter said: 'It's nearly that time. We’re coming to the point where everyone needs to make a call.

Blown away: Warrington thrashed crisis club Bradford

Blown away: Warrington thrashed crisis club Bradford

'I think it's coming to a climax as far as the people who are talking to the RFL and the administrators, so it’s coming to a head all round.

'A decision will be made formally as to what’s happening, and then I can go from there. It won’t be too far in the distant future.'

Two different parties are believed to be interested in buying the crisis-hit club, but the RFL have already rejected an offer from the ‘ABC Consortium’ after declaring conditions attached to the deal as ‘unacceptable’.

Potter said: ‘I know they’ve been speaking over the weekend and I imagine it’s a priority for the RFL and for Bradford. I’m an optimistic person and I’m hopeful, but I honestly don’t know what’s going on.

‘I’ve had two brief conversations with both (consortia). I’m hopeful, but we’ll wait and see. It’s not right for me to talk about those conversations, but touch wood something positive will happen for Bradford.’

There was little that was positive about this performance from the Bulls, who trailed 32-0 before half time after Warrington made a sensational start.

The emotion that has carried Bradford in recent weeks appeared to run dry during a four-try, nine-minute spell inside the first quarter that killed off any hopes of a shock away win.

With Brett Hodgson rested, Stefan Ratchford took his chance at full back with a superb four-try haul. Wolves’ assistant coach Richard Marshall said: ‘Stefan’s found his feet there. He contributed really well, and not just with his tries.’

Former Australia winger Joel Monaghan got Warrington off to a flyer when he touched down from Rhys Evans’ pass inside the first minute.

Further scores from Richie Myler, Chris Riley and Simon Grix complemented Ratchford’s first two tries as the hosts built a 32-6 half-time lead.

Bradford rallied through Danny Addy (two), Elliott Whitehead and Karl Pryce, but David Solomona kept the Wolves ticking over before Ratchford claimed his third and fourth.

Castleford 26 Warrington 40

Castleford 26 Warrington 40: Wolves run in seven tries to deny dogged Tigers

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UPDATED:

16:50 GMT, 22 July 2012

Warrington survived a superb second-half fightback from Castleford to hold on for a thrilling victory and cement second place in the Stobart Super League.

Trailing 34-0 in the 53rd minute, the Tigers rallied, scoring 26 unanswered points to give themselves a chance of an amazing comeback, but the Wolves were ultimately too strong and sealed the win with a late Stefan Ratchford try.

Warrington, who outscored their opponents seven tries to five in the match, were scintillating in attack in the first period and they grabbed the first points of the afternoon inside the opening two minutes.

Off and running: Ben Westwood scores Warrington Wolves first try

Off and running: Ben Westwood scores Warrington Wolves first try

After Tigers full-back Richard Owen dropped the ball inside his own half, the visitors took full advantage when Ben Westwood hit a fantastic line to go over unchallenged, Brett Hodgson adding the extras.

They doubled their lead soon after when Hodgson's cut-out ball was collected by Joel Monaghan, who strolled in for the simplest of finishes to put Tony Smith's side firmly in command.

The hosts then spurned a glorious chance to get back in the game, when Hodgson spilled a neat kick from Rangi Chase – who was making his first appearance since being suspended by the club – but the Tigers could not capitalise, Grant Millington losing possession just short of the Warrington line.

That missed opportunity was pounced upon by the Wolves, when Ryan Atkins was on the end of Richie Myler's superb break to further extend the visitors lead with a third try.

Westwood then grabbed his second of what was becoming a prolific afternoon for the visitors, again courtesy of some sublime work from Myler. Hodgson nailed his fourth conversion from as many attempts to give the Wolves a commanding 24-0 lead.

And there was still time for the Wolves to grab a fifth score before the interval, as Chris Riley produced a moment of individual magic, breaking away before sublimely beating Owen to go over.

The second half continued in similar fashion to the first, and after Westwood almost grabbed his hat-trick, David Solomona marked his return to the Warrington side by crashing over in trademark fashion to collect his first try of the season.

The Tigers finally got on the scoreboard soon after, when Nick Youngquest got on the end of a clever kick by Danny Orr to prevent the home side from the humility of a whitewash.

It then got even better for Ian Millward's men, as they scored a quickfire treble to give the home faithful something to cheer.

First, Rhys Williams scored a superb breakaway try against his parent club, evading the attention of Ryan Atkins to go the length of the field, before Chase got involved, creating arguably the try of the afternoon.

The England international danced his way around several Wolves defenders before providing an outrageous ball for Youngquest, who scrambled in at the corner for his second.

The home side were now in full flow, and they reduced the gap to just 14 points when Owen weaved his way through the Warrington defensive line, stepping his opposite number Hodgson to go in under the sticks with Orr adding the extras.

The points kept on coming for the Tigers, this time courtesy of Lee Mitchell, the forward spinning in the tackle and crashing over to further narrow the gap.

Warrington held their nerve however, and Ratchford's late breakaway effort sealed a crucial victory for Smith's men.