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London 2012 Olympics: Craig Bellamy doubtful over future Team GB football sides

Team GB football will go back on the shelf after 2012 Games, says Bellamy ahead of Uruguay clash

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UPDATED:

07:14 GMT, 1 August 2012

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Craig Bellamy believes the notion of a Great Britain Olympic football team will be put back in cold storage once this summer's competition is over.

Stuart Pearce's side take on Uruguay in Cardiff tonight needing to avoid defeat to secure a quarter-final berth.

That would give further strength to a belief that GB should continue, providing a way can be found to navigate a complicated qualification criteria.

On ice: Craig Bellamy believes the notion of a future Team GB football team in unlikely

On ice: Craig Bellamy believes the notion of a future Team GB football team in unlikely

But Bellamy knows there are significant political obstacles to overcome.
And he does not believe they will.

'I am sure it would be beneficial and I would love to see it happen again,” he said.

'From my own experience, it has been outstanding, one of the best experiences I have had as a footballer.

'But I this is probably the last time it will happen, which would be a shame.'

Wednesday's game will be GB's third in six days, putting additional strain on veteran duo Ryan Giggs and Bellamy, who has already contributed one goal and two assists to the GB cause.

With Spain bowing out and Uruguay likely to be condemned as well if Pearce's men complete their own task at the Millennium Stadium, hopes will start to rise of a rare major tournament last four appearance.

Impressive: Bellamy (right) has been in good form in both of Great Britain's games so far

Impressive: Bellamy (right) has been in good form in both of Great Britain's games so far

Goal threat: The Welshman scored in the country's second game against the UAE

Goal threat: The Welshman scored in the country's second game against the UAE

A fully fit Daniel Sturridge would be a big advantage for GB against a Uruguay outfit for whom star duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have so far failed to fire as anticipated.

Yet Sturridge is acutely aware how close he came to not being involved at all after a pre-tournament meningitis scare, from which the Chelsea striker admits he is yet to fully recover.

'I am getting there but I am still not 100 per cent,' he said.

'Basically I am a week behind the rest of the lads in terms of fitness because they had a week of pre-season when I was at my club.

Fit again Daniel Sturridge (left) has said he has lost a bit of weight after recovering from viral meningitis

Fit again Daniel Sturridge (left) has said he has lost a bit of weight after recovering from viral meningitis

'Also I have lost a bit of weight but I am getting fitter.

'This was the centre-piece of my summer and I was more than a bit concerned about missing it.

'It was the right stage to show what I am capable of.

'A week after contracting meningitis, I was unsure whether I would be coming or not.

'At that stage I certainly felt worse than I thought I would.

'Thankfully, as time went on I improved, although there were only a couple of days to go before we made the decision to go for it.'

London 2012 Olympics: Gareth Warburton wins Team GB appeal

Warburton wins Olympics appeal but 10 other British hopefuls are rejected

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UPDATED:

15:40 GMT, 6 July 2012

Reprieve: Gareth Warburton won his appeal

Reprieve: Gareth Warburton won his appeal

Gareth Warburton has been added to Great Britain's athletics team for London 2012 in the 800 metres after winning an appeal over his non-selection.

Warburton was left out of the 77-strong team which was announced on Tuesday, having failed to achieve the second 'A' qualifying time he needed during last week's European Championships.

However, the 29-year-old Welshman's appeal was successful, meaning he joins Andrew Osagie and Michael Rimmer in the 800m.

Ed Warner, chairman of UKA and the chairman of the appeals panel, said: 'We appreciate that this is a difficult time for athletes who were not selected to Team GB.

'Appeals are heard on a matter of process and facts and not opinion, and the panel considered 11 appeals today of which only Gareth's was successful.
'We ensure that the original selection committee has followed the selection criteria appropriately and have made their decisions based on full and correct facts.

'n the case of Gareth Warburton and in light of independent legal advice, the appeals panel decided that the combination of Warburton's current A and current B standards made him selectable under the UKA selection policy and he has been added to the team.'

Agony: Jemma Simpson and Lynsey Sharp both missed out

Agony: Jemma Simpson and Lynsey Sharp both missed out

Warburton, who was just 0.2 seconds away from achieving the qualifying time in Helsinki, said: 'I am absolutely delighted to have been selected to Team GB to represent my country at our home Olympic Games.

'This is an incredible opportunity for me and I intend to make the most of it. I am joining a fantastic team of athletes and we're all focused on doing Britain proud this summer.'

Among the other athletes to appeal were Emma Jackson, Marilyn Okoro and Jemma Simpson in the women's 800m, with Lynsey Sharp controversially selected despite only having the 'B' standard.

Jackson, who had been hampered by a rib injury when finishing seventh at the Olympic trials, wrote on Twitter: 'Not too surprised that the appeal was rejected but I had to try. All I can do now is prove to everybody that I should have been in the team.'

Wasps 10 Newcastle 14: Falcons win but finish bottom

Wasps 10 Newcastle 14: Falcons win but still finish bottom and face relegation

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UPDATED:

15:54 GMT, 5 May 2012

Newcastle face relegation from the Aviva Premiership despite their crunch basement battle against fellow strugglers Wasps ending with a hard-earned victory.

The Falcons finished bottom by a point following a 22-game regular league season that saw them win just six matches.

They needed a bonus point triumph over 11th-placed Wasps – and also deny their opponents a losing one in the process – but that fanciful script never seriously looked like unfolding at a packed Adams Park.

Despair: Matt Thompson holds his head in his hands after Newcastle finished bottom of the Premiership

Despair: Matt Thompson holds his head in his hands after Newcastle finished bottom of the Premiership

Wasps, relieved to start putting an injury-ravaged campaign behind them, saw wing Christian Wade claim his ninth league try of the campaign, while fly-half Nicky Robinson added a conversion and penalty.

Centre James Fitzpatrick touched down for the visitors midway through the second period, a try that Jimmy Gopperth converted, yet a game suffocated by tension had no chance of breaking into the free-scoring spectacular that Newcastle needed.

Even when scrum-half Peter Stringer touched down late on, with Gopperth adding the extras, there was no obvious sign of any further late drama.

Falcons' fate now rests on the outcome of this season's second-tier Championship title race, which will not be concluded until May 30.

Bristol, London Welsh, Bedford and Cornish Pirates are all contesting silverware, although it is thought only Bristol of that quartet categorically meet Premiership entry criteria.

Battle at the bottom: Richard Haughton is tackled by two Newcastle players

Battle at the bottom: Richard Haughton is tackled by two Newcastle players

Newcastle were crowned champions of England 14 years ago after a Rob Andrew-led rugby revolution on Tyneside that was bankrolled by Sir John Hall's millions.

But all they can hope for now is that Bristol come unstuck, with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union set to issue a statement on promotion eligibility later this month.

The smart money will be on Dean Richards – interim boss Gary Gold's successor next term – inheriting a squad destined to play Championship rugby.

That will not, though, be an unfamiliar experience for the former England number eight, whose three-year worldwide coaching ban imposed following the infamous Bloodgate saga expires this summer.

Richards led Harlequins back into English rugby's top flight at the first time of asking in 2006, and Newcastle should encounter few problems making a rapid return.
But that prospect will not ease the pain for Gold and his players, who are now set to go their separate ways.

Stop there: Billy Vunipola of Wasps is tackled and loses the ball

Stop there: Billy Vunipola of Wasps is tackled and loses the ball

South African Gold is poised to succeed Sir Ian McGeechan at Bath, heading up a coaching team that could also include former England defence coach Mike Ford and ex-London Irish prop Neal Hatley.

In the end, Newcastle came up short, despite posting a second successive Premiership away win that followed their victory at Gloucester three weeks ago.

Ultimately, it was simply too big a task for them as Wasps, inspired by the earlier-than-expected return to action of their captain Marco Wentzel, finally banished their relegation fears.

Wentzel led a Wasps team that featured a rejigged back-row that saw Joe Launchbury and Sam Jones fill the flanker positions, but Newcastle were unchanged from the side beaten 9-3 at home by Saracens last time out.

Anguish: Newcastle Captain James Hudson holds his head in his hands after Newcastle finished bottom of the Premiership

Anguish: Newcastle Captain James Hudson holds his head in his hands after Newcastle finished bottom of the Premiership

Rival goalkickers Robinson and Gopperth were both wide with early long-range penalty attempts, and they proved the most notable scoring opportunities during a forgettable first 30 minutes.

Wasps lost scrum-half Charlie Davies with a hamstring injury – Nic Berry replaced him – but the Falcons established territorial control as the opening half drew to its close.

Despite looking threatening with ball in hand, Newcastle lacked the finishing touch, and Wasps took advantage when Robinson landed an angled 37th-minute penalty.

And there was worse to come for the visitors during injury time as full-back Richard Haughton's slicing break from deep inside his own half scattered Newcastle's defence.

Robinson acted as a link man, and then floated a superb pass to Wade, who sprinted clear for his eighth try of the league campaign.

Robinson slotted the touchline conversion, and Newcastle were effectively down and out in terms of their pre-match target, trailing 10-0.

Wasps prop Ben Broster was sin-binned by referee Wayne Barnes for a technical offence early in the second period, but Newcastle again sacrificed a kickable penalty for an attacking scrum.

And such an approach was rewarded when Fitzpatrick crashed over for a try that required confirmation from television match official Graham Hughes, before Gopperth added the extras.

Stringer then crossed in the final seconds, with Gopperth converting to give Newcastle the win they required, but with insufficient tries, to leave them facing an uncertain future.

London 2012 Olympics: CAS over-rule BOA lifetime bans for Dwain Chambers and David Millar

Robertson 'disappointed' after CAS confirm BOA's lifetime bans for drug cheats Chambers and Millar are dead

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UPDATED:

14:48 GMT, 30 April 2012

Sports and Olympics minister Hugh Robertson has revealed his pain after the Court of Arbitration for Sport over-ruled the BOA's lifetime bans for drug cheats.

Dwain Chambers has been told his
Olympic ban has been lifted – following on from Sportsmail’s revelation of 10 days ago that
he is free to compete at London 2012.

CAS say that the British Olympic
Association cannot ban any athlete — including Chambers, who
systematically took steroids in the early 2000s — from Olympic Games for
life for serious doping offences because such a bylaw is at odds with
the World Anti-Doping Agency’s lax code.

CAS said in a statement: 'The by-law is a doping sanction and is therefore not in compliance with the WADA code. The CAS confirms the view of the WADA foundation board as indicated in its decision. Therefore, the appeal of BOA is rejected, and the decision of the WADA foundation board is confirmed.'

Second chance: Dwain Chambers is to be cleared for the Olympics

Second chance: Dwain Chambers is to be cleared for the Olympics

The BOA have also been ordered by CAS
to 'pay all of the costs of the arbitration' – the organisation has
already incurred substantial legal costs in hiring top barrister Lord
David Pannick to represent them, albeit at reduced rates.

Robertson expressed his disappointment at the outcome, and called for tougher sanctions for doping offences generally.

He said: 'I supported the BOA's
position, as our national Olympic committee, in having the autonomy to
set its own eligibility criteria for Team GB athletes.

'I accept this ruling from the Court
of Arbitration for Sport but it is very disappointing. Moving forward, I
fully endorse UK Anti-Doping's first submission to WADA as part of its
review of the World Anti-Doping Code. I want the code to be further
strengthened and I would particularly like to see tougher sanctions for
proven drug cheats.

'The UK takes its responsibilities in
the fight against doping in sport seriously. As we host the Olympic and
Paralympic Games this year, we are promoting this message through the
international 'Win Clean' campaign.'

UK Athletics confirmed that any
athletes such as Chambers who had been affected by the lifetime ban
would now be eligible for selection.

A statement read: 'UK Athletics has
always supported the BOA by-law but welcomes the clarity the CAS
decision brings to this issue.

'Athletes affected by the ruling are
now eligible for the team, in both individual and relay events, and will
be subject to the same selection criteria and process as every other
British athlete.'

Millar is likely to be part of the Olympic cycling team in London but British Cycling refused to speculate on that possibility.

A spokesperson said: 'Our team for
the Games is being selected in June and across all disciplines we'll
pick the team based on which riders are fit and available, and who we
believe have the best chance to deliver medals. Ahead of that we won't
be speculating on who may or may not be selected.'

Chambers, Britain’s top 100 metres sprinter despite being 34, now has to qualify. He must run 10.18sec to gain selection, which he should manage comfortably.

But beyond the moral dilemma of whether he should compete this summer lies an equally perplexing question: why, at 34, is he still our best chance of a 100m medal

Next best Simeon Williamson (left) could pose a challenge to Chambers

Next best Simeon Williamson (left) could pose a challenge to Chambers

It is surely an indictment of UK
Athletics, with 25million worth of funding for their home Games, that
they have not nurtured anyone capable of beating a former drugs cheat
whose only Olympics so far came in Sydney 12 years ago.

For
all Britain’s unforgettable successes in the 100m — from Harold
Abrahams to Allan Wells to the ultimately tainted Linford Christie — the
well has dried up.

None of
the talent to emerge here this century (Chambers came to prominence in
the late Nineties) has run sub-10sec. Eighty have done it since Jim
Hines first did in 1968. Only three are British: Christie, Chambers and
Jason Gardener.

The talent
pool is not bereft. Christian Malcolm, Mark Lewis-Francis, Craig
Pickering, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Simeon Williamson won world or
European titles as teenagers. Yet none has set a personal best this
decade.

But why It is a story, in part, of expensive but unsuccessful coaching, and easily won funding that has sated competitive hunger.

Former world record-holder Asafa Powell said: ‘British sprinters are lazy. They don’t really want to practise. In Jamaica, you have to work harder for what you want.’

The point is amplified by Dai Greene, Britain’s world 400m hurdles champion. ‘It’s too much too soon,’ he said. ‘They do well as juniors then get endorsements because the 100m is high-profile. They think they have made it before their careers have started.’

Relay sprinters receive a Lottery package of up to 70,000 without needing top results in individual sprints. No Briton bar Chambers has a remote chance of making the Olympic final, hence why UKA chief coach Charles van Commenee prioritises the faint hope of a relay medal.

Van Commenee, who took over after Beijing 2008, brought in Michael Khmel, a Ukraine-born coach, to work at Loughborough. Dan Pfaff, a biomechanics expert, came to London’s Lee Valley centre on a reputed 125,000 salary. Five sprinters left their existing coaches as part of the upheaval.

But Khmel, who is coaching Aikines-Aryeetey, Pickering and James Dasaolu, is no longer relay coach. And Van Commenee recently brought back Mike McFarlane, having sacked him in the clearout that made space for Khmel and Pfaff.

False hope: Britain won gold in the 4 x 100m relay at the 2004 Olympics

False hope: Britain won gold in the 4 x 100m relay at the 2004 Olympics

While our stars have been licking their wounds in front of a succession of coaches, France have emerged as Europe’s most potent sprinting nation through Christophe Lemaitre, 21, and Jimmy Vicaut, 20. Lemaitre has worked for seven years with the same local coach, Pierre Carraz.

And the figures support the idea of stagnation. In 2000, Britain had three men in the world’s top 25, all under 10.09sec — 9.86sec was the world’s leading time and only eight men were under 10sec.

Last year, it was 9.76sec and 20 were under 10sec. Only Chambers from Britain was in the world’s top 25. In the middle of that period — in 2004 in Athens — came Britain’s Olympic gold in the 4x100m. It bred false optimism and complacency.

What chance of a recovery Among the current crop the only viable hope is Williamson, who Usain Bolt talked of highly two years ago. He has since had a knee operation and, at 26, is trying to resurrect his career in Jamaica.

So Chambers is still our top sprinter, even if last year’s rankings indicate he will only scrape into the Olympic semi-finals. A favourable draw might provide a precarious passage to the final. As for the rest, what a scandalous waste of money on unfulfilled talent.

DWAIN CHAMBERS FACTFILE

1978: Born Islington, London, April 5.
1998: Takes 100 metres silver in European Championships and is third in World Cup.

1999: Runs 9.99 seconds to become the second European sprinter to break the 10-second barrier after Linford Christie. Runs 9.97secs to claim bronze at the World Championships in Seville.

2000: Fourth in Olympics final in Sydney.

2002: Gets off to a bad start in the Commonwealth Games 100m final and pulls up with cramps, later attributed to lack of fluids.
Takes gold at the European Championships and adds a superb run to bring the British team home for gold in the 4x100m relay.

2003: August 25 – Finishes fourth in the World Championships 100m final in Paris in a time of 10.08.
October 22 – Revealed to have tested positive for newly discovered `designer steroid' tetrahydrogestrinone (THG). Denies knowingly taking the drug.
November 7 – IAAF suspend Chambers pending disciplinary hearing, after B sample tests positive.

2004: February 22 – Handed a two-year worldwide ban due to expire on November 7, 2005 and a BOA lifetime suspension from the Olympics.

2005: December 10 – Admits using THG for 18 months before failing his drug test including when he became double European champion in August 2002.

In the clear: Dwain Chambers

2006: June 10 – Cleared by UK Athletics to make comeback.
June 11 – Returns to action at Gateshead, finishing third in 10.07. His time is the fastest by a European in 2006.
June 26 – All performances since January 1, 2002 annulled, including individual and relay gold at the European Championships in Munich in 2002 and the European record of 9.87 he shared with Linford Christie, after his admission to using THG prior to his failed drugs test.
August – Selected to represent Great Britain at the European Championships in Gothenburg.
Finishes seventh in the individual event before joining Mark Lewis-Francis, Darren Campbell and Marlon Devonish in the 4x100m sprint relay squad. The quartet win gold but their achievement is overshadowed by Campbell's refusal to celebrate on a lap of honour with his team-mates, saying it would be “hypocritical”.

2007: March – Secures a contract with NFL Europa side Hamburg Sea Devils.

2008: January – UK Athletics chief executive officer Niels de Vos claims Chambers will be barred from making a comeback because he has not undergone drug testing since November 2006 when he left the sport. The IAAF claim he is eligible to run because he never retired from athletics.
February 2 – Qualifies for the World Indoor trials in Sheffield by winning the 60m at the Birmingham Games in 6.60.
February 5 – Allowed to compete in Sheffield after UKA grudgingly accept his entry after the athlete's solicitors prepared to launch a High Court injunction against them.
February 10 – Storms to victory in the 60 metres in Sheffield to book himself a spot at the following month's World Indoor Championships in Valencia.
March 7 – Wins a silver medal in the World Indoor Championships.
May 6 – After a month-long trial with Super League side Castleford, the club reveal he will not be offered a contract.
June 4 – Wins his first 100m race since August 2006 in Greece.
June 30 – 200 past and present athletes, including Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Steven Redgrave, sign a petition against Chambers being picked for the Beijing Games after his lawyers confirm plans for a High Court appeal against the BOA's lifetime Olympics ban.
July 3 – Court proceedings are launched by Chambers' legal team.
July 12 – Wins the 100m at the Aviva UK National Championships, the qualifying event for the British Olympic team.
July 18 – Chambers' attempt to gain a temporary injunction against the BOA ban is rejected at the High Court to end hopes of competing in Beijing.

2009: March – Wins gold over 60m at the European Indoor Championships in 6.46s.
Causes further controversy later in the same month after alleging in his autobiography that drug use is widespread within athletics.
August 16 – Finishes sixth in the 100m final at the World Championships in Berlin as Usain Bolt breaks the world record, pulls out of the 200m with a calf injury.

2010: March 13 – Wins world indoor gold over 60m in Doha.
June – Clocks 9.99 to win the 100m at the European Team Championships in Bergen, his first sub-10 clocking since 2001.
July 28 – Finishes a disappointing fifth in the 100m final at the European Championships in Barcelona.

2011: March 6 – Wins silver at the European Indoor Championships in Paris.
August 28 – Disqualified in the semi-finals of the 100m at the World Championships in Daegu for false-starting.
2012: March 10 – Wins bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.

Drastic surgery needed to save the nation"s favourite

Drastic surgery needed to save the nation's favourite after deaths overshadow race

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 15 April 2012

The British Horseracing Authority have promised a balanced and comprehensive review of the two horse deaths that scarred the John Smith’s Grand National for the second year running.

But when they have collated the statistics and reviewed the videos, the decisions they must take are to level out the drop on the landing side of fences, notably Becher’s Brook, and reduce the number of runners by up to a quarter.

Traditionalists will blanch at the prospect. Some will accuse me of betrayal of the sport on which I report, but after the deaths of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete, drastic surgery is necessary.

Tragic: Gold Cup winner Sychronised fell during the Grand National and was later put down

Tragic: Gold Cup winner Sychronised fell during the Grand National and was later put down

The aftermath of Saturday’s race should have been celebration. After four-and-a-half miles and 30 jumps, the John Hales-owned Neptune Collonges, the first grey to win for 51 years, had beaten Sunnyhillboy by the thickness of a cigarette paper under an inspired ride from Daryl Jacob to secure the trainer’s championship for Paul Nicholls.

Back in third, Katie Walsh on Seabass had secured the best ever finish for a female jockey.

But memories of a race that fired my love of the sport are joyless. They are the grief of Synchronised’s trainer Jonjo O’Neill and the grim faces of his owner JP McManus and officials.

On the opening day of the meeting, I wrote about the significant changes undertaken since both Dooney’s Gate and Ornais lost their lives a year ago.

Fatality: According to Pete also died as questions were once again asked about the race's safety

Fatality: According to Pete also died as questions were once again asked about the race's safety

They included beefed-up entry criteria to weed out potential risks as almost 250,000 was spent on a range of welfare measures.

Three fences were altered, including a
five-inch reduction of the drop on the landing side of Becher’s. /04/15/article-0-12987260000005DC-602_634x438.jpg” width=”634″ height=”438″ alt=”Neck and neck: Neptune Collonges (near) and Sunnyhillboy fought out a thrilling finish” class=”blkBorder” />

Neck and neck: Neptune Collonges (near) and Sunnyhillboy fought out a thrilling finish

Both deaths on Saturday were tragic
accidents. Synchronised fell at Becher’s Brook but galloped on riderless
and jumped five fences until the stumble that broke his hind leg.
According To Pete had jumped Becher’s Brook on the second circuit when
he cannoned into the prostrate On His Own and broke a foreleg.

The key objective for the BHA must be to
have fewer fallers. More runners on their feet is the safest option and
it would not detract from the spectacle.

It wouldn’t make the race risk-free but would establish firmer foundations for a defence against those hell bent on its destruction. And it would still be just as exciting if 18 or 20 runners out of a line-up reduced from 40 to 30 crossed the Melling Road with a chance. Most of us who remember the victory of Bobbyjo in 1999 do not reflect on it as a lesser contest — yet only 32 runners lined up.

Success story: Daryl Jacob on Neptune Collonges

Success story: Daryl Jacob on Neptune Collonges

More can be done at Aintree and not just because we are concerned with the cosmetic appearance of the sport that has wider implications for jump racing.

More than 70,000 spectators were at Aintree on Saturday and the same number will be there next year no matter what happens.

But we should want to make changes — want to build on the welfare successes that have been achieved.

I want to be proud of the sport’s biggest day, just as I was of one aspect on Saturday.

A jockey ban for excessive use of the whip for a second successive year would have added to the furore but Jacob and, particularly, Richie McLernon on the tiring runner-up Sunnyhillboy performed with admirable professionalism in pursuit of the prize.

Their actions showed how seriously the current crop of competitors take their responsibilities to their mounts and the historic prize, when it would have been easy for them to recklessly chase victory at all costs.

Aintree and the BHA have shown the same responsibility in the last year. Their decisions now must be brave and bold.

John Wells and Mike Ford back Newcastle Falcons to beat the drop

We can survive! Wells and Ford back Newcastle to beat the drop

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 13 April 2012

Out of the frying pan, into the fire – that’s the scenario for Mike Ford and John Wells. Just four months after leaving the RFU amid the savage demolition of Martin Johnson’s England regime, they are immersed in a salvage operation which has reached ‘desperation’ point.

They’d already come through an almighty ordeal this season; the World Cup debacle and aftermath with the leaked reports which portrayed their work in a dim light. But instead of taking their union pay-off and dropping off the radar, the men who had taken charge of the national team’s defence and forwards since 2006 rapidly re-surfaced on Tyneside.

Crunch time: Worcester's Kai Horstmann hands off Newcastle's Jonny Golding (left)

Crunch time: Worcester's Kai Horstmann hands off Newcastle's Jonny Golding (left)

What drew them to Newcastle was the
challenge of a backs-to-the-wall fight against relegation from the Aviva
Premiership, under the guidance of former South Africa coach, Gary
Gold. Ford agreed to join the crusade in mid-January, Wells a fortnight
later. Since then, the Falcons have beaten London Irish and Sale, picked
up a losing bonus point at Bath and been agonisingly denied a similar
consolation at Worcester.

However, Wasps have responded to the renewed threat to their top-flight status by beating Irish and Gloucester – the latter win courtesy of a last-minute penalty – to maintain an eight-point advantage in 11th place.

The up-shot is that the North East club go to into Saturday’s game at Gloucester knowing that it is do-or-die time. If they lose and Wasps win, Newcastle will be relegated, subject to the winners of the Championship passing the entry criteria for the Premiership.

The stakes are high, but Ford has relished the chance to put the unsavoury footnote to his time with England behind him. He said: ‘The way Gary (Gold) sold it to me was by saying, “We could both just sit at home and say we’re international coaches, or we could accept the challenge of trying to save a club who are nine points adrift with nine games to go”. That appealed to me.

Into the fire: Wells (left) and Ford in their England days

Into the fire: Wells (left) and Ford in their England days

‘There were people saying, “You’re going
to be the guys who take Newcastle down and that will always be on your
CV”. But I saw it the other way; that we could be seen as the guys who
saved Newcastle. I was confident we could close that gap and even though
it’s still eight points, I’m still confident.

‘A big part of it was that I wanted to keep coaching. We had plenty of time to prepare for what was going to happen with England – it was pretty obvious that we were going to leave – so I prepared myself. Newcastle came along at the right time for me to move on and get stuck into some work.’

Wells, who had so much coaching success at Leicester before joining England, had a similar out-look, saying: ‘I have never worked in a side that has had to struggle – that for me is the biggest challenge. There was obviously the post-World Cup affair and initially it was good to take some time out, but it is good to be back in the saddle. I enjoy coaching and the day-to-day interaction with players, coaches and staff.

‘Having been involved with England for five years I feel that, in the last two or three, there has been much more interest in the profile of coaches as opposed to what they are actually achieving. Those guys who actively push their profile are always seen to be doing well, and those like Mike and myself who just get on with our jobs can find it difficult.’

Up for the fight: Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth (centre) is key to Newcastle's hopes

Up for the fight: Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth (centre) is key to Newcastle's hopes

Having encountered the spirited defiance of Newcastle as an opponent in the past, Wells has sampled it first-hand in the last two months and he added: ‘What has stood Newcastle in good stead throughout the years, despite their often indifferent form, has been the fact that they are a nightmare to play against at Kingston Park. One thing about this club is that they have been in these scraps many times before.’

They are certainly in one now, but
Ford found early cause for hope and he retains the belief that the
Falcons can escape, via remaining games at Kingsholm on Saturday, at
home to champions Saracens and against Wasps at Adams Park on May 5.

‘After
I signed, I watched some of their games and thought the team were not
as bad as the position in the table suggested,’ he said. ‘I thought I
could make a difference there. The biggest thing for me, coming from the
World Cup, was the lack of intensity. We had to quickly get them up to
speed and we probably over-trained them at first, but the game against
Quins at Kingston Park gave us a lot of belief because they brought
their best side and needed a late penalty to get a draw.

On his way: Dean Richards takes over at Newcastle in the summer

On his way: Dean Richards takes over at Newcastle in the summer

‘We have improved but fair play to Wasps, they have responded by beating London Irish and then Gloucester, so we have to win this game – it’s desperation time. We are under real pressure but I really think we can do it.’

Despite insisting that Newcastle can survive, Ford believes the summer arrival of Dean Richards will ensure the club bounce straight back up if they are relegated. The former England No 8 – coming to the end of his post-Bloodgate, three-year ban – has experience in taking on such a revival exercise after guiding Harlequins to promotion at the start of his stint with the London club.

Wells is expected to stay on, to join forces with his old Leicester comrade, and Ford is believed to be considering coaching offers from a host of Premiership clubs.

For both men, painful memories of the brutal, post-World Cup are gradually fading. Whatever happens to Newcastle on Saturday or in the coming weeks, they have turned a corner, moved on and reignited their careers.