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Hastings" FA Cup run continues – Michael Walker

On the road: Hastings battle for memories and magic as FA Cup run continues

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UPDATED:

22:41 GMT, 2 December 2012

Making predictions in football has turned into an industry and before a ball was kicked down Harrogate’s Wetherby Road on Saturday, a cold favourite was that the word ‘magic’ would at some stage be used.

So it was that at the end of a pulsating 1-1 draw, Dave Walters, chairman of Hastings United, stood shivering and talked warmly of ‘the magic of the FA Cup’.

Walters wasn’t just reaching for clichs, he was making the point that it is on days like this, at grounds like this, in rounds like this, when the old magic surfaces.

Still going strong: Harrogate celebrate during their draw with Hastings

Still going strong: Harrogate celebrate during their draw with Hastings

Harrogate's journey so far

Aug 11: Nth Shields 1 Birtley T 1 (Birtley won replay). Aug 25: Birtley T 1 West Auckland 4.
Sep 8: Ashington 2 W Auckland 3.
Sep 22: W Auckland 2 Harrogate T 2 (Harrogate won replay).
Oct 6: Harrogate 3 Frickley Ath 2.
Oct 20: Hyde 1 Harrogate 1 (Harrogate won replay) Nov 3: Torquay 0 Harrogate 1.
Dec 1: Harrogate 1 Hastings Utd 1

‘It’ll not be like this when it gets to the semi-finals, will it’ Walters asked. ‘I’m from Carlisle,’ he added, ‘I remember Carlisle winning at Newcastle in 1968, it was completely magical and as a kid that’s what got me into football. There’s nothing like the FA Cup.’

Walter’s tone was a mixture of incredulity and passion. Hastings United are 18th in the Ryman Premier Division, that’s 66 places off Barnet at the bottom of the Football League. They are the lowest-ranked club left in the competition. Pleasingly, their nickname is ‘The Arrows’.

When Sunday’s draw for the third round came out and Middlesbrough away was the reward for the winners of the replay, Walters was again taken back to the Cup, this time to 1970. ‘I was at Brunton Park then when there were 27,500 to see Carlisle play Middlesbrough.

‘That was the FA Cup, too. I can’t remember the score.’ It was 2-0 to Middlesbrough, in the fifth round. What Walters could recall was that when Carlisle briefly topped the old First Division in 1974 ‘after beating Spurs on the Saturday, it was a defeat by Middlesbrough in midweek that started the rot’.

The nostalgia flows. Yet there is first a replay at Hastings’ Pilot Field on Tuesday week. ‘We’re not taking anything for granted,’ Walters said. ‘It’s just amazing for a club our size to even contemplate a game at Middlesbrough.’

In front: Tom Platt (left) opened the scoring for Harrogate against Hastings

In front: Tom Platt (left) opened the scoring for Harrogate against Hastings

For Harrogate, too, the incentive is great. Boro would amount to a local derby and be particularly special for one man at Saturday’s game, former Boro captain and manager, Gareth Southgate.

For Hastings there is now a third replay in their marathon. Tuesday week will be their eighth game in the FA Cup and a knock-on is that they have three other games to play before next Tuesday.

That the Yorkshiremen have not made it easy for themselves was encapsulated here. It was gripping stuff and captured much of this phase of the Cup. Normally Harrogate would have 300-400 for a Conference North game; there were 3,000 here, 300 alone from Hastings.

The travellers had to be impressed by the setting. Wetherby Road was like an oil painting impression of the Cup. A brilliant low sun threw long black shadows across a Ronnie Radford of a pitch. Pale faces glowed from dark clothes on packed terraces; the atmosphere had that happy Cup tingle that simply does not exist on league Saturdays.

But the ball still mattered. Even the fans shuddered after some of the 50-50s, but hands were shaken at the end. The Hastings players had lasagne laid on for them.

Up for the cup: Young Harrogate fans prepare for their side's latest match

Up for the cup: Young Harrogate fans prepare for their side's latest match

At the beginning it had looked as if that is all Hastings would get.
Harrogate, winners at Torquay in the previous round, launched attack upon attack early on.

Yet it took nearly until half-time before Tom Platt scored and by then Hastings had shown they can play.

On the hour Bradley Goldberg — son of former Crystal Palace owner Mark — saw his shot hit a post. Jamie Crellin knocked in the rebound.

Goldberg, 19, was released by Charlton last year. He is on his way back up, one of so many stories the Cup spouts forth.

Goldberg’s colleague, Josh Jirbandey, is another. He is on his way elsewhere — or at least he was.

Jirbandey is due to fly to California to start a soccer scholarship in January. Early January.

Presumably, now, it is FA Cup permitting.

Mellon makes Fleet exit

The FA Cup still means enough for Fleetwood Town to dismiss manager Micky Mellon after their home defeat to Aldershot.

The magic was missing for ambitious, big-spending Fleetwood, who seem restless despite being in the same Conference North division as Harrogate as 2010 dawned. In four years Mellon won two promotions.

Over and out: Ambitious Fleetwood sacked manager Micky Mellon

Over and out: Ambitious Fleetwood sacked manager Micky Mellon

In this, their first historic season in the Football League, Fleetwood are seventh, four points off an automatic promotion spot with 26 games to go. Mellon probably thought he and Fleetwood were a neat fit. Which brings us to another.

Eddie Howe returned to Bournemouth 11 games ago. Eight wins and three draws on, Bournemouth are motoring. They swept past Carlisle on Saturday and go to Wigan in the third round. Wigan cannot be complacent: at this stage last season, they lost to Swindon.

Romelu Lukaku race case: Liam Jones arrested on suspicion of monkey gesture

Sunderland fan released on bail after being quizzed over allegedly making racist 'monkey' gesture at Lukaku

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UPDATED:

12:45 GMT, 29 November 2012

Accused: Liam Jones pictured after leaving Gilbridge Police station in Sunderland

Accused: Liam Jones pictured after leaving Gilbridge Police station in Sunderland

An amateur kick boxer has been released on bail following his arrest for suspicion of racial abuse towards West Brom striker Romelu Lukaku.

Liam Jones was quizzed by police in Sunderland after he was pictured appearing to make a monkey gesture towards the Chelsea loan striker after he scored during Saturday’s 4-2 win.

Jones – who has the nickname Charlie Bucket – was released from a police station in Sunderland, and went to meet a friend outside a pub.

When approached for a comment said: ‘What do you want to know’ before his friend urged him not to say anything and he walked off.

The 21-year-old is an amateur martial arts fighter and is dubbed Charlie Bucket because he is the corner man for his brother who is a keen fighter.

Jones is unemployed and lives on his own in a flat in Sunderland. One friend told the Daily Mirror: 'He often trains in his flat with others.

Gesture: Liam Jones is seen making what appears to be a monkey gesture at West Brom's Romelu Lukaku as he celebrates scoring his side's third goal on Saturday

Gesture: Liam Jones is seen making what appears to be a monkey gesture at West Brom's Romelu Lukaku as he celebrates scoring his side's third goal on Saturday

Investigation: Police in the north-east launched an inquiry into incident, following a complaint from another supporter

Investigation: Police in the north-east launched an inquiry into incident, following a complaint from another supporter

'He is known as Charlie Bucket because his brother is also a keen fighter and Liam carries the bucket for him into the ring.'

Police confirmed a 21-year-old man was on police bail after being held on suspicion of racially aggravated intentional harassment.

Sunderland said Jones had been banned from the stadium ‘until the result of the investigation is known'.

Shamed: This Chelsea fan caught on camera making a monkey gesture (bottom left) was later identified as Gavin Kirkham

Shamed: This Chelsea fan caught on camera making a monkey gesture (bottom left) was later identified as Gavin Kirkham

On Tuesday, Lukaku was asked about the abuse and he replied: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to talk about it.'

It follows Chelsea fan Gavin Kirkham, 28, being held on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence after gesturing at Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck on October 31.

Nile Ranger arrested for criminal damage at ex-girlfriend"s flat

Newcastle star Ranger to appear in court following arrest for criminal damage at ex-girlfriend's flat

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UPDATED:

08:55 GMT, 24 September 2012

Newcastle striker Nile Ranger has been charged with criminal damage after a bust-up at his former girlfriend’s flat on Sunday.

Police were alerted to reports of a row at around 5.30am.

They found the front door in Enfield, North London, had been smashed off its hinges.

Court date: Nile Ranger is set to be in court for criminal damage

Court date: Nile Ranger is set to be in court for criminal damage

The 21-year-old striker was arrested at the scene.

His black Range Rover, which has his nickname, Power Ranger, on the doors, is believed to have been parked nearby.

A source told The Sun: 'The front door was smashed down. It was flat on the floor. A man was heard shouting ‘I love you’.

'Police found a girl in the flat who was very scared.'

Police said Ranger would appear at Enfield Magistrates Court on Monday.

London 2012 Paralympics: Hannah Cockroft wins T34 200m gold

Hurricane Hannah blows opposition away to grab second Paralympic gold in T34 200m

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UPDATED:

19:18 GMT, 6 September 2012

'Hurricane' Hannah Cockroft destroyed her competition and the Paralympic record to win her second gold medal at the Olympic Stadium.

The 20-year-old claimed she felt like she was 'flying' after a dominant run in qualifying this morning and lived up to her nickname in emphatic fashion by storming to T34 200 metres glory.

The Halifax racer, the world record holder and already the 100m champion, finished in 31.90 seconds, more than two seconds clear of the field.

Ecstasy: Hannah Cockroft celebrates her magnificent victory

Ecstasy: Hannah Cockroft celebrates her magnificent victory

So dominant is she at the event that, racing from lane six, she was already passed the two competitors outside her after barely 20m and was streets clear by the time she crossed the line.

More to follow.

Streaks ahead: Cockroft leads the way

Streaks ahead: Cockroft leads the way

Full pelt: Cockroft gave it all as she took her second medal

Full pelt: Cockroft gave it all as she took her second medal

Rugby legend Dr Jack Matthews dies aged 92

Welsh rugby mourns legendary Lion 'Iron Man' Matthews after death aged 92

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UPDATED:

00:58 GMT, 19 July 2012

Former Wales and British & Irish Lions centre Dr Jack Matthews has died at the age of 92.

Matthews, who won 17 caps for Wales and captained the team against France in Paris in 1951, played six Tests for the Lions on the 1950 tour of Australia and New Zealand, earning the nickname 'Iron Man' for his crash tackling.

A statement on Welsh Rugby Union website read: 'Legendary Welsh centre Dr Jack Matthews has died aged 92.

Rest in peace: Jack Matthews (bottom row, fifth from left) has died aged 92

Rest in peace: Jack Matthews (bottom row, fifth from left) has died aged 92

'Matthews was part of a legendary Welsh midfield partnership alongside Bleddyn Williams. The former Newport and Cardiff star Matthews was also a doctor on the 1980 Lions tour of South Africa.'

The Bridgend-born former Cardiff captain, whose career was curtailed by the Second World War, was made an OBE in 2001.

Matthews' former club Cardiff said in a statement: 'Cardiff Rugby is saddened to have learnt of the death of Dr Jack Matthews OBE aged 92.

'Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this sad time.'

David Haye lighter than Dereck Chisora at Upton Park fight weigh-in

Haye 37lbs lighter than Chisora as rivals exchange final stare down at weigh-in

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UPDATED:

17:15 GMT, 12 July 2012

David Haye will be conceding 37lbs to Dereck Chisora when the British heavyweight rivals meet at Upton Park on Saturday night.

Haye scaled 210lbs at a feisty weigh-in at the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, the lightest he has been for any of his six heavyweight fights.

Chisora, the underdog, will enter the ring with a two and a half stones advantage after totaling 247lbs.

Scroll down for video

Ready to rumble: David Haye and Dereck Chisora are divided by a steel fence at the weigh-in

Ready to rumble: David Haye and Dereck Chisora are divided by a steel fence at the weigh-in

HAYE v CHISORA: TALE OF THE TAPE

None TITLES None
31 AGE 28
Hayemaker NICKNAME Del Boy
26 FIGHTS 18
24 (23) WINS (KO) 15 (9)
2 (1) DEFEATS (KO) 3 (0)
British NATIONALITY British
Bermondsey BIRTHPLACE Zimbabwe
Orthodox STANCE Orthodox
2002 TURNED PRO 2007
2011 LAST DEFEAT 2012
6ft 3ins HEIGHT 6ft 1.5ins
210lbs WEIGHT 247lbs
78inches REACH 74inches

Both fighters arrived with large entourages that crept within five metres of each other as Haye and Chisora weighed in, cheered on by their supporters in a packed room.

It was the fourth time Haye and Chisora have met since their infamous brawl in Munich five months ago, an incident that created the demand for Saturday's showdown.

As usual a steel fence was in place to separate them and they weighed in either side of the barrier.

When they came face to face through the mesh, Chisora and his trainer Don Charles taunted Haye.

'We drive the same cars and we're going to have the same records,' Chisora said.

Through the wire: Chisora goads rival Haye as the rivals exchange their final stare down ahead of Saturday's fight

Through the wire: Chisora goads rival Haye as the rivals exchange their final stare down ahead of Saturday's fight

'I've had three losses and after the fight he'll have had three losses. We'll be even. I'm coming for you.

'I'm feeling good, I'm excited and I can't wait. It's going to be a great fight, the fans will love it.'

Haye highlighted Chisora's lengthy criminal record and conduct within boxing as the reason for his hatred of the 28-year-old.

And he branded his opponents' supporters 'idiots'.

'Chisora's not a nice guy, the fact
he bites people in the ring, spits water in peoples' faces, slaps people
at weigh-ins, kisses people at weigh-ins. What's to like' he said.

'I don't know how anyone in their right man could support Dereck Chisora, a convicted woman beater.

'Who would support someone like that Someone who says and does the things he does What is there to support

'What type of sane human being supports someone like that Maybe another idiot would, someone like himself.

'There were a handful of idiots here who supported him, they were probably his mates.'

Making a fist of it: Haye poses for the cameras

Making a fist of it: Haye poses for the cameras

On the scales: Chisora weighed in a 37lbs heavier than rival Haye

On the scales: Chisora weighed in a 37lbs heavier than rival Haye

Haye insisted Puerto Rican referee Luis Pabon is equipped to deal with any erratic behaviour from Chisora.

'We've got a good referee who won't stand for any foolishness and I'm confident he will handle anything,' he said.

Charles also faced-off with Haye at the fence and later explained the anger he directed at the 31-year-old.

'I try my best in all the fights Dereck has had in the past to not get emotionally involved,' he said.

'But I can't stand David Haye. The arrogance he shows is beyond belief. He's delusional and lives in a dream world.

'He's a guy who plays a lot of
Playstation games and he gets caught up in that mindset, he thinks it's
all a game, but this is real.'

Frank Warren, meanwhile, has denied Upton Park could be turned into a battleground for warring West Ham and Millwall fans.

Adding a sinister backdrop to the
occasion is the potential for crowd trouble given that Bermondsey-born
Haye is a Millwall supporter.

War of words: Haye and Chisora will finally get the chance to go at eachother in the ring on Saturday

War of words: Haye and Chisora will finally get the chance to go at eachother in the ring on Saturday

The
concern is that the presence of Lions fans at Upton Park could provoke
any Hammers attending the fight, but Warren stresses the Metropolitan
Police Service are satisfied with the security arrangements in place.

'These fears that have been raised are a load of ********,' said Warren, Chisora's manager.

'I don't know how many Millwall games David Haye has been to but there hasn't been any problems at his other fights.

'Dereck supports Manchester United, so what's the issue

'The
game's at Upton Park but we're not selling tickets on the basis of West
Ham v Millwall and anybody who suggests that is irresponsible.

'The Met Police have said there is no problem with this show. They're happy with the stewarding.'

The
staging of the fight – which has been sanctioned by the Luxembourg
Boxing Federation as neither Haye nor Chisora are currently licensed by
the BBBC – has been condemned for a multitude of reasons.

Chief
among them is that the rivals are profiting from the disgraceful scenes
in Munich, where they traded blows at a press conference in the
aftermath of Chisora's loss to Vitali Klitschko.

Yet the public interest in a contest that sees Haye start as a strong favourite in undeniable with 30,000 tickets already sold.

Enlarge

Haye v Chisora

Haye vs Chisora is live on BoxNation (Sky Ch 437, Virgin Ch 546)

VIDEO: David Haye and Dereck Chisora come face to face as they weigh-in…

DM.has('rcpv1732145233001','BCVideo');

Andy Murray set for "Missile" test against Milos Raonic in Barcelona Open

Murray set for 'Missile' test against young gun Raonic in Barcelona quarters

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 26 April 2012

Andy Murray will get his first close-up look at the young Canadian whose huge serve and easy power have earned him the nickname 'Missile'.

The world No 4 was due to face 21-year-old Milos Raonic in the third round of Miami's Sony Ericsson Open last month before his challenger, who is up to 25 in the world rankings, pulled out with ankle trouble.

But the Scot will now tackle him in the quarter-final of the Barcelona Open, after what the 6ft 5in slugger from Toronto described as his best win to date on clay.

One to watch: Canadian youngster Milos Raonic beat Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona on Thursday

One to watch: Canadian youngster Milos Raonic beat Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona on Thursday

Raonic beat Spaniard Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-3 and did not lose a game on the serve that he pounds down regularly at 140mph-plus.

Murray beat world No 54 Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-1, 6-2 in just 74 minutes, to make it two clay-court quarter-finals in a row under coach Ivan Lendl.

Marching on: Andy Murray beat Colombian Santiago Giraldo in Spain to reach the quarter-final

Marching on: Andy Murray beat Colombian Santiago Giraldo in Spain to reach the quarter-final

Lee Westwood opens with 68 at Shell Houston Open

Desert Rat Westwood whistling new dune in Shell Houston Open

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UPDATED:

23:21 GMT, 29 March 2012

The Desert Rat is Lee Westwood's wry
new nickname for himself in honour of the fact he's gone from nowhere to
second in the stats for getting down in two from a greenside bunker.

It is just one more area where he
has improved out of all recognition, and he gave a couple of tasty
examples of his new-found prowess from the sand to close out a tidy 68
in the first round of the Shell Houston Open on Thursday.

Flower power: Westwood made a solid start in the Shell Houston Open

Flower power: Westwood made a solid start in the Shell Houston Open

The first, at his 17th hole, the 8th on the card, saw him judge a 20-yard sand shot to near-perfection.

There was water behind the flag to catch any stroke played thin but, displaying an uncommonly-deft touch, the ball finished 4ft from the hole.

The one that followed at the 9th was even better.

'It's nice standing over a bunker shot and thinking about holing it, but that's how much my confidence has grown playing out of the sand,' he said.

'I was almost disappointed when it finished tap-in distance away.'

Westwood's decision to play just before The Masters was vindicated by the fact he felt a little rusty for most of the round, following a fortnight off.

Early leader: Carl Pettersson hits out of greenside bunker on the 17th

Early leader: Carl Pettersson hits out of greenside bunker on the 17th

'It was good to be able to work through it and post a decent score,' he said.

'Now the idea over the next three rounds is to continue to get sharper for Augusta and hopefully get myself in contention at the weekend.'

Westwood finished three shots off the early lead held by Swede Carl Pettersson and former Masters champion Angel Cabrera.

On top: Cabrera had a share of the lead

On top: Cabrera had a share of the lead

Playing alongside Westwood, Graeme McDowell tarnished a good round with a couple of loose holes but was still happy with a 70.

'It's been a while since I've headed to Augusta with the nice, high ball flight with my irons that you need at the Masters,' said the Northern Irishman, who finished runner-up behind Tiger Woods last week.

Paul Casey had a good round going too at four under after 10, only for his lack of competitive golf following three months out with shoulder trouble to leave a couple of ugly sixes on his card.

He was one under with a hole to play when a storm broke and 1.25in of rain was dumped on the course. Play was abandoned for the day with late starters like Darren Clarke, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington having played just a handful of holes.

London 2012 Olympics: Jodie "Moneylegs" Williams interview

Climbing the ladder: Losing hurt but 'Moneylegs' can cash in now

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UPDATED:

23:32 GMT, 8 March 2012

Once unbeatable at junior level, losing came as quite a jolt to the system to Britain's Little Miss Moneylegs.

Jodie Williams, the 18-year-old Hertfordshire sprinter whose schoolfriends gave her the nickname 'Moneylegs', has had to deal with it as she heads into this weekend's World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.

'It's quite hard to go from the top of the sport in the juniors to being a nobody in the senior world,' said Williams, whose final A-level exam is two days before the Olympics start.

Taking on the world: Williams will run in Istanbul

Taking on the world: Williams will run in
Istanbul

'It's not easy to go from winning every race to not doing that, but once you've got your head around that it's not so bad and you just realise you've got to work your way up the ladder.

'This season hasn't been as good as I'd hoped for, although my training has gone well enough and I know I can go faster than I've been doing in actual races. We've gone over it again and again, it seems that my start is a lot better now, but after the first few steps it goes wrong from five to 30 metres.

'I've not been accelerating, so that's mainly what I've been working on. 'It will come together. Because I was winning so much in junior races it never occurred to me that it was a big deal until the streak came to an end (a silver in the 200 metres at the 2010 World Junior Championships).

'At the time that was the worst thing in the world but looking back, coming second at 16, you can't really complain.'

London calling: All eyes are on this summer's Olympic Games

London calling: All eyes are on this summer's Olympic Games

At least she does not have to worry about the Olympic qualifying time as that has already been banked, and she will compete this weekend knowing that last year she missed out on a medal in the senior European Indoor Championships by 0.01sec.

'I won't deny that it has been very stressful and this summer it will be even worse,' she says of her A-levels in PE, maths and psychology.

'I'm still at school as I've always wanted to finish my education, anything can happen and it's something to fall back on.

'It's hard to be solely an athlete and nothing else, plus it's something else to focus your mind on and stimulate you.'

Jodie Williams is part of Nike’s Make It Count campaign. Sign up at: www.facebook.com/nikerunninguk

SIX NATIONS 2012: Preview

Six Nations preview: Your essential guide to the 2012 Championship

Ahead of the much-anticipated start of the 2012 Six Nations Championship, Sportsmail's Luke Benedict runs the rule over the strengths and weaknesses of each side.

Ready for battle: The Six Nations starts this weekend

Ready for battle: The Six Nations starts this weekend

England

Coach: Stuart Lancaster. As astute as he is unknown, they say the interim coach needs a Grand Slam just to keep the job.

Captain: Chris Robshaw, in charge for the first two games. Warrior-type flanker who has been the heartbeat of Harlequins’ pulsating domestic campaign.

World Cup fall-out: Nobody needs reminding. The question is, can the next four-year cycle take England from Queenstown to the Queen’s Honours List

Man to mark: David Strettle. The Premiership’s in-form winger loves to step inside, target slow-footed forwards and dance around them.

Biggest concern: That a young, inexperienced side will try to play high-risk expansive rugby on a Murrayfield quagmire.

Team motto: ‘What happens on tour, stays in the newspapers.’

Prediction: 4th. Form: WWWWL

Stat attack: Lancaster spent nine hours in one-to-one meetings with his players on his first day in charge.

Brains trust: England head into the Six Nations with Stuart Lancaster and Chris Robshaw as coach and captain

Brains trust: England head into the Six Nations with Stuart Lancaster and Chris Robshaw as coach and captain

France

Coach: Philippe Saint-Andre. A familiar face for Gloucester and Sale fans, ‘The Pig’ (an affectionate nickname, apparently) was also Jonny Wilkinson’s coach at Toulon.

Captain: Thierry Dusautoir. The IRB player of the year somehow kept his head in New Zealand while all around were screaming for revolution. Put in some astonishing performances.

World Cup fall-out: Farewell to mad professor Marc Lievremont and a warm welcome to prop David Attoub, (alleged) gouger extraordinaire.

Man to mark: Imanol Harinordoquy. The English-hating tour de force of France’s World Cup rebirth.

Biggest concern: That there’s always a player mutiny one defeat away.

Team motto: Depends entirely on what mood they are in.

Prediction: 1st. Form: LLWWL

Stat attack: Four of France’s five tournament wins have come in even years (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010); 2012 anyone

Star man: France captain Thierry Dusautoir was voted IRB player of the year

Star man: France captain Thierry Dusautoir was voted IRB player of the year

Man mountain: Stephen Ferris

Man mountain: Stephen Ferris

Ireland

Coach: Declan Kidney. Softly-spoken maths teacher is under increasing pressure. Needs a calculator just to add up the ages of his creaking squad.

Captain: Paul O’Connell. In the absence of injured Brian O’Driscoll, Ireland have turned to the Lion King.

World Cup fall-out: Not a lot has changed and that’s the problem for an expectant Irish public. Conservative Kidney has stuck with familiar faces, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Man to mark: Stephen Ferris. At his best he plays like a grumpy, hungry bear who has just been woken from hibernation by a very loud drill.

Biggest concern: That they cannot translate the success of their provincial sides into Six Nations glory.

Team motto: ‘In Paul O’Connell we trust.’ (slightly amended since BOD’s injury).

Prediction: 3rd. Form: WWWWL.

Stat attack: Have won only one championship to France’s five, yet amassed only two points fewer in the all-time table.

Italy

Coach: Jacques Brunel. The third new face in the Six Nations coaching line-up. The Frenchman believes he can turn Italy into contenders in two seasons. Bless.

Captain: Sergio Parisse. The one-man team. A hurricane on a rugby pitch who deserves to lead his side out at the larger Stadio Olimpico.

World Cup fall-out: The new coach promises a more expansive game but questions remain as to whether the players, particularly the backs, can deliver it.

Man to mark: Martin Castrogiovanni. The Leicester caveman eats English props for breakfast. With Weetabix.

Biggest concern: A failure to match last year’s emotional home victory over France. Another wooden spoon lurks on the horizon.

Team motto: Give it to Sergio.

Prediction: 6th. Form: LLWWL.

Stat attack: Have finished at the foot of the table for nine of the last 12 seasons. Will surely do so again.

World class: Italy captain and No 8 Sergio Parisse (right)

World class: Italy captain and No 8 Sergio Parisse (right)

Leading from the front: Hooker Ross Ford

Leading from the front: Hooker Ross Ford

Scotland

Coach: Andy Robinson. Already thrown his first verbal grenade when he called Delon Armitage ‘arrogant’.

Captain: Ross Ford. With Kelly Brown injured, Scotland turned to Ford. There’s no doubting his hooking qualities but he hardly has the leadership charisma of Rob Roy.

World Cup fall-out: Coming up short against England in Auckland will haunt the players and management but revenge may come as early as Saturday.

Man to mark: John Barclay. The most natural openside in the tournament looks back to his best. He’s key to unlocking Scotland’s potential.

Biggest concern: A gross lack of tries – not for want of trying. Scotland lack a cutting edge and without goal-kicking supremo Chris Paterson they may struggle for points.

Team motto: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, no-try, no-try and no-try again.’

Prediction: 5th. Form: WWWLL.

Stat attack: Scotland have scored 20 tries in 24 matches under Robinson, 0.8 per match. They have conceded 38.

Wales

Coach: Warren Gatland. The adopted Kiwi has signed a new deal to ensure this talented generation deliver on their promise.

Captain: Sam Warburton. One tip-tackle aside, the Home Nations player of the World Cup and, if he continues at this rate, a shoo-in for Lions captain next year.

World Cup fall-out: Post-tournament fatigue has brought an enormous injury list. Three of the World Cup tight five are missing and a first-choice flanker, fly-half and centre are major doubts.

Man to mark: George North. The monster wing could not look less like Shane Williams, but is just as dangerous.

Biggest concern: Back in Cardiff the young bloods will feel the pressure far more than they did on the other side of the world.

Team motto: ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’

Prediction: 2nd. Form: WWLLL.

Stat attack: Alain Rolland, the man who sent off Warburton in the World Cup semi-final, has been kept away from any Wales fixtures. Pure coincidence, of course.

Shoo-in: Sam Warburton is favourite to be Lions captain next year

Shoo-in: Sam Warburton is favourite to be Lions captain next year