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Sir Clive Woodward: England must use intimidation as inspiration

England must use intimidation as inspiration in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium

PUBLISHED:

22:49 GMT, 15 March 2013

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UPDATED:

08:13 GMT, 16 March 2013

The Millennium Stadium is a unique
ground. Sitting bang in the middle of the city of Cardiff, the stadium
feels like the beating heart of Wales on match days.

There are few venues around the world
where supporters can finish their pints with five minutes to spare,
pour out of the pubs and take their seats in time for kick-off.

As a coach, when you have said your
final few words to the team in the relative peace of the dressing room
and walk out to hear the crowd singing under that roof, it can feel like
you are emerging into the Colosseum in Rome.

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

More from Sir Clive Woodward…

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time to pile on the pressure and use Cardiff cauldron to test mettle of England's players
14/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: 2013 v 2003 – how my Grand Slam heroes compare to today’s side gunning for Six Nations glory
14/03/13

EXCLUSIVE: Sir Clive Woodward talks Grand Slams with George North… Training has been brutal and we're ready to do battle
13/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: This is the last England game for six months with everyone available and Ashton has a point to prove
11/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time for England to wake up and smell the roses
10/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: England must fear the Italians if they are to prevent the biggest Six Nations shock ever
08/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Just like no-nonsense Johnno, Robshaw is a natural born leader
07/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Ranting Rafa He's far too shrewd for that
28/02/13

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Stuart Lancaster and his players will
sense that fever with a welcome like no other. Despite the fierce
rivalry, you get better looked after in Wales than anywhere else – they
want to thrash you, but they want it to be a fair fight.

There are no silly games – nobody rushes you off the pitch or limits the number of balls you have for the warm-up.

Hostility is manifest in the passionate support, not stupid mind games.

In 2001, when I took England to
Wales for our first ever match at the Millennium Stadium, I decided we
should stay in Cardiff Bay because I wanted to be near town and a part
of the build-up, not stuck on the outskirts and excluded from the buzz.

You want to be in the thick of it so you're not overwhelmed when you come in on match day, particularly for a 5pm kick-off.

From the Monday morning of the build-up to that Test almost every press conference question was about the stadium.

'Intimidation' was clearly the theme but I made it clear that we were playing the Welsh team, not the stadium. I held a meeting that night and told the players to turn the word 'intimidation' into 'inspiration'.

Players prepare in different ways. Hooker Steve Thompson, for example, braced himself for the Cardiff cacophony by practising his lineout throwing with white noise blasting through his headphones. It paid off as on the day his set-piece was as accurate as ever.

The players had never been inside the ground until we were given a tour of the stadium the day before the game.

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

RBS 6 NATIONS TITLE – PERMUTATIONS

England's victory over Italy means a win against Wales in Cardiff would seal a first Grand Slam in a decade.

However, Wales have everything to play for because a victory for them could be enough to retain the RBS 6 Nations title and leave England empty-handed.

England are currently two points ahead of Wales in the table and with a points-difference advantage of 14.

Under tournament rules, if the points and points difference end level then the championship would be decided on tries scored.

Wales hold the advantage 7-5 going into the final round. If tries scored is also level, the title is shared.

Here, we examine the permutations:

ENGLAND WIN GRAND SLAM

An England victory by any margin would secure a first Grand Slam triumph in a decade.

ENGLAND WIN TITLE

An England defeat by six points or fewer would still be enough to seal the title.

If England lose by seven points but outscore Wales by three tries or more then Stuart Lancaster's men would win the title.

WALES WIN TITLE

A Wales victory by seven points, providing they stay ahead of England on tournament tries, would see Rob Howley's men retain the title.

TITLE SHARED

If Wales win by seven points but England score two more tries then the title would be shared.

I wanted my team, particularly the back three, to get used to catching high balls under the lights and watching the flight of balls against the closed roof.

We walked into the away dressing room to find giant cardboard cutouts of the entire Welsh team – bigger than life size.

You've never heard such laughter in your life. It turned out they were there for tourists as part of the stadium tour, but the stadium officials had genuinely forgotten to move them.

The facilities in the stadium are second to none.

The away dressing room is big and spacious, unlike at Murrayfield where there is a giant pillar in the middle.

When we arrived on match day, I walked on to the pitch with Martin Johnson and we were booed by the supporters.

Johnno walked into the centre of the pitch and held his hands in the air – making it very clear this was exactly where he wanted to be.

The home and away dressing rooms are about 50 metres apart in a long corridor, so you are kept well away from your opponents.

While football players tend to hang out in the tunnel before coming out together that doesn't happen in rugby.

You come out separately – England to subdued cheers, Wales to pyrotechnics, blasting music and booming choirs.

The first time you see your opponents is when you line up for the anthems. It is all part of the magic.

One of the few things I miss from my coaching days is the dressing-room atmosphere on days like today.

It is the most electric place in the world with 20 minutes to go before
kickoff – a mix of adrenaline, fear and anticipation.

Ten players in
Lancaster's starting XV have never experienced that atmosphere and I
hope they are inspired, not intimidated.

Real champions thrive in enemy
territory. The dressing room against Wales was always noisier than at
home. Guys such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and Matt Dawson
would come into their own.

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

I expect Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Tom
Youngs and Geoff Parling to do the same, supporting captain Chris
Robshaw to deliver the final key messages and get everybody focused on
kick-off.

We won comfortably on that first trip – but that doesn't mean it wasn't a dramatic day.

After
the game we returned to the hotel to change for the post-match dinner
but travelling back to the stadium was a nightmare.

A
lot of supporters had been drinking all day and we were stuck in a sea
of red shirts, crawling through the crowds at three or four mph with a
giant red rose on the side of the coach.

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

I had a superstition and would sit front left in the coach. A man in the crowds caught my eye because he had obviously had a big day out but was running straight towards us as if he was planning to tackle the coach.

At the last minute, he sidestepped to his right in Gerald Davies-style but was promptly knocked out cold by the large wing mirror.

I stopped the coach and got out, followed by a few players and our doctor, who rushed to help while we radioed for the police.

Suddenly I realised there was me and most of the England team in the middle of a crowd of drunk fans standing over a prostrate Welshman. It looked like we had run him over!

People started pointing fingers and it all got a little tense.

Then a crowd of equally well-oiled England fans pushed their way to the front and it really started to get a bit tasty. The police arrived just in time and sense prevailed.

That was more than 10 years ago, when England had a far stronger team than Wales.

Since then, Wales have become something of a nation of experts in this tournament – to win three Grand Slams in the last eight years is an amazing achievement.

I had a great team and we only did it once. But Lancaster's team are winners and I believe they will be inspired by playing in Cardiff.

They have only ever been beaten by single figures so this game will be close.

If England keep their cool in the Cardiff cauldron, they are good enough to win.

I truly hope they do. It is time a new generation of Englishmen stepped up to the plate and won the Grand Slam.

MY SIX KEY BATTLE AREAS…

1. KEEP COOL IN THE CAULDRON

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

This England team have an abundance of testosterone flowing through them and Wales will target the players who have a history of reacting.

Joe Marler, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Mike Brown have had their moments and this can be a good thing – the 2003 team were at their best when there was a bit of sulphur in the air.

But you have to tread the line between never taking a step backwards and not getting distracted or involved in anything that puts you or your team-mates off their game.

England have recieved two yellow cards in this tournament, another today could cost them the Grand Slam. Let the score do the talking and silence the crowd.

The message from Stuart Lancaster must be about finding the crucial balance – you have to compete for the ball at the breakdown, but needless penalties will kill your team.

Referee Steve Walsh was extremely strict at the contact zone in Dublin last weekend.

Listen to him, repeat his calls, react and adapt to how he is marshalling that breakdown.

If he starts penalising the tackler for not rolling away, then make a show of releasing the player early and doing what he asks.

Be smart – get the wrong side of Walsh and you're in trouble.

2. GO FORWARD BEFORE YOU GO WIDE

England have not scored a try against Wales for 196 minutes but it will be almost impossible for them to win without doing so in a game as tight as this, so they must sort out their attacking strategies.

The ambition was there against Italy, the failure was in execution.

There is no point passing the ball out wide if the opposition have more defenders in the line than you have attackers, as was often the case against Italy.

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Use the early phases to charge directly forward and suck more defenders into the ruck and the narrow channels.

Then, when there is space out wide, release the ball.

Ben Youngs has to lead this, ordering the forwards to use their firepower and go 'route one' very early in the game.

3. OPTIONS ARE KEY TO ATTACK

Talisman Owen Farrell returns and England will take confidence in having their best half-back pairing in the spine of the side, but full back Alex Goode is key to offering a second option in attack.

The clash of the centres will be monstrous in midfield but I hope Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi have the confidence not just to run into contact but to pass the ball before contact.

Use Tuilagi as a decoy and out-think the Welsh. This is where Goode is key.

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

He has gone quiet in games, so he needs to come into the attack as a second receiver to create plays and get the side playing more expansively.

Barritt and Tuilagi can become a great pairing but they need Goode to give Farrell more options in the inside centre role.

4. IT'S A MISTAKE TO FOCUS ONLY ON THE DANGERMEN

Alex Cuthbert and George North are giant dangers on the wing – I couldn't believe just how big George was when I met him!

He is such an intelligent player, too, so Chris Ashton has his work cut out. Both wingers come looking for crash balls either inside or outside the fly-half.

But Wales' back line have the footballing ability to miss the winger out and if England focus on one player they can get caught out.

England just need to keep their defensive shape. If the big guys come at you hard it is about technique – hit them hard and low.

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

If your technique is sloppy – and England have been guilty of going in too high recently – then you will look stupid.

I expect a big step up in England's tackling today, Ashton included.

Both defensive coaches, Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards, have brought huge rugby league influences into these sides.

League is fundamentally a simpler game with a bigger emphasis on defence, especially the blitz defence where players rush up and 'get in the face' of attackers.

Wales have gone 277 minutes without conceding a try (they could beat my team's tournament record of 319 minutes).

The challenge is keeping your shape when your lungs are burning and your brain is starved of oxygen.

This game will be won in the last 10 minutes and that is when the fitness of these two teams will be tested.

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton in his tracks will be one of England's big challenges

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton
in his tracks will be one of England's big
challenges

5. TARGET WARBURTON

It is less than 100 days to the first Lions Test and the backrow battle will be fascinating – but the turnover contest is not a question of Chris Robshaw v Sam Warburton.

Whichever England player arrives at the breakdown first has to target Warburton. Against a player of his strength, you have to decide – attack the ball or attack him.

You need to try to get him off the ball before he sets up in that 'crouched jackal' position over it.

Once he is set up, you won't be able to move him, so hit him as early as you can within the laws of the game.

6. GET THE BALL IN AND OUT OF THE SCRUM

The bigger the game, the bigger the basics. Basics are the scrum, the lineout and the restart.

For all the attacking flair in these teams out wide, if you do not nail those three foundations then you cannot create real momentum.

In the front row, Joe Marler and Dan Cole must deal with Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, who have been the cornerstone of Wales' three Grand Slams, so England have to be clever.

The stadium turf has a tendency to cut up so you want to get the ball in, out and away.

Win the engagement and use the scrum as a platform to restart your attack quickly.

If you leave the ball in and the scrum collapses you give the referee an opportunity to penalise you.

At restarts, England must be aware of the aerial threat of North and Cuthbert, who can out-jump forwards. Do not let them get to the ball first.

Theo Walcott to sign 25m Arsenal contract

EXCLUSIVE: 25m Theo deal! Arsenal confident of ending Walcott saga with five-year mega contract

By
Sami Mokbel

PUBLISHED:

22:00 GMT, 8 January 2013

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 8 January 2013

Arsenal will this week make an improved offer of 25million to Theo Walcott in a bid to resolve his contract saga.

The England forward will receive a five-year deal worth around 88,000 a week, plus a 3m signing-on bonus.

Sportsmail revealed last Wednesday that Arsenal were increasingly confident of winning Walcott round.

Pen to paper: Theo Walcott is poised to commit to Arsenal

Pen to paper: Theo Walcott is poised to commit to Arsenal

They hope the new offer will be
enough for the 23-year-old to commit long term to the club. His future
has been in doubt since he rejected an initial offer of 75,000 a week
on August 28.

That was followed by a breakdown in communications between the club and Walcott's representatives.

But manager Arsene Wenger has been hugely impressed by the player's professionalism during the stand-off.

No thanks: Walcott will snub Manchester United and stay at the Emirates

No thanks: Walcott will snub Manchester United and stay at the Emirates

Walcott is the club's top goalscorer with 14 and his impressive form has forced the club to change their stance.

As Sportsmail
revealed in December, the channels of communication between Walcott and
the club had reopened after peace talks between the player and Wenger
aimed at ending the dispute.

Walcott made it clear to his manager
that his preference has always been to stay at Arsenal, but he stressed
he was unhappy about the way he was treated during the early weeks of
the season.

The forward was left on the bench by Wenger, despite the fact he had played a regular role last season.

In addition to an improved cash
offer, Walcott also wanted assurances about his chances of playing as an
orthodox striker on a more regular basis. And negotiations now seem to
be heading in a positive direction, with Arsenal hoping to have
Walcott's signature secured sooner rather than later.

The uncertainty has alerted a string
of Premier League clubs. Liverpool, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs
monitored the situation, with Brendan Rodgers reportedly planning a move
to take him to Anfield this month.

But while Arsenal are confident of
keeping Walcott, they are unlikely to land David Villa. Wenger is said
to be keen on the Barcelona striker, 31, but Barca president Sandro
Rosell said: 'I completely rule out the transfer of Villa during the
winter market. He is ours and we need him, there is a lot of the season
left.' Villa joined Barcelona from Valencia in a 31m deal in 2010.

Kevin Pietersen to get full England central contract after performances in India

Happy landing: Textgate is history as England reward model pro Pietersen with full central contract

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UPDATED:

22:33 GMT, 18 December 2012

Kevin Pietersen’s successful
‘reintegration’ into the England team will be officially acknowledged
with the award of his full central contract at the end of this historic
tour of India.

One of the most acrimonious episodes in modern English cricket, which began when Sportsmail revealed
that Pietersen had sent ‘provocative’ texts to South African opponents
about Andrew Strauss last summer, will come to an official end when the
four-month trial contract he was handed ahead of this trip is extended
to a full year.

The 32-year-old batsman has been a
model professional throughout England’s 2-1 series win, their first in
India for 28 years, vindicating the decision to add him to the squad
both with his behaviour and the superlative century in Mumbai which
transformed the series.

No more baggage: Kevin Pietersen after touching down at Heathrow

No more baggage: Kevin Pietersen after touching down at Heathrow

And Andy Flower, who was badly hurt
by the wearying saga last summer, confirmed that Pietersen has mended
all the bridges during one of the most successful tours in modern
English memory.

‘The contract won’t be a problem,’ said Flower in the aftermath of the drawn final Test in Nagpur.

‘Kevin has been excellent in every
way. We don’t all always get on with people all of the time, any of us
in any walk of life, and everyone has made an effort to make it work.
It’s been really good fun and he should be very proud of the way he’s
operated out here both as an individual and as a player.’

Feelings ran high last summer and
there was no guarantee that a fragile peace-pact would hold in the
demanding environment of India but from the word go here it has been as
though Pietersen never uttered the words: ‘It’s not easy being me.’

Triumphant: Monty Panesar and Alastair Cook

Back home: KP

Triumphant: Monty Panesar (left) and Alastair Cook were at Heathrow along with Kevin Pietersen (right)

Flower added: ‘We did move on from it
as soon as we had our meetings and everyone made a commitment to do so.
I want to continue that moving forward. We want to learn from the past
but we don’t want to keep on revisiting it. He’ll have a little break
over Christmas, like a lot of the guys, and he’ll be back for the
one-day series.’

Flower had a big smile on his face as
he contemplated the scale of the achievement in becoming only the
fourth England side to win a Test series in India and the first from
anywhere since Australia seven years ago.

He had asked, in the aftermath of the
nine-wicket first Test defeat, for his side to be judged at the end of
the series but even he could not have believed that England could win so
gloriously in Mumbai and Kolkata. It is like, as former England batsman
Mark Butcher aptly put it, a football team winning 5-0 in the Nou Camp
against Barcelona and then 4-0 in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid.

Good show: Cook and Panesar were greeted warmly at Terminal 3 at Heathrow

Good show: Cook and Panesar were greeted warmly at Terminal 3 at Heathrow

All smiles: Cook was accompanied by his wife Alice as he pushed his trolley through the terminal

All smiles: Cook was accompanied by his wife Alice as he pushed his trolley through the terminal

‘I work closely with these guys and I
see them in training every day,’ said Flower. ‘I did mean what I said
because I did believe they had improved themselves as players of spin. I
knew some of the work they were doing and we knew the quality of our
spin bowlers — even though we didn’t play one of them in the first Test!
— so I did feel we could win out here.

‘We all know to come back from one
down in these conditions to win a series is a hell of an achievement. I
am very proud of all those guys and I know they will always be able to
look back on this series and be proud of themselves, which is a really
nice position to be in.’

Flower then left for home with the
bulk of the England side who have not stayed here for the two Twenty20
internationals that conclude this leg of the tour. It is another example
of England recognising that they cannot expect their players, and now
coaches, to constantly slog around the world performing in all cricket
in all formats.

Reconciled: Pietersen and Andy Flower chew the fat in Ahmedabad in England's second warm-up game

Reconciled: Pietersen and Andy Flower chew the fat in Ahmedabad in England's second warm-up game

Rotation, strength and conditioning —
call it what you will — is here to stay and if any spectator is unhappy
about it they must blame the administrators who put money before the
product by flooding the calendar.

England took another step towards
protecting their prized assets when they decided to leave Jimmy
Anderson, superb in this series, and Jonathan Trott out of the
five-match one-day series back in India next month. Their places will be
taken by Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler.

Joe Root was also added to the squad for the two Twenty20 internationals that begin here in Pune on Thursday.

Say cheese: The pair smiled for the cameras after touching down in the capital

Say cheese: The pair smiled for the cameras after touching down in the capital

Spinning to victory: This picture of Graeme Swann (right) and Monty Panesar (left) was tweeted by fellow bowler James Anderson

Spinning to victory: This picture of Graeme Swann (right) and Monty Panesar (left) was tweeted by fellow bowler James Anderson

‘I don’t like it being called rest
and I don’t like the word rotation,’ said Flower. ‘The purpose of taking
anyone out of international competition is to maximise their
performance when they do play. If you look at the next couple of years
we must look after certain players, and Jimmy is one of them, otherwise
they will snap. It is our duty to look after them and hopefully that
will mean they will play more cricket for England and help us win more
matches.’

Flower has now changed his job to avoid snapping and will hand over all limited-overs coaching to Ashley Giles in the new year.

Showcasing his talent: Joe Root has another chance to shine on the subcontinent in the T20 series

Showcasing his talent: Joe Root has another chance to shine on the subcontinent in the T20 series

Would he have walked away from
England if his load had not been lightened ‘It never got to that
stage,’ he insisted. ‘Luckily I was communicating with Hugh Morris,
who’s a good man, and we came up with this solution. We don’t know if
this will work but we will try to make sure it does.’

It is certainly a better bet than
risk English cricket losing Flower. The man who has masterminded two
Ashes wins, a World Twenty20 triumph and now, perhaps the best of the
lot, victory over India in the ‘final frontier’ is too important to let
go just yet.

England need destructive Kevin Pietersen of old to beat India – Martin Samuel

Pietersen's 'reintegration' is complete… but now England need to see the destructive, swashbuckling KP of old

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UPDATED:

23:00 GMT, 13 November 2012

There is a sign on the chaotic roundabout at the Panchvati Cross Roads, central Ahmedabad. 'Educated people,' it reads, 'do not blow horn.' The irony would not be lost on those who have come to the state of Gujarat in India this week to witness the reintegration of Kevin Pietersen.

England's most destructive batsman was considered to be doing rather too much horn-blowing during the series with South Africa in the summer. A few raspberries sounded too, mostly in the direction of then captain Andrew Strauss. So Pietersen and his team-mates parted company, and at one stage it looked as if he would be blowing solo from that point.

Then, after a crushingly disappointing World Twenty20 competition – during which England suffered the humiliation of playing badly while Pietersen commented on their performance as a television analyst – came the peace deal brokered by ECB chairman Giles Clarke. Reintegration was the word of the day. Pietersen was back in the fold but only after grievances had been aired, shared and consigned to the past.

Make or break time: Kevin Pietersen will be back in the England team for the first Test against India

Make or break time: Kevin Pietersen will be back in the England team for the first Test against India

It is fitting that today, the eve of the first Test here in Ahmedabad, is also the start of the Hindu new year. Diwali, the festival of lights, passed with many fireworks and explosions on Tuesday. It is to be hoped it was quieter at the Marriott hotel, where England's players are cosily ensconced, friends and comrades once more.

At the Sarder Patel Stadium, in the Motera district by the banks of the imposingly winding Sabarmati River, Pietersen went through his drills in the nets yesterday. As he worked, no hornblower could have drowned out the police chief with the microphone beyond a white wall whose bellowed speech seemed to run to several hundred pages. He was reminding his officers of their duties. There will be some 5,000 of them, marshalling a crowd that is expected to get no bigger than 4,000 on Thursday, pitiful in a 54,000-capacity arena.

The chief ranted, Pietersen ploughed on. Some throwdowns from Ashley Giles, a brief session against Monty Panesar, a monstrous , showy straight drive that flew over the white-sheeted perimeter and made a nasty, metallic clanging noise against something beyond. He is the visitor India wants to see, no doubt of that, and history suggests he will not disappoint.

All action: England's star batsman dives to catch a ball during practice in Ahmedabad on Tuesday

All action: England's star batsman dives to catch a ball during practice in Ahmedabad on Tuesday

Like many of sport's great egos and controversialists, Pietersen is never better than when all eyes are on him. Called up against his native South Africa in 2005, he received a hostile reaction from the home crowd, who jeered his appearance and turned their backs on him when he returned to the pavilion. In the circumstances, his record was remarkable. In six one-day internationals, he scored 454 runs and was named the player of the seven-match series. England lost to South Africa 4-1.

As captain and under pressure after a poor first Test in India, he recovered to score 144 in the rematch. Removed as captain in controversial circumstances, his first Test innings after the decision brought 97 against the West Indies in Jamaica. Nobody would be surprised by a similar score here.

This is touted as a turning wicket and few are shouting the odds for England but there is a different vibe around Pietersen, who will no doubt be looking to redefine the meaning of reintegration.

There are, as ever, all manner of
sub-plots and alternate motivations. For a player who has found the
Indian Premier League so lucrative, a successful tour would be very
welcome; as for England, a cynic might speculate that with New Zealand
next on the agenda it would have been most unfortunate had Pietersen
missed a difficult tour of the subcontinent only to be perceived to
rescue a struggling team against lesser opposition after Christmas. If
England are going down in India – and quite possibly they are – they
will take Pietersen with them. Of course, it would never suit the
narrative of happy families for that to be said.

Hitting back: Pietersen at nets

Hitting back: Pietersen at nets

Hitting back: Pietersen shows off at nets the attacking array of shots that England have desperately missed

Matt Prior, who was the sole member of the England dressing room to reach out to Pietersen in a telephone call at the height of the crisis last summer, was perfectly on-message prior to the Test. Yet much of what he said was also true: for Pietersen's return to be worth the trouble he must have the KP swagger of old. A reintegrated but subdued Pietersen is worse than no Pietersen at all, occupying a place with a shadow of his swashbuckling self.

'We wouldn't want KP to change so much because it is how he is that makes him so special as a player,' said Prior. 'If Kevin suddenly became this shy, introverted character I'd be more worried.

'I want him to go out and express himself as he does. You only have to walk out around India, these guys have seen him play and they can't wait to watch him bat again. Neither can I, to be honest. I'm glad that he's come back the same as he was, because the most important thing is that this group all pulls in the same direction, and to have Kevin pulling with us makes us a far stronger team.

'When does reintegration end You'd better ask whoever came up with that word. I don't really know, to be honest. All that matters to me is where the team are now. We start a Test match tomorrow: so we had better all be reintegrated then. All I can say is what I see. Kevin's in our team, and our squad spirit is as good as it has been since I've been with England. I'm not just saying that because I'm sitting here, either.

'There are certain things we've been doing in our net sessions, our training, our preparation, our thought processes that are very different from other England teams I have travelled with.

Under the microscope: Pietersen speaks with England team director Andy Flower on Tuesday

Under the microscope: The South Africa-born ace speaks with England team director Andy Flower on Tuesday

'It was nice to get on the aeroplane and travel to the subcontinent with so many players who had been here before. What matters now is how we use that experience. If you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll get what you've always got, that's one of the sayings in this team, so it is for us to adapt to this situation quickly.

'I hope we can learn from previous experiences, even from playing badly on other tours, and take what we know now into these matches.

'In tough situations it's the team that wins big games or gets you out of a hole, not one or two individuals. Exceptional individual performances always help but ultimately the group will be stronger than any person.'

He didn't name names. He didn't have to. The reintegration is complete; whether Pietersen is re-educated remains to be seen. They still want him to blow that horn, you see. Just not quite so loudly.

Bradley Wiggins throne not sold at auction

Going… going… not gone! Nobody wants throne Wiggins sat on after time trial gold

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UPDATED:

17:45 GMT, 6 November 2012

The throne Bradley Wiggins sat on after winning gold in the London 2012 Olympics time trial failed to sell at auction on Tuesday.

Wiggins, 32, placed himself on the ornate seat at Hampton Court Palace after his triumph – which brought his fourth all-time Olympic gold – and relaxed with a double-handed peace sign.

Not wanted: The throne Bradley Wiggins sat on (below) was not purchased at auction

Not wanted: The throne Bradley Wiggins sat on (below) was not purchased at auction

Sale: The throne was not taken

Chilling out: Bradley Wiggins

The gold-and-purple throne was expected to sell for between 10,000 and 15,000 when it went to auction at Sotheby's.

But whent he bidding closed the top offer was 9,500 – below the reserve price.

Graham Budd, sports memorabilia auctioneer, said: 'The chair is important because it is one of the iconic images of the games.

'I think it would be a conversational piece, and it is magnificently kitsch.'

Steven Fletcher back in Scotland squad

Double boost for Scotland as Fletchers return to face Wales and Belgium

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UPDATED:

12:32 GMT, 2 October 2012

Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher were both included in the Scotland squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Belgium.

Steven Fletcher has not featured for his country since informing the SFA by text message that he did not wish to be selected for a game against Northern Ireland in February 2011.

Peace talks: In-form Steven Fletcher has cleared the air with Craig Levein

Peace talks: In-form Steven Fletcher has cleared the air with Craig Levein

Squad to face Wales & Belgium

Goalkeepers: Gilks (Blackpool), McGregor (Besiktas), Marshall (Cardiff)

Defenders: Berra (Wolves), Caldwell (Wigan), Fox (Southampton), Hanley (Blackburn), Hutton (Aston Villa), Martin (Norwich), Webster (Hearts).

Midfielders: Adam (Stoke), Brown (Celtic),
D Fletcher (Manchester United), Forrest (Celtic), McArthur (Wigan), Maloney (Wigan), Morrison (West Brom), Mulgrew (Celtic), Phillips (Blackpool), Snodgrass (Norwich)

Forwards: S Fletcher (Sunderland), Mackie (QPR), Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps), Naismith (Everton), Rhodes (Blackburn)

But the 25-year-old, who has scored five Barclays Premier League goals for Sunderland in just four appearances, returns after holding clear-the-air talks with Scotland boss Craig Levein.

Levein described the player's return as a 'no-brainer' following the involvement of an un-named third party.

He said: 'It's a big plus for me and the rest of the team for him to be involved.

'I got a phone call through a third party during the week and that was an indication from that person that Steven was desperate to come back and play.

'Things progressed between myself, this third party, his agent and the boy himself.

'I got a text saying he was willing to have a chat about it so I called him last night and, as he said to that person, he was desperate to come back and play. For me, then, it's a no-brainer.'

Both men are set to meet face to face this week, with Levein adding: 'We went through a number of things and I plan on making an appointment for us to see each other later this week as well so we will go into it a little bit further then.'

Fighting fit: Scotland have missed Darren Fletcher during his spell on the sidelines

Fighting fit: Scotland have missed Darren Fletcher during his spell on the sidelines

Levein watched his side draw with Serbia and Macedonia in their first two matches but refused to dwell on what might have been had the situation been resolved sooner.

He said: 'The longer I thought about it, I thought we were in a situation where nobody was winning.

'So I bit the bullet, phoned him and had a chat and everything is resolved.

'Things happen and there is no point in looking back on what might have been.

Fighting fit: Celtic midfielder Scott Brown is back in the Scotland squad

Fighting fit: Celtic midfielder Scott Brown is back in the Scotland squad

'Steven has indicated his willingness to play, we have resolved any issues we had and he will be in the squad the same as everybody else now.'

Levein has also been handed a major boost with the return of Darren Fletcher following a chronic bowel complaint, as well as Celtic skipper Scott Brown from injury.

The manager said: 'Looking at the list of players, Steven Fletcher is back, our captain Darren Fletcher is back and I've got Scott Brown, probably one of our most influential players, back as well. So it's a good day for me.'

However, there was still no place in the squad for Kris Commons, who has impressed for Celtic this season.

Levein said: 'He's been really unlucky because he's playing exceptionally well. But it's one of the strongest areas of my team.

'He just needs to keep the form he's in just now and hopefully he will be in the squad sooner rather than later.'

Steve Clarke set for Jeremy Peace talks as West Brom search for Dan Ashworth"s successor

Clarke set for Peace talks as West Brom search for Ashworth's successor

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 20 September 2012

Steve Clarke will sit down with Jeremy Peace to discuss Dan Ashworth’s replacement, with West Brom’s head coach determined to find someone he can work with.

Ashworth, the club’s sporting and technical director, is leaving to take up a post with the Football Association and the search has started to identify his successor.

New role: Ashworth (left) has joined the FA

New role: Ashworth (left) has joined the FA

Clarke is keen to replicate the ‘honest’ relationship he enjoys with Ashworth and said: 'I think it’s important for the club to find someone I could work with.

'I haven’t spoken to the chairman about it yet but he is coming to the training ground and we’ll have a chat about how we can push it forwards.

'Of course, Dan will be involved in those discussions.'

Cristiano Ronaldo will not leave Real Madrid – Jose Mourinho

Forget it! Mourinho rules out selling Madrid star Ronaldo to City

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UPDATED:

08:58 GMT, 15 September 2012

Jose Mourinho has told Manchester City to forget about signing Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese forward claimed he was 'sad' after the 3-0 win over Granada a fortnight ago and has been linked with a move to the Premier League champions.

But his boss has ruled out selling Ronaldo, who has scored 150 goals in 149 games.

Going nowhere: Cristiano Ronaldo (right) will not be leaving Real Madrid

Going nowhere: Cristiano Ronaldo (right) will not be leaving Real Madrid

'I would say to every club to forget Cristiano,' Mourinho said.

'Don’t waste your time… Cristiano and Real Madrid are perfect for each other.'

Madrid return to action on Saturday against Seville after mustering just four points from three games.

Warning: Jose Mourinho expects Ronaldo to be at his best against Sevilla

Warning: Jose Mourinho expects Ronaldo to be at his best against Sevilla

And Mourinho warned Ronaldo he must be at his best.

'If he plays awful and tired I will take him off in the 75th minute like anyone else.

'Finally after 15 days of talking about Ronaldo it is time to see if he plays well or not. Ronaldo now needs peace, quiet and to play football which is what he does the best and likes the best.'

Andy Flower has faith in England bowling line-up to face South Africa

Flower has faith in the not so Fab Four to face South Africa at Headingley

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UPDATED:

22:45 GMT, 31 July 2012

England look certain to retain the formula that has served them so well during their rise to the top of the rankings in the must-win second Test against South Africa starting on Thursday.

In doing so, they will stick with an attack that took only two wickets in 189 overs during the first Test thrashing at The Kia Oval.

Andy Flower, the England team director, on Tuesday virtually ruled out any move to add a fifth specialist bowler to a team who need to win the Headingley Test if they are to triumph in an Investec Series that sees their hard-earned status as world No 1 hanging by a thread.

Plenty to ponder: Strauss and Flower know England need to bounce back in Leeds

Plenty to ponder: Strauss and Flower know England need to bounce back in Leeds

England will give a Test debut to James Taylor in place of Ravi Bopara, who withdrew from the squad for personal reasons, in the problematic No 6 position and seem set to provide more frustration for Steven Finn by keeping faith with Tim Bresnan on his home ground in a four-man attack.

Only if Graeme Swann is left out — and, intriguingly, Flower would not rule out an all-seam attack — will Finn, champing at the bit on the sidelines, seemingly get his overdue chance as England are determined not to over-react to one of the most comprehensive and humiliating defeats in their Test history.

The omission of Swann remains highly unlikely. But the fact he finished the first Test wicketless after bowling 52 overs and has an elbow problem Flower accepts is ‘chronic’ means the hosts consider an all-pace attack that would include Finn as ‘an option’.

Swann failed to take a wicket in his only previous Test at Headingley and was played expertly by Graeme Smith in particular at The Kia Oval, meaning he will be under pressure in Leeds not just for his own peace of mind but also for a four-bowler policy to which he remains integral.

New arrival: Taylor is the next candidate who will try and fill the No 6 role

New arrival: Taylor is the next candidate who will try and fill the No 6 role

New arrival: Taylor is the next candidate who will try and fill the No 6 role

Taylor, at 5ft 5in the smallest man in English cricket, will face the toughest possible examination of his Test credentials against Dale Steyn and company in a No 6 position that has proved a curse for Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and now Bopara since England went to the top of the world by thrashing India last year.

If one adds to the equation Samit Patel, who went in at seven as the extra batsman in Sri Lanka with Matt Prior promoted to six, England’s final specialist batting position has averaged a paltry 13 in the nine Tests since they went to No 1. Five of those games ended in defeat against three different teams in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now South Africa.

That is not enough, yet, for England to abandon a four-bowler policy that worked so well against Australia when they retained the Ashes Down Under and when they defeated India 4-0.

All smiles: Strauss and Trott share a joke, but they know they have to perform much better at Headingley

All smiles: Strauss and Trott share a joke, but they know they have to perform much better at Headingley

Little and large: Taylor and Cook in trainign at the famous old ground in west Yorkshire

Little and large: Taylor and Cook in trainign at the famous old ground in west Yorkshire

Flower said: ‘Four bowlers has worked very well for us so it’s unlikely we will change that. South Africa outplayed us and deserved to win at The Oval. We fought hard but weren’t good enough in that Test. We go again on Thursday and we will prepare by doing the same things that we have been doing. I have every confidence in our players.’

Flower was reluctant to elaborate on the reasons for Bopara’s surprise late withdrawal — he has a domestic issue — but insisted the door was not closed on a batsman who was fighting for his Test life even before he decided he could not play at Headingley. That door now is very much open for 22-year-old Taylor.

'I certainly hope James can make six his spot for a while,' said Flower. 'He looks like a young man who understands his game very well and knows how to score runs. We don’t know how he will do but we wish him well and hope he has a wonderful international career.'

Net result: England were sorely let down by their batsmen at The Oval in the first Test

Net result: England were sorely let down by their batsmen at The Oval in the first Test

Net result: England were sorely let down by their batsmen at The Oval in the first Test

Peace pact will let Rangers add to squad before transfer ban kicks in

Peace pact will let Rangers boss McCoist add to squad before transfer ban kicks in

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UPDATED:

22:48 GMT, 20 July 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Rangers will have five weeks to staff
up their squad after moving to reluctantly accept a delayed transfer
embargo as part of a peace deal with the SFA.

Charles Green’s Sevco Scotland newco
are set to gain clearance to play competitive football after deciding
they have no option but to abide by the sanctions facing the oldco for
bringing the game into disrepute through the actions of Craig Whyte’s
tenure.

The SFA released a statement
yesterday evening insisting agreement had been reached with Sevco over
the acceptance of a transfer embargo ‘as a primary condition of a
transfer of membership’ from the oldco.

Tough job: Ally McCoist must prepare his side for life in the lower leagues

Tough job: Ally McCoist must prepare his side for life in the lower leagues

Rangers chairman Malcolm Murray responded shortly before 10pm to state no deal had yet been signed, but that the club had to bow to sanctions to get back to playing football.

The Ibrox outfit should, therefore, begin its new life with a Ramsdens Cup tie against Brechin City a week tomorrow, but boss Ally McCoist is facing a congested timeframe to add new players capable of sustaining the Ibrox club for their Third Division campaign and beyond.

Rangers will be unable to sign players for 12 months between September 1 this year and August 31, 2013. That means McCoist will have to sign enough depth to a ravaged squad to win promotion from the bottom rung and thrive in the Second Division before he can re-enter the transfer market when the January 2014 window opens.

The SFA membership should be formally transferred early next week when it is rubberstamped by an Appellate Tribunal at Hampden. That has been deemed necessary to complete the legal process after the Ibrox challenged the transfer embargo at the Court of Session.

‘We have had days of discussions with the SFA and it is important for everyone, but most importantly our fans, to understand that the SFA said it would only transfer the membership to play football if we accepted some form of additional sanctions for the sins of previous regimes,’ said Murray.

‘The choice is stark — take sanctions or risk not playing football at all. We do not wish to gamble with the club’s future so, under duress, we have taken the difficult decision to accept some sanctions in order to move forward.

‘A delayed transfer ban would be a bitter pill to swallow and will only be agreed to if the alternative is no football.

‘We would have a window in which to sign players, enabling the manager to strengthen the squad which is critical for the club to start the process of rebuilding.’

Murray also stated the deal with the SFA would not rule out the prospect of further punishment from the SPL, who are forming an independent commission to investigate alleged double contracts from the oldco’s use of Employee Benefit Trusts.

‘We also regret that any agreement with the SFA appears not to have the support of the SPL and, as such, it still wishes to impose further sanctions on the club for the actions of previous regimes despite already voting us out of its league,’ he added.

‘This is truly astounding to everyone at the club who is now in charge of rebuilding Rangers from Division 3, particularly as the SPL are still trying to benefit from our media rights.’

Rangers successfully challenged the transfer embargo at the Court of Session, who sent the case back to the SFA Appellate Tribunal. That body could, however, have potentially inflicted a greater punishment — such as suspension from the Scottish game — had Rangers not set aside the court’s decision and accepted the embargo.