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Npower Championship round-up March 5

Bonkers! Championship goes crazy as promotion race hots up with a glut of late goals

By
Janine Self

PUBLISHED:

11:36 GMT, 6 March 2013

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UPDATED:

14:13 GMT, 6 March 2013

So did the world stop for you on Tuesday night Answers on a postcard, addressed to Senor Jose Mourinho, c/o Real Madrid.

The Special One might be slightly surprised to learn that for many the earth continued to revolve around its axis, despite the global marketing pull of a duel with Manchester United.

While 74,759 paying customers crammed into Old Trafford, another 175,547 decided that the npower Championship was the only show in town.

Super Kev: Veteran striker Kevin Phillips netted an eight-minute hat-trick for Crystal Palace on Tuesday night

Super Kev: Veteran striker Kevin Phillips netted an eight-minute hat-trick for Crystal Palace on Tuesday night

The second tier of English football has been even more crazily unpredictable than usual this season and did not disappoint on Tuesday night.

How about Kevin Phillips, 39 years old, and scorer of an eight-minute hat-trick for Crystal Palace in the 4-2 win over Hull

The same Hull who thrashed Birmingham last weekend and who started the night in an automatic promotion place. Steve Bruce’s team are down to third while Palace lurk a point behind.

At fogbound Nottingham Forest, the pre-match chat was all about the second coming of Billy Davies. No mention of Sir Alex Ferguson or Cristiano Ronaldo at all.

Second coming: Forest are making a late charge for the play-offs under Billy Davies

Second coming: Forest are making a late charge for the play-offs under Billy Davies

The force appears to be with Davies. Ipswich had two players sent off and came within four minutes of holding out for a point only to concede to a deflected goal from Lewis McGugan.

Since returning as manager, Davies has drawn one and won the last four games. With that sort of momentum the play-offs are beckoning.

Late goals were the theme of the night at Leicester, Bolton and Huddersfield, too. Just down the road from Old Trafford, Chris Eagles continued Wanderers’ fine run with an added-time winner against Lancashire rivals Blackburn.

Rest assured that none of the 19,063 fans at the Reebok would have given United a passing thought – apart from hoping they would lose, of course.

Late show: Chris Eagles (right) scored an added-time winner for Bolton

Late show: Chris Eagles (right) scored an added-time winner for Bolton

Danny Ward came off the bench to score in stoppage time and give Mark Robins his first home win as Huddersfield manager at the expense of a Middlesbrough side, who are in freefall. Eight defeats in 11 games is doing nothing for Tony Mowbray’s mood.

The biggest attendance of the night was 22,660 at Leicester, who had Manchester United loanee Michael Keane to thank for yet another added-time goal – an equaliser against Leeds.

Some people will always remember Tuesday as the night Roy Keane burned whatever bridges he had left with Ferguson after backing the sending off of Nani.

Wolves fans will remember it as the night manager Dean Saunders won his first match after 10 attempts.

Rare win: Wolves picked up their first three points under Dean Saunders at Millwall

Rare win: Wolves picked up their first three points under Dean Saunders at Millwall

The 2-0 win at Millwall took Saunders’s team out of the bottom three and sets them up nicely for the next match, except it is at Forest.

Rant of the night came from Dave Jones, manager of Sheffield Wednesday, after a 2-1 defeat at Watford. Suggesting the referee was more suited to the Sunday League will not go down well at
the FA.

Howler of the night came from the same match. Watford goalkeeper Jonathan Bond scuffed a back pass from Marco Cassetti, which allowed Michail Antonio to run round him for a simple tap-in.

Comeback: Fernando Forestieri netted twice as Watford beat Sheffield Wednesday

Comeback: Fernando Forestieri netted twice as Watford beat Sheffield Wednesday

Brighton’s point at bottom club Bristol City came at the expense of a bad achilles injury to striker Craig Mackail-Smith, who is out for the rest of the season, which is a huge blow to their play-off hopes.

Last, but not least, even runaway leaders Cardiff are wobbling. Craig Noone popped up eight minutes from time with an equaliser against Derby, who were so short of bodies they could only name five substitutes.

Now that’s something you don’t see in the Champions League, either.

Louis Smith and Pat Rice receive MBEs

Medals of honour: Team GB heroes Smith, Baker and Hosking and Arsenal legend Pat Rice given gongs by the Queen

team were today honoured at Buckingham Palace by the Queen.

Gymnast Louis Smith, who scooped silver on the pommel horse and bronze in the men's team competition, described being awarded the MBE as 'the proudest moment of his life', but risked being turned away when he showed up having forgot his invitation.

He tweeted: 'Hahaha not the greatest start. @gabstone9 forgot our invites to Buckingham palace. Not quite as easy getting in as a school disco #oops

Member of the British Empire: Team GB gymnast Louis Smith is honoured by the Queen

Member of the British Empire: Team GB gymnast Louis Smith is honoured by the Queen

Sophie Hosking

Pat Rice

Rowing and football: Sophie Hosking and Pat Rice's respective contributions were also honoured

Dressed to impress: Louis Smith MBE with Arlene Phillips CBE at Buckingham Palace

Dressed to impress: Louis Smith MBE with Arlene Phillips CBE at Buckingham Palace

'Today is the day I become Louis Smith M.B.E ooooooo exciting times'

Natasha Baker, who was also honoured
for winning two gold medals in dressage at the Paralympics said the
occasion was 'absolutely incredible', but had earlier tweeted in a panic
over her fear of missing the ceremony.

Baker had been stuck in traffic on the M4 but eventually made it to Buckingham Palace on time. 'Stuck in traffic on M4 on my way to collect my #MBE . Any police around to give me an escort!' she tweeted.

Louis Smith

Britain's Natasha Baker

Olympians: Louis Smith and Natasha Baker were among Team GB's most impressive performers at the Games

'Tempted to get Jordan (scooter) out and drive to Buck Pal! Think she would be faster than this traffic! Don't think I'm going to get there!'

Sophie Hosking, winner of gold in lightweight women's double sculls, was presented with an MBE at the investiture ceremony.

Pat Rice

Rob McCracken

In their element: Pat Rice (centre) with the FA Cup won at Arsenal at his peak and boxing guru Rob McCracken

British Amateur Boxing Association performance director Rob McCracken, who overlooked a haul of five boxing medals at London 2012, also receives the MBE, as was former Arsenal assistant manager Pat Rice, who spent 44 years at the club, winning seven trophies as a coach.

Idiot! What Zara Phillips told Mike Tindall when he bought 12k horse at auction (but it"s now a winner and worth 200k)

Idiot! What Zara Phillips told Mike Tindall when he bought 12k horse at auction (but it's now a winner and worth 200k)
Rugby player Mike Tindall bid for racehorse he knew nothing aboutHe did not intend to win the animal at auction with his low bids of 10,000 and 12,000The horse went on to win the Welsh Grand National and a hefty 200k pricetag

By
Mail On Sunday Reporter

PUBLISHED:

22:42 GMT, 19 January 2013

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UPDATED:

01:22 GMT, 20 January 2013

Zara Phillips branded her husband Mike Tindall an ‘idiot’ when he splashed out 12,000 at auction on a racehorse he knew absolutely nothing about.

But the Queen’s granddaughter has been forced to eat her words after Monbeg Dude emerged victorious at the Welsh Grand National – and his value raced to the 200,000 mark.

The former England rugby star explained: ‘I like to bid at auctions without meaning to actually win things. I only went for a bite to eat and a night out. No horse had gone for less than 28,000 so I thought my first bid of 10,000 was pretty safe, likewise when I upped it to 12,000.

Proud: Owners Mike Tindall and Mike Scudamore with their racehorse Monbeg Duke, now worth 200k after an initial 12 pricetag

Proud: Owners Mike Tindall and Mike Scudamore with their racehorse Monbeg Duke, now worth 200k after an initial 12k pricetag

‘I knew nothing about the horse, hadn’t checked the brochure and couldn’t even see the Dude, as I was sitting with my back to the sale ring.’

Fortunately for Tindall, Michael Scudamore – son of champion jockey Peter – and fellow rugby players James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson agreed to share the burden of the cost.

Scudamore had to make a 30-minute drive from the sale room to his home in Cheltenham so he could pick up a lorry to transport the impromptu purchase.

Athlete: Zara Phillips is known for her prowess in the equestrian field

Athlete: Zara Phillips is known for her prowess in the equestrian field

He said: ‘I drove home, collected the
lorry, drove back to Cheltenham, picked up the Dude and took him back to
the yard. It was past one in the morning before we were done.’

Scudamore admits he didn’t have high hopes for the horse at the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow two weeks ago.

‘I just felt the ground would be too soft, that the course was too demanding and the opposition too experienced,’ he said.

After the success, Dude is believed to be worth 200,000 but Tindall and his friends insist they have no plans to sell him.

Tindall said: ‘Zara will take Monbeg Dude over showjumping poles at home and improve his technique.’

His next racing outing could be at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Tindall said: ‘The soft ground and the undulating course suits Dude well.’

He added: ‘The whole thing is ridiculous. We’re beginning to dream that we might one day do even better than the Welsh Grand National.

‘And it’s all because people didn’t turn up to a sales night and I took their place with no plans to end the evening as an owner with a horse I knew nothing about, or even saw. You couldn’t make it up, could you’ he laughed.

Happy couple: Zara Phillips called her husband an idiot for buying a racehorse without knowing anything it, but now has to eat her words

Happy couple: Zara Phillips called her husband Mike Tindall an idiot for buying a
racehorse without knowing anything it, but now has to eat her words

Chelsea 0 QPR 1 match report: Shaun Wright-Phillips scores winner

Chelsea 0 QPR 1: Wright-Phillips scores on Stamford Bridge return to give Rafa the Blues

PUBLISHED:

21:36 GMT, 2 January 2013

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UPDATED:

21:46 GMT, 2 January 2013

Shaun Wright-Phillips scored the only goal of the game against his former club as QPR pulled off one of the shock results of the season to all but end Chelsea's title challenge.

Blues boss Rafa Benitez opted to rest key men Juan Mata, Ashley Cole, Eden Hazard and Ramires from the start and he was made to pay the price for that gamble by Harry Redknapp's resurgent Rs.

Bolt from the blue: Wright-Phillips' 79th-minute strike stunned the hosts

Bolt from the blue: Wright-Phillips' 79th-minute strike stunned the hosts

Match facts

Chelsea: Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Bertrand, Luiz, Lampard (Ramires 79), Marin (Hazard 60), Oscar, Moses (Mata 75), Torres.

Subs not used: Hilario, Cole, Ferreira, Piazon.

Booked: Marin.

QPR: Julio Cesar, Onuoha, Nelsen, Hill, Da Silva, Mbia, Derry, Hoilett (Wright-Phillips 15), Granero (Park 90), Taarabt (Dyer 90), Mackie.

Subs not used: Green, Ferdinand, Cisse, Faurlin.

Booked: Hill.

Goal: Wright-Phillips 79.

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)

Attendance: 41,634

The latest Premier League table, fixtures and results

More to follow…

Lucky boy: Marko Marin was fortunate not to see red for this challenge on Stephane Mbia

Lucky boy: Marko Marin was fortunate not to see red for this challenge on Stephane Mbia

Lucky boy: Marko Marin was fortunate not to see red for this challenge on Stephane Mbia

Back with a bang: Harry Redknapp's men recovered from their humiliating defeat at home to Liverpool

Back with a bang: Harry Redknapp's men recovered from their humiliating defeat at home to Liverpool

Rock solid: Ryan Nelsen impressed at the back for QPR

Rock solid: Ryan Nelsen impressed at the back for QPR

Gamble: Benitez rested several key men for the west London derby

Gamble: Benitez rested several key men for the west London derby

Bad day at the office: Chelsea couldn't break QPR's resistance

Bad day at the office: Chelsea couldn't break QPR's resistance

Right place, Wright time: Former Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips lashes home the winner

Right place, Wright time: Former Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips lashes home the winner

Right place, Wright time: Former Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips lashes home the winner

Happy New Year: QPR are now five points from safety

Happy New Year: QPR are now five points from safety

Blackpool v Hull – match report

Blackpool 0 Hull 0: All square at Bloomfield Road with keepers on form

PUBLISHED:

18:16 GMT, 1 January 2013

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UPDATED:

00:37 GMT, 2 January 2013

Goalkeepers Matt Gilks and Eldin Jakupovic earned their respective sides a share of the points with crucial second-half saves in a game of few chances at Bloomfield Road.

Blackpool's Gilks pulled off a flying save to keep out Hull midfielder David Meyler's goalbound shot in the 60th minute, while opposite number Jakupovic was at full stretch himself to turn away a vicious 25-yard effort from the home side's coveted Thomas Ince in the 85th minute.

Thomas Ince shoots

Spurned: Both teams had good chance to win but were denied at either end

Jakupovic, a Bosnian-born Switzerland international, then made another fine save in the second minute of time added on to keep out Seasiders' substitute Nathan Delfouneso's shot and ensure Hull stretched their unbeaten league run to eight matches.

MATCH FACTS

Blackpool: Gilks,Eardley, Broadfoot, Baptiste, Crainey, Osbourne, Sylvestre, Basham, Ince, Taylor-Fletcher (Dicko 80),Thomas (Delfouneso 66).

Subs: Halstead, Kevin Phillips, Cathcart, Martinez,Harris.

Booked: Taylor-Fletcher.

Hull: Jakupovic, Chester, Faye, Hobbs, Rosenior, Meyler, Evans (Bruce 83), Quinn, Brady, Koren (Simpson 46), Aluko (Proschwitz 46).

Subs: Amos, Cairney, McShane, Olofinjana.

Att: 13,691

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

Click here for all the latest Championship table, fixtures and results

Hull, who had won six of their previous seven npower Championship matches, remain second in the table, while Blackpool, for all their late pressure, have now won only one of their last six league matches.

Midfield pair Ludovic Sylvestre and Isaiah Osbourne, plus defender Neal Eardley returned to Blackpool's starting line-up, while Liam Rosenior stepped in at right-back for Hull in place of the injured Ahmed Elmohamady.

Neither side could fashion a chance worthy of note in the first 20 minutes save for Hull's on-loan Sunderland midfielder Meyler, who dragged an angled shot from the left side of the penalty area off target.

The visitors threatened again in the 22nd minute when striker Sone Aluko flashed a 25-yard shot wide and it was not until the 29th minute that Blackpool's coveted winger Ince fired his side's first shot on goal straight at Jakupovic.

The Seasiders enjoyed their best spell from the half-hour mark, with striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Ince both prominent, but failed to test Jakupovic again before the half-time whistle.

Steve Bruce

Stalemate: Steve Bruce's side remain in second place after today's draw

Hull manager Steve Bruce replaced Aluko and midfielder Robert Koren for strikers Nick Proschwitz and Jay Simpson at the interval and the latter was straight into the action when his header from Rosenior's cross forced Gilks into a smart save 90 seconds after the restart.

Gilks then held Hull midfielder Robbie Brady's 20-yard free-kick as the visitors went in search of the breakthrough.

Meyler, who has scored three goals in his last four appearances for the Tigers, went closest to the game's opening goal with a superb strike in the 60th minute that prompted a spectacular save from Gilks, whose outstretched arm turned the goalbound shot away for a corner.

Blackpool were dealt a blow soon after when striker Wes Thomas was forced off injured and replaced by Delfouneso before Sylvestre had a rare shot on goal for the home side, firing an angled drive just wide.

The game was finely balanced heading into the final quarter when Blackpool defender Chris Basham fired a 25-yard effort over the crossbar, while at the other end Hull midfielder Corry Evans spurned a gilt-edged chance when he failed to keep his shot from inside the area on target.

Jakupovic flung himself at Ince's 25-yard shot in the closing stages to push the ball away to safety before Delfouneso blazed over the crossbar from inside the area in stoppage time.

Huddersfield 1 Blackpool 1: Nathan Delfouneso injury-time strike denies Terriers

Huddersfield 1 Blackpool 1: Delfouneso injury-time strike denies Terriers

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UPDATED:

19:19 GMT, 26 December 2012

Substitute Nathan Delfouneso struck deep in stoppage time for Blackpool to deny Huddersfield a first win in eight games as an entertaining npower Championship clash finished 1-1 at the John Smith's Stadium.

Anthony Gerrard's first goal for the club looked to have ended Huddersfield's barren run but the Seasiders were excellent value for at least a point.

The visitors bombarded their opponent's goal for an hour, but a combination of bad luck and poor finishing looked like giving the Terriers a first clean sheet since their last victory against Barnsley back on November 10.

Late: Delfouneso rescued a point for Blackpool with an injury-time strike

Late: Delfouneso rescued a point for Blackpool with an injury-time strike

Match facts

Huddersfield: Smithies, Hunt, Peter Clarke, Gerrard, Woods (Wallace 52), Scannell (Hammill 81), Southern, Norwood (Atkinson 52), Clayton, Vaughan, Beckford.

Subs Not Used: Bennett, Novak, Church, Arfield.

Goals: Gerrard 66.

Blackpool: Gilks, Baptiste, Broadfoot, Cathcart, Crainey, Basham, Gomes (Kevin Phillips 86), Osbourne, Ince, Taylor-Fletcher (Dicko 81), Thomas (Delfouneso 70).

Subs Not Used: Halstead, Eardley, Martinez, Harris.

Booked: Osbourne, Baptiste.

Goals: Delfouneso 90.

Att: 16,832

Ref: Nigel Miller (Durham).

Latest Championship table and results

Blackpool should have been out of sight by half-time, with the home side unable to find a method of breaking up their stylish attacking play.

Gary Taylor-Fletcher wasted two glorious openings in the first 90 seconds against his former club. Chris Basham played him in with the first move of the game, but the 31-year-old miscued his shot high and wide with only goalkeeper Alex Smithies to beat.

Moments later good work down the left from Wes Thomas provided Taylor-Fletcher with a free header six yards out but he nodded wide.

Liverpool target Thomas Ince played in Tiago Gomes after six minutes, but the Portuguese midfielder had his effort blocked by home captain Peter Clarke.

A minute later Ince played glorious one-twos with Gomes and Taylor-Fletcher as the visitors broke from halfway, but the winger fired over from the edge of the box.

Thomas drilled wide after 14 minutes as Blackpool's relentless pressure continued, while Huddersfield's best moment of the first half came when Sean Scannell's low cross deflected to the feet of James Vaughan, only for the Norwich loanee to fail to get the ball under control allowing Blackpool to clear their lines.

Header: Anthony Gerrard gave the home side the lead midway through the second half

Header: Anthony Gerrard gave the home side the lead midway through the second half

The best chance of the opening 45 minutes came on 19 minutes when midfielder Isaiah Osbourne powerfully bundled past two Huddersfield defenders only to skew his shot wide from six yards.

Clarke's miscued clearance fell to Osbourne and Ince played in Thomas, who curled over from 12 yards, while moments later Alex Baptiste fluffed his lines when a Stephen Crainey corner fell to him in the six-yard box and the right-back shot harmlessly over the crossbar.

Ince finally managed to beat Smithies five minutes before half-time, but full-back Calum Woods was on hand to clear off the line, before Anthony Gerrard turned Alex Baptiste's cross just wide of his own post.

Blackpool continued to press after the break – the lively Thomas cutting from the left and curling a 20-yard effort which Smithies did well to turn behind.

Drought: Huddersfield were denied their first win in eight games

Drought: Huddersfield were denied their first win in eight games

Huddersfield gradually began to display some attacking threat, and Jermaine Beckford – having extended his loan from Everton on Christmas Eve – should have celebrated with a goal when he headed Jack Hunt's deep cross wide from five yards just after the hour mark.

Gerrard made Blackpool pay for their profligacy on 66 minutes when he rose highest to head home Adam Clayton's corner.

Blackpool's previous attacking threat quickly wilted after that and the home side might have added a second as they grew in confidence – Beckford almost finding the net with an audacious effort from 30 yards 10 minutes from time.

But late on Ince showed why Liverpool are eager to land the 20-year-old in January as he wove past two players to get to the by-line and cut back for Delfouneso, who made no mistake from six yards.

Alex Cuthbert signs new contract at Cardiff Blues

Wales wing Cuthbert rejects French overtures to sign new three-year deal at Cardiff Blues

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UPDATED:

09:26 GMT, 20 December 2012

Wing wizard: Cuthbert has put pen to paper

Wing wizard: Cuthbert has put pen to paper

Wales wing Alex Cuthbert has resisted the temptation of joining several of his international team-mates in France by signing a new three-year contract with Cardiff Blues.

Cuthbert, a star performer in the Test match arena this year, has bucked the trend of top Wales players moving to France, with Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate both set to join the exodus next season.

Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, James Hook and Luke Charteris already play in the French Top 14, while prop Paul James is in his first season at Aviva Premiership club Bath.

'I had a lot of decisions to make, but I am glad I've got it sorted and this is the place I want to be to take my rugby career forward,' Cuthbert, 22, said.

'I did have some good offers from other clubs, but I wanted to stay with the Blues.

Dragon: Cuthbert has scored five tries in 13 Tests for Wales

Dragon: Cuthbert has scored five tries in 13 Tests for Wales

'I've certainly seen the progress on the pitch, although we may not be getting the results right now. We are just losing by narrow margins, and you can tell it's coming.

'Hopefully, we will get some quality players in next season and those close losses will turn into wins for us.'

Cuthbert scored tries against Scotland, Italy and France during last season's RBS 6 Nations title and Grand Slam-winning campaign, and he transferred that form into the recent autumn Tests, claiming a try against New Zealand.

Room for improvement: Cuthbert is only 22

Room for improvement: Cuthbert is only 22

Blues rugby director Phil Davies said: 'Alex is 22. He has a fantastic future ahead of him, not just at the Blues but in the game in general. He is a vital part of our squad.

'Alex is a great try-scorer, but he is still young and developing all the time.

'His work-rate is phenomenal and his defence and reading of the game is improving considerably. Hopefully, he will get better and better over the next three years.'

Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis condemns French clubs after Dan Lydiate leaves

They're like vultures! Wales rugby chief slams French clubs for taking top stars

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UPDATED:

17:01 GMT, 6 December 2012

The chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union has described the French clubs who are snapping up their best players as ‘vultures picking off Welsh players like pieces of meat’.

The Wales rugby team are in freefall after seven successive Test defeats and the regional game is faring little better, with diminishing gates and spiralling debts.

The comments from Roger Lewis come after flanker Dan Lydiate, the player of the tournament during Wales' Six Nations Grand Slam campaign earlier this year, announced he was to come the latest star to quit Wales for the money on offer over the Channel in France’s Top 14 domestic league.

Exodus: Welsh Rugby Union chief Roger Lewis has slammed the French teams plucking the nation's best players, including Dan Lydiate

Exodus: Welsh Rugby Union chief Roger Lewis has slammed the French teams plucking the nation's best players, including Dan Lydiate

A number of big-spending clubs are chasing his signature, with Racing Metro favourite to land the prolific tackler nicknamed ‘Chopper’.

The exodus has already seen Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins, James Hook, Lee /12/06/article-2244107-164D50BF000005DC-468_634x351.jpg” width=”634″ height=”351″ alt=”You too: Jamie Roberts (centre) is set to leave too ” class=”blkBorder” />

You too: Jamie Roberts (centre) is set to leave too

‘I am particularly concerned about the role played by agents in this player-drain from Wales.’

Wales and Ospreys tighthead Adam Jones has compounded the issue by refusing to rule out a move to France, too.

He said: ‘I don’t know, it is something I will have to think about.

‘I have another year left on my contract after this and obviously if you go on the Lions tour and do well then you put yourself in the shop window.

‘There are so many things you have to think about, especially when you have a young family, but I know James Hook has gone out to Perpignan and loved it.

‘I would never say never, though at the moment I am happy with the Ospreys.

‘I think we have gone about things in the right way in the last couple of years.

‘It hinders us (Wales) if players can’t get released and can’t come to the training camps. But personally I don’t think it’s a bad thing for individual players.'

Already gone: Mike Phillips has left Wales

Already gone: Mike Phillips has left Wales

Wales must learn lessons from autumn internationals

Harsh lessons from autumn agony for Wales as Australia complete clean sweep

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 2 December 2012

For 79 minutes and 33 seconds it looked like Wales would finish a rotten autumn in some style, then Kurtley Beale changed everything with a final try to snatch a 14-12 victory for Australia.

The players stood apart on their own tryline, heads hanging and lungs burning, as Leigh Halfpenny lay sprawled on the floor receiving treatment after his courageous attempt to stop the attack.

It was a brutal, ugly metaphor for where Welsh rugby is right now.

Fortunately, Halfpenny’s neck injury was not serious and he was released from hospital on Sunday. But the team itself does need treatment because some harsh truths have been exposed this autumn.

Dejected: Wales slumped to four defeats in the autumn internationals

Dejected: Wales slumped to four defeats in the autumn internationals

BREAK THE PATTERN

The best game Wales played this year was their first: a blistering start to their Grand Slam Six Nations campaign against Ireland in Dublin. Back in February, they were still on a high from the World Cup and had yet to start choking on the suffocating pressure of the Cardiff bubble.

Against Australia, they recaptured the intensity and precision of that form but the pattern of the year still reads five straight victories, a jolly against the Barbarians and then seven straight defeats.

Scrum-half Mike Phillips described Welsh rugby as a soap opera and for a decade there has been an extraordinary pattern of peaks and troughs — 10 defeats in a row (2002-03), eight wins (2004-05), five defeats (2006-07), five wins (2008), five defeats (2010), then this bizarre year.

DON’T BE A FIT FLOP

There is no point being the fitter side if you are not playing at a pace and intensity that is pushing your opponents beyond their physical limits. The backs lost on average four per cent of their body fat and put on 5kg of muscle during 30 training sessions in 10 days before the autumn, but they failed to exploit that superior fitness.

Late show: Kurtley Beale of Australia scores a last minute against Wales

Late show: Kurtley Beale of Australia scores a last minute against Wales

Until Saturday, in every meeting with a southern hemisphere side this year Wales had been ambushed by the early pace of the game. It is like setting a treadmill to sprint in the gym and then trying to jump on.

This time, despite Australia having 74 per cent possession in the opening quarter, Wales were very aggressive defensively and it put them straight in the game.

BE SMARTER AT THE DEATH

Wales have developed a wicked habit of clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. Three times this year they have lost to the Wallabies in the dying seconds — the total deficit is 13 points in their last four meetings — and it comes down to performing basic skills under pressure.

Warren Gatland talked about closing out the tightest Test matches. ‘It was obvious to us in the stands that they were going to use the ball,’ he said. ‘A couple of players weren’t in the front line defensively at the end. They’ve exposed us.’ Time and time again Wales contrive to lose from winning situations.

THE GATLAND EFFECT

The players have made every effort to play down his absence but the stark results tell their own story. Even though Gatland has overseen two defeats at the end of the autumn since returning, the spike in performance says Wales are back to their best with him at the helm.

Main man: Wales improved with Warren Gatland back at the helm

Main man: Wales improved with Warren Gatland back at the helm

The problem now is that he is gone again until after the Lions tour. He brings an X factor as a coach, coming up with ideas like a 13-man lineout against the All Blacks.

He has never done a huge amount of hands-on coaching — he has assembled a fine group of coaches to do precisely that — but his presence as head honcho undeniably gives the players a psychological edge. It becomes a weakness when he walks away.

VITAL STATISTICS

You cannot slip off one-on-one tackling against the southern hemisphere sides. Wales missed 22 against the All Blacks and 15 against Australia. Only Fiji, Scotland and Argentina had worse tackling statistics this autumn. It is uncharacteristic of a team that prides itself on defence.

Sorely missed: Dan Lydiate

Sorely missed: Dan Lydiate

Dan Lydiate, a maniac when it comes to tackling, was sorely missed and his absence affected the balance of the back row. In attack, Wales made three clean breaks per match, but their opponents made seven.

At times the match resembled a really impressive tennis rally without anybody actually hitting a winner. Wales have to find a killer instinct from somewhere. They have to make line breaks count.

MONEY MATTERS

While the regional game is on a financial precipice, even the national team have not been able to fill the Millennium Stadium all autumn. The visit of the All Blacks was a few thousand short, while 25,000 and 30,000 empty seats stagnated the atmosphere of the Argentina and Samoa matches.

Meanwhile, the players have saved the Welsh Rugby Union at least 500,000 in win bonuses over the past six months. As for absentees, the side run 80 to 90 per cent of their training drills in first-team combinations, but with so many players injured or flying off to France for club duty, preparations have been severely disrupted.

FLYING SOLO

It tells you everything about Rhys Priestland’s year that he has slipped from the No 1 sexiest man in Wales to seventh. He lost his way and his swagger during the Six Nations and has been under relentless pressure since.

But two weeks ago he started seeing the team psychologist and that may just be the secret. Against Australia he showed glimmers of his old self. He has been picked out as the fly-half to take Wales to the 2015 World Cup and has a bespoke coaching regime to harness his talent including individual sessions with a running specialist.

In the playmaker role his form determines the team’s success: when he plays well, Wales play well.

Wales team to play Australia at Millennium Stadium

Gatland shuffles pack as Wales look to make it lucky No 7 against Wallabies

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UPDATED:

13:20 GMT, 29 November 2012

A wounded Wales team will face Australia with a reshuffled pack for the final clash of their autumn series.

They have made four changes to the side that were beaten convincingly by New Zealand last weekend. But with fourteen first-team players unavailable through either injury or absence, head coach Warren Gatland had his hand tied when it came to make big changes, despite his side falling to their sixth successive defeat against the All Blacks.

George North has failed to shrug off a hip injury picked up in training last week, and Bradley Davies is still suffering from the effects of severe concussion after he was struck off the ball by All Black Andrew Hore in the second minute on Saturday.

Well beaten: Wales have lost six in a row

Well beaten: Wales have lost six in a row

In the front row Blues prop Scott Andrews is handed his second Wales start and he is joined by former Blues colleague and 93-times capped veteran prop Gethin Jenkins, who has been granted permission to play by his French club Toulon.

Elsewhere Ospreys lock Ian Evans completes his return from injury (knee) to replace Bradley Davies and Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler replaces another Osprey, Ryan Jones, in the back row – with Jones retained on the bench.

The same backline which started against New Zealand last time out is selected, with Ospreys fly-half Dan Biggar coming in for another player returning to his club, Perpignan’s James Hook, in one change to the backs cover provided by the bench.

Starting role: Jenkins (left) has been given permission by Toulon to play

Starting role: Jenkins (left) has been given permission by Toulon to play

Wales team to play Australia on Saturday:

Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts,
Liam Williams; Rhys Priestland, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew
Rees, Scott Andrews; Ian Evans, Luke Charteris; Aaron Shingler, Sam
Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau.

REPLACEMENTS: Ken Owens, Ryan Bevington, Samson Lee, Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Tavis Knoyle, Dan Biggar, Scott Williams.

'We need to pick up again where we left off in the second half last week,' said Gatland. 'We managed to retain 73 per cent possession after the break against the All Blacks and win the territory battle, and we need to put Australia under similar pressure from the outset.

'We have played them regularly over the last couple of years and have come close to winning on a number of occasions, but have not quite been able to get ourselves over the chalk of the finish line.

'Both sides have had injuries to cope with, but there is every reason for optimism. The Millennium Stadium crowd will be in full voice again, they were outstanding last week, and we are aiming to reach the end of a tough series on Saturday and finish off on a high.'