Tag Archives: regard

Stephen Lee being investigated over match-fixing allegations

Lee has 'case to answer' as World Snooker Association investigate match-fixing allegations

is ongoing.'

The rules that Lee will face a hearing over relate to betting, specifically providing information that 'is not publicly available” and deliberately influencing “the outcome or conduct of a game or frame'.

FULL WPBSA STATEMENT

As a result of the referral by the Gambling Commission on 5th October 2012, Nigel Mawer the Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee of the WPBSA, launched an investigation into alleged match fixing by Stephen Lee in relation to matches at the Malta Cup 2008, the UK Championship 2008, the China Open in 2009 and the World Championship 2009.

The WPBSA has gathered a large amount of material from the Gambling Commission, West Midlands police and third parties in relation to these allegations. This has been a complex investigation where the material has had to be traced, recovered and re-evaluated with regard to the WPBSA rules.

The available evidence has now been considered and in accordance with the Disciplinary Rules, the Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee has decided that there is a case for Stephen Lee to answer in relation to a breach of the WPBSA Members Rules. These alleged breaches relate to four matches at the Malta Cup 2008, two matches at the UK Championship 2008, one match at the China Open 2009 and one match at the World Championship 2009.

The case will be heard at a formal independent hearing arranged by Sport Resolutions UK at a date to be arranged.

Stephen Lee is currently suspended from competition and Jason Ferguson, the Chairman of the WPBSA, has decided that the suspension will remain in force until the conclusion of the hearing or hearings and the determination of this matter.

The investigation into the suspicious betting in relation to Stephen Lee's Premier League match with John Higgins on 11th October 2012 is ongoing.

1. WPBSA Members Rules and Regulations (2008-9): Section II

2.8 A Member shall not provide to any other person any information relating to snooker or billiards which that Member has by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available with the intention that it be used by the other person for or in relation to betting.

2.9 A Member shall not directly or indirectly:

2.9.1 solicit or attempt to solicit any person (whether a Member or not) to enter into any arrangement (whether or not in return for payment or any other form of remuneration or benefit);

2.9.2 agree or attempt to agree any arrangement (whether or not in return for payment or any other form of remuneration or benefit); or

2.9.3 accept or receive or offer to receive or give or offer to give, payment or any other form of remuneration or benefit, in connection with influencing (in any way) the outcome or conduct of a game or frame (or any other part thereof) of snooker or billiards.

Rugby news: Alex Corbisiero signs for Northampton

Corbisiero to leave Irish as England prop agrees summer switch to Northampton

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'There is a great culture and hopefully I can help the team succeed while continuing my progression as a player, and I am sure that Franklin's Gardens will be a good environment for me in that regard.'

Northampton have also announced new contracts for props Tom Mercey and Alex Waller.

Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder added: 'All three players have plenty of experience, and because they are still in their early-to-mid 20s we believe that there is plenty more to come from them.

'I am that all three props have put pen to paper to be a part of the Saints squad going forward.'

Paul Lambert believes Aston Villa will be fine

We'll be fine! Lambert admits Villa feeling negative after another rout but believes in his side

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UPDATED:

20:36 GMT, 29 December 2012

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert was downcast after watching his side beaten 3-0 at home by fellow strugglers Wigan but still said his team would be 'fine'.

Since winning 3-1 at Liverpool on December 15, Villa have suffered three heavy defeats in a row, conceding a total of 15 goals and failing to score once themselves.

Only a last-minute Stoke equaliser against Southampton kept Villa out of the relegation places and Lambert said: 'The last three results have certainly hurt us.

Struggle: Paul Lambert cannot seem to get Villa firing

Struggle: Paul Lambert cannot seem to get Villa firing

'Everyone was positive after the Liverpool win but there is now a negativity after these three defeats.

'I understand that feeling but I have a belief that Aston Villa will be fine. The big disappointment is that there are a lot of experienced players out of the team.

'Andreas Weimann had to play at the last minute against Wigan despite having a leg injury. Once we get everyone back in January we will have to wait and see what happens.

'We had a decent spell in the first half when we looked like ourselves. We had a couple of half chances but in the second half there was no creativity. That was hard to take for sure.

'I will speak to the chairman to see what is happening in regard to bringing in some new players.

'I always knew it was going to be a massive job at Villa. It is a massive football club with a great tradition.

'This club has been in a survival battle for the last couple of years.

'The forthcoming Capital One Cup semi-final is not something that I have not really thought about to be honest. The bread and butter is the league. It always is. We are in a fight but so are the other teams.'

Despite their dire situation, Lambert paid tribute to the Villa fans.

He said: 'Since I've been here the fans have been brilliant with myself and the team.

Dejection: Villa's players seem to have lost heart in recent matches as games slipped away from them

Dejection: Villa's players seem to have lost heart in recent matches as games slipped away from them

'I never criticise the crowd here at Villa Park because they are behind the team. All we can do is our very best for the club. The fans have been brilliant and have gone away as hurt as we are. We have to stick together.

'I've been beaten up badly both as a player and as a manager. It happens. It was disappointing to lose to Wigan as it was an opportunity to climb the table.

'Spurs and Chelsea are fine teams but Wigan was an opportunity to pull away, especially at home. That is the disappointment. To be turned over 3-0 at home certainly hurts everyone.'

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez was in an upbeat mood after goals from Ivan Ramis, Emmerson Boyce and Arouna Kone gave his side a comfortable win.

He said: 'It was a really tense game before it started as both Villa and ourselves are in a similar position. We tried to play in the right way and the result was very important.

'In terms of the performance I thought it was similar to that we showed against Everton and Arsenal in the last two games.

'We were very clinical in both boxes and defended well, keeping (Christian) Benteke quiet. He is a footballer who can make a difference at this level. We covered this threat really well and had very good concentration.

Off-colour: In the past few games Christian Benteke has not been at his best

Off-colour: In the past few games Christian Benteke has not been at his best

'At the other end I thought we had even more opportunities to score in the closing stages. The players applied themselves in a great manner to get the result.

'This season I thought we started very brightly but then had a few difficult moments, particularly in November and December when we have had to cope with a lot of injuries and suspensions.

'This has been tough not to get the rewards on the pitch and its put a lot of pressure on the players.

'Not many foreign players can come into this league and cope with the physical side of the game.

'The know-how is important and the likes of Kone and Ramis are good examples how they have adapted. Being able to play in Germany and Spain has helped them a great deal.

'I was really impressed with Kone and I think he could have scored another couple of goals. But it will have boosted his confidence.

'Unfortunately we are losing players to the African tournament and other managers will tell you how difficult it is to lose important players at such a crucial stage of the season. I am sure that other players will come in and take the opportunity to shine.'

Lee Westwood ditches caddie Billy Foster

EXCLUSIVE: Westwood ditches injured caddie Foster and gives job to Kerr

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 15 November 2012

Lee Westwood has taken perhaps the toughest decision of his professional career and parted company with his great friend and caddie, Billy Foster.

The latter has been out of the game for the past six months with a cruciate knee injury. Such was Westwood’s regard for him, he said the bag would be waiting for Foster when he regained his fitness.

But now Westwood feels he can wait no longer. With one major to go until his 40th birthday and Foster unable to guarantee his full fitness for the start of next year in the build-up to the Masters in April, the pair have parted ways.

All change: Lee Westwood (right) has parted company with Billy Foster

All change: Lee Westwood (right) has parted company with Billy Foster

‘Billy was extremely disappointed, as you can imagine,’ said Westwood’s manager, Chubby Chandler. ‘He’s just had the most boring six months of his life. But Lee is at that stage of his career where he has to be a little bit selfish. He’s only got four or five prime years left and he simply can’t afford to mess about with this one coming up.

‘Billy hopes to be fit enough at the start of next year to caddie for one week and then have one week off. But Lee is playing six tournaments in a row, starting in Dubai next February, and you can’t have Billy one week and then another caddie the following week.

‘It was a difficult decision because we all know how good Billy is as a caddie and they’re great mates as well.’

What forced Westwood’s hand was the fact Mike Kerr, the very able Zimbabwean standing in for Foster, was offered a full-time job by Sergio Garcia. Westwood did not want to lose Kerr with no firm news on when Foster would be back. Consequently, Kerr has now got the lucrative Westwood bag full time.

New job: Westwood has appointed Mike Kerr as his new full-time caddie

New job: Westwood has appointed Mike Kerr as his new full-time caddie

‘Billy has the same fitness coach as Lee in Steve McGregor and he told him it takes footballers eight months to come back from his injury,’ said Chandler. ‘How much longer is it going to take a 46-year-old man’

It is hard not to feel sorry for Foster, who will need his trademark sense of humour to get over this devastating setback. In the perilous, insecure world of caddying, the Yorkshireman seemed to have the safest bag of all.

That changed when he took part in a knockabout football match last April and his knee gave way.

If he can get himself fit, Foster should not have too much trouble finding another top bag. Over the past 20 years, caddying for the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Darren Clarke as well as Westwood, he has established himself as among the best in the business.

He even caddied for Tiger Woods in his prime on a couple of occasions, when his then bagman Steve Williams was unavailable.

Swing: Westwood is keen to improve his game ahead of the new season

Swing: Westwood is keen to improve his game ahead of the new season

The split completes a dramatic year of upheaval for Westwood in his quest for that elusive first major. First, he announced that he was moving to live in America at the end of this year. Then he parted company with his long-game coach, Pete Cowen.

As for addressing the nagging weakness in his short game, a dalliance with Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone has also come to an abrupt end after Westwood’s chipping let him down in the final round of the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.

‘It just wasn’t working out,’ explained Chandler.

One position, then, might have been filled in Team Westwood. But where is the short-game coach who can scratch what has become an unbearable itch

Ryder Cup 2012: Seve Ballesteros always with Europe, says Jose Maria Olazabal

We knew Seve was always with us, says emotional Olazabal after Ryder Cup triumph

By
Mike Dickson

PUBLISHED:

00:54 GMT, 1 October 2012

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UPDATED:

00:54 GMT, 1 October 2012

Far more predictable than Europe’s sensational Ryder Cup victory was that when it was all over, captain Jose Maria Olazabal could not contain his emotions.

The 46-year-old Spaniard, whose side were given just a 33-1 to chance of winning by bookmakers midway through the final afternoon, wept as he considered what an inspiration Severiano Ballesteros had been to him and his team.

‘Seve will always be present with this team, he was a big factor with this event,’ said Olazabal, reflecting on the impact still made by the Spanish genius who died aged 54 in May 2011 following a battle against brain cancer.

Top trio: McIlroy is joined by Garcia (top) and Donald

Top trio: McIlroy is joined by Garcia (top) and Donald

‘Last night when we were having our team meeting, the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and that’s what they did.

‘It’s been a tough week. The first two days, nothing went our way. We struggled on the greens but this morning I felt a little change in that regard, and we started to make a few putts while the Americans started to miss them.

‘Winning those few matches in the latter stages, that was the key. I’ve been under pressure, hitting shots myself, but that tops anything I have felt. I am so proud of our guys.’

American captain Davis Love, who will surely rue his decision to sit Keegan Bradley out in the second set of fourballs, was dignified in defeat and insisted he had no regrets.

Emotional: Olazabal paid tribute his his late great friend Ballesteros

Emotional: Olazabal paid tribute his his late great friend Ballesteros

Legend: Olazabal played alongside Ballesteros in several Ryder Cups

Legend: Olazabal played alongside Ballesteros in several Ryder Cups

Legend: Olazabal played alongside Ballesteros in several Ryder Cups

‘I wouldn’t have done anything
different, Europe played great. Our guys had been playing so well it
didn’t seem to matter what order we sent them out in. A couple of
matches flipped their way at the end that made it easier for them,’ he
added in reference to the succession of dramatic late turnarounds.

‘We
are all kind of stunned, it’s a little bit shocking. We know what it
feels like now from Brookline. We wanted to win every segment but we got
beat badly in this one. Any time you lose a segment that badly, it’s
going to cost you the Ryder Cup.

‘Ian
Poulter’s hot streak at the end of day two gave them confidence and
they built on that. Our guys who started hot over the first couple of
days did not start hot today.

‘Stricker
and Woods were put in the back just in case and fought hard, but once
the Europeans got momentum it was hard to stop them.’

Dejected: Love (right) is applauded by his team during the closing ceremony

Dejected: Love (right) is applauded by his team during the closing ceremony

Justin Rose gave Europe hope that they could make the dream become reality when he came back from one down with two to play to beat Phil Mickelson. Rose admitted: ‘We are in shock. We knew that if a couple of their guys started to wobble it was going to get incredibly tight for them.’

On his own stunning victory, Rose added: ‘Those were the three biggest putts I’ve ever made back to back in my career under pressure. I just said to myself that I haven’t putted well all week and, “Rosey, this is what it could all come down to”.

‘Coming off the green here I’ve looked down at my left sleeve (with the Ballesteros emblem) and it’s the kind of thing Seve would have done for sure.’

Martin Kaymer, the German who sealed retention of the Cup with the point that took Europe to an unassailable 14 points, was an unlikely hero. After having a relatively mediocre season following his first major win – the US PGA title – in 2010, he held his nerve to sink a five-foot put on the 18th. He credited a chat with his compatriot Bernhard Langer.

Nerves of steel: Kaymer holed the winning putt

Nerves of steel: Kaymer holed the winning putt

‘This is a feeling that I’ve never had before,’ said Kaymer, 27. ‘On Friday night I sat down with Bernhard and talked to him about the Ryder Cup because my attitude wasn’t the right one.

‘It helped me a lot to talk about it and after today I know how important the Ryder Cup is.

‘The major win was just for myself but this is a completely different level – I could see the guys behind me, my brother was here and Sergio ran on to the green, it felt like there was so much more behind me.’

Overall, Europe’s top performer was the talismanic Poulter, who ended with a 4-0 record – the only 100 per cent performer – and became one of four Europeans who won their singles by outplaying their opponents on the 17th and 18th holes.

He was more responsible than anyone for giving Europe a chink of light late on Saturday with brilliant putting in a fourballs win with Rory McIlroy.

Main man: Poulter (right) celebrates with Justin Rose

Main man: Poulter (right) celebrates with Justin Rose

‘Last night we took such a lot from those two late wins,’ he said. ‘It was amazing to see the atmosphere change in that team room, the spirit was different. The guys were pumped up, we just felt there was that glimmer of hope. Whether it’s this man here on my sleeve (Ballesteros) or just Ollie I don’t know, but it’s pretty special.’

By contrast it had been a dismal Ryder Cup for Tiger Woods, who missed at the 18th and then conceded the final putt to allow his opponent Francesco Molinari a half – the first of the entire match – because he knew the chance of regaining the trophy had gone.

‘After they retained it everything went down,’ said Woods. ‘My putt was useless, it was inconsequential, so I hit it too quick and then gave his to him. That’s twice now when I’ve been on the fairway when the Cup was already over – like at The Belfry (2002).’

PUTTING THE PAST TO BED

REVENGE FOR LANGER Kiawah Island, 1991

The ‘War on the Shore’ culminated in one of the most dramatic putts in the history of golf – and one that would haunt German Bernhard Langer for 13 years. On the final green it was down to Langer and American Hale Irwin. To the surprise of his team-mates, Langer conceded Irwin’s bogey putt, leaving himself a six-footer he had to make. Thirteen years later he captained Europe to victory in the 2004 Ryder Cup in America, where Europe slaughtered the hosts in the singles on the final day. On Sunday another German, Martin Kaymer, gained revenge for Langer by sinking a very similar putt on the 18th green to ensure Europe would retain the trophy.

REVENGE FOR BROOKLINE Brookline, 1999

The ‘Battle of Brookline’ saw Euro-American relations at an all-time low. The lead was the complete reverse of Sunday’s going into the final day – 10-6 to a European team captained by Mark James – but American captain Ben Crenshaw decided to pack the top of the order with his best players, just as Jose Maria Olazabal did at Medinah. Europe panicked and ultimately lost 15-13 but there were ugly scenes on the 17th green when Justin Leonard holed his putt and was then mobbed by his American team-mates, who trampled over Jose Maria Olazabal’s line before he’d had the chance to putt.

Jose Maria Olazabal warns his players to be careful on Twitter during Ryder Cup

Don't be Twits! Olazabal warns Ryder Cup colleagues to be careful on social networks

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UPDATED:

21:43 GMT, 26 September 2012

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal has warned his players to be careful over their use of Twitter during the Ryder Cup in Chicago.

Olazabal has not attempted to issue a blanket ban over the use of social networking sites, but reminded his team to bear in mind how their comments can be interpreted.

Watch out: Jose Maria Olazabal has told his team to be cautious

Watch out: Jose Maria Olazabal has told his team to be cautious

'I'm not banning any member of the
team,' Olazabal said at Medinah, where Europe will attempt to retain the
trophy and make it five wins in the last six contests.

'What I've said to them is that they have to be careful on what they say, how they say it and when they say it. I'm sure that any comments that are made on Twitter are not intended in a bad way, but if you take the sentence out of context, it might look completely different.

Chat: Olazabal talks with Darren Clarke

Chat: Olazabal talks with Darren Clarke

'In that regard, the boys need to be a little bit cautious about it.'

Two years ago at Celtic Manor, there was some confusion over whether captain Colin Montgomerie had issued a ban, with the Scot then clarifying that he had asked players that 'respect is shown for what is said within the team room.'

Montgomerie added at the time: 'It's not a ban because if somebody does it how can you punish someone for it'

Daniel Agger wanted by Manchester City

Man City still pursuing Agger as Liverpool team-mate Bellamy nears Cardiff return

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UPDATED:

21:56 GMT, 6 August 2012

Wanted man: Agger

Wanted man: Agger

Manchester City are continuing to press for Liverpool’s Daniel Agger. The defender, 27, is valued close to 30million and has been the subject of an offer of around 14million.

There are growing concerns over Agger's situation at Liverpool. There have been differing points of view from his representatives and Liverpool about what amounts to talks over a new contract.

When Agger missed Liverpool's Europa League tie last week there were quotes in Danish publications which said he was not injured and that talks had yet to begin over a new contract. Liverpool insist that is not the case and that initial talks have begun. Brendan Rodgers also said he always intended for Agger to stay behind.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy is expected to move to Cardiff.

Bellamy has always maintained that it would take a special deal to make him leave Anfield and Cardiff is the place he and his family regard as home.

He made a promise while on loan that he would try and help them to promotion and that desire still remains.

London 2012 Olympics: Adam Gemili must go

London calling to Adam: Games needs teenage sprint ace Gemili, but still he won’t commit

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 24 June 2012

The poster boy of the Olympic trials waltzed into the history books with an impossibly white-teethed smile that will illuminate London this summer.

Unfortunately, it was a scene from the American equivalent of the selection process that was taking place under leaden skies in Birmingham over the weekend.

The star was a 24-year-old decathlete called Ashton Eaton, who set a world record of 9,039 points. This former college phenomenon with podium-topping confidence to burn presented himself as the box-office hit for American track and field.

Golden boy: Ashton Eaton broke the world record in the men's decathlon

Golden boy: Ashton Eaton broke the world record in the men's decathlon

QUALIFIERS SO FAR

WOMEN: Sophie Hitchon (hammer), Christine Ohuruogu and Shana Cox (400m), Tiffany Porter and Jessica Ennis (100m hurdles), Shara Proctor (long jump), Goldie Sayers (javelin), Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child (400m hurdles), Eilish McColgan (3,000m steeplechase), Laura Weightman (1500m), Holly Bleasdale and Kate Dennison (pole vault), Jo Pavey (5,000m), Margaret Adeoye and Anyika Onuora (200m).

MEN: Steve Lewis (pole vault), Greg Rutherford (long jump), Dai Greene and Jack Green (400m hurdles), Andy Baddeley and Ross Murray (1500m), Adam Gemili (100m), Robbie Grabarz (high jump), Nick McCormick (5,000m), Martyn Rooney and Conrad Williams (400m), James Ellington and Christian Malcolm (200m), Lawrence Okoye (discus), Andrew Osagie (800m), Andrew Pozzi and Lawrence Clarke (110m hurdles).

Five thousand miles away from Eugene, Oregon, at the Alexander Stadium, Walsall Road, Birmingham, there were a few hundred empty seats in the 10,000-capacity arena. What the Midlands would have given for a jaw-dropping British hero.

Jessica Ennis was here but not competing in her chief Olympic endeavour, the heptathlon; Mo Farah selfishly withdrew from the 1500 metres after winning his heat with scant regard for the paying punter; and contrary triple jumper Phillips Idowu was absent, either malingering or injured.

Into that void galloped 18-year-old Adam Gemili, the Londoner of Moroccan-Iranian descent, who despite coming second on Saturday to Dwain Chambers is the only Briton who has qualified for the Olympic 100m.

So given his raw talent, having taken up full-time sprint training only last autumn, what debate could there possibly be about his participation in the first home Games this country has staged since soap rationing was scrapped

Question mark: Adam Gemili has not yet committed to running at the Olympics

Question mark: Adam Gemili has not yet committed to running at the Olympics

Over to Michael Afilaka, his coach, who said Gemili was ‘an emotional wreck’ on Saturday evening after competing with the big boys. ‘We’ll make the decision on whether he goes to the Olympics later on, maybe this week,’ he explained.

‘The thing you’ve got to remember is this is a young kid and everyone is getting carried away. It’s not about the world juniors (in Barcelona mid-July) versus the Olympics. It’s always been about the world juniors for us. This is just a bonus.

‘You’ve got to be sensible and it’s my job to make sure we set it up fine. If we go for it, it’s got to be in line with the original plan and as part of his development.’

Asked if it was not a win-win situation, Afilaka said: ‘No. We have an issue with good young kids who just don’t develop. If you throw him into the cauldron of the Olympics and he gets burned he might never recover. Being a home Olympics makes no difference. It’s brutal. From getting kitted out to walking into the Olympic Stadium, and it’s very unforgiving. It’s not about grabbing the chance. He’s not just a young kid; he’s young to athletics and we’ve got to manage that.’

Double act: Dwain Chambers and Gemili could represent Team GB

Double act: Dwain Chambers and Gemili could represent Team GB

Afilaka’s concerns are understandable but you could turn his argument on its head. God forbid, but Gemili’s career could be finished by this time next year, let alone when the Rio Olympics come round four years from now.

Why deny him that chance I cite Daley Thompson, as garlanded a decathlete as Eaton dreams of being. He was picked for the Montreal Olympics of 1976, aged 17. He finished 18th but said: ‘I wouldn’t have won in Moscow four years later if I hadn’t gone to Montreal with the experience it gave me.’

Ironically, the cast of non-qualified athletes who go to the European Championships in Helsinki in a final attempt to meet the required standard would not be dawdling over whether to go as Gemili’s people are. He could race against Usain Bolt. He could make the semi-final.

The sport, too, would benefit from the excitement his emergence in the purest, most electrifying of Olympic disciplines would generate. The 800 athletes competing here comprised the biggest entrance since 1972. But, still, athletics, pushed to the edge of TV schedules and struggling for crowds, owes it to itself to build on the momentum triggered by this Olympic frenzy.

Done it: James Ellington celebrates winning the men's 200m final at the trials

Done it: James Ellington celebrates winning the men's 200m final at the trials

What else have we learned this weekend First, we were reminded that trials which are not a sudden-death shootout, in the way the American and Jamaican systems are, lack knife-edge drama.

Conclusions on form were hard to establish. The wind was swirly, the temperature low. It was not conducive to fast times. Take world champion Dai Greene’s 49.47sec in winning the 400m hurdles, though his personal best is 47.88sec.

He was our only serious gold medal hope to compete here, at least in his favoured discipline, and not too perturbed by his performance. He goes to Diamond League meetings in Paris and London believing he will run faster and find focus in quicker company. For others, the ultimate importance of the trials was palpable. None more so than James Ellington, who placed himself on eBay to find a sponsor, namely King of Shaves.

‘The best day of my life,’ declared the heavily tattooed entrepreneur after winning the 200m and becoming the 33rd athlete to secure his selection in the weekend. ‘It’s what every athlete dreams of: winning the National Championships in Olympic year.’ Now for London. Gemili included, please.

Euro 2012: Keith Andrews targets strong start against Croatia on road to qualification

Ireland in it to win it! Andrews targets strong start against Croatia on road to qualification

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UPDATED:

23:09 GMT, 7 June 2012

As the countdown to Sunday's collision with Croatia heightens, Keith Andrews allowed himself a wry chuckle as he recollected the last time he went head to head with Luka Modric – and lost.

'I faced him as a right-back, actually, when he was left wing for Spurs.

'I have to be honest, I didn't enjoy that afternoon,' recalled Andrews, who has a high professional regard for the slightly built playmaker.

Not the whipping boys: Keith Andrews (left) is determined to record a victory over Croatia on Sunday

Not the whipping boys: Keith Andrews (left) is determined to record a victory over Croatia on Sunday

'Since he moved into the centre of midfield, he has become more influential in games.

'He's a fantastic player and, if you give him time and space on the ball, he can hurt you.

'He's one of their main players, their playmaker, if you like, and we'll have to keep a close eye on him on Sunday.'

Already, the Irish players have a fair handle on what to expect from Croatia, having seen them in the flesh last August and also on DVD in the past week.

And it was evident from listening to Andrews that the players are clued in about their opening Group C opponents.

Master tactician: Giovanni Trapattoni will hope to lead Ireland out of a tricky group

Master tactician: Giovanni Trapattoni will hope to lead Ireland out of a tricky group

'We know all about them. We played against them last year and last week in Montecatini we watched the game they played against Norway,' he said.

'We've been watching them; we've seen clips of them, gone over information on them so we're fully aware of their strengths.

'They're a fine side and we're under no illusions that it's going to be a tough game.

'They're a very neat side. The wide men don't particularly stay wide. They come inside, flood the midfield and normally play with one lone striker – and get support up to him quite quick.

'I don't think their style is going to differ too much from that.

Back in training: Ireland players will be refreshed and ready for their opener

Back in training: Ireland players will be refreshed and ready for their opener

'They may start with a tricky front man and bring on, for instance, [Nikica] Jelavic, so that they can potentially go a bit more direct.

'We have to be ready to cater for that.'

Andrews has been given no specific brief on Modric but admitted: 'I think over the next few days it'll be cranked up in terms of what we're expected to do.'

Andrews, 31, can sense the excitement levels building as the finals finally get under way and is aware that opening group games can often be edgy affairs.

'They probably are…our games are edgy at the best of times,' he grinned.

Statement to make: Stephen Ward wants to prove Ireland are no whipping boys

Statement to make: Stephen Ward wants to prove Ireland are no whipping boys

He also appreciates what is riding on the outcome as the losers on Sunday will be firmly on the back foot with both having reigning champions Spain to come.

'For both teams, it's a massive game,' he acknowledged.

'Spain are red-hot favourites to win the group and ourselves, Italy and Croatia are probably vying for second spot.

'I wouldn' t be expecting ridiculous amounts of goals. The game is so important that I know we're worried that we don't lose it and I think they'll be the same.'

Chatting to the players on Thursday, the same point was made by them all – how crucial it is to leave the field in Poznan with something in the bank.

The opposition: Luka Modric will play in an impressive Croatia midfield on Sunday

The opposition: Luka Modric will play in an impressive Croatia midfield on Sunday

Three points would be terrific, and one would be acceptable. After that, the road to a quarter-final in Ukraine becomes increasingly uphill.

'The first game is vital,' said Stephen Ward. 'You have to make sure you don't lose it. If you can get a win it gives you a great base to go push on and hopefully get out of the group.

'Croatia are a good side but I think we're a match for anyone on our day and I suppose in a weird way all the focus has been on the other teams in the group and not really on us, so maybe that can help us.

And there's more... Ireland will also have to play Italy and Spain (above)

And there's more… Ireland will also have to play Italy and Spain (above)

'We hopefully can put a good stamp on this tournament as we're coming in on the back of a good run, being 14 games unbeaten.

'Not many teams can say that.'

Ward wasn't on board the Irish train to Yerevan in September 2010 when the qualifying campaign started away to Armenia, but he has seized his chance after dislodging Kevin Kilbane.

Euro 2012

After 12 caps, the left-back admits to pinching himself 'a little bit' about where his career has taken him.

'I don't think you can get too overawed about it. You need a calm head,' said Ward.

'Everyone is excited about it, but at the end of the day we've got a game of football to play and we need to make sure that we're ready to do that as best we can.

'Your childhood memories are all about Ireland in the major tournaments and while it' s important to realise what we've done to come this far, we're here to do a job and we're not here to make up the numbers.'

The Wolves defender is relieved to have got the all-clear after he took a whack on the shin bone last Tuesday in Hungary, which he described as 'nothing serious'.

What is serious, in every sense, is about to unfold in Gdansk and Poznan on Sunday.

Andy Farrell leaves Saracens and could return to England

Farrell walks out on Saracens and opens door to England return

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UPDATED:

10:45 GMT, 1 June 2012

Andy Farrell has walked out on Saracens leaving him open to a return to the England coaching set up.

The former backs coach rejected the chance to join Stuart Lancaster coaching set up in April in order to stay with the club out of loyalty, but Farrell told Saracens he has had second thoughts and wanted to leave as soon as possible, according to The Times.

It is not known if he will be able to join up with England before their tour of South Africa starts.

Saracens chairman Nigel Wray, said: 'We are sorry to see Andy leave, and we wish him well in the future.'

Back to England Andy Farrell could be set for a return to international coaching after leaving Saracens

Back to England Andy Farrell could be set for a return to international coaching after leaving Saracens

The 36-year-old, whose son Owen is an integral part of the new-look England squad that Lancaster has been building, has told the club that he will serve a six-month notice period.

But it is not known if Saracens will
make him serve his notice period or not knowing that he is set on
returning to the England set up.

The RFU’s initially offered 60,000 in compensation to Saracens and the drawn out of negotiations made Farrell think twice about a full-time role with England.

Saracens will likely demand the maximum compensation for their head coach who has two years remaining on his contract.

Key member: Stuart Lancaster was keen to have Andy Farrell in his coaching team

Key member: Stuart Lancaster was keen to have Andy Farrell in his coaching team

After being unable to agree a deal to land Farrell, Lancaster and the RFU turned to Mike Catt who was appointed as interim attack coach to join Graham Rowntree for the five-match tour to South Africa.

Lancaster was hugely disappointed that Farrell, whom he holds in the highest regard, had slipped through the net.

However, contact was recently re-opened behind the scenes, culminating in Friday’s revelation and Farrell’s departure which will leave relations between the club and the RFU at an all-time low.