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Richie McCaw, Dan Carter . . . your boys took one hell of a beating!

Richie McCaw, Dan Carter… your boys took one hell of a beating!

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UPDATED:

21:13 GMT, 1 December 2012

Fifteen minutes after the final whistle, four or five young men in white shirts came shuffling down the Twickenham tunnel.

As they reached the touchline, another group in white hurried to join them. For a few moments, they gathered on the halfway line, waving shyly at the almost empty stands.Then they sloped off on a self-conscious lap of honour, unable to believe what they had just achieved.

There were no extravagant celebrations from England's players, nor from those who had watched them.

Swing low sweet chariot: Owen Farrell (left) hoists yet another deadly penalty kick to put England 12 points ahead at the break

Swing low sweet chariot: Owen Farrell (left) hoists yet another deadly penalty kick to put England 12 points ahead at the break

Instead, there was a collective inability to appreciate the size and significance of one of the most remarkable victories in the history of English rugby.

For nobody had seen this coming, nobody had sensed or smelled it.

Sure, the England coaches would later speak of gradual improvements over the course of the autumn internationals, of a heightened ability to live with pressure, of an increased confidence in dealing with the might of the Southern Hemisphere.

But nobody could place hand upon heart and declare their long-held conviction that Twickenham would yield a scoreline reading England 38, New Zealand 21.

And what made it so extraordinarily impressive was the fact that the English triumph was so richly deserved.

There were no ifs, no buts, no might-have-beens.

To their credit, New Zealand sought no excuses. They were beaten up front, overwhelmed at the breakdown and run ragged behind.

In surrendering a 20-match unbeaten run, they sustained the kind of battering they have so often inflicted. The longer the match progressed, the worse their humiliation became.

Small wonder that even the staunchest English patriots were doubting the evidence of their eyes.

For this was New Zealand being hammered.

Get Carter: All Blacks Dan Carter finds no way through Tom Youngs' block (above), and below Carter is left wondering where it all went so wrong for the odds-on favourites

Get Carter: All Blacks Dan Carter finds no way through Tom Youngs' block (above), and below Carter is left wondering where it all went so wrong for the odds-on favourites

Get Carter: All Blacks Dan Carter finds no way through Tom Youngs' block (above), and below Carter is left wondering where it all went so wrong for the odds-on favourites

This was the best team in the world, the nation that sets the standards, the side whose name is a synonym for excellence.

When you play the All Blacks, you play their looming legend. You do not merely encounter the daunting present of Dan Carter and Ma'a Nonu, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.

No, you are required to face their ghosts; Wilson Whineray and Pinetree Meads, Don Clark, Ian Kirkpatrick, Sid Going and the rest.

As Brazil are to the round ball game, so New Zealand are to the oval ball.

Small wonder so many are cowed by their aura, beaten before they begin.

Nothing had suggested that England could avoid their traditional fate when the pre-match rituals were observed.

The fearsome haka was met, first in silence and then by a blast of Sweet Chariot. You could almost see the patrons exchanging worried glances: 'What have we done Hope we haven't made them angry.'

So apprehensive were the Twickenham watchers that they let slip their customary courtesy and whistled Carter when he took an age with his early penalties.

There were guilty blushes when the finest flyhalf in the game missed both of them. But Owen Farrell was not missing.

Instead, he was striking the ball sweetly, smoothly, unerringly. /12/01/article-2241591-164D074F000005DC-563_634x472.jpg” width=”634″ height=”472″ alt=”Provoked: Julian Savea goes over to score a try ” class=”blkBorder” />

Provoked: Julian Savea goes over to score a try

And then, provoked by yet another Farrell penalty, they suddenly began to play like All Blacks. Julian Savea's try in the corner was the reward for a move involving a flutter of flickering hands.

The next, a couple of minutes later, was even better, with Cory Jane securing the break, the brilliant Conrad Smith providing the link and Read loping over in the corner.

A point down, you might have bet the ranch on a New Zealand victory at that stage. But then we were into miracles and wonders.

Worth the wait: Chris Ashton (right) scored for the first time in a long time

Worth the wait: Chris Ashton (right) scored for the first time in a long time

Burns night: Freddie Burns was hot

Burns night: Freddie Burns was hot

First, there was the hectic conspiracy
involving Brad Baritt and Tuilagi down the left touchline, which
concluded with an offload from Tuilagi which quite belied his
reputation.

Another superbly destructive Tuilagi break allowed Chris Ashton a clear run to the line for his first try in an age.

True, he could not resist a self-indulgent swallow dive, but we bit back our peevish disapproval as the game became completely insane.

A yawning interception by Tuilagi saw him literally stroll over after trotting from halfway without a challenge in sight, and a grimly intense international had turned into a Sevens tournament.

Another try by Savea – possibly the best of all – arrived far too late to influence the outcome, for by now Freddie Burns, the substitute fly-half, was kicking goals for fun on his debut.

Then it was over, a victory for the ages, a triumph far beyond England's most intemperate dreams. The Chariot was sung again; mildly at first, then with swelling fervour.

And the All Blacks shook English hands and stumbled away into the night, awaiting the welcome which awaits them back home.

Whisper it in Wanganui, speak it not in Silverdale … your boys took one hell of a beating.

New Zealand coach Ian Foster criticises Chris Robshaw for his decision making

He'd have been shot! That's what All Blacks would have done to 'calamity captain' Chris

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UPDATED:

12:19 GMT, 27 November 2012

England’s under-fire captain Chris Robshaw found sympathy in short supply when New Zealand indicated their disapproval of his decision making.

Robshaw has been heavily criticised for directing Owen Farrell to kick for goal when England trailed 16-12 to South Africa with two minutes remaining of Saturday’s clash at Twickenham.

New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster showed his disdain for Robshaw’s decision when asked how he would react if an All Blacks’ captain made the same call.

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Not impressed: New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster had little sympathy for Chris Robshaw

Not impressed: New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster had little sympathy for Chris Robshaw

Foster pointed an imaginary gun to his head and pulled the trigger while veteran centre Conrad Smith, who was sat beside him, grinned.

Farrell’s attempt was successful but there was no time left to secure victory as the Springboks held out for a 16-15 triumph.

Successive defeats to Australia and South Africa have left England facing a whitewash in their QBE internationals against the southern hemisphere heavyweights.

But Foster refuses to underestimate their
challenge at Twickenham on Saturday as New Zealand attempt to stretch
their unbeaten run to 21 Tests.

Mocked: Robshaw's decision making was being mocked on Twitter with a picture of him competing on Who wants to be a Millionaire

Mocked: Robshaw's decision making was being mocked on Twitter with a picture of him competing on Who wants to be a Millionaire

'It’s a dangerous time to be playing England. We saw that a little bit when we played Wales on Saturday,” Foster said.

'They will have targeted us and there’s no better way for redemption when you’ve had a couple of defeats than to knock over a top team.

'Between that and the youth they have, a little sense of adventure could come into their game.

Getting it wrong: Robshaw tells Owen Farrell to kick for goal rather than kick for the corner

Getting it wrong: Robshaw tells Owen Farrell to kick for goal rather than kick for the corner

'They’ve come off two big games so the energy levels will be pretty even and it will just be about who executes the best.

'They showed during their summer series in South Africa that they can play with a bit of width. They proved they have the ability to do that.

'It’s going to be at least as tough as the Wales match from what we’ve seen.

'That was a very physical game and we were fortunate to execute really well in some moments and pile on a lot of pressure.'

Video courtesy of Sky Sports News

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England versus New Zealand is live on Sky Sports 1 from 2pm this Saturday.

Chris Foy: England have a great deal to learn after South Africa defeat

180 seconds of madness! But England have much more to put right than just scrambled thinking

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UPDATED:

01:16 GMT, 26 November 2012

Each week there is a different focus for the England inquest. This time, Stuart Lancaster was asked to identify the principal shortcoming in his side's game.

'Composure' was the response. The national coach is growing weary of the so-near-yet-so-far routine.

Another single-digit defeat against weakened southern-hemisphere opposition leaves England in grave danger of concluding this QBE International campaign with a dire return of one win and three defeats.

Madness: Captain Chris Robshaw made the wrong call in the latter stages of the game

Madness: Captain Chris Robshaw made the wrong call in the latter stages of the game

Crucial score: Willem Alberts goes over the line for the only try of the game despite the attentions of Joe Launchbury

Crucial score: Willem Alberts goes over the line for the only try of the game despite the attentions of Joe Launchbury

That supposes the host nation cannot possibly upset the world champions on Saturday.

On the basis of the latest evidence,
that is a fair assumption. The All Blacks swatted Wales aside while
England were picking through the rubble of this latest setback.

Put aside the debate about 'that'
penalty and Lancaster's observation about composure stands up to closer
scrutiny on various levels.

This result was not solely a
consequence of scrambled thinking in the dying seconds, it was founded
on a lack of composed execution too. While a piercing spotlight is
trained on captain Chris Robshaw's decision making, a telling example of
the fundamental shortcomings hindering England actually took place
seconds earlier.

With referee Nigel Owens playing
advantage, the home side worked an overlap on the right, Alex Goode
jinked forward but his pass was high and in front of Chris Ashton, who
fumbled.

Manu Tuilagi was lurking outside and
would have taken some stopping if released.

When the pressure was
stifling, the composure to execute accurately was lacking.

Earlier, in the 53rd minute, came an
even more glaring example. Tuilagi seized an interception and burst out
of defence before calmly waiting for support and releasing Ashton.

Family affair: Tom Youngs (left) attempts to intervene as Eben Etzebeth grapples with brother Ben

Family affair: Tom Youngs (left) attempts to intervene as Eben Etzebeth grapples with brother Ben

The Saracen appeared ready to reprise
his wonder try against Australia two years ago with an arcing run clear
of the covering defence, but instead he tried to release Mike Brown and
the pass was woefully inadequate.

A rare scoring chance was wasted. In a
day of debate about decision making Ashton admitted he may have taken
the wrong option, saying: 'Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I thought he
was a lot closer.

'I'm thinking now I probably should have had a go.'

While the wet conditions did nothing
to aid handling precision, England also lost lineout composure, with the
towering Eben Etzebeth managing to poach several home throws.

England had plenty of possession, but
it was squandered with aimless kicks – too deep and without the back-up
of an effective chase.

Toby Flood missed two shots at goal before he was replaced by Owen Farrell.

Hands up: Chris Robshaw is closed down by Adriaan Strauss (left) and Francois Louw

Hands up: Chris Robshaw is closed down by Adriaan Strauss (left) and Francois Louw

The first-choice No 10 left
Twickenham in a protective boot after suffering a toe injury and,
although a scan revealed no broken bones, he is seemingly destined to
miss the clash with New Zealand.

In that event Farrell is the man
most likely to take over at fly-half, but he could not conjure an
opening as England's replacement playmaker during a second half when
Lancaster's men swarmed forward but didn't appear capable of unlocking a
robust Springbok defence.

Gloucester's Freddie Burns re-joined the squad last night as the form stand-off in the country and he will be considered.

Bath wing Tom Biggs and, with Alex
Corbisiero struggling because of a knee injury, Gloucester prop Nick
Wood were also summoned.

It is fitting to note that the
attacking platform this week was made of sturdier stuff as the home pack
rose to the challenge posed by South Africa's imposing forwards.

After being out-muscled by Australia this was a stirring riposte.

Running free: Alex Goode breaks away from the clutches of Jannie du Plessis

Running free: Alex Goode breaks away from the clutches of Jannie du Plessis

Lock Geoff Parling was magnificent,
Joe Launchbury showed power and aggression on his full debut, Tom Wood
galvanised the improved breakdown operation and Alex Corbisiero led a
dominant scrum.

The visitors somehow led 9-6 at
half-time then took a firm grip on proceedings by snatching one of the
most fortuitous tries in memory.

Juandre Kruger fumbled near England's
line but, when Ben Youngs tried to kick the ball clear, it ricocheted
off JP Pietersen towards the line, Wood was unable to hold it and Willem
Alberts dropped on it.

Are you sure Owen Farrell remonstrates with Robshaw

Are you sure Owen Farrell remonstrates with Robshaw

Breaking away: Manu Tuilagi skips past Jean de Villiers

Breaking away: Manu Tuilagi skips past Jean de Villiers

Pat Lambie converted for 16-6. Three
penalties by Farrell took England to within a point but the last of
those provided the major talking point and left Robshaw defending himsel
f against accusations of losing composure.

Lancaster backed his captain, saying:
'International sport is tough for people if they make a mistake. You've
got to make sure people are supported.'

Players also spoke up for Robshaw but not even an adherence to the party line could disguise their frustration.

'Chris has the final decision but there are other guys on the field who should be assisting,' said prop Dan Cole.

'Sometimes the right decision is the
quick decision. We live and learn.' England will have to learn fast. In
five days' time they must try to smash the All Black juggernaut off
course.

If composure is lacking again,
Lancaster's side will be heavily beaten and this autumn campaign will be
damned as an abject failure.

Clearing his lines: Ben Youngs gets a kick away despite the attentions of Duane Vermeulen

Clearing his lines: Ben Youngs gets a kick away despite the attentions of Duane Vermeulen

Locked up: Joe Launchbury is tackled by Gurthro Steenkamp and Duane Vermeulen

Locked up: Joe Launchbury is tackled by Gurthro Steenkamp and Duane Vermeulen

HOW THE KEY FINAL MOMENTS UNFOLDED

Really Owen Farrell (left) argues Chris Robshaw's call

77min 14sec Referee Nigel Owens signals a penalty pending for England, just outside South Africa’s 22, slightly to the left of the posts, but allows the home team to play an advantage.

77.23 England ’s attack to the right breaks down when Chris Ashton is unable to hold on to Alex Goode’s pass, so Owens blows his whistle to award the penalty. Mike Brown and Danny Care can be seen urgently waving their arms for the ball to be passed rapidly back to the penalty mark.

77.34 Chris Robshaw initially points to the posts, but Owens is looking the other way. The England captain then asks Owens if the clock can be stopped, but the referee says ‘No, I can’t’.

77.43 Robshaw instructs Owen Farrell to kick for goal and the Saracens player indicates that he thinks England should kick to the corner. The skipper over-rules (right) him and orders him to go for the posts.

77.49 The discussion between captain and kicker continues for several more seconds, with Farrell turning round to offer a further observation before he begins to line up the penalty.

77.52 Farrell puts the ball on the turf next to Owens, then turns around once more and makes another comment while clearly shaking his head in frustration at the decision.

78.00 With Farrell still waiting for the kicking tee to be brought on and the crowd booing, an evidently concerned Robshaw approaches Owens again and asks ‘Can I change the call’ The referee says ‘No’ so Robshaw shouts to his kicker ‘Faz, quick! Quick!’.

78.30 Farrell quickly composes himself and finally the ball is struck, through the posts to bring England to within one point at 16-15 down.

79.00 South Africa ’s restart flies towards the touchline on England’s right flank, replacement lock Mouritz Botha attempts to catch the kick but spills the ball and it rolls into touch.

80.14 Having claimed the subsequent lineout and recycled the ball at a ruck, the Springboks drive again, Ruan Pienaar passes out to Francois Hougaard and he kicks the ball into touch to end the game.

Toby Flood toe injury rules him out of New Zealand clash

Flood blow for England as toe injury rules fly-half out of New Zealand clash

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UPDATED:

00:00 GMT, 25 November 2012

Stuart Lancaster's autumn of discontent looks set to get even worse after first-choice playmaker Toby Flood suffered a serious toe injury that looks certain to rule him out of next week's clash with New Zealand.

The fly-half suffered the injury in the early stages of his side's 16-15 defeat by South Africa at Twickenham as England suffered their second loss to a Southern Hemisphere side in a week and their fourth in six games under coach Lancaster.

Black day: Toby Flood was forced to come off just after half-time against South Africa

Black day: Toby Flood was forced to
come off just after half-time against South Africa

Yesterday's defeat, following on from last week's 20-14 loss Australia, ended in controversial fashion as England captain Chris Robshaw instructed Flood's second-half replacement, Owen Farrell, to kick a penalty with a fourpoint deficit on the scoreboard and less than two minutes remaining.

Robshaw appeared to change his mind after initially opting to kick to the corner, telling frustrated Farrell to instead kick for the posts, leading to confusion and a needless delay.

Farrell, who clearly wanted to kick for the corner in the hope of securing a drive over try from a line-out, kicked the three points on offer, but with the seconds ticking down, England lock Mauritz Botha dropped the ball from South Africa's restart and the Springboks were able to hack the ball into touch to claim a narrow victory.

It added up to another miserable afternoon for Lancaster, who was last night considering his options at fly-half after Flood had an X-ray and was spotted leaving Twickenham with his right foot in a protective boot.

While the X-ray revealed no break to the bone, it is understood that Flood suffered ligament damage in a collision with two South African players and he will be out of action for up to four weeks.

That will rule him out of Saturday's clash with the world champion All Blacks, giving Lancaster an extra headache following his side's latest disappointment. Flood missed two kicks out of four at goal yesterday as England were unable to capitalise on a glut of firsthalf possession.

This meant they were unable to claw their way back from a 16-9 deficit just after half-time when South Africa Willem Alberts scored a fortuitous try.

England 14 Australia 20: Barnes and Beale fire Wallabies as Red Rose rue missed chances

England 14 Australia 20: Barnes and Beale fire Wallabies as Red Rose rue missed chances

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UPDATED:

16:51 GMT, 17 November 2012

England crashed to a defeat to Australia they may still be regretting in three years' time.

The Wallabies bounced back from a 33-6 thumping in France last week to dominate England, whose chances of being a top seed at their home Rugby World Cup in 2015 now look remote.

England have worn purple shirts twice – against Argentina and Australia – and both times they have lost.

Unbridled glee: Australia celebrate their third win in four Cook cup matches

Unbridled glee: Australia celebrate their third win in four Cook cup matches

England clawed a half-time lead with a
contentious try from Manu Tuilagi after Nick Cummins had scored his
first international try for the Wallabies.

But Australia turned the screw after
the interval with Berrick Barnes kicking a total of 15 points and it was
not until England emptied their bench that they posed any consistent
threat.

England will rue their bold decisions
to kick second-half penalties to touch instead of taking points because
the Wallabies defence held firm.

And the more panicky England became, the more mistakes they made and Australia saw out the victory to reclaim the Cook Cup.

Going over: Manu Tuilagi scores England's first try to give the home side a 14-11 half-time lead

/11/17/article-0-1613F11C000005DC-989_634x449.jpg” width=”634″ height=”449″ alt=”Going over: Manu Tuilagi scores England's first try to give the home side a 14-11 half-time lead” class=”blkBorder” />

England's kit was officially described as 'regal purple', in order to reflect their place among the 'rugby royalty'.

But with South Africa and New Zealand
due at Twickenham over the next fortnight, England face an uphill
battle to join the elite in the top band of World Cup seeds when the
draw is made on December 4.

That would leave England with the prospect of facing one of the southern hemisphere giants in the pool stages.

Toby Flood kicked England into an
early lead but they spent most of the first half battling to stay in the
game, in the face of an Australia side who were more direct and more
threatening.

Initially, England defended
ferociously, hitting the Wallaby ball-carriers hard on the gainline,
holding them up and driving them backwards.

No mistake: Nick Cummins evades the attentions of Toby Flood to score Australia's opening try

No mistake: Nick Cummins evades the attentions of Toby Flood to score Australia's opening try

No mistake: Nick Cummins evades the attentions of Toby Flood to score Australia's opening try

But as the first half wore on,
England began to slip off key first-up tackles and that allowed the
Wallabies to build the pressure.

Danny Care did well to halt Tatafu
Polota-Nau in the corner after Australia had attempted a crafty short
lineout but they were soon on the back foot again.

Michael Hooper, the Australian
openside with an English father, slipped through Tom Youngs' tackle and
offloaded to Cummins, forcing England to scramble again.

Wycliff Palu, Cummins and Alexander
were all halted in their tracks before Barnes slotted the drop goal to
bring the Wallabies level.

England built the phases for the
first time but without any real menace, unlike the Wallabies who won a
scrum against the head and then released Cummins on the outside again.

Tuilagi and then Flood made
half-breaks for England before Thomas Waldrom took a quick tap penalty
and flicked the ball inside to Chris Robshaw.

Brace yourself: Chris Robshaw prepares to be hit by Wycliff Palu and Nicholas Phipps

Brace yourself: Chris Robshaw prepares to be hit by Wycliff Palu and Nicholas Phipps

Hooper was forced to slow things down
illegally and Flood's second penalty crept over the bar to restore
England's lead but it was brief respite.

Hooper ran onto a long lineout and
the Wallabies hammered away at the England line before Ben Alexander,
with Benn Robinson on his shoulder, drove low from the ruck.

The television pictures were not
conclusive enough for the try to be awarded but Joe Marler was penalised
at the subsequent scrum, allowing the Wallabies to leave with some
points.

Flood responded with a third penalty
but Care, who had been very effective in defence, was punished for a
loose kick with Nick Phipps launching the counter-attack.

Phipps beat one defender and then
released Cummins with a questionably forward pass but the Wallaby wing
streaked down the right and dived over in the corner for his maiden Test
try.

Care made amends immediately, turning
down a kickable penalty to take the quick tap. Tom Johnson and Brad
Barritt shipped the ball wide for Tuilagi, who had Sharples on his
outside but decided to go himself.

Quick ball: Nick Phipps releases early for Australia

Quick ball: Nick Phipps releases early for Australia

Tuilagi powered through Beale and
Phipps and stretched for the line with the the TMO finally confirming he
had got the ball down on the whitewash.

Australia were back in the groove
immediately after the interval, with Barnes and Beale pulling the
strings and the Wallaby pack edging the set-piece battle.

Barnes slotted three penalties in
quick succession. England's response was to send on replacements and two
of them in particular made an immediate impact.

Joe Launchbury took a towering high
ball before Mako Vunipola burst though the line and Ashton arrowed
towards the corner before being tackled into touch just short of the
line.

Reliable: The right boot of Toby Flood accounted for nine points

Reliable: The right boot of Toby Flood accounted for nine points

England piled on the pressure, twice
rejecting penalty shots at goal in the hope of driving the Wallabies
back from the lineout and it almost worked but Waldrom lost control as
he grounded the ball.

This time the television official's decision went against England.

Barnes' long-range penalty attempt
fell short and Vunipola continued to cause damage to the Wallabies,
destroying one scrum and then carrying powerfully into the Australian
22.

England went for another quick tap
penalty and Waldrom came steaming onto the ball but he was chopped down
short of the line and again the gamble failed to pay off.

Sleep will be a luxury for Thomson as Brit

Sleep in short supply for Thomson as Brit bids to make history in Vendee Globe

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UPDATED:

11:28 GMT, 10 November 2012

Alex Thomson will spend the next three months with little more than two hours sleep in every 24.

During the next 90 days he will snatch on average 20 to 30 minutes of shuteye every four hours while he keeps his racing yacht on course to beat 19 other sailors around the world, unassisted and without stopping.

Time, day and night, and light and darkness will have no relevance to him.

Tough times: Alex Thomson hopes to become the first British winner of the Vendee Globe

Tough times: Alex Thomson hopes to become the first British winner of the Vendee Globe

The 38-year-old is aiming to become the
first British winner of the Vendee Globe, a race known as the ‘Everest
of sailing’ yet more people have climbed to the top of the mountain than
completed the round the world solo yacht race.

It happens every four years and an average of just 50 per cent of the sailors finish. Two have died in the previous five races. Brit Nigel Burgess was the first victim of the race back in 1992 when he drowned in the Bay of Biscay. Four years later a Canadian Gerry Rouf left the port and was never found again. His boat washed up on the coast of Chile.

‘If I fall off the boat I’m dead,’ Thomson says. ‘We work in an extremely stressful environment. Imagine you’re in a rally car with Colin McRae driving at full speed through a forest at night-time, it’s raining, you’ve got no lights on the car, no seatbelts, breaks and no windscreen. Your brain is telling you you’re going to die. That’s what it’s like when you’re in the southern ocean and you’re going down waves at 30 to 40 knots. You could slow down – but you want to win the race.

‘Your body adapts and gets used to the lack of sleep but you have to be disciplined. You start getting shorter periods where you become tired and need to sleep. Sometimes you don’t always sleep but you have to. If you don’t, you can become at best uncompetitive and at worst dangerous. You have to be on top of your game all the time, and if you’re not, you die.’

Thomson is well-aware of the risk. Back in 2006 while racing part of his boat broke and it capsized leaving him stranded. Sailing code meant that fierce rival Mike Golding, another Briton racing at the Vendee Globe this year, halted his race to go back for him. He spent 12 hours between the accident and being rescued, during which he admits he thought his time was up.

Golding sailed one loop in search of Thomson and could not find him but at the second attempt he did. He was in the eye of what was becoming a hurricane. He believes if Golding had missed him that second time he would have died.

Bossing the sea: Thomson risks death if anything were to go wrong aboard his yacht

Bossing the sea: Thomson risks death if anything were to go wrong aboard his yacht

The race attracts the likes of Zinedine Zidane who has been in previous years to watch the start, drawn by that fascinating aspect. During the two weeks leading up to the start of the race 1.6million people flock to the small fishing village of Les Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France.

Three hundred thousand will line the banks of the river Loire today while the competitors are paraded along it in their racing boats and others mass along the seafront as the competitors head to the start line. Why is it so popular here ‘When we drive down that river they wonder if we’re going to come back again, that’s a big part of it,’ Thomson says.

The sailors are major celebrities in France and even the three Britons racing this year – Thomson, Golding and the only female entrant Samantha Davies – are figures of adoration. Spectators queue for up to two hours to be able to walk along the small pontoon that houses the racing boats. The competitors are in and out of their boats preparing but take time to stop for pictures standing on their boats. When they do – masses crowd around to take photographs.

But the most famous person to have taken part on the race from our shores is Ellen MacArthur. She became famous when she came second in the Vendee Globe back in 2001 and was the first woman to sail solo around the world without stopping.

‘The reason I’m here is because of Ellen MacArthur,’ Thomson says. ‘She raised enough interest back in England for the likes of me to raise money to do it. The first time anyone did this was in 1969, the same year we first put a man on the moon. It was a Brit called Robin Knox-Johnston and people thought he was mad and should see a psychiatrist. Since then less than 100 people have sailed solo, non-stop around the world but 3,000 have climbed Everest and 600 or 700 have been into space.’

Thomson’s yacht – called ‘Hugo Boss’ after his sponsors – is made up of 30,000 customised parts.

There is no bed, no shower and no toilet. He eats vacuum packs of food that contain 800 calories and all have the common denominator that they don’t taste very nice. There are five flavours for the entire three months.

Setting sail: Thomson before the start of the Vendee Globe in Les Sables

Setting sail: Thomson before the start of the Vendee Globe in Les Sables

And there’s a lot that can go wrong – it’s why he can’t grab more than 40 minutes sleep at a time and usually takes just 20. The 20 sailors have behind them huge teams trying to ensure that doesn’t happen. It’s similar to a Formula One set up. Hugo Boss flew out 160 people this year just for Thomson, from a physio, to a sports psychologist, to someone whose job it is to don a scuba suit and clean the bottom of the 4million racing yacht.

They sailed in a 40million luxury ‘mega yacht’ as a main base on the pontoon. But things do go wrong. Since Thomson became the youngest person to win a solo round-the-world yacht race aged 25 he has attempted the Vendee Globe twice and never got round. Four years ago sailing the racing yacht to the tiny fishing village where it starts he hit a 300 tonne fishing boat.

The team managed to fix the damage before the race started but two days in he hit something submerged under the surface and the race was over. Four years preparation ruined. ‘It’s crushing,’ Thomson adds. ‘It’s brutal, really brutal. As a Formula One racer it’s not so bad you have 20 races in a year so you move on. We do this race every four years. It’s like our Olympics.’

This year is slightly different than the previous attempts. Not only did he break the world record in Transatlantic sailing just three months ago, since the last time he entered the race Thomson has got married and he will leave behind his wife and one-year-old child. It is interesting that only fathers have ever won the previous six races.

‘It’s changed with me having a kid and the responsibility of that,’ he says. ‘You’re much more careful. I feel older now. You start off being young with loads of confidence but then you get more experienced and you’re more relaxed. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I could win. But a realistic aim is to finish. I want to do it for me and my family, for everyone behind me.’

If he makes it round to become the first Briton ever to win there are going to be a lot of sleeps before he gets to see them again – but they’ll be every four hours.

Alex Thomson is sponsored by HUGO BOSS

2002 autumn internationals: How England tamed the big three

How England tamed the big three: Ten years on from an autumn to remember

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UPDATED:

23:49 GMT, 4 November 2012

Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal to win the World Cup in November 2003 is etched in the memory of every England rugby fan.

But the foundation was laid a year earlier with stunning victories in successive weeks in the 2002 autumn series against the three southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – a feat achieved neither before nor since.

The series started on November 9, 2002 with the mighty All BIacks.

Try time: Danny Lee can't stop Jonny Wilkinson from scoring

Try time: Danny Lee can't stop Jonny Wilkinson from scoring

ENGLAND 31 NEW ZEALAND 28

ENGLAND: Robinson; Simpson-Daniel (Healey 77), Greenwood (Johnston 40), Tindall, Cohen; Wilkinson, Dawson; Woodman, Thompson, Vickery; Johnson, Grewcock (Kay 60); Moody, Hill, Dallaglio (Back 70).
Subs not used: Regan, Leonard, Stimpson.
Tries: Cohen, Moody, Wilkinson.
Cons: Wilkinson (2).
Pens: Wilkinson (3).
DG: Wilkinson.

NEW ZEALAND: Blair; Howlett, Umaga, Lowen (Robinson 46), Lomu; Spencer (Mehrtens 40), Devine (Lee 24); McDonnell, Hore, Meeuws; Robinson (Mika 60), Williams; Randall, Holah, Broomhall.
Subs not used: Mealamu, Hayman, So’oialo.
Tries: Howlett, Lee, Lomu (2).
Cons: Blair (2), Mehrtens (2).
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA).

It is sometimes forgotten England had not lost to southern hemisphere opposition since the South African tour in June 2000. They had also won 15 matches in a row at Twickenham, so confidence was high.

The match proved a real nail-biter, as the 31-28 scoreline would suggest. But it took a heroic Ben Cohen tackle in the corner and an equally vital Ben Kay line-out steal on England’s line to preserve the narrow advantage.

‘I’d come on as a replacement for Steve Borthwick,’ Kay remembers. ‘I had already established myself in the England squad. But I think that steal possibly cemented my reputation as a good line-out leader.

‘We proved that we could handle a
pressure situation just as we did in a different scenario against
Australia the week after. That was so important when we got to the World
Cup.’

The game against Australia had a strange
build-up. Any fly on the wall in the England team room at Pennyhill
Park Hotel 10 years ago next week would have been well advised to spread
his wings over his ears when two rugby giants clashed.

Wrecking ball: Jonah Lomu brushes aside James Simpson-Daniel

Wrecking ball: Jonah Lomu brushes aside James Simpson-Daniel

ENGLAND 32 AUSTRALIA 31

ENGLAND: Robinson; Simpson-Daniel, Greenwood, Tindall (Healey 80), Cohen; Wilkinson, Dawson; Leonard, Thompson, Vickery; Johnson, Kay; Moody, Hill, Back.
Subs not used: Regan, Morris, Grewcock, Dallaglio, Gomarsall, Stimpson.
Tries: Cohen (2).
Cons: Wilkinson (2).
Pens: Wilkinson (6).

AUSTRALIA: Burke; Sailor, Herbert (Giteau 73), Flatley, Mortlock; Larkham, Gregan; Noriega (Darwin 77), Paul (Freier 69), Young; Vickerman (Griffin 56), Harrison (Croft 70); Cockbain, Smith, Kefu.
Subs not used: Whitaker, Staniforth.
Tries: Sailor, Flatley (2).
Cons: Burke (2).
Pens: Burke (4).
Referee: Paul Honiss (NZ).

England No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, fresh from playing his part in the famous defeat of the All Blacks, had just found out that he had been left out of the side to face the world champions. He wanted to ‘discuss’ the matter with a pre-knighted Clive Woodward, the England manager. ‘We lunched together the other day and had a good laugh about it,’ Dallaglio told Sportsmail.

‘At least Clive did. It is not a subject I could ever laugh about.’

Dallaglio,
the very personification of pride and patriotism, had quite reasonably
anticipated leading out England against the Aussies for his 50th cap. He
had never previously been dropped and never previously been allocated a
seat on an international bench.

He adds: ‘I was not happy. I think you can assume the air was blue.

‘I
thought I had played pretty well against New Zealand. The stats showed
that I had been top tackler. Actually, I don’t think Clive realised it
would have been my 50th cap.

Putting the boot in: Wilkinson kicks a penalty against the All Blacks

Putting the boot in: Wilkinson kicks a penalty against the All Blacks

Swallow dive: Ben Cohen goes over in the win against New Zealand

Swallow dive: Ben Cohen goes over in the win against New Zealand

‘At least I had captained England and experienced the honour of leading the team out. I would have been even angrier had I not and been denied that moment.’

Woodward remembers a ‘good’ meeting. ‘It was probably the stormiest I ever had with a player. Lawrence was furious. He did not like being dropped. He tried to persuade me to say that he had been rested. I refused. He had been dropped and that was that.’

Ben Kay, who replaced Danny Grewcock in the second row for the second of the Antipodean encounters, was a member of a group all too aware. ‘I heard some crashing about in Lawrence’s bedroom that night,’ he recalls.

Legend: England captain Martin Johnson breaks clear

Legend: England captain Martin Johnson breaks clear

Woodward pretty much knew his optimum World Cup XV even at that stage of the preparations. ‘The back row was certainly 100 per cent settled. It was always going to be (Richard) Hill, Dallaglio and (Neil) Back. They were all world class.’

In fact, neither Dallaglio nor Back were in the starting line-up for all three autumn internationals. But no fewer than 10 of the 15 who began the World Cup final featured in all three teams that November. Only Josh Lewsey of the World Cup side had yet to emerge. He did not make his home England debut until the 2003 Six Nations.

Job done: Johnson lifts the Cook Cup after the win over Australia

Job done: Johnson lifts the Cook Cup after the win over Australia

‘We did have a settled side,’ Woodward
says. ‘And it is important to keep winning and building momentum ahead
of a world championship.

‘But I have always thought it a bit of a cop-out when coaches talk about using any international as a preparation for this or that.

High hopes: A young Mike Tindall skips clear of a South African challenge

High hopes: A young Mike Tindall skips clear of a South African challenge

ENGLAND 53 SOUTH AFRICA 3

ENGLAND: Robinson; Cohen, Greenwood (Stimpson 70), Tindall, Christophers; Wilkinson (Healey 44), Dawson (Gomarsall 57); Leonard, Thompson, Vickery; Johnson, Kay (Grewcock 70); Moody (Dallaglio 14), Hill, Back.
Subs not used: Regan, Morris.
Tries: Cohen, Greenwood 2.
Pen try: Back, Hill, Dallaglio.
Cons: Wilkinson, Dawson, Gomarsall (2), Stimpson (2).
Pens: Wilkinson (2).

SOUTH AFRICA: Greeff; Paulse (Russell 48), Fleck, James, Lombard; Pretorius (Jacobs 54), Conradie (Jordaan 10); Roux, Dalton (Van Biljon 54), Carstens; Labuschagne, Venter; Krige, Wannenburg, Niekerk.
Subs not used: Van der Linde, Wentzel, Uys.
Pen: Pretorius.
Sent off: Labuschagne (23).
Referee: Paddy O’Brien (NZ).

‘Test rugby is the absolute pinnacle. I
firmly believed in that old cliche of taking one game at a time and
picking a side to win that match.’ The contest against the Aussies was
another determined display by England. They ended up winning 32-31,
demonstrating that England could come from behind as well as hold on. A
10-point lead was turned into a 12-point deficit as Australia scored 22
unanswered points either side of half-time.

Dallaglio came on as a blood replacement for Richard Hill in that period, and recalls: ‘It was like a blur. We lost two tries and I left the field. As I was trotting off I heard a Gloucester voice in the crowd shout, “Hey, Dallaglio, we were winning before you came on”. I had to agree with him.

‘These wins, though, and further ones against southern hemisphere countries in 2003, were very important in building up confidence for the World Cup. We were better than them and they knew it.’

Last up, a week later, were South Africa. The 53-3 annihilation of the shambolic Springboks is remembered less for England’s seven tries than the cheap shots and calculated violence perpetrated by the tourists. Lock Jannes Labuschagne, who felled Wilkinson with a late shoulder charge, might not have been the only South African shown a red card.

Three Saturdays. Three unforgettable victories. History in the making.

Mauling: Neil Back celebrates a Will Greenwood try

Mauling: Neil Back celebrates a Will Greenwood try

Ten years on, an England side still early in the development stage are preparing for the mighty challenge provided by, in order, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

‘New Zealand look pretty much unbeatable,’ Woodward reckons. ‘But it is always a good time of the year to face the southern hemisphere countries. They are ending their season while we are beginning ours. And the Olympic Games demonstrated more than I had realised that home advantage is a huge factor in sport.’

Mastermind: Woodward back in 2002

Mastermind: Woodward back in 2002

Rory McIlroy payday with Tiger Woods could cost him Race to Dubai glory

Rory payday with Woods could cost him Race to Dubai glory with Hanson closing in

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 28 October 2012

Rory McIlroy will pocket a $2million cheque just for playing an 18-hole exhibition match at Zhengzhou in central China with his rival at the top of the world rankings, Tiger Woods.

However, while it will boost his army of worldwide fans, it could turn out to be a very short-term gain for the Ulsterman’s kudos and bank balance.

For in choosing to play with the American, McIlroy has opted out of the big-money HSBC Champions WGC which starts in southern China on Thursday.

Second best: Rory McIlroy lost out in the final round of the BMW Maasters in Shanghai

Second best: Rory McIlroy lost out in the final round of the BMW Maasters in Shanghai

As the 23-year-old jets off to Bulgaria later in the week to watch his tennis-star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki playing in the last WTA event of the year, a severe blow could be dealt to McIlroy’s one remaining ambition of an amazing year.

He wants to win both Europe’s Race to Dubai money list and top the US Tour’s earnings table to sit alongside his brilliant eight-shot major victory in the US PGA Championship in August.

But while he sits watching tennis in Sofia, his new main rival in the Race to Dubai, Swede Peter Hanson, will be in action at Mission Hills.

Swede dreams: Peter Hanson (left) took the glory in China after holding off the world No 1

Swede dreams: Peter Hanson (left) took the glory in China after holding off the world No 1

Furthermore, after producing a tension-packed one-shot victory over McIlroy to pocket a 721,000 winner’s cheque at the BMW Masters in Shanghai, Hanson believes he is capable of producing one of the golfing upsets of the season.

‘I am playing some of my best golf ever,’ said Hanson. ‘I am just living the dream, having gone out there and beaten Rory playing in the last group. Now I am second in the Race to Dubai and have a chance of winning it.

Nice work if you can get it: Tiger Woods is set to take on McIlroy in an exhibition match at Zhengzhou

Nice work if you can get it: Tiger Woods is set to take on McIlroy in an exhibition match at Zhengzhou

‘Obviously, I will need a good week at the HSBC but I have the chance and will sit down with my management and discuss adding the Singapore Open the following week to my schedule.’

Banking his runners-up cheque for 481,702, McIlroy actually increased his Race to Dubai lead to 660,288. But he now only plans to play two more events — the Hong Kong Open and the Dubai WGC, while Hanson is considering playing four tournaments with total prize-money of around 18m up for grabs.

Andy Murray hopes holiday will prepare him for Olympics

Shattered Murray hopes sunshine rest will freshen him up for Olympics

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UPDATED:

19:46 GMT, 9 July 2012


Heading home: Andy Murray had a quiet night reflecting on his Wimbledon heartbreak

Heading home: Andy Murray had a quiet night reflecting on his Wimbledon heartbreak

Andy Murray’s immediate priority in the wake of Wimbledon is to forget about tennis, go on holiday and try to find some warm weather to help get over the shattering disappointment of Sunday’s final.

‘The weather in this country is terrible,’ he said. ‘It has been so bad I could probably do with some sun and having a bit of time away from the court. I don’t know where I’ll go, I might go to Miami, I might go to Southern Europe. I could stay here and just enjoy being at home, but I’d like some good weather.’

What Murray is keen to guard against is the sustained letdown he has experienced after his last two Grand Slam final defeats, at the Australian Open in 2010 and last year, when he lost form and motivation for several months afterwards.

He added: ‘After Australia I didn’t do the right things and it would be easy not to do the right things now.

Dry your eyes mate: Murray was in tears on Centre Court after his defeat

Dry your eyes mate: Murray was in tears on Centre Court after his defeat

‘You need to be smart with your
scheduling and take the right amount of time off, it would be stupid to
go back on the court right now.

‘I know my body is not ready to keep
playing and my mind is not in the right place, so I need to make sure
that I’m good to go for the Olympics, which is a massive goal for me.’

Pain: Murray's girlfriend Kim Sears

Upset: Murray's mum, Judy

Tears for our Andy: Murray's girlfriend, Kim (left) and mum, Judy (right)

The London 2012 tennis event starts
two weeks on Saturday. Purple backdrops with the London logo have
already been fitted to three outside courts and reseeding begun on eight
of them, including Centre, where a special tarpaulin covers the
pre-germinated seeds.

Murray will be without coach Ivan
Lendl for the Olympics, as was always their plan. They will reunite for
two Masters level events in Canada and Cincinatti before the US Open at
the end of August. They spoke little after the final, deciding that it
was not the time for a postmortem.

‘He just said be proud of yourself
and the way you fought. But now is not really the time for us to talk
about it,’ said Murray.

Champagne moment: Roger Federer celebrates his return to world No 1 with a bottle of bubbly back at Wimbledon on Monday morning

Champagne moment: Roger Federer celebrates his return to world No 1 with a bottle of bubbly back at SW19 on Monday morning (above) and shows off his Wimbledon trophy with ladies' singles champion Serena Williams (below)

Just champion: Federer with ladies' singles winner Serena Williams

The British No 1 said it was 'hard to
describe the disappointment' of losing to Federer for the third time in
a Grand Slam final, in front of 'incredible home support'.

But the Scot is already plotting his latest challenge on the sport's biggest prizes, starting on July 28 back at Wimbledon.

'Things are going in the right direction, but there's much more to come,' Murray said in his online column for the BBC.

Given his all: Murray will take a short break from tennis to recover

Given his all: Murray will take a short break from tennis to recover

'Hopefully we'll start to see that
when I come back to Wimbledon for the Olympics. Sunday was painful, but
the prospect of attempting to win a gold medal is already spurring me
on.'

The 25-year-old said: 'It's been a great, great couple of weeks. I think everyone has handled it very well.

'From what I've been told, the reaction of all of the press and all of the people that have been watching has been unbelievably supportive and positive.

'So it's been a great tournament, I think, for tennis, and I'm glad that I'm part of that.'

Monday's new rankings show Roger Federer
just ahead of Novak Djokovic at the top, with Murray having made some
ground on both the Serb and Rafael Nadal. Heather Watson, who reached
the third round at Wimbledon, is closing in on the British No 1 spot at
79th, four places behind Anne Keothavong.

Bath sign Horacio Agulla from Leicester

Bath coach Gold happy to wait for Agulla after luring winger from Leicester

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UPDATED:

09:55 GMT, 26 June 2012

Bath have signed Argentina wing
Horacio Agulla from Leicester in the belief the benefits of his
international commitments will outweigh his lengthy absences.

Argentina's inclusion in the southern
hemisphere Rugby Championship, which finishes in October, and the
Pumas' three November internationals means Agulla will not be available
to Bath full-time until December.

On the move: Leicester winger Horacio Agulla has agreed to join Bath

On the move: Leicester winger Horacio Agulla has agreed to join Bath

But Bath coach Gary Gold is confident the experience of playing regularly against the world's top three nations will only make Agulla a better player, and therefore benefit the club.

'We're really excited to have Horacio join Bath Rugby for the new season,' Gold said.

'He's a very good player who is able to play two positions at a high level which brings great diversity and strength in depth to the team.

'We believe his exposure playing for Argentina in the new Rugby Championship format against the All Blacks, South Africa and Australia will further develop him as a player and Bath Rugby can only benefit from that.'

Agulla's move from Leicester, for whom he made 48 appearances, will be finalised upon confirmation he has been granted a work permit.

The 27-year-old was voted Leicester fans' player of last season, when the Tigers finished Aviva Premiership runners-up to Harlequins.

'I'm really excited to be joining Bath Rugby and hopefully helping them to challenge for silverware next season. Bath play a good brand of rugby that I believe will suit my game and I'm excited to work with the new coaching team,' Agulla said.

'They have some excellent players in their squad and my first challenge is to get into the side and make that starting shirt my own.'