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Five things Wales must work on to improve

Humbled Wales need to correct these five fatal flaws and save the autumn series

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UPDATED:

22:52 GMT, 11 November 2012

Eleven years to the day since Rob Howley lost to Argentina at the Millennium Stadium as a player, his side were humbled by the same margin in a pitiful 12-26 defeat.

Wales have failed to win the opening Test of their autumn campaign for 12 years, and the much-vaunted Grand Slam glory has been followed by four consecutive Test match losses (excluding one forgettable run-out against the Barbarians). So, what is going wrong

Floored: Centre Jamie Roberts is treated for concussion

Floored: Centre Jamie Roberts is treated for concussion

GET A GRIP

Argentina put Wales in a headlock and never let go. The hosts are serial slow starters and need to impose their game plan from kick-off, not let their opponents dictate play.

Fumble: Leigh Halfpenny spills a high ball under pressure from Juan Manuel Leguizamon

Fumble: Leigh Halfpenny spills a high ball under pressure from Juan Manuel Leguizamon

Full back Leigh Halfpenny fumbled an awkward ball in the first minute and it set the tone. As Argentina coach Santiago Phelan put it: ‘We took the initiative in the first 20 minutes. The intensity of the game was very high but in the Rugby Championship we learned how to play at this kind of intensity and velocity.’

That the wooden spoon collectors of the Rugby Championship should beat the Grand Slam champions of Europe tells us the north-south divide remains. Asked how the competitions compare, Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe put it simply: ‘The difference We’re playing against the first, second and third best teams in the world.’

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Prop Gethin Jenkins was brutally honest. ‘It’s back to the drawing board,’ he said.

‘We’ve got to really look at ourselves. We played into their hands by trying to play too much rugby in our own territory.’

Wales are guilty of trying too hard and thinking about the next phase without properly executing the current one.

Honest assessment: Wales' prop Gethin Jenkins did not hold back with his views after the game

Honest assessment: Wales' prop Gethin Jenkins did not hold back with his views after the game

‘Thinking Clearly Under Pressure’ was a mantra of Sir Clive Woodward’s England side and Wales need a dose of it. Losing centre Jamie Roberts so early with concussion — after a nasty clash of heads with centre Gonzalo Tiesi — left them without their go-to guy.

LIONS WATCH

Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking is as flawless as ever — and he can jump a foot higher than rivals who are a foot taller in any aerial battle — but Wales were so flat no-one enhanced his reputation. Jamie Roberts’ importance was proved in his absence. Sam Warburton must show he can pull his team together when under the cosh.

The centre provides momentum to the side, particularly off the first phase, and without him stand-in coach Howley admitted Wales were one-paced.

There was no dynamism and no precision in their play. On more than one occasion, the flying giants on the flanks had to slow down so as not to get in front of team-mates during their lethargic attacks. Wales love the word momentum, but you must pick up speed first.

FRESHNESS OVER FITNESS

For all the flogging punishment suffered at their training camp in Poland, Wales lost the second half 20-3. They looked sluggish and half a step behind, lacking their trademark zip.

Thirty training sessions in seven days is impressive, but if that doesn’t translate into physical superiority on the pitch then it is just unnecessary torture. Jenkins admitted: ‘I don’t know whether they tired us out in the final 35 minutes, but they upped the tempo and we couldn’t deal with it.’

Putting in the preparation: Jonathan Davies comes out of the cryotherapy chamber in Poland where Wales went of a training camp

Putting in the preparation: Jonathan Davies comes out of the cryotherapy chamber in Poland where Wales went of a training camp

After the final whistle, Wales headed for their cryotherapy sauna in a converted police van in the car park. Argentina had a cold shower and a crate of Bulmers delivered to their changing room.

POWER OF THREES

Wales have lost three key positions in their 3, 6 and 12. Tighthead prop Adam Jones and blindside flanker Dan Lydiate are out for the autumn, and the concussion suffered by centre Roberts will be assessed on Monday. If it is deemed severe then the new IRB regulations could see him sit out the rest of the autumn.

Telling it like it is: Shaun Edwards gave an honest assessment

Telling it like it is: Shaun Edwards gave an honest assessment

Those three positions are vital for an attacking platform — Jones at the scrum, Lydiate at the breakdown and Roberts providing the go-forward off the first phase.

Defensive coach Shaun Edwards pulled no punches afterwards: ‘It was obvious there is a disparity between our first-choice 15 and the players who have got those positions now.’ It gets worse with lock Alun Wyn Jones out for the series with a nasty shoulder injury.

LOOMING LION

Howley is an impressive figure in training — for both his intelligence as a coach and his rapport with the players — but Warren Gatland still looms in the shadows. The Lions head coach was in Dublin on Saturday watching Ireland, but is he the missing link on matchday

Intelligent: Rob Howley is an impressive man

Intelligent: Rob Howley is an impressive man

Wales needed the proverbial rocket at half-time, instead they showed no real change after the break. Gatland returns for the final two games against New Zealand and Australia and his effect on the side will be intriguing. Next up for Wales is their bogey team Samoa at their bogey time — the dreaded Friday night slot — after only a six-day turnaround.

Lose that and Wales are staring down the barrel of a winless autumn. They haven’t beaten New Zealand since 1953 and are on a seven-match losing run against Australia. As hooker Richard Hibbard put it: ‘It just gets more and more physical with the hard-hitters to come.’

Sir Alex Ferguson vows to tackle Manchester United"s dozy defending

Fergie vows to tackle dozy defending after United go a goal down eight times in 12 matches

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UPDATED:

09:58 GMT, 24 October 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson underlined the
extent of Manchester United's defensive crisis by admitting he is
baffled by the way they keep conceding goals.

United edged out Braga 3-2 in a
Champions' League thriller at Old Trafford on Tuesday, but only after going behind
for the eighth time in their last 12 games.

Slow starters: Alan celebrates his early goal as United were caught napping

Slow starters: Alan celebrates his early goal as United were caught napping

They were two behind inside 20 minutes, and though two goals from Javier Hernandez and a Jonny Evans strike helped maintain their 100 per cent record in the group, it was the fifth time this season their defence has been breached at least twice.

Asked about their defensive frailty, Ferguson shook his head, and said: 'I just can't get to the bottom of it, I'm afraid.

'If you analyse the goals we have been losing, they have been all different types. They have come from all sorts, throw-ins, crosses, cut-backs.

Double trouble: Braga's Alan, right, celebrates after scoring second goal

Double trouble: Braga's Alan, right, celebrates after scoring second goal

'But the one common theme has been there have been players free in the box to punish us.

'It is difficult to put your finger on it, but we have not been starting games well, that is for sure. It is always home games where we are losing early goals. Away, no problem. It is a concern, but we will sort it out, I'm sure of that.

'It has been the story of our season, starting poorly, losing goals and having to fight back to rescue games, and we have to do something to address that.'

Sight for sore eyes: Fergie finds it difficult to watch as United struggle in the first half

Sight for sore eyes: Fergie finds it difficult to watch as United struggle

Midfielder Shinji Kagawa is due to have a scan at a Manchester hospital on Wednesday, after twisting his knee, while keeper Anders Lindegaard has been ruled out of Sunday's game at Chelsea with a thumb injury.

'Kagawa twisted his knee,' Ferguson said. 'He struggled on for 20 minutes but we will assess because we don't know the extent of it at the moment.'

Manchester United 3 Braga 2 – match report: Javier Hernandez scores two

Manchester United 3 Braga 2: Sweet Pea blossoms as Fergie's slow starters stage comeback

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UPDATED:

20:55 GMT, 23 October 2012

Javier Hernandez was Manchester United's Champions League hero as the Red Devils hauled themselves back from two goals down to beat Braga at Old Trafford.

Approaching the 26th anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson's appointment as Red Devils manager, the comeback was a suitably fitting way to preserve his side's 100 per cent record and means, barring a complete collapse in their final three games, they will advance to next spring's knockout stage.

Comeback king: Hernandez scored two as United fought back to beat Braga

Comeback king: Hernandez scored two as United fought back to beat Braga

Heads I win: Hernandez nods home his second and United's third on the evening

Heads I win: Hernandez nods home his second and United's third on the evening

Match facts

Manchester United: De Gea, Da Silva, Carrick, Evans, Buttner, Kagawa (Nani 46), Fletcher, Cleverley, Rooney, Hernandez (Giggs 79), van Persie.

Subs not used: Johnstone, Ferdinand, Anderson, Young, Welbeck.

Scorers: Hernandez 25, 75, Evans 62.

Braga: Beto, Leandro Salino, Nuno Andre, Paulo Vinicius, Elderson, Custodio, Hugo Viana, Ruben Amorim (Barbosa 80), Alan (Mossoro 86), Ruben Micael, Eder.

Subs not used: Quim, da Solva, Baiano, Ze Luis, Anibal.

Booked: Custodio

Scorer: Alan 2, 20.

Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)

Attendance: 73,195.

Latest Champions League results, fixtures and table

However, with two games against Chelsea
and a home encounter with Arsenal to come before the return fixture in a
fortnight, Ferguson must harbour serious concerns about United's
fragile defence.

Incredibly, they have now fallen behind eight times in 12 games this season.

Tonight it took less than two minutes to surrender the initiative.

And they fell further behind before
Hernandez struck, the Mexican capping a fine display by nodding home the
winner from Tom Cleverley's cross 15 minutes from time.

It had been established in the five
times United had gone behind since Michael Carrick had been eased out of
central defence that he was not responsible for his side's repeated
inability not to find themselves playing catch-up.

There had been evidence in the
performances of Scott Wootton and Michael Keane in the Capital One Cup
against Newcastle last month that there was an alternative should the
need for an emergency central defender arise.

With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones
still at least a fortnight away from full fitness and Rio Ferdinand
rested to the bench, an assurance already received from Ferguson that it
was solely to do with Sunday's visit to Chelsea and nothing to do with
the weekend T-shirt spat, this was one such occasion.

Unlock the defence: Alan struck after just 90 seconds of the clash at Old Trafford

Unlock the defence: Alan struck after just 90 seconds of the clash at Old Trafford

Yet Ferguson again went for Carrick as
Jonny Evans' partner, presumably on the basis Braga would not offer
much of a physical threat.

Carrick lacks defensive nous though,
and having shepherded Eder to the by-line, his failure to trap the
Portugal international there was suicidal.

Slow starters: Alan celebrates his early goal as United were caught napping

Slow starters: Alan celebrates his early goal as United were caught napping

Slow starters: Alan celebrates his early goal as United were caught napping

After turning sharply, Eder scampered towards the goal before cutting a cross back to provide Alan with an easy finish.

This would have been bad enough. The
fact Braga were already in front raised serious concerns about United's
ability to pull through.

Barely a minute had elapsed when Alan
pulled to the far post and climbed above Alex Buttner, replacing Patrice
Evra for the first European game of his entire career, and steered it
past David de Gea.

It was the eighth time they had fallen
behind this season, and the fourth occasion in the last five games, a
quite shocking statistic that cannot continue if United are going to be
serious challengers for silverware this term.

Predictably, a team skippered by Wayne
Rooney and including Robin van Persie and a host of other stellar
attacking talents, the hosts were a force at the other end.

A wise advantage by Serbian referee
Milorad Mazic allowed Shinji Kagawa to profit from a foul on Van Persie,
crossing for Hernandez, who nodded home.

The pair would have combined to haul
United level had an offside flag not been raised against Kagawa as he
darted on to Van Persie's through ball before rolling another cross into
Hernandez's path.

Ferguson noted that mistake, and a few others, in his half-time assessment of proceedings.

Double your money: The United players look dejected after Alan made it two on the night for Braga

Double your money: The United players look dejected after Alan made it two on the night for Braga

Double your money: The United players look dejected after Alan made it two on the night for Braga

However, in hauling off Kagawa and
introducing Nani at the break, the Scot was also signalling the diamond
he feels could revolutionise United needs a bit more polishing before it
is ready for public display.

The transformation was immediate as United sped down the flanks, pinning their opponents back.

As the crosses fizzed across Braga's goal, the visitors' defending became increasingly desperate.

Leap of faith: Hernandez's headed effort in the first brought United back into the match

Leap of faith: Hernandez's headed effort in the first-half brought United back into the match

Leap of faith: Hernandez's headed effort in the first brought United back into the match

When Evans took a fresh air swipe at
Van Persie's corner, the attempted clearance cannoned back off Elderson,
allowing the Northern Ireland defender a second chance, which he duly
prodded in.

It was Evans' second goal in three
games, not a bad return considering he had only scored once in his
previous 131 appearances for the Red Devils.

Good Evans: The United defender wheels away after scoring his second for the hosts

Good Evans: The United defender wheels away after scoring his second for the hosts

Good Evans: The United defender wheels away after scoring his second for the hosts

From that moment it was only a matter
of time before United got their winner. Tom Cleverley provided it with a
superb, deep cross from the right touchline.

Hernandez, whose movement was akin to that he showed during his debut season, peeled away and headed home.

Sight for sore eyes: Fergie finds it difficult to watch as United struggle in the first half

Sight for sore eyes: Fergie finds it difficult to watch as United struggle in the first half

Sight for sore eyes: Fergie finds it difficult to watch as United struggle in the first half

Everton 3 Southampton 1: Pressure mounts on Adkins as Toffees wrap it up early

Everton 3 Southampton 1: Pressure mounts on Adkins as Toffees wrap it up early

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UPDATED:

16:11 GMT, 29 September 2012

Everton's impressive start to the season continued – as did striker Nikica Jelavic's goalscoring run – against a Southampton side whose top-flight inexperience was exposed at Goodison Park.

David Moyes' team equalled their best points haul of 13 from six Barclays Premier League matches from the 2004-05 season to cement their place just three points behind leaders Chelsea.

Jelavic scored twice to take his tally to 10 in his last 11 league matches after Leon Osman had cancelled out Gaston Ramirez's early opener.

With a rebel Jel: Nikica Jelavic (right) just wanted more after netting the leveller

With a rebel Jel: Nikica Jelavic (right) just wanted more after netting the leveller

Match facts

EVERTON: Howard, Coleman, Heitinga, Jagielka, Baines, Mirallas (Oviedo 79), Neville, Osman (Distin 90), Pienaar, Fellaini, Jelavic (Anichebe 75).

Subs Not Used: Mucha, Distin, Gueye, Vallios, Duffy

Goals: Osman, 25, Jelavic 32, 38

SOUTHAMPTON: Gazzaniga, Richardson, Fonte,Yoshida, Clyne (Mayuka 81), G Ramirez, S. Davis, Ward-Prowse, Lallana, J Rodriguez (Reeves 81).

Subs Not Used: K. Davis, Hooiveld, Guly, Chaplow, Puncheon.

Goals: Ramirez 6

Referee: Lee Probert

Att:TBA

Premier League results, fixtures and table

The feeling on Merseyside, which is
becoming increasingly apparent further afield, is that Moyes has
assembled the best squad of his 10-year tenure.

Their statistics this season seem to
give some credence to that suggestion as Everton, the perennial slow
starters, managed just two wins from their first seven league matches
last year and did not win a league match until October the campaign
before that.

After such an impressive start the
players were having to deal with the prospect of handling rising
expectations but they were not so adept at dealing with Southampton's
set-pieces.

From Adam Lallana's corner Ramirez was given the freedom of the penalty area to nod in the simplest of headers.

It was the Uruguay international's
first goal in English football following his club-record 12million
summer transfer from Bologna and the first time Everton have conceded in
the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game this season.

fast start: Southampton's Uruguayan midfielder Gaston Ramirez celebrates after his opener

fast start: Southampton's Uruguayan midfielder Gaston Ramirez celebrates after his opener

Knockout blow: Everton's Nikica Jelavic (left) and Southampton's Frazer Richardson battle for the ball

Knockout blow: Everton's Nikica Jelavic (left) and Southampton's Frazer Richardson battle for the ball

Southampton were to regret Jay
Rodriguez's inability to hit the target – let alone test Tim Howard –
when he outpaced the Toffees defence soon after.

Everton turned the game on its head in a 14-minute period which exposed all the flaws characteristic of a newly-promoted team.

Kevin Mirallas swung over a
right-wing cross and although Jelavic threw himself at it he succeeded
only in diverting it back to Osman who smashed the loose ball into the
roof of the net from close range.

Jump to it: Maya Yoshida (centre right) and Everton's Marouane Fellaini (centre) vie for posession

Jump to it: Maya Yoshida (centre right) and Everton's Marouane Fellaini (centre) vie for posession

The goalscorer returned the favour
when his through-ball sent Jelavic running through the inside-left
channel but Paulo Gazzaniga's woeful positioning made it all-too-easy
for the Croatia international to fire a shot across him.

Southampton's goalkeeper redeemed
himself slightly by brilliantly clawing out the striker's header
destined for the top corner but was powerless to prevent him nodding in
Seamus Coleman's cross to the far post.

We're flying: Leon Osman notched Everton's third goal which effectively ended the game before the break

We're flying: Leon Osman notched Everton's third goal which effectively ended the game before the break

The visitors have the leakiest
defence in the top flight and it was easy to see why as they were so
open in the second quarter of the game they appeared to be in disarray.

Everton should have had the game
wrapped up before the break; their confidence was highlighted by
Mirallas' attempted overhead kick before Marouane Fellaini hit the
crossbar with a header.

The Belgium international almost
clinched the result early in the second half with a long-range effort
tipped just wide by Gazzaniga before Osman and Mirallas also tried their
luck from the edge of the box as their toothless opponents offered
little in the way of resistance.

Three 'n' easy: Osman nets the killer third for Everton

Three 'n' easy: Osman nets the killer third for Everton

Crunch: Kevin Mirallas feels the full force of Nathan Clyne's challenge

Crunch: Kevin Mirallas feels the full force of Nathan Clyne's challenge

However, without the fourth goal to
kill off Southampton Everton were always a hostage to fortune and
Ramirez's clip past Howard but past the far post from a narrow angle was
a warning of that.

But luck seemed to be on the hosts'
side as Leighton Baines almost caught Gazzaniga unawares with a hanging
cross-shot which the goalkeeper had to backpedal to tip over.

For Southampton manager Nigel Adkins, a Birkenhead-born Liverpool fan, it proved to be an unhappy return to the region.

As far as Everton are concerned their
progress could not be more serene and with trips to struggling Wigan
and QPR up next there is every prospect of it continuing.

No strings: Nikica Jelavic (centre) netted a brace to keep Everton in sight of Chelsea at the top of the table

No strings: Nikica Jelavic (centre) netted a brace to keep Everton in sight of Chelsea at the top of the table

Premier League A-Z

Premier League A-Z: Sportsmail previews what promises to be a thrilling campaign

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UPDATED:

14:11 GMT, 17 August 2012

Fantasy football 2012

It's back and there is so much to look forward to in the Premier League. Ahead of the new campaign, Sportsmail's Michael Walker looks at what to look out for in the next eight months.

A for Aguero. He stood on his feet. In the last seconds of the last game of last season, Sergio Aguero could easily have fallen over an outstretched QPR leg. He didn’t. And he scored the goal that made Manchester City champions. In total Aguero scored 23 in 31 Premier League starts. He cost 38m, so he should stand up. And he did.

B for B-minus. In the last three seasons Burnley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Blackburn and Bolton have followed Bradford and Barnsley out of the Premier League. It’s a B-list B-movie.

C for Cazorla. At 16m, the purchase from Malaga is Arsenal’s record buy, replacing Andrei Arshavin. Prepare for puns if Santi Cazorla has Arsenal scoring at Christmas. (Arsenal’s record sale is another matter).

Santi's come to town: Arsenal's summer signing Santi Cazorla promises to be one of the most exciting

Santi's come to town: Arsenal's summer signing Santi Cazorla promises to be one of the most exciting

D for Di Matteo. Four months after Munich there is already a book open on Chelsea’s next manager. Hardly Di Matteo’s fault, but Chelsea finished 25 points behind Man City last season and Pep Guardiola and Harry Redknapp are out of work.

E for Everton. Notoriously slow starters, they have lost on the past four opening days. First game this season Manchester United.

F for fifth. After two draws and two defeats, Norwich City fans were worried last season. Then came victory at Bolton in the fifth game and a 12th place finish. A reminder not to panic.

G for goal difference. All that separated City from United in the end. Both were on 89 points, both 19 clear of Arsenal in third. City-United, December 8.

I'll be back: Harry Redknapp

I'll be back: Harry Redknapp

H for ‘Arry. Replaced by AVB but surely we have not heard the last of Harry Redknapp.

I for interest payments, fees and charges. Of 550m since the glazer family ‘bought’ Manchester United with 525m of borrowed money in 2005. 550m equates to about 42 Van Persies.

J for ‘JT’. It’s QPR v Chelsea in September. A handshake debate will ensue. The Olympics will feel long-gone.

K for Kagawa. Can Shinji, Robin and the return of Nemanja Vidic from injury spur on United Statistically, they don’t need that much: see ‘G’.

L for Lamberts – Paul at Villa, Rickie at Southampton. Villa won just one of their last 16 league games and finished two points above relegation; Rickie got 27 goals in the Championship.

M for Mario. Balotelli was 22 last Sunday. He started and finished just seven Premier League games last season. He scored 13 goals. He should improve. There should be fireworks.

N for November. The month when Joey Barton is eligible to return to the fray – if he stays at QPR.

O for Ox. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be 19 on the day the season starts. That’s 19. Patience required.

P for promoted clubs. All three stayed up last season. Reading and Southampton are the bookmakers’ favourites to go back down. West Ham, who finished behind both and clambered up through the play-offs, are not.

Q for Quote. 'I was on holiday with my family and the next day, Andre called me and said “I would like you here at Spurs”. My family is still on holiday and I’m back to work!' Steffen Freund explains how he is Villas-Boas’s assistant at Tottenham.

Have a little patience: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will only turn 19 at the start of the season

Have a little patience: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will only turn 19 at the start of the season

R for Retention. This applies not just to Swansea’s attitude toward the ball, but to Newcastle United, who – so far – have held onto the players who served them so vigorously to reach fifth. Krul, Tiote, Cabaye, Ba and Cisse, all linked with moves, remain.

S for Saints and Stripes. Or the lack of them. Southampton will celebrate a return to the Premier League after seven seasons away by losing the broad white stripes from their home kit. Instead there are white lines. Think Nottingham Forest.

T for two point eight (2.8). The average number of goals scored in Premier League games last season. That was the highest for 20 years.

U for Under 21 league. With
faith in traditional reserve-team football having lost some status,
this new league is an attempt to bridge the gap between Academy and
first-team football. Begins Friday night at Griffin Park, Brentford: Chelsea v Manchester City.

V for Van Persie. The only Arsenal outfield player to appear in all 38 league games last season.

Goals, goals, goals: Last season saw a record number of goals scored in the Premier League

Goals, goals, goals: Last season saw a record number of goals scored in the Premier League

W for woodwork. Since these kinds of things were collated, no team hit the woodwork as many times as Liverpool did last season – 33.

X for X factor. At the end of its 20th season, the Premier League is watched in 212 territories, up one after North Sudan joined the global audience.

Y for Yaya (again). For all the last-day drama, Yaya Toure’s two goals at Newcastle the previous Sunday mattered just as much. The most important outfield player in the division

Z for Zamora. Bobby joined QPR from Fulham in January and scored twice. One of those goals was an equaliser against Everton that earned a point. QPR stayed up by one point.

London 2012 Olympics: Joanna Rowsell on her women"s team pursuit gold

Wow! How on earth will I ever top this

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UPDATED:

23:56 GMT, 5 August 2012

Joanna Rowsell was part of the women's pursuit team who won gold in the Velodrome on Saturday.

Here, the Sportsmail columnist describes her experience.

GOLDEN FEELING

I was woken up on Sunday by a 6.45am alarm to do BBC Breakfast — but it was OK because the first thing I saw was a gold medal on the bedside table. It’s bigger and heavier than I thought. It weighs you down a bit. It has been crazy since we won the team pursuit. For starters, we’ve had police with us wherever we have been.

We went to do some shopping and they made us put our medals, which we had been wearing round our necks all morning, in a safe at Team GB House even though we were happy to put them in our pockets. I didn’t like it but it was the right call as we could barely walk two metres without everyone saying ‘Hi’ and asking for pictures.

Golden girls: Dani King, Laura Trott, and Joanna Rowsell celebrate their victory in the women's team pursuit

Golden girls: Dani King, Laura Trott, and Joanna Rowsell celebrate their victory in the women's team pursuit

PERFECT PREPARATION

We had such a big gap over the others in qualifying it was hard to not be complacent. On Saturday, because we only had an hour between races — normally it’s around five — we had to devise a recovery plan before the final. We called it the Golden Hour and it involved a 10-minute warm-down, then a chill-out period with a cool towel around our necks and the special hot pants on our legs to keep our muscles warm. Then, just before the race, a warm-up.

WHAT A RACE!

The crowd were so loud I had to block them out at the start as I didn’t want to go out too fast. Our coach stands up from the finish line if we’re riding better times than we are supposed to and down from the line if we’re off schedule. He was standing well up from the line in the first few laps so we knew we were doing well.

Fast as lightening: The pursuit team broke the world record as they stormed to glory in the Velodrome

Fast as lightening: The pursuit team broke the world record as they stormed to glory in the Velodrome

DESPERATE FOR DAN

After the victory laps, I was trying to find my boyfriend, Dan, in the crowd. All these people were cheering so I figured I could just pretend I’d gone to wave at them if I couldn’t find him. Luckily I did.

SOAKING IT UP

We only had about five minutes to get ready for the podium and were in a tiny room trying to make ourselves look nice. Thankfully one of the American girls had a make-up bag and was letting us use it. The organisers were reading us instructions for the ceremony but we weren’t paying attention. So when we got off the podium, we stepped the wrong way. It was great up there — it’s the only point you really get to take it all in.

Proud as punch: Sportsmail's Rowsell poses with her gold medal at what is her first Olympic Games

Proud as punch: Sportsmail's Rowsell poses with her gold medal at what is her first Olympic Games

HAIR HOPES

I knew before the race it was International Alopecia Day. It was a bit of a spooky coincidence. I didn’t have time to think about putting a wig on for the podium and I don’t mind not having one on in the Velodrome. I feel comfortable there and never think about all the people watching on TV. I’ve had the condition since I was 10 so I’m used to it. You will have seen I have hair on some parts of my head and they are just the bits that still grow. I know it looks a bit silly at the moment but I don’t want to cut them off as I’m hoping the rest of it will grow.

HAPPY FAMILIES

After all the interviews, Laura (Trott) went back to rest as she has the omnium to compete in. Dani and I came back to Team GB House. As we came out of the lift there were big cheers and our families were lined up to welcome us. Then it was more media till 11.45pm, back to the village and McDonald’s at 1.30am. Then Dani and I watched the race back on the internet as it’s tough to remember what you were doing.

Happy families: The three women celebrate their stunning win at the Velodrome

Happy families: The three women celebrate their stunning win at the Velodrome

THANKS, GUYS

I couldn’t have done any of this without my team-mates. Laura is the youngest at 20. She’s tiny so she gets lots of protection when she’s behind, which is great because she can save lots of energy for a big burst. She’s really loud and bubbly and not afraid to say what she thinks. Dani is 21 and the best of us at pace control, which is so important. She’s great at keeping things light-hearted if it gets a bit tense or tough. Wendy (Houvenaghel) didn’t get to ride but was so important to our success. We couldn’t have done it without her advice and support.

THE FUTURE

I’m going to stick around to watch Laura, go to the closing ceremony and then it will be off to anywhere with a beach. After that, I want to carry on but I don’t know how I will ever top this: first Olympics, gold medal, world record. And who knows if the team pursuit will still be in the Olympics in Rio. They might include the individual pursuit too and I won that at the Test event, so that would be a new challenge.

London 2012 Olympics: Nick Skelton and Ben Maher

Skelton and Maher impress on day one of showjumping qualification

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UPDATED:

11:59 GMT, 4 August 2012

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MEDALS TABLE

Nick Skelton and Ben Maher ensured a strong start for Great Britain's showjumpers on the first day of Olympic qualifying competition at Greenwich Park.

The top 60 of a 75-strong field progress into the second of five stages, and neither British rider encountered problems.

Six-time Olympian Skelton was among the early starters on Big Star, a combination fancied by many judges to challenge strongly for individual gold.

For the jump: Skelton in action at the venue in Greenwich

For the jump: Skelton in action at the venue in Greenwich

'He jumped great,' said Skelton, following an impressive clear round.

'The course is nice today, but it will get more difficult as we go on over the next few days.'

Maher was just as impressive on Tripple X III.

'It is good to get the first round out of the way,' Maher said. 'We have been waiting a long time. It seems like time has stood still over the last few weeks.

'He will only improve on today's performance.'

Britain's remaining team members, Scott Brash and Peter Charles, jump later today before the action tomorrow and Monday is taken over by the team competition.

Team medals will be decided on Monday – British showjumping last collected an Olympic gong 28 years ago – before individual medals are fought for next Wednesday.

Snooker: Stephen Hendry through to World Championship for 27th time

Former Crucible king Hendry wins qualifier to reach his 27th successive World Championship

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UPDATED:

17:52 GMT, 15 April 2012

Seven-time champion Stephen Hendry survived a test of nerves to book his place at the Betfred.com World Championship.

Hendry, 43, succeeded where six-time champion Steve Davis and six-time runner-up Jimmy White both failed this week by coming through the qualifying tournament, beating Chinese player Yu Delu 10-6.

'I'm very pleased to be through,' Hendry said. 'I'm used to playing at the World Championship and it puts that little bit of extra pressure on you, to have to play an extra match to get there.'

Heading to Sheffield: Hendry clinched victory in his Crucible qualifier

Heading to Sheffield: Hendry clinched victory in his Crucible qualifier

Hendry, who last had to qualify in 1988 and has been ever-present at the Crucible since 1986, has fallen to 23rd in the world rankings.

He awaits Monday's draw, knowing he will have to take on one of the 16 seeded players. Hendry also leaves for a business trip to China on Monday, returning on Friday, a day before the World Championship begins.

He is hoping to be among the late starters, affording him the weekend to shake off any jet lag, but that is up to the luck of the draw.

He had breaks of 73, 69, 76 and 88 in converting an overnight 6-3 lead into a 10-6 victory. This followed breaks on Saturday of 129 and 107.

'I played quite nicely,' Hendry said. 'I won a lot of frames in one visit.

'The most important thing was to just go out with the mindset of needing to win the match, no matter how I played, just get the match won.'

Liverpool slump as fortress Anfield stormed yet again

Fortress Anfield stormed yet again as visitors to Liverpool lose fear factor

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UPDATED:

22:49 GMT, 25 March 2012

Saturday's defeat by Wigan means Liverpool have won just five of their 15 home games in the Premier League this season – their worst home record since 1953. But it was the manner of the defeat that was as worrying as the result.

Four years ago, Liverpool appeared to be headed for a ruinous defeat against the same opponents but extricated themselves thanks to a barnstorming comeback when Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera scored in the last 10 minutes to secure a 3-2 win. History is littered with examples of Liverpool salvaging improbable situations.

Fast forward to the present day, though, and the picture has changed dramatically.

Red faced: Liverpool slumped to a 2-1 home defeat against Wigan

Red faced: Liverpool slumped to a 2-1 home defeat against Wigan

When Wigan were protecting a 2-1 lead with 10 minutes to go on Saturday, the outcome – unlike four years ago – was never in doubt.

Why is Anfield no longer a fortress then A number of reasons.

For starters, Liverpool don't have a cutting edge. They have only scored 19 times in their 15 home games in the Barclays Premier League and a paltry record of five wins is their lowest since at this stage of a season since 1953.

Then there is the atmosphere. It used to be said during the club's glory years that The Kop would 'suck the ball over the line' when Liverpool turned the screw but rarely, if ever, does the stadium hum with that broiling noise that launched a thousand comebacks. Didn't Wigan's fans keep asking 'where's your famous atmosphere' Yes.

Challenge: Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish (left) is under increasing scrutiny

Challenge: Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish (left) is under increasing scrutiny

To give an example of how quiet it was, Jamie Carragher could easily be heard shouting directions, while a conversation Kuyt had with an assistant referee was also audible in the stands.

'It is still a fearful place,' argued exultant Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. 'In world football it has a unique tradition. The moment you starting thinking about where you are playing, the fear is there.'

Kenny Dalglish has often said Liverpool have been unlucky at Anfield. Was that the case again Absolutely not. Wigan keeper Ali Al Habsi never had a saved to make after Gary Caldwell put the visitors in front for a second time, leaving Dalglish to claim his side were lacklustre due to a combination of playing three games in six days and a growing injury list.

But this slump can be put down to them lacking quality. While key players Lucas, Glen Johnson and Craig Bellamy have been missed, many supporters have lost faith in a number of last summer's expensive recruits.

16million midfielder Jordan Henderson, for one, is failing to win over The Kop, while Andy Carroll – who puzzlingly started on the bench – made little impact when replacing Henderson.

So where do they go from here Worryingly for Dalglish, Liverpool could find themselves in ninth place by the time they face Newcastle next Sunday.

If the situation is to change next season, more signings will need to be made. But on this evidence, Liverpool stand minimal chance of attracting genuine quality.

Match zone: Liverpool v Wigan

Newcastle 14 Northampton 32: Saints go third after Foden brace clips Falcons" wings

Newcastle 14 Northampton 32: Saints go third after Foden brace clips Falcons” wings

Northampton moved up to third place in the Aviva Premiership with a five-point bonus win against beleagueredNewcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.

England full-back Ben Foden scored two cleverly worked tries at the start of each half to put the Saints in the driving seat.

Giant prop Soane Tonga”uiha was driven over for the visitors” third while former Falcons man Tom May delivered the fourth try – and the bonus point – four minutes from time with his first touch after coming on as a late replacement.

Double trouble: Northampton

Double trouble: Northampton”s Ben Foden, who scored twice against Newcastle, is held up

Victory sees Northampton leapfrog from sixth to third and leaves Newcastle firmly anchored at the foot of the table which makes next weekend”s home game against Exeter a must-win for the Falcons.

Ryan Lamb kicked two conversions and two penalties and substitute Stephen Myler also landed a conversion while Jimmy Gopperth kicked three penalties for Newcastle.

Suka Hufanga scored a first half try Northampton were 10-0 up in as many minutes against a Newcastle side who are notoriously slow starters and the Saints scored their first try with embarrassing ease after Lamb”s fourth-minute penalty.

On target: Ryan Lamb kicks a penalty for Northampton

On target: Ryan Lamb kicks a penalty for Northampton

The try came from Newcastle”s inability to win hardly anything at the line-out – they lost five out of eight of their own throws in the first half – and the real surprise was the Saints only made it really count when a slick move saw George Pisi push an excellent rolling kick behind the Falcons defence and the ball stood up nicely for Foden to cruise in at the corner, Lamb converting.

Gopperth”s inside break and Hufanga”s fast feet had Saints backpedalling and Ally Hogg”s drive brought a penalty which Gopperth knocked over in the 14th minute.

Another Gopperth inside break sent Hufanga racing in for a 20th-minute Falcons try.

Gopperth surprisingly missed the conversion but, trailing by just two points, Newcastle were back in the game.

No way through: Newcastle prop Taiasana Tu

No way through: Newcastle prop Taiasana Tu”ifua is tackled by Northampton”s Courtney Lawes

However, their inability to win any consistent line-out ball was a persistent problem and Newcastle spent most of the time in their own half.

Despite that, all Northampton had to show for all their possession was Lamb”s 31st-minute penalty and in a rare period of Falcons pressure, winger Scott Armstrong was in his own 22 and conceded a 36th minute penalty which Gopperth kicked to bring the hosts to within two points again.

Newcastle edged into the lead for the first time when Gopperth landed his third penalty early in the second half – but it did not last long with Foden grabbing his second try in the 49th minute.

Bad end to the year: Newcastle boss Alan Tait looks on

Bad end to the year: Newcastle boss Alan Tait looks on

It was almost a replica of his first half score, with Lamb this time pushing a rolling kick through and Foden surged after it – leaving flanker Richard Mayhew trailing to touch down in the corner.

Lamb squeezed over the conversion for the Saints to lead 20-14. It was the signal for Northampton to turn the screw and from a lineout Soane Tonga”uiha was driven over in the 56th minute for 25-14.

Had Vasily Artemyev been able to hang on to Lamb”s lovely crossfield kick it would have been another try just a few minutes later.

Gopperth”s 66th-minute penalty miss just about summed up Newcastle”s afternoon and they lost Tim Swinson to the sin-bin for a high tackle – and in the last 10 minutes Northampton did pretty much as they pleased.

There were plenty of gaps appearing and Northampton”s fourth try came from some slick inter-passing down the right, Tom May scoring with his almost his first touch after coming on as replacement in the 77th minute.

It was enough to secure the four-try bonus point – and Stephen Myler converted.