Tag Archives: winner

Middlesbrough 1 Hull 0: Barry Robson scores late winner

Middlesbrough 1 Hull 0: Robson”s rocket blasts Boro to fourth win in succession

Barry Robson”s late wonder goal ensured Middlesbrough kept up the pressure on npower Championship leaders Southampton.

Both sides went into the game on the back of impressive recent records, with Boro having won their last threewhile the Tigers had emerged victorious in four successive league games.

Barry

Barry”s belter: Robson (right) cuts inside of Hull”s Paul McKenna

HEADER HERE

Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, Rhys Williams, Bates, Bennett, Robson, Bailey, Arca (Zemmama 72), Haroun, McDonald, Ogbeche (Thomson 72). Subs Not Used: McManus, Martin, McMahon.

Booked: McDonald.

Goals: Robson 87.

Hull: Gulacsi, Rosenior, Hobbs, Chester, Dawson, McKenna, Evans, Stewart (Brady 69), Koren, Fryatt, Mclean (Garcia 79). Subs Not Used: Basso, McShane, Dudgeon.

Booked: Dawson, Evans, Rosenior.

Att: 27,794

Ref: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).

Just two places separated them in the table prior to the encounter, with the third-placed hosts, in particular, looking to keep pace with the top two.

And, after the sides largely cancelled each other out, Robson was on hand to deliver a sensational 87th-minute winner, firing an unstoppable 30-yard strike past Peter Gulacsi.

The win left Boro second in the Championship ahead of West Ham”s late kick-off at Birmingham, while the Tigers, under the stewardship of caretaker manager Nick Barmby, sit fifth.

Middlesbrough and Hull had won their last games – against Cardiff and Millwall respectively – and, unsurprisingly, named unchanged sides.

It was Boro who had the better of the opening exchanges as Joe Bennett and Faris Haroun combined to cause the visitors problems down the left.

Despite the hosts enjoying the majority of possession, the Tigers created the game”s first chance as Matty Fryatt headed just wide.

Hull had another opportunity to take the lead soon after, with Aaron Mclean seeing his effort parried away by Jason Steele.

Middlesbrough, though, were still dominating proceedings, Scott McDonald forcing a save from Gulacsi after good work from Justin Hoyte.

As the half wore on, Barmby”s side were starting to show impressive adventure, epitomised by Steele having to be on high alert to turn Andy Dawson”s effort around the post.

The second period started in much the same vein as they first as the sides battle for the initiative.

The visitors again were looking the more likelier to score, though Robert Koren could only direct into the hands of Steele after being cleverly found by Liam Rosenior.

Chances were proving increasingly few and far between, which perhaps added to the frustration as Matthew Bates was denied by Gulacsi.

But Paul McKenna was guiltier at the other end, driving horribly wide after neat work from Koren and Mclean teed him up.

Both sides appeared to be settling for a draw as full-time edged ever closer, although Gulacsi again had to be on high alert to keep out Haroun”s header.

The Tigers goalkeeper had no answer moments later, though, as Scotland international Robson fired home a brilliant strike from a tight angle.

The visitors battled valiantly thereafter, but the goal proved the ultimate sucker-punch and Boro took the points.

Andy Hooper: Britain"s equestrian stars pictures

It”s surf not turf as Britain”s equestrian stars take their horses for long gallops

With its soft sand and stunning rugged backdrop, you can see why Britain”s equestrian stars love taking their horse for long gallops along Exmouth beach.

Wrapped up nice and warm on a crisp winter”s morning, six of the country”s finest met Sportsmail”s award-winning photographer Andy Hooper for their training session by the sea.

Fine sight: Britains equestrian stars gallop on Exmouth beach at dawn

Fine sight: Britain”s equestrian stars gallop on Exmouth beach at dawn

Andy was joined by Riding Club National Eventing Championships winner Tim Rogers, International Event and Dressage rider Abbie Hughes, eventing starlet Emily King, Emily”s mother Mary, who has two Olympic medals and competedat five games, foundation squad member Helen West and double Olympic medal winner and former world No 1 William Fox-Pitt. He has won seven team gold medals at the European Championships and has been the British No 1 nine times.

In the spotlight: (L-R)Tim Rogers, Abbie Hughes, Emily King, Mary King, Helen West and William Fox-Pitt

In the spotlight: (L-R)Tim Rogers, Abbie Hughes, Emily King, Mary King, Helen West and William Fox-Pitt

Life

Life”s a beach: Mary King

As proud sponsor of the HSBC FEI Classics™ – a prestigious international eventing series, HSBC is helping to lead the development platform for eventing by investing in the sport and supporting events and riders around the world. For more information, go to: www.fei.org/hsbc

Boxing Day sports betting bonanza set to reach 100m

100m Boxing Day betting bonanza! Kempton clash sees punters dig deep

Bookmakers are predicting that the eagerly awaited clash between Kauto Star and Long Run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton will send Britain betting crazy.

Ladbrokes say records could be smashed as between 35-40million is wagered by partisan punters on the televised race featuring four-time winner Kauto Star and the horse that took his title last season.

With a bumper programme of Barclays Premier League football also scheduled, the high street bookmakers reckon overall betting turnover on the day could come close to 100m.

Betting bonanza: Punters will be hoping to scoop a Boxing Day jackpot with plenty of money staked on jockey Sam Waley-Cohen to steer Long Run to glory

Betting bonanza: Punters will be hoping to scoop a Boxing Day jackpot with plenty of money staked on jockey Sam Waley-Cohen to steer Long Run to glory

David Williams, spokesman for Ladbrokes, said: ‘When the big horses turn up, the big money turns out. Kauto Star and Long Run have really galvanised the public. They could add an extra 10-15m to betting on the race. Turnover might get close to 40m.

‘That would be right up there, second only to Grand National day. Cheltenham Gold Cup day is big but it is not a public holiday and today punters are being served up a feast of action across the sporting stage.’

King George sponsors William Hill make Nicky Henderson-trained Long Run the 5-4 favourite with Paul Nicholls’ Kauto Star 3-1.

Bookmakers’ satchels will bulge still further if one of Captain Chris, Master Minded or Somersby can spark a surprise in a vintage renewal for the prestigious race featuring eight runners.

In three previous clashes, six-year-old Long Run, who is ridden by amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, leads Kauto Star 2-1.

He also beat his 11-year-old rival in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

But, amid calls for him to be retired, a reinvigorated Kauto Star, a two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and a steeplechasing all-time great, secured his first win over Long Run by eight lengths in last month’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Leading the way: Long Run holds a 2-1 record over Kauto Star (far right) in their three meetings to date

Leading the way: Long Run holds a 2-1 record over Kauto Star (far right) in their three meetings to date

If he succeeds this afternoon under jockey Ruby Walsh, he will win the Christmas feature for an unprecedented fifth time, going one better than the great Desert Orchid whose statue stands alongside the Kempton paddock. Nicholls believes Kauto Star is in better form than last season, possibly because it has taken him so long to recover from a heavy fall in the 2010 Gold Cup.

Form: Paul Nicholls believes Kauto Star is in top condition

Form: Paul Nicholls believes Kauto Star is in top condition

He said: ‘It just might be he took 12 months to get over that fall. It was horrific. I am clutching at straws but he seems in a great place at the moment.’

Henderson is also confident it will be a sharper Long Run who lines up compared to the Haydock model.

He said: ‘We could go on trying to dissect the Betfair Chase as long as we like but he’s a horse who does get a bit rusty. He was too fresh early on that day and got into a head to head with Kauto. He made a mistake then went back for more and that rocked the boat. In fairness, he did well to get anywhere near him.’

A crowd close to the 22,000 capacity is expected at Kempton.

With a first prize of 102,000 up for grabs, the King George also has significance in the jump trainers’ championship in which reigning champion Nicholls leads Henderson by 370,000.

Ruby Walsh: I never thought Kauto Star was finished… but Long Run will be too good

Ruby Walsh: I never thought Kauto Star was finished… but Long Run will be too good

Kauto Star and Ruby Walsh jump the last to win The Stan James King George VI Chase at Kempton Park

National treasure: Kauto Star

Ruby Walsh is emphatic about who should be feeling the heat most in the countdown to the William Hill King George VI Chase on Boxing Day – and it is not him.

The Irish jockey may be trying to steer national treasure Kauto Star to an unprecedented fifth win in the Kempton race but, he insists, it is amateur rival Sam Waley-Cohen on Long Run who must deal with much greater pressure.

A new hierarchy is being hailed in steeplechasing and, even after Kauto Star”s emotional defeat of his younger rival in last month”s Betfair Chase, Walsh insists he and one of the greatest jumpers the sport has seen are underdogs.

“Last season Sam was riding the big white hope, now he”s riding a superstar,” says Walsh. “I know Long Run”s a family horse but with the tag of a King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner comes that bit of pressure. He seems to be handling it well but it is a different ball game. I know that.”

Indeed, few are better qualified to comment. No other jump jockey competes so successfully at the top level as 32-year-old Walsh.

Success on Willie Mullins-trained duo Boston Bob and Zaidpour at Navan last Sunday made it 16 Grade One wins since the Cheltenham Festival in March when, returning after four months out with a broken leg, he silenced the doubters with a storming success on Al Ferof in the opener.

The 15 wins to follow have been gained despite yet another lengthy lay-off with a neck injury. In the same period, Richard Johnson has had six Grade One wins, Barry Geraghty five and, for all his success, Tony McCoy only one.

The potent ammunition supplied by Mullins and British champion Paul Nicholls ensures Walsh”s enthusiasm is undimmed, despite the physical toll and constant danger that saw a mount kick off his helmet at Newbury last month as his prostrate frame was battered by flailing hooves.

Sam Waley-Cohen on Long Run (L)

Superstar: Long Run (left)

“I”ve had my fair share of injuries, probably more,” says the jockey, whose spleen was removed following a blow to the stomach in 2008. “Injuries are part of a National Hunt jockey”s life. People from the outside don”t realise that jump jockeys don”t just do it for the money. It”s a love, an addiction.

“It”s something I live with. When you get hurt, all you think of is the next time you are going to ride a winner. Pain is temporary. Horses have been my life and are all I know. Do I have the temperament to train (when I retire) I don”t know but I”m sure I”ll find out. It will be a new challenge but hopefully one I don”t have to find out about for a long time.”

Kauto Star has played a massive role in fulfilling Walsh”s passion for riding big winners. The duo have secured four King Georges and two Cheltenham Gold Cups in their 16 successes. Their partnership stretches back to a novice chase at Newbury on December 29, 2004.

THE STORY SO FAR

JANUARY 15, 2011 King George VI Chase, Kempton

Kauto Star is 4-7 to secure a fifth King George, but the champion’s jumping lacks fluency for substitute jockey AP McCoy. Long Run, a 9-2 chance, travels smoothly throughout to beat stablemate Riverside Theatre 12 lengths, with Kauto Star seven lengths further back in third.

March 18, 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Long Run is the 7-2 favourite but makes several minor mistakes as Kauto Star (5-1) forges ahead with Denman on the final circuit. But as the trio charge to the penultimate fence, Long Run drives past his older rivals to beat Denman seven lengths. Kauto Star is four lengths further back.

November 19, 2011 Betfair Chase, Haydock

With his future on the line, 6-1 chance Kauto Star is given an attacking, front-running ride by Walsh. Long Run, the 6-5 favourite, holds on stoutly despite three blunders in the back straight but can’t reel in Kauto Star, who goes away to win by eight lengths.

Rarely does a jockey have a chance to forge such an extended relationship with a mount. That this era is close to an end was emphasised when Kauto Star”s stablemate and rival Denman suffered a career-ending injury this month.

“Kauto Star is just an incredible horse,” says Walsh. “With a racehorse, any day can be the end of the road. They are fragile. I never thought Kauto and Denman would last so many years going head to head. It”s a testament to Paul Nicholls.”

Walsh must have feared the glory days were over when 11-year-old Kauto Star, under McCoy, succumbed to six-year-old Long Run in last year”s King George. Defeat in the Gold Cup followed and then Kauto Star was pulled up at Punchestown. But now history beckons on Boxing Day as Kauto Star seeks to go one better than the mighty four-time King George winner Desert Orchid.

Walsh insists it is not sentiment that has made him choose Kauto Star over younger Nicholls-trained stablemate and 11-2 third favourite Master Minded, the former two-mile champion chaser racing over three miles for the first time.

Walsh said: “Master Minded will stay and he has a cracking chance. The plan for him has always been Kempton. The plan for Kauto was Haydock but things have changed. He”s been so good at Kempton.

“You were thinking, “Is there another Grade One in Kauto” but I never thought he was finished. He gives you so much, you never think you”ve no chance.”

Oh yes, Haydock; the most emotional day of the racing year when calls for the fading Kauto Star to be retired were drowned out as he roared to a first win over Long Run and a fourth Betfair Chase success. It was vintage Kauto Star and Long Run, trained by Nicky Henderson and owned by Waley-Cohen”s father Robert, couldn”t live with him. The old champion had picked himself off the canvas and bloodied the nose of the upstart who had wrested his titles away. But what of the re-match

“Kauto was in great nick, probably a better horse than he was at any stage last season, but I didn”t think he”d beat Long Run and I don”t think he”ll beat him in the King George,” admits Walsh.

“That doesn”t mean I don”t hope he will. I just think Long Run will be a better horse in the King George. Long Run looked a bit ring rusty at Haydock and that was the way he ran. Paul”s horses traditionally hit top gear three to four weeks before Nicky”s do. Paul”s are still going, Nicky”s have just caught up.”

Are those just the honest words of a professional Or could they be designed to heap pressure on Waley-Cohen Surely not, Ruby.

Gareth Barry is Manchester City"s man for big occasions

All hail Barry: Why low-key Gareth is Manchester City”s man for the big occasion

On being informed by a friend earlier this year that the increasingly peculiar Joey Barton had criticised him extravagantly in a magazine interview, Gareth Barry had only one question.

‘What time are we due on the first tee’ he asked.

While those close to him advised Barry to defend himself or request an apology, the Manchester City player was concerned only about what time his weekly round at a Cheshire golf course was about to start.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. This was, after all, a case of the credentials of Gareth Barry of City and England being questioned by Joey Barton of QPR and, well, QPR. It was hardly going to be a fair fight.

Mr Reliable: Gareth Barry is Manchester City

Mr Reliable: Gareth Barry is Manchester City”s go-to guy

Nevertheless, Barry’s reaction was typical of an unfussy, pragmatic individual who, almost without being noticed, has quietly become one of the most important players of Roberto Mancini’s time at the Etihad Stadium.

Players like David Silva, Sergio Aguero and, of course, Mario Balotelli, will always generate more headlines and demand more attention. They are extravagantly gifted.

Consider this remarkable fact, though. Since Mancini took over at City two years ago this week, his team have faced the Barclays Premier League super powers of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham on 19 occasions and Barry has started all but one of those games. Last May, against Tottenham at home, he missed out because he was injured.

It is a telling statistic, one that says everything for the way that Mancini has come to rely on a player who — along with Ivory Coast international Yaya Toure — has come to form the anchor of his midfield.

Playing against the big guns: Barry takes on Alex Song during City

Playing against the big guns: Barry takes on Alex Song during City”s 1-0 win over Arsenal

One former City player, the 1968 championship winner Mike Summerbee, is convinced of Barry’s significance.

‘He is so important to us,’ said Summerbee recently. ‘I would go as far as saying that he is one of our best players.

‘Look at the games he plays. When we need to win, he plays. That says everything. He is a fantastic and sometimes under-rated player.’

Signed from Aston Villa by Mancini’s predecessor Mark Hughes, Barry’s stock has risen and fallen with the English football public in the intervening months and years. Now it is on the rise again.

Considered indispensable to Fabio Capello’s England in advance of the 2010 World Cup, Barry ended up limping in to the tournament barely half-fit after suffering an ankle injury playing for City a month before things got underway in South Africa.

During a miserable four weeks for the national team, few suffered more than Barry. Clearly in no condition to play, he cut an embarrassed, shambling figure as Germany routed England 4-1 in Bloemfontein.

‘The bottom line is that Gareth shouldn’t have been there,’ said a source close to the 30-year-old. ‘He wasn’t fit and it showed. Gareth suffered during that World Cup and continued to suffer after it.’

Off the pace: Barry struggles against Sami Khedira in Bloemfontein

Off the pace: Barry struggles against Sami Khedira in Bloemfontein

Barry’s rehabilitation has been gradual but his stand-out showing in City’s 1-0 win at home to Arsenal at the weekend provided the most compelling evidence yet that he is ready to become a central figure in this season’s title race and indeed for his country in next summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

On Sunday, the range and accuracy of Barry’s passing was exemplary. When City play fluently, tempo is everything and at the weekend it was Barry’s metronomic passing — more than Silva’s artistry or Toure’s blustering power — that eased Mancini’s team through what was a tight and important game.

Coaches at City believe that the presence of Balotelli and Aguero have helped Barry’s game this season. Whereas last season’s attacking focus Carlos Tevez would, more often than not, come short towards the midfield looking for the ball, City’s current attacking duo are more likely to run behind defences to give Barry a better range for his passes.

Certainly, Mancini’s coaching staff have long appreciated Barry, even if they would like to see more assists and goals. Low maintenance and reliable, the southerner is a throwback to the pre-Twitter and Facebook age.

Back on song: Barry netted England

Back on song: Barry netted England”s 2000th international goal against Sweden

‘He hates all that stuff,’ said his friend. He doesn’t understand why anybody would want to tell people what they had for breakfast.

‘Gareth isn’t anti-social. He likes his mates but really he just wants to do his stuff on the pitch and go home.’

On a recent flight home from Champions League duty, one image perhaps summed Barry up well.

While his team-mates settled down to play interactive racing and war games on their personal computers, Barry and James Milner began a game of the traditional dice game Yahtzee.

It probably wouldn’t have been Joey Barton’s chosen way to pass time on a flight but City’s ‘teacher’s pet’ (Barton’s words) won’t care about that.

Next summer one of these men will be in Eastern Europe with an England shirt on. The other will be at home feeling angry.

Steve Kean defiant ahead of Bolton showdown

Embattled Kean remains defiant as Rovers prepare for must-win Bolton showdown

Under-fire Blackburn boss Steve Kean remained defiantly upbeat after his side were beaten 2-1 by West Brom at Ewood Park.

The heat was turned up once again on the Scot as Peter Odemwingie”s curling 89th-minute winner condemned 19th-placed Rovers to their 10th Barclays Premier League defeat of the season.

Even though it had been announced in the build-up to the game that, for the first time in several months at a home fixture, there would be no organised protest against the manager by Rovers fans, they still made their unhappiness known, with rumblings of discontent in the stands erupting into chants of “Kean Out” by the end of the match.

Voicing the opinion: Blackburn fans forgot about the truce as Rovers slumped to another defeat

Voicing the opinion: Blackburn fans forgot about the truce as Rovers slumped to another defeat

The 44-year-old knows his tenure – which began a year ago – might not last much longer if the team”s fortunes do not change soon, but Kean insists he is still feeling positive looking forward.

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“I always feel as if we are about to go on an unbeaten run, and that the fans who are grumbling are going to be overtaken by the noise of the positive fans,” Kean said.

“I never feel as if you can”t change people”s minds, although I know it will only happen with results.”

He added: “I don”t need to switch off and I don”t feel as if I need to run away from anything.

“It is my job, and it is other people”s jobs to ask questions.

“I have no problem with that – I”ll always come in, face up and give an honest answer.”

Looking bleak: Steve Kean welcomes Bolton to Ewood Park on Tuesday in a must-win encounter

Looking bleak: Steve Kean welcomes Bolton to Ewood Park on Tuesday in a must-win encounter

Blackburn had been looking to build upon the 4-2 triumph over Swansea in their previous home game – only their second league win of the campaign – against the Baggies, but put in a disappointing display and never really looked like claiming anothermuch-needed victory.

Albion deservedly took the lead in the 52nd minute when Rovers failed to properly deal with a corner and James Morrison smashed a superb volley past Paul Robinson.

Scott Dann scrambled in an equaliser with 18 minutes to go, but the hosts were left empty-handed by Odemwingie”s late intervention, the striker cutting in from the right before shooting well into the far corner of the goal.

Late stunner: Peter Odemwingie struck in the 89th minute

Late stunner: Peter Odemwingie struck in the 89th minute

Next up for Blackburn is a home matchagainst rock-bottom Bolton on Tuesday, and with trips to Liverpool and Manchester United to come after that, Kean is in no doubt as to the importance of the Wanderers clash.

“If it was not big enough already, it is absolutely massive now,” Kean said.

“We have to make sure we show courage, and I mean courage to get on the ball and carve out some betterchances on Tuesday than we did (against West Brom).”

Kean”s opposite number Roy Hodgson – whose team moved up to 13th – thought the Baggies were worthy victors.

“We left it late, but I thought that throughout the 90 minutes, we had lots of opportunities and situations where we found ourselves in good positions around the Blackburn area,” Hodgson said.

“We managed to miss a lot of those opportunities and it took two very, very good goals to win us the game.

“But I think overall, we can be more than satisfied with our day”s work.”

Luke Donald eyes Australian Masters victory for winning end to 2011

Player of the Year Donald eyes winning end to 2011 at Australian Masters

World No 1 Luke Donald insists he has “enough fuel in the tank” for one more victory as he looks to round off a historic 2011 at the JBWere Australian Masters at Victoria Golf Club.

The Briton was last night named the PGA Player of the Year after 12 months where he consistently produced a top game.

The leading money-winner in the United States, Donald also became Europe”s Order of Merit champion after finishing third at the Dubai World Championship at the weekend to become the first man to top the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gripping stuff: World No 1 Luke Donald of England practices at the Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne

Gripping stuff: World No 1 Luke Donald of England practices at the Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne

While the 34-year-old has yet to win a major, his accuracy and a superb short game this year brought Donald four victories, 20 top-10 finishes and 8.45million in prize money.

Donald will now look to complete a memorable year with another win.

In with a shout: Donald talks up his chances

In with a shout: Donald talks up his chances

“I did have a few celebratory drinks and the flight over was a little rough, but I”m feeling more rested now,” said Donald, whose only previous visit to Australia was as an amateur in the late 1990s.

“I certainly do have enough fuel in the tank. I had a good five weeks off before I played the Nedbank (Golf Challenge from December 1-4) and Dubai.

“There”s been times throughout the year where I have had to really dig deep for a little bit of extra energy to compete well, but I certainly feel like I”m not dragging too much right now.

“I feel like I have enough energy to give, hopefully, everyone a good show.”

Donald will face a strong local field in Melbourne including Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Allenby and Greg Chalmers who is chasing the coveted “Triple Crown” of wins in the Australian Open, PGA and Masters in one season.

“I haven”t played the course so I”m just guessing that local knowledge is of benefit,” Donald said.

“But from what I hear there are some sloping greens and places you do and do not want to be. I”m sure I will adapt quickly.

Playing the field: Donald faces a strong line-up in his bid to win the Australian Masters

Playing the field: Donald faces a strong line-up in his bid to win the Australian Masters

“The goal for me is to always to have a chance to win on Sunday and hopefully I”m in that position.”

Fellow Briton Ian Poulter insists he always puts golf ahead of business as he looks to return to the world top 10.

The 35-year-old has slipped to 28th in the rankings after a career-high of five in 2010 and, while he is keen on business opportunities, Donald is adamant golf is number one.

“Right now obviously I have slipped down the world rankings a little bit, but I can move up very quickly,” he said.

Sand man: Ian Poulter is hoping to climb the ranking with a solid performance in Melbourne

Sand man: Ian Poulter is hoping to climb the ranking with a solid performance in Melbourne

“A win this week would push me straight back up – let me think – where would it push me

Golf blog

“It would probably push me to about 17 in the world, not that I have been looking.”

He is also looking at the trip as a chance to expand his commercial interests and added: “IJP Design, my clothing business has been running for about five years now and obviously it”s great to play in all the territories where I have distribution. It”s nice finally for me to get down here.

“I see this game as a business and I have to go to as many territories as I possibly can.”

Jonny Wilkinson retires from England rugby

Over and out! Legend Wilkinson quits England after World Cup nightmare

Jonny Wilkinson has played his last game for England after retiring from internationals.

The legendary World Cup winner – who kicked England to glory in Australia in 2003 – has decided to bring down the curtain on his glittering career.

On his website, the fly-half wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from international rugby.

End of the road: Jonny Wilkinson has quit international rugby after England

End of the road: Jonny Wilkinson has quit international rugby after England”s disastrous World Cup earlier this year in New Zealand

“To do so fills me with great sadness but I know that I have been blessed in so many ways to have experienced what I have with the England rugby team.

“I never ever believed that I would be able to give up on this dream which has driven me to live, breathe, love and embrace the game of rugby from the earliest days that I can remember.

“I certainly have no intention of letting this decision change the way that I approach my training and preparation for games. In fact early indication shows me that I”m actually getting more intense about it. Playing the game, representing the team, giving my all and never letting go has meant everything to me.

“I do, have done and always will believe that I am very capable of performing and thriving at any level of the sport.

“The time has come, however, for me to realise that I have gone as far as I can go with this England team and that the time is right for others to enjoy the same honour and pride that I have felt over the past 15 seasons and beyond.

“I have far too many people to thank for what I have been able to achieve but as always, it starts with my Mum and Dad, my brother Mark, my girlfriend Shelley, Steve Black, Tim Buttimore and Dave Alred as well as the rest of my family and friends.

“I can never give enough credit to all my team mates from over the years and my physios, surgeons, doctors and coaches too who have unconditionally helped me through all kinds of thick and thin.

“Finally I would like to show my enormous appreciation and gratitude to all the true followers of the game who have given me way, way more time and support than it has ever been reasonable for one person to ask for. You will never truly understand the effect you have all had on me and my career.

“To say I have played through four World Cups, two Lions tours, 91 international games and a ridiculous number of injuries and other set backs gives me an incredibly special feeling of fulfilment. But by now I know myself well enough to know that I will never truly be satisfied!

“It goes without saying that I would like to wish Stuart Lancaster, his coaches and the England Squad every bit of success available to them.

“I would also very much like to extend those wishes to Martin Johnson, Brian Smith, Mike Ford, John Wells, Graham Rowntree and the rest of the England 2011 World cup management team who have been fantastic and deserve people to know that.

“For me now, I will continue to focus ever harder on my goal of being the very best I can be with Toulon Rugby Club and continue to embrace and enjoy wherever that path takes me.”

Arsenal 1 Everton 0: Robin Van Persie"s stunning volley helps Gunners celebrate

Arsenal 1 Everton 0: It”s 1-0 to the Arsenal again as Van Persie”s stunning volley helps Gunners celebrate milestone in style

With arms outstretched and a beaming smile, he acknowledged the fans and ran towards the bench in celebration, as up in the stands Thierry Henry stood to applaud. And the only compliment you could add to the raft of plaudits that have come his way in 2011 is that Robin van Persie bears comparison to his former team-mate.

Given that they unveiled a statue of Henry here on Friday, along with Tony Adams and Herbert Chapman as the three most venerated figures of the past 125 years at Arsenal, there can be no higher praise.

In years to come, Van Persie may yet demand his own bronze effigy, so great has his significance become to this team.

Winner: Robin van Persie strikes again

Winner: Robin van Persie strikes again

MATCH FACTS

Arsenal: Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen (Miquel 82), Arteta, Song, Walcott (Frimpong 89), Ramsey, Gervinho (Rosicky 53), Van Persie. Subs not used: Almunia, Arshavin, Chamakh, Benayoun.

Booked: Arteta, Ramsey.

Scorer: Van Persie 70.

Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Heitinga, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman, Neville (McAleny 76), Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Gueye 76), Cahill, Saha (Distin 64). Subs not used: Mucha, Stracqualursi, Barkley, Vellios.

Booked: Coleman, Distin.

Attendance: 60,062.

Referee: Howard Webb.

If — and it remains a huge qualification — Arsenal do challenge for major trophies this season then, other than Arsene Wenger, it will be Van Persie who should be first up to collect a medal.

He scored his 46th goal for club and country this year on Saturday, but such statistics are dry and dull whencompared to the elegance and coordination that enabled him to volley Arsenal ahead after 70 minutes, a strike of such power and precise timing that a goalkeeper as good as Tim Howard in the Everton goal barely moved a muscle.

There was an honourable supporting actor to the leading man. Alex Song, who was excellent throughout and but for that one moment would have been man of the match, lifted a superb pass across a 30-yard range, dropping the ball on to the foot of Van Persie.

Still, there was plenty of work to do, as they say, from the edge of the box. Having already invoked one great name by comparison, another also sprung readily to mind: Marco vanBasten. Van Persie’s compatriot would have been proud of such a finish.

Helpless: Tim Howard can only watch as Van Persie

Helpless: Tim Howard can only watch as Van Persie”s volley rasps into the net

Just champion: Arsene Wenger saw his side leap back into the top four

Just champion: Arsene Wenger saw his side leap back into the top four

‘It was a terrific finish,’ acknowledged David Moyes, the Everton manager on the receiving end. ‘Exceptional,’ offered Wenger. ‘You will say we are Van Persie dependentbut today he got us a goal in a game where we struggled to create chances. We needed something special.’

And on such moments of genius does Arsenal’s season hang. For, had Van Persie not arrived to the rescue again, we would now be discussing the mental weakness of a side that candominate a game without ever finishing it off; about points they dropped at home when they should have wrapped up all three by half-time;about their inability to challenge for major trophies.

Arms and legs: Aaron Ramsey gets in a tangle with Phil Neville

Arms and legs: Aaron Ramsey gets in a tangle with Phil Neville

As it is, none of the above applies because sides that can eke out 1-0 wins invariably have to be taken seriously. George Graham, another of the club’s historic names invited to the birthday celebrations, knew that and will have sported a wry smile as the anthem of his era echoed around The Emirates: ‘One nil to the Arsenal!’

They have taken 22 points out of the past 24 and the dismal days of summer seem a long way off as they edged into a Champions League qualification spot.

Full focus: Phil Jagielka holds off Gervinho

Full focus: Phil Jagielka holds off Gervinho

‘What is important to us is that we started from so deep, that no one could have predicted we would be here today,’ said Wenger. “I hadn’t made that calculation at the time. We have still to keep going
as we are still very far away. We have a big game next Sunday [at Manchester City] and that will be a
big test for us.

“I am very pleased with the fact thatwhen you look at the start of the season and the goals we conceded, we are much more solid defensively and today we didn’t give a chance away. Ithink the spirit is there, the consistency is there, now the focus is there we will see how far we can go.’

Jumping for joy: Wojciech Szczesny celebrates after Robin van Persie

Jumping for joy: Wojciech Szczesny celebrates after Robin van Persie”s strike

Moyes was admirably candid when commenting on a workmanlike yet uninspired first-half performance, whichgave way to something better in the second half but still yielded zero shots on target:

‘We were fortunate to go in 0-0 at half-time so we can’t kid ourselves about that, but I actually thought when they scored we were looking more likely, growing in confidence and had weathered
what Arsenal had thrown at us early on.’

The man of the moment: Robin van Persie patrols the Emirates pitch

The man of the moment: Robin van Persie patrols the Emirates pitch

Indeed, Arsenal spent much of the first half contriving different ways not to score. In the 15th minute Theo Walcott raced on to Mikel Arteta’s excellent pass, looked set to shoot but opted instead to cross for Gervinho, who missed his shot entirely. Van Persie then mistimed a run in the 25th minute when Gervinho was able to put him clean through and was called offside.

Aaron Ramsey went closest, turning Tony Hibbert and lifting the ball on to the roof of the net with a chip.Gervinho, clean through on goal, struck Howard’s legs and the Everton goalkeeper was on call
again in the 55th minute, pushing away a clean strike from Walcott.

Welcome back: Thierry Henry was among the crowd as the club celebrated their 125th anniversary

Welcome back: Thierry Henry was among the crowd as the club celebrated their 125th anniversary

Marking the occasion: Fans toast 125 years of Arsenal

Marking the occasion: Fans toast 125 years of Arsenal

But Arsenal’s intensity faded, meaning Thomas Vermaelen was required to head the ball away from
the lurking Tim Cahill before Phil Neville tried his luck from long range. That said, it was deep into
stoppage-time when a nervous gasp first afflicted The Emirates and debutant Conor McAleny, 19,
unleashed a fearsome volley just past Wojciech Szczesny’s post.

Arsenal survived. ‘We were a bit historical today because we won 1-0,’ said Wenger — and, on the day, it was appropriate.

What a goal for Arsenal

Denman retired from racing

Tendon injury forces legendary horse Denman into early retirement

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Denman has been retired after suffering a setback in his preparation for the Lexus Chase.

The Paul Nicholls-trained 11-year-old was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the December 28 feature at Leopardstown but a tendon problem has scuppered those plans and ended his career.

“It is with great regret that I have to announce the retirement of Denman,” Nicholls said. “A scan yesterday afternoon revealed tiny damage to his near fore tendon, so this morning marks the end of an era for Ditcheat.”

Legend: Denman, here ridden by Ruby Walsh, has been forced into early retirement

Legend: Denman, here ridden by Ruby Walsh, has been forced into early retirement