London 2012: My Top 10 Moments Of Week 2

London 2012 Closing Ceremony

London 2012 has sadly come to an end but the following are some of the memories that will last a lifetime…

Andy Murray’s Sweet Revenge:

Just a couple of weeks prior to the Games SW19 played host to Andy Murray’s proudest career achievement to date when he reached his first Wimbledon final and lost valiantly to Roger Federer, but now he can finally say that he has become a champion at Wimbledon.

He still isn’t yet a winner of Wimbledon title ‘proper’ or a Grandslam title but his fantastic performances en route to the Olympic final and then in hammering Federer in the final will have given him an enormous amount of hope in his quest to land a first Slam. It was also fantastic to see him gunning for glory on all fronts as he teamed up with his brother in the men’s doubles and with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles where they landed a deserved silver medal.

Golden Saturday:

Little can be said about Saturday the 4th of August 2012 that hasn’t already been said a thousand times but there is no way it could be left off of this list. 6 golds in one day and three of those in the space of less than an hour in the Olympic Stadium. It was awesome.

Epke Zonderland flies his way to Gold in the Men’s High Bars:

In a week of phenomenal achievements for Team GB it was tempting to fill this list with tales of home glory and triumph but one of my personal highlights of week two came in a somewhat surprising form. In the build-up to the Games I hadn’t exactly set my heart on watching an enormous amount of gymnastics but Team GB’s unbelievable success got me hooked and then a certain Mr. Zonderland  made me really sit up and take note. His High Bars routine was truly a sight to behold and he more than deserved his gold medal. If you haven’t already seen it then please use this link and do so… http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/18903127

Trotty’s Double Gold:

With some of team GB’s more high-profile members such as Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Sir Chris Hoy delivering in fantastic fashion I felt as if young Laura Trott’s double gold went unfairly a little under the radar as did her boyfriend Jason Kenny’s double gold. Her individual winning performance in the women’s omnium was terrific and she sealed her precious second gold in stunning style by romping to victory in the final event and replacing the experienced American Sara Hammer at the top of the standings.

Ben Ainslie makes it 4 out of 4:

Ainslie yet again did it the hard way as he always seems to do as he once again he came from behind to land a stunning fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal and a third consecutive gold in the Finn class. The man is a legend and one would imagine that a knighthood could well be forthcoming.

Sir Chris replaces Sir Steve at the top of GB’s gold medal winners list:

Chris Hoy London 2012

His Royal Thighness grabbed two golds in what is almost certain to be his last Olympic Games

Chris Hoy’s outstanding performance in the Keirin was arguably the highlight of yet another stunning team performance from Britain’s cyclists at the Olympics and it saw him reach the incredible tally of six golds, one more than Sir Steve Redgrave who provided a very nice touch by going to the Velodrome to congratulate the man who has arguably deposed him as Team GB’s greatest ever Olympian.

Bolt doubles up on all three fronts:

I’m pretty certain that most people would already have regarded Usain Bolt as a legend prior to London but now he himself believes once and for all that he has the right to be called a legend. Once again Jamaica’s finest produced storming performances in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay and his second consecutive triple-gold medal haul silenced all of the doubters who thought he might not be able to match his displays in Beijing. My favourite Bolt moment from the last fortnight though was his homage to home favourite Mo Farah when he performed the ‘Mo-bot’ just after crossing the line for gold in the relay.

Farah Bolt London 2012

‘Mo Bolt’ and ‘Usain Farah’ celebrate their triumphs with each other

Brotherly love in the Triathlon:

For years I have been derogatory about triathlon in order to wind up a friend of mine who is all to keen on the sport but the truth of the matter is that triathlon is an unbelievably demanding discipline and both of the Brownlee brothers are phenomenal athletes. Tuesday’s triathlon drew an enormous crowd, one which  included myself, and Alistair Brownlee’s gold medal winning performance was well worthy of such phenomenal support.

Mo Doubles Up:

Saturday night saw Mo Farah complete arguably the greatest British athletics achievement ever as he landed the 5,000m gold medal to add to the 10,000m gold which he won a week earlier. This achievement has seen Farah soar into the realms of the greatest athletes ever to have competed at the Olympics as only seven people have ever done the long distance double at the Games.

Stephen Kiprotich defies the odds to bring glory to Uganda:

Kiprotich Marathon Winner

Stephen Kiprotich took an unlikely victory in Sunday’s showpiece event

Uganda are traditionally one of the least successful competing nations at the Olympic Games and until yesterday they were still without a medal at London 2012. However, on the final day of the Games Kiprotich stepped up to the plate and beat the favourites from Africa’s distance running strongholds Ethiopia and Kenya en route to winning the marathon and becoming not just Uganda’s first medal winner of the Games but also Uganda’s first gold medal winner in 40 years. This was a staggering achievement for one so young and it was deserving of the traditionally special medal ceremony that the marathon receives in the closing ceremony.

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6 Nations: Predictions (with the benefit of opening round hindsight)

Usually, I and many other sports enthusiasts and writers, make the foolish mistake of trying to predict things as accurately as possible without the benefit of hard, and topical evidence. Having learnt the error of my ways, I have taken it upon myself to predict the outcome of the 6 nations with the benefit of some hindsight and, hopefully, some half-decent foresight.

Wales opened up with a last-gasp win in the pick of the weekend's action

With one game down and England, Wales and France all off the mark in the wins column here is my prediction for the outcome of this year’s tournament:

Wins       Losses

1. Wales                 5                 0

2. France               4                 1

3. England             3                 2

4. Ireland              2                 3

5. Scotland            1                 5

6. Italy                   0                6

 

Wales:

Predicted – Grandslam Winners

Against Ireland, Wales played with a similar determination and attacking prowess as they did throughout their highly praised World Cup run. They may well have had to rely on a controversial-ish last gasp penalty to get the job done but an away win against Ireland is a big scalp and I think their attacking threat deserved to see them through in the end. Jonathan Davies’ hard-run lines in the midfield caused havoc while Wales were in full flow, and as ever Mike Philips dictated the game beautifully at 9. They may no longer have the prolific Shane Williams amongst their ranks, but George North’s performance at the weekend was one of a true heir to the Williams throne. He has the strength, character, hands and pace of a world beating winger and he is continuing to prove why he is one of the hottest young properties in the world of rugby.

I have Wales as my favourites to win, not just the tournament but another Grandslam, because they play with real flair and the character shown to rescue the game at the Aviva was very impressive. If the likes of Philips are at their best then Wales will be the team to beat.

France:

Prediction – 2nd

The French enjoyed a fairly routine victory in their opener as they faced up to the team that everyone would like to start their competition against. The Italians, of course, are a lot stronger than their earliest years in the competition but they are still a little of the pace when it comes to the more dominant forces of European rugby and they tend to provide decent competition for the opposition to break themselves into the tournament.

France weren’t at their fluent best and Italy actually played very well for long stretches in the opening game but the difference between the two sides was to be found in their defences. France’s defence was tight, compact and unforgiving, whilst their attack found just enough holes in the Italian rearguard to take them to  a reasonably comfortable win.

Up next for France are Ireland and this will almost certainly provide a stiffer challenge, but, Les Bleus will be confident of making it two from two on home turf.

England:

It wasn’t exactly glamorous and it wasn’t exactly dominant but Stuart Lancaster’s new-look England side just about did enough to prise victory in the Calcutta Cup. There was little on show at Murrayfield worthy of great note as it was a game left bereft of really outstanding moments but England showed enough to suggest that they will at least bag themselves two victories in this 6 nations campaign.

England’s debutants all played fairly well against Scotland, with the two new centres Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt taking most of the credit for assured first outings, as well as Chris Robshaw for his characteristically workman-like showing in just his second game for his country and his first as captain.

I have a sneaking suspicion that England will beat one of the other members of the ‘big four’ and I think that win will come at home to Ireland in a few weeks time. If they manage to beat Italy next time out and take at least one of the big teams then a top 3 finish is on the cards.

Ireland:

Prediction – 4th

It is amazing how much one minute of rugby can impact upon a team’s success in the 6 nations ’round-robin’ format and Ireland are this year’s hard-luck story from the opening round of fixtures.

Had the game finished just one minute earlier then Ireland would have a victory of huge significance under their belt and all the talk would be of potential Grandslams, as it turned out though they are amongst a group of three teams on the bottom of the table and will be left feeling a little damaged.

For periods of the game they were overwhelmed by the Welsh attacking threat, yet they still managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over and just a little more composure in the dying seconds might have seen them triumph. I think this defeat will hit them hard and though I expect a decent reaction in Paris, I think they will come up narrowly short again and could then be left struggling for motivation when it comes to facing England at Twickenham later in the tournament.

Scotland:

Prediction – 5th

Scotland might have shown enough at home to England to suggest that they should avoid the wooden-spoon but their inability to take advantage of their very decent attacking opportunities against England will be a huge concern for Andy Robinson.

Sadly for Scotland, this has been the problem for way too long now and it must be getting very tedious indeed for their coaching staff and indeed the rugby enthusiasts that pack out Murrayfield consistently  to provide one of the greatest atmospheres in world rugby. I think they will have enough to beat Italy but their achilles heel of lacking composure in attack is too blatant for me to foresee them beating any of the major forces. 5th it is then…

Italy:

Prediction – Wooden Spoon

A predictably decent but ultimately disappointing day for the Italians saw them open up with a loss against the World Cup finalists, France.

For spells they were the better team and they had France going backwards and making simple errors in the midfield early on, only for them to be undone all too easily by one cohesive French move resulting in Aurelien Rougerie’s opening try.

Though the Italians continued to battle hard, they fell quite a long way short in the end and their inability to make pressure really count was undone by France’s contrastingly clinical show in the final third. I can’t see the Italians finishing any higher than 5th and in truth I think Scotland will probably beat them in the battle to avoid propping up the rest of the table.

 

Ajmal lays down the gauntlet as Pakistan overwhelm England on day one

When Pakistan last faced England in Test Match cricket their ability and reputation were left in tatters. Their feeble on-field performances and the disgraceful acts of some of their players off of it left the nation’s sporting and societal name completely tarnished. Thankfully though, the opening day of their latest series told an entirely different story.

For Pakistan national pride and identity is of utmost significance and the events of the summer of 2010 could scarcely have been timed worse. Whilst a few of their national heroes were demonstrating immense greed and selfishness, the country itself was left reeling in the wake of devastating floods. Insensitive and inappropriate as the actions of Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Asif, and Salman Butt were in isolation, they were compounded by the natural disaster unfolding in their homeland.

Joyfully, the opening day of this series will be remembered for what Pakistan do still have to offer to the world of cricket. Their spin-heavy bowling attack  tore into the world’s number one Test side, and arguably the world’s best Test batting line-up and dismissed them for a poultry 192.

Ajmal's brilliant variations and "Doosra" impressed rather than his thus far unseen "Teesra"

Without a doubt, the star of the opening day was Saeed Ajmal whose pre-match kidology spoke volumes for his self-confidence going into the series. His promises of a new mystery ball proved fairly unfounded in truth, but there was no doubting the effect of his brilliantly subtle variation.

England’s entire batting order (the brilliant Matt Prior aside) looked baffled by Ajmal’s ability to turn the ball both ways with very little change in action on what seems a very flat pitch. He isn’t a huge turner of the ball, but the craft of his bowling was plain for all to see.

His performance en-route to career-best figures of 7-55 today makes it seem remarkable that he has only played 17 Tests for his country before now when at the of 34 he is potentially right at the back end of his career. For a while now he has been thought of as being a better One-Day bowler for his country, but today’s performance went some way to disputing this and will have had a positive effect on his previously no-better-than-solid Test bowling average of over 30.

Ably supported by the rest of Pakistan’s more regulation bowling attack, Ajmal became by far the stand-out player on day one. His seemingly undying confidence has in the past gone a little unjustified but today he lived up to his own billing and really delivered. If he manages to maintain this level of performance and England continue to help him and his team-mates out with some silly indiscipline, then he could finally be the man Pakistan can rely on to see them to a considerable Test scalp.

Sceptics (myself included), might put a bit of a downer on Pakistan’s day one achievements with thoughts of ‘what might have been’ for their bowling attack had Amir and Asif not have taken a severely wrong-turn in their careers. Today though, certainly showed signs of a re-juvenated Pakistani side intent on trying to at least partially eradicate the ill-feeling surrounding their recent Test Match history.

If England don’t improve their fortunes quick-smart, then they may well find themselves staring down the barrel within three days in this opening Test. Not only will their players be ruing their errors but the selectors too must be feeling the heat having left out the in-form Monty Panesar in a Test that has seen nine wickets for the spinners on day one. In recent times the selectors have been pretty much faultless, but this decision could come back to bite them in a couple of days time.

An Ode to Jonny ‘That night in Sydney’ Wilkinson

The word legend is often used to freely in the realms of sport, but it would simply be unfair to describe Jonny Wilkinson as anything other than a Rugby legend. The man with the golden left boot has made the decision to hang up his boots in the international game and has left behind him one hell of a legacy.

The Early Years

‘That night in Sydney’ was the moment that made him worthy of legendary status, even if he being his modest self was a little underwhelmed with his own personal performance. He even rather infamously described his last-gasp, tournament winning drop goal (slotted under enormous pressure with his wrong foot) as a “dead duck”. This lack of interest in self-glorification and personal success is what has made him such an incredible asset to his nation and one of the finest players of all time.

For a man so humble about his abilities and his inspirational character he has amassed some seriously impressive individual achievements. Now we know that he is never to don the red rose again we are left looking back at such examples of his brilliance and the impact he has had upon the world of international rugby. This impact is probably demonstrated most clearly by his incredible tally of 1,179 points from 91 caps which places him second only to Dan Carter on the all-time top scorers list, and a clear leader of England’s own list of top point scorers.

These statistics are beyond impressive in their own right but Wilkinson will know more than most that it could have even more incredible had his body been able to keep pace with his talent. Staggeringly, Wilkinson managed to achieve all that he has in international and domestic rugby having had to endure the most miserable of periods out of the game with multiple serious and not so serious injuries, that in effect wiped out the four years of his career which could well have been his prime.

Between the successful World Cup Campaign in 2003 and the near-miss in the 2007 tournament, Wilkinson was sadly removed from the England international set-up due to such afflictions as a fractured shoulder, a recurrence of the same shoulder injury, an extended recovery period following reparatory surgery on his shoulder, a torn bicep, an upper arm haematoma, removal of his appendix, severe damage to his groin muscles, a torn adductor, torn knee ligaments and a lacerated kidney to name but a few…

The all too familiar sight of a Wilkinson injury

We will unfortunately never know just how many points he might have accumulated had he not spent so long in the rugby wilderness or just how good the England side could have continued to be had he been there to contribute and oversee this era as captain. Nevertheless, his achievements are right up there with the all-time greats and this is exactly how he should be remembered in the wake of his international career.

It is plain for all to see that Mr.Wilkinson hasn’t ever quite hit the heights of 2003 again in his playing career but he must be greatly admired for the courage and determination he has continued to demonstrate since the return from his darkest days prior to 2007.

When Jonny returned to the England side as a regular in the 2007 World Cup he helped inspire a quite frankly rather lacklustre troop of players to reach a second consecutive final and very nearly a second triumph on rugby’s greatest stage. His ability to control the game with his metronomic goal-kicking and more often than not immaculate tactical kicking will go down in history and it remained a terrific asset throughout this campaign. It served as a reminder for the world of rugby about just how much they had missed his presence.

Though his game has arguably suffered as a result of his long-term absence in terms of his pace and his adaptation to the ever-evolving way in which rugby is played, his touch of class has remained and as such he has ended his international career as England’s first choice fly-half.

Though the most recent England World Cup campaign was far from successful and wasn’t exactly befitting of Wilkinson’s final bow on the international stage, Jonny himself will be enormously proud that he was still a key player in an England side at the World Cup right up to what has turned out to be the finishing point of his glorious international career.

This retirement doesn’t of course mean the end of ‘Wilko’ as a top class rugby player, and as he has proven since his high profile transfer to Toulon he still has an awful lot to offer. The legs might not quite be what they once were, but his game management is still right up there as is his unrelenting effort and commitment on the pitch. He’s still a pretty handy goal kicker too….

It feels strange to know that Jonny will never play for England again while his domestic career will continue, but there is no doubt that his time as an international rugby superstar will be remembered with enormous fondness. I personally will always remember Wilkinson as England’s iconic number 10, who with his own brand of hard-work, modesty and complete lack of respect for his body (ie- his seemingly unquenchable thirst for pain and self-sacrifice on the field) became the model professional in the world of Rugby.

Thanks for the memories Jonny; a true legend of the game and a national hero to boot. Bring on the Knighthood.

Southern Football Back On The Map

For many a year now the football league has been dominated by London based and Northern based clubs but finally Southern football seems to be returning to prominence. In the not too distant past the likes of Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton were going head-to-head in the Premier League whilst Brighton and Hove Albion were plying their trade in the Championship. This brief era of hope was sadly followed by a major decline in the region and in the space of just a few years each of the aforementioned sides had slipped down at least one division.

At last though it does appear that the region’s football clubs are on to something rather good. At the forefront of this resurgence are Southampton, Brighton and Crawley Town. Each of these clubs have gone from strength to strength in recent times and have each been climbing up the football league hierarchy.

Southampton experienced a torrid time following their Premier League exit in 2005 and in fact came very close to becoming involved in a second successive relegation battle. Luckily at the time a late season surge of form and results saved them from the threat of dropping even further down the football league, but sadly for them this luck wasn’t to continue for too long. In 2009 Southampton’s slump years got even worse when they had to go into administration. With this change in club status came the punishment of a 10 point deduction which sadly ensured another relegation for the club. Even in spite of the club’s continuing failure to meet expectations they were labelled as favourites to lift the League One title. True to form though the Saints once again flattered to deceive and missed out on a return to the Championship.

Adkins has been guided Southampton through a successful past year or so

Finally after five successive years of disappointment Southampton have made a turn in the right direction. Last year saw manager Nigel Adkins inspire his side to a second placed finish and automatic promotion back to the Championship. Upon their return the club’s good fortune has continued and they currently sit pretty in second place after five games. In addition to their good league form they have so far also had great success in their only Cup matches of the season. Their opening round match in the Carling Cup saw them thrash Torquay by four goals to one before a second round victory over fellow Southerners Swindon by three goals to one helped add to the feel good factor around St.Mary’s at present.

The only team to better the Saints in last year’s League One table were Brighton, and they too are enjoying a fantastic start to life back in the Championship. They have also endured a tough last few years including a few non-event seasons of League One football where they found themselves locked in either mid-table mediocrity or battling just to avoid relegation. Gladly though these years appear to be behind them and they are currently staking a very good claim to being the happiest club in World football.

The past year has been nothing other than sheer delight for the Seagulls and their fans as manager Gus Poyet has managed to mastermind a perfectly timed promotion back to the Championship, which has been marked by the long awaited unveiling of their new stadium.

Brighton's glorious new ground

The trials and tribulations of Brighton’s stadium dream have seemed to last an eternity, but finally they have their new ground, The Amex Stadium, and the start of this season has suitably reflected the excitement surrounding the club at the moment. Five games into the league they are yet to have lost a game and are flying high at the top of the Championship. They have also advanced to the third round of the Carling Cup with a thrilling victory after extra time at home to a near full-strength Sunderland. The packed ground raised the roof after record signing Craig Makail-Smith’s winner and their Premier League conquest has furthered the Seagull’s ever-growing ambitions for the rest of the season.

As if the feel-good factor wasn’t already booming at the Amex, Poyet this week tied up a deal to bring Spanish international Vicente to the club on a free transfer. Though his career has been blighted with injury, he was once regarded as one of the finest up and coming talents in World football and it is understood that Brighton fended of Premier League and La Liga interest to land their latest recruit. If he manages to keep fit then they may well have signed a seriously good player capable of impressing not just at Championship level but at Premier League level also. It is an astonishing statement of intent from the Seagulls to have signed a player of such a high calibre.

Could Vicente inspire Brighton to the Premier League?

Sussex is a county that has had very little to celebrate on the football pitch in recent times and Brighton’s resurgence has left many reeling, but it isn’t only Brighton that are drawing attention to the area.

Crawley Town have also been beginning to cause a stir in the football league and they are becoming notorious for their recent influx if finances into the club. Having been taken over, the club then went on to enjoy great success last season resulting in a famous FA Cup run that saw them travel to Old Trafford as well as storming to the Conference title. A combination of recent success and their considerable financial backing has seen them touted as favourites to win League Two this season and if they are to achieve this feat then who’s to say that they can’t go on and make it three promotions in a row next year?

Crawley's big day out Vs. United last season

All in all, things are beginning to really look good again for Southern football’s big hitters. There is an awfully long way to go still this season but the likes of Southampton, Brighton and Crawley have all made hugely encouraging starts upon their arrival into their respective divisions. Speculation of greater things to come is rife around the stands at a lot of Southern football grounds at present and it would be fantastic to see such expectations being met. If clubs such as Portsmouth, Reading, Bournemouth, Swindon and Plymouth can turn their form and off-field strife around then this era of positivity could gain even greater potential.

Arsenal the Headline Act on Deadline Day

Another transfer window has come and passed and though they left it very late indeed Arsenal have finally made strides towards replacing Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Last weekend’s 8-2 humiliation against Manchester United left manager Arsene Wenger with little to no choice, but he has acted boldly on deadline day in order to secure five major signings which should go some way towards appeasing their fans.

The first confirmed signing was that of South Korea captain Park Chu-Yong. Though many will not know much about this acquisition he is captain of his country and having impressed up-front for Monaco he was subject to much interest in the transfer market and not just from Arsenal. French champions Lille were also in for Arsenal’s new man and Wenger will be pleased to have strengthened his attacking ranks.

The next addition to Arsenal’s squad was Fenerbahce’s Andre Santos. The Brazilian international left-back seems to be a promising addition to Wenger’s ranks having played over twenty times for his country. At Fenerbahce he has experienced Champions League football and has proved his ability to demonstrate attacking prowess from defence, scoring at a rate of a goal every five games. Santos looks set to provide able support and competition for promising young English prospect Kieran Gibbs.

Mertesacker should provide great experience an leadership

Third in on deadline day was the immensely experienced Per Mertesacker from Werder Bremen. The German centre-back has impressed at the very highest level in over seventy international caps and I believe he is a great coup for Arsenal. Not only has he made significant strides in international football, but he also has superb domestic experience having played Champions League football for Bremen and having captained the club. Arsenal’s young and rather frail squad are in dire need of leaders and Mertesacker should be able to settle in very quickly given his background and will provide great support to new Captain Robin Van Persie in the leadership stakes.

Arsenal’s fourth and fifth major signings really did push the transfer deadline to it’s full limit, but both were immensely important deals for the club. First they signed the experienced Israeli attacking midfielder Yossi Benayoun from Chelsea on loan, which I think is a very astute signing. Having become rather surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge Benayoun who has consistently delivered at Premier League level is a tidy addition to Wenger’s squad and he provides a wealth of international and Champions League experience.

Arteta stole the headlines at the Emirates

The second of Arsenal’s last minute deals is perhaps their most significant signing of the summer. To have signed Mikel Arteta from Everton is a real show of intent from Wenger and it is the sort of deal which will excite Arsenal fans. Arteta has demonstrated real class in his time at Everton, his fine range of passing and eye for goal should set the Emirates alight and at 10 million he is near guaranteed to be value for money. Many sceptics will say that he is not up to the standard of the departed Fabregas and Nasri, but the painful truth is that not many attacking midfielders are. The loss of these two players will continue to leave a gaping hole in terms of world class talent at the Emirates, but Arteta and Benayoun are both very good players and could well go on to be top players for the club.

Other news coming out of Arsenal included the departure of Nicklas Bendtner on loan to Sunderland for the season and Henri Lansbury’s loan move to West Ham. It was a day of immense importance for Arsenal and the status of their under fire manager and they did at least go some way towards repairing their turmoil-stricken squad. It seems outrageous that they would leave it this late to move for major reinforcements given the inevitability of Fabregas and Nasri’s departures, but the general consensus coming of the club’s followers seems to be something along the lines of better late than never. Only time will tell just how important today’s signings will be for Arsenal but on paper it seems that they have bought in a calibre of player that should see them rising up the table and at least competing for European places.

Other big players on deadline day included Arsenal’s bitter rivals Tottenham. Though they only managed to land the brilliant Scott Parker on the final day of the window, they did manage to sell big in order to reduce their wage bill. Departures from White Hart Lane were Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios, David Bentley, Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton, all of whom fetched reasonable fees which should boost Tottenham’s chances of landing significant new signings come January.

Against all the odds Gary Cahill remained a Bolton Wanderers player

Probably the biggest news of the day for Tottenham on deadline day came in the form on two failed deals. On one hand they managed to cling on desperately to their star player Luka Modric, but on the other they missed out on bringing in the outstanding Gary Cahill from Bolton. It was only on the day that Spurs emerged as huge favourites to land Cahill but up until the evening it seemed as though it was a goer. Sadly though for Harry Redknapp Bolton managed to keep a hold of their star player due to differing valuations of the England international.

Another London club QPR were also very active prior to the closing of the summer transfer window. Shaun Wright-Philips became their first major signing of the day and he was followed through the door by Anton

Warnock will be pleased with his late deals

Ferdinand of Sunderland. These two signings coupled with the recent capture of Joey Barton demonstrates their new owners ambition to keep QPR in the Premier League upon their return to the top flight.

Other top deals on deadline day included Raul Meireles to Chelsea, Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios to Stoke, Joe Cole to Lille on loan, Owen Hargreaves to Manchester City, Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome’s Birmingham exits to Blackburn and Stoke and Craig Bellamy’s sensational return to Liverpool.

In conclusion then, it was another high-drama day of transfer dealings on the 31st of August but perhaps it was lacking the glamour signings provided by the imminent closure of previous transfer windows. Headline act Arsenal have indeed landed some important deals, but their fans will be left feeling strangely deflated. Though they managed to make significant moves in the last twenty four hours it is hard to see how their additions can inspire them to challenge for Champions League qualification. Wenger must for once accept that this is a year of transition and development, his big names have gone and for now they must be forgotten.

English Cricket’s Dominant Present Matches Up To It’s Majesterial History

The recent success of England in the most historic and prestigious form of cricket should be the source of much national pride. In their recent 4-0 drubbing of the previous World number one Test side they demonstrated a level of conviction and authority rarely seen in English cricket’s more recent past.

The current success has brought with it an enormous amount of comparison drawing between England’s current crop and the most dominant Test outfits of the game’s long and illustrious history. To this point England have achieved a great deal under the guidance of Andy Flower and have earned a great deal of respect amongst their peers in the International game, but there is an awfully long way to go before they can be considered one of England’s very best sides. So far they have demonstrated the form and talent required to reach such historical heights but sustaining this period of domination over a longer span of time will be the ultimate test for them.

The Home of Cricket

This week I was fortunate enough to pay my first visit to the ‘Home of Cricket’. Not only did I visit Lord’s but I was fortunate enough to gain entry to the Members Pavilion courtesy of attending as the guest of a friend who holds an MCC membership. This was a fantastic experience and furthered my passion for the game and it’s history.

Some might say that the ‘old boy’ and ‘aristocratic’ nature of Lord’s and the Pavilion End is far too elitist and perhaps too stuffy for a modern era of increased equality and opportunity, but I must confess that I loved it.

Where else in British sport could you be seated in and around plump, middle-aged gentlemen wearing a glorious mish-mash of boldly coloured pinstripe suits accompanied by a flower-filled top jacket pocket and the classically coloured red and mustard tie of the MCC? It may seem way over the top, but it truly is a sight to behold.

You wouldn't wear it yourself, but it's brilliant...

I personally wouldn’t be seen dead in their chosen attire, but I didn’t half enjoy seeing them trying to pull it off and in a bizarre sort of a way they kind of managed it. The pride gained from showing off the traditional colours of the MCC is comparable to that of the most passionate football fans who couldn’t bare to be without their replica shirts come match day. It provides a great sense of identity for the game and pays tribute to the it’s very colourful past through remembering and representing it’s upper-class roots.

Warney's Tribute in the Pavilion

Aside from those filling the Pavilion End the place itself is so utterly and fantastically British. It is a structure of extreme civilisation containing a library, a food court, squash courts, lounge rooms, real tennis courts, a committee meeting room and of course the infamous Long Room. The place is filled with paintings and images of Cricket’s history and not just that of the home nation. Even the old-enemy Australia have their fair share of wall space with players such as the great Shane Warne honoured with a portrait.

The ‘Home of Cricket’ is a magnificent tribute to the enduring gentleman’s sport and underlines the value and traditions of Test cricket. In the modern era where shortened forms of the game are beginning to take greater precedence than they once did I think it is hugely important that the foundation of Test cricket is not forgotten or belittled.

Gladly, England’s current combination of extroverted characters suited to the modern era such as Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad, and more classical, old-fashioned cricketers such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Andrew Strauss has seen them rise to the top of the world’s Test pecking order and has provided the longer format with a much needed boost.

Swanny has become a key part of England's modernised line-up

The world of Test cricket has been lacking the sort of superiority and character provided by the all conquering Australian sides of the 90’s and early 2000’s and it is entirely appropriate that England, cricket’s country of origin, are responsible for the current re-invigoration of the sport’s most important format. Though my first visit to Lord’s was to see a one-day match between home side Middlesex and the visitors Sussex you can’t help but feel the presence of the International game within the Pavilion. I am now very much looking forward to the day when I get to witness the ground in all it’s majesty at an England Test match, hopefully this moment shan’t elude for too much longer.

Premier League Team of the Coming Weekend; Ones To Watch

You may well be used to seeing or reading about football pundits teams of the week but here is my team of ‘Ones To Watch’ for this weekend’s forthcoming round of Premier League fixtures. The reasons for the following team members’ selection could be many and varied; whether it be a recent run of blunders, a run of supreme form, a return from injury or a Premier League debut all comers are to be considered.

The players I have ear-marked for an important weekend are as follows:

Goalkeeper:

David De Gea:

The new Schmeichel or the new Taibi?

Who else could it possibly have been? Following in the footsteps of Premier League greats such as Edwin Van Der Sar and Peter Schmeichel was always likely to be a tough ask, but the young Spaniards’s apparent lack of awareness and footwork in his first two competitive starts for United has heaped a whole heap of unexpected pressure on to his shoulders. Of course there are reasons for Sir Alex’s and Man United’s great faith in De Gea’s potential as a world class stopper and such reasons are probably those responsible for having thrust him from being an unknown Athletico Madrid third choice keeper to an Under 21 European Champion with Spain and Man United’s new £18 million number 1.

He is a real talent, of that there is no question, but is he just that for now? In an Athletico Madrid side prone to some interesting defensive lapses perhaps De Gea’s frailties were either more acceptable or less noticeable, take your pick. One thing is for sure though, and that is that Sir Alex Ferguson and the Old Trafford faithful won’t be so relaxed if he has another howler on his home debut against Spurs on Monday night. United fans keep your fingers crossed.

John O’Shea:

New Sunderland skipper John O’Shea is currently only rated a 50/50 chance to make his Premier League debut for the Mackems due to injury but if he does make the cut then what a start to his reign! A home debut against their fiercest of rivals Newcastle is bound to get to get the blood pumping and the butterflies a fluttering even for someone so experienced as O’Shea. At Manchester United he developed a reputation for being a man to call upon, a very competent and versatile defender capable of holding his own against many of the world’s finest wingers. Despite having never really set the world alight at United he gained invaluable experiences at one of the world’s greatest clubs and picked up a hatful of silverware along the way.

Fabricio Collocini:

For similar reasons to O’Shea, he of the outstanding mane of curly locks makes the cut. In the wake of former Newcastle Skipper Kevin Nolan’s summer departure the Argentine centre back has taken the reigns as Captain and in only his second game of leadership he is coming up against local rivals Sunderland. One thing he does have over his opposite number is his prior experience of this particular derby and he will be hoping that this serves him well on Saturday.

Leighton Baines:

At left-back is the much sought after Baines. After a fantastic season last year, rumours are rife that he may soon be leaving the cash-strapped toffees for Arsenal and if he is to depart then I’m sure that he is the sort of player who would love to leave a positive lasting memory of what he has to offer. Last season saw him establish himself firmly as Ashley Cole’s deputy at international level and after Everton’s opening weekend postponement he will be even more keen to hit the ground running and to contribute to a first win of the season.

Samir Nasri:

Whether he likes it or not it seems that Arsene Wenger is determined to make the most of his most-prized remaining asset Samir Nasri while he still has him. Arsenal vs Liverpool is the first real glamour fixture of the season and it is not a game for those not committed to the cause, if Wenger goes ahead with his reported plan to field the unsettled Frenchman then we may just get to see how professional Nasri is. He is a player of questionable temperament off the field at times but he was brilliant on the field last year and maybe a starring role in a big game like this could be enough to peruade him to stick around a little longer.

Luka Modric:

We are all still in the dark as to whether Modric will remain a Spurs player or not beyond the 31st August but this Monday could provide him with a reminder of how the club have helped him develop into one of the world’s most feared playmakers. If the papers are to be believed then Roman Abramovic is lining up a bid in excess of £30 million for the Croat and this is testament to the fine ability of one of Spurs’ star men and speaks volumes about how he and the club have progressed in tandem since he moved to White Hart Lane. If this is his farewell game for Tottenham then it could provide the perfect platform for his departure, it doesn’t get much bigger in the Premier League than Man United at Old Trafford and contributing to a victory would also be of great benefit to his potential new employers at Stamford Bridge.

Joey Barton:

The Usual Suspect

‘Nuff said, but I’ll plough on regardless. Last week was a shambles for Barton, amidst an actually pretty good performance his attitude was shocking. Twittering aside, if he was hoping to settle back into Premier League action quietly after an outspoken summer then he certainly didn’t go the right way about it. In fairness, his rather acrimonious return to action last week was not all of his own doing. First of all he was blatantly stamped on by Alex Song and then I genuinely believe that he thought Gervinho was trying to cheat his way to victory. What followed though was pretty pathetic, not content with sparking a 22 man brawl by aggressively heaving the Ivorian to his feet he then proceeded to hurl himself to the ground in apparent agony when the same member of the opposition gave him a little tap on the head. Surely this weekend will see a more reserved outing for Barton… Oh dear.. it’s derby week on Tyneside. More of the same then for Joey.

Gareth Bale:

Last year’s PFA Premier League player of the year got off to a flyer last season. This year is set to provide a more testing challenge with an opening day clash against the Champions but Bale will be determined to prove his continued worth, what better way to do so than inspiring Tottenham to a major opening game scalp.

Robin Van Persie:

Captain Fantastic?

Huge game for the Gunners this weekend and new Captain Van Persie will be looking to mark this occasion with a performance which has the fans forgetting who Cesc Fabregas was. A hard-earned 1-0 win over Udinese in midweek will have gone some way to appeasing the fans but this weekend will provide a real acid-test of whether Arsenal can recover from the loss of their talisman and still compete with title challenging sides in the Premier League. With Fabregas gone and Nasri potentially on his way an awful lot could rest on Van Persie’s shoulders this season and I’m sure he will be relishing the challenge.

Sergio Aguero:

You would be forgiven for thinking that Manchester City have signed the greatest footballer of all time given the hype surrounding Aguero in the week following his brilliant debut against Swansea, but the Argentine will be more aware than anybody else that his magnificent cameo has just added to the weighty pressure that is upon him. City spent an awful lot of money securing his signature, as they tend to with most of their signings, but that doesn’t mean to say that he is a finished product. He is a truly brilliant prospect and could be the difference for City this season, but there is a long way to go yet and  Aguero mustn’t get complacent. First things first though he must go out this Sunday and try to replicate some of the genius evident in last week’s debut.

How will the Gunner’s cope with the loss of their Arsenal?

This has to go down as one of the most difficult weeks in the recent history of Arsenal football club. Cesc Fabregas, their talismanic skipper has gone and their strongest performer from last season, Samir Nasri, appears to be on his way out of the exit door. So where next for Arsenal? Surely now is the time that Arsene Wenger needs to spend big, because if he doesn’t then the Gunners will quite simply be a much weaker team than they have been in recent seasons, and even that hasn’t been enough for most of their fans.

I believe that if Nasri does leave in this transfer window and sufficient replacements aren’t brought in to replace him and Fabregas that the current Arsenal squad will be left short of the mark in all areas. Before now the attacking midfield positions are where Arsenal have excelled in recent years, but the loss of their two key playmakers would mean that they are playing catch up to match their rivals in this area too.

I think that Arsenal still need to make major signings in goal, in their central defence, in holding midfield and up front in addition to re-stocking the attacking midfield void if they are to keep pace with the three sides that finished above them in last year’s Premier League. Serious investment will be required if they are to come even vaguely close to competing with the best the Premier League has to offer and maybe the more urgent problem for the Gunners to face will be holding on to a place in the top four.

Here is my analysis of Arsenal’s current shortcomings and my suggested transfer targets for Mr.Wenger:

Goalkeeper:

I think that Wojciech Szczesny is a real prospect in goal for Arsenal, but here in lies the problem. He is a talent, a young and inexperienced keeper in need of serious guidance and not a proven performer over a decent stretch of time. I think that in order to get the best out of him that Arsenal need to sign a more experienced keeper who can aid his development and perhaps teach him a trick or two. If, and it is a big ‘If’, Wenger assembles a top class central defensive partnership then this may be enough to protect the vulnerable youngster, but at the moment this must be considered a potential area of weakness. It is a similar case to that unfolding at Manchester United where big money summer signing David De Gea appears to be struggling for confidence in goal. He too is a young and talented keeper who needs some serious guidance, difference is he is playing behing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic so he is unlikely to be anywhere near as exposed as Szczesny.

In not signing Shay Given I think that Arsenal have missed a major opportunity. He is a top quality keeper with an abundance of experience including over a hundred caps for his country and a taste of Champions League football at Newcastle and he was available at a very reasonable price. As it turns out Aston Villa were the lucky side to secure his services, but I am utterly convinced that he would have moved to Arsenal if given the chance.

Defence:

Arsenal desperately need a top class centre-back and it seems that Wenger has identified Phil Jagielka as his major target. This would be a decent buy if he can pull it off but it seems that Arsenal will have to part with around twenty million if they want to get their man. For me this is way over the odds and Gary Cahill would be a far better alternative at around the same price. Cahill’s added height and pace would be a great asset for the Gunners and Bolton boss Owen Coyle has as good as said that the club would have to consider a healthy offer for their star man if it came along.

Holding Midfield:

In Alex Song Arsenal already have a promising player in this position but a bit of extra support and experience wouldn’t go amiss. One option, and I accept this would be a huge punt, could be Owen Hargreaves. The England international is currently a free agent having endured an agonising few years of injury woe at United, but he is determined to prove that his time hasn’t yet passed and that he is still a world class performer. I accept that a move for a man who justifiably has his critics regarding his fitness levels could come across a little desperate and perhaps a little lacking in ambition, but Wenger would love his work ethic and ultimately he is available on a free transfer. If they did take him in and show faith in his undoubted ability then maybe Hargreaves’ body would hold out and if it did then they could have an absolute steal on their hands. In spite of the obvious risk involved in signing a player with his injury record I am still a little surprised that nobody seems tempted to take a chance on him, particularly a club like Arsenal which has just come into a bit of money after the Fabregas sale.

Another option that might be of interest is Raul Meireles of Liverpool. After a slow start last season he began to find his feet in English football but it seems that the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Lucas Leiva might be ahead of him in the pecking order. If this is the case then maybe his services are available for a reasonable price.

Attacking midfield:

If Nasri goes then Arsenal desperately need to bolster their options here. One man persistently being linked with the club is Juan Mata of Valencia and I think he would be a signing of real quality and intent, but he may prove to be pricy amidst the clamouring to secure his services. Another good option which would also be in-keeping with Wenger’s apparent youth only policy would be Marek Hamsik. He like Mata would be a real coup for the club as it seems their are plenty of potential suitors out there waiting to make their move for the talented Slovak. Again he is likely to cost a fair bit but Arsenal and Arsene Wenger must be willing to spend big if they are to lose their two best players.

Striker:

Robin Van Persie is World Class but who have they got to support him? It appears that Wenger has given up on Nicklas Bendtner coming good and Marouane Chamakh has failed to stake his claim really so what are their options?

An unlikely but tantalising prospect could be Carlos Tevez who might just hate the City of Manchester so much that he might consider a move back to London where his Premier League career began at West Ham. I can’t think of many players in world football who Arsenal would benefit more greatly from than Tevez but it is incredibly unlikely that City would allow him to make a move to a rival club even if it did mean that Nasri went the other way. This sadly is just the dreamers option.

Maybe Germany could provide  more realistic option for Arsenal in this position. A Wenger-type option would be young Thomas Mueller of Bayern Munich but this could be hard to pull off given German footballer’s tendency to believe that there could be no greater club honour than playing for Bayern. Another option could be Cologne’s Lukas Podolski who has proven himself to be a major threat at the peak of club and international football. He is quick, strong and versatile and is one of those players who is much younger than you might think. He is only 26 years of age but seems to have been around for an eternity, and recently his club have conceded that they may have to sell their star player.

Porto could also prove a good feeding ground for Arsenal where the likes of Falcao and Hulk are rumoured to be available at the ‘right price’. This price is likely to be a very costly one but if Arsenal bought in either of these two then the fans would be likely to feel much more optimistic about their chances this season.

If Arsenal fail to tackle their weaknesses right the way through their squad then I think that this could be their year to drop out of the top four. For years now they have been the best side to watch but even that could be in jeopardy in light of recent losses and potential losses. I think the next two weeks could make or break their season.

My World Cup Countdown.. My England XV

With under a month to go until the World Cup this is the start of my run down to the big kick off, and just in case you were wondering… I can’t wait!

I like many will be glued to my television at various ungodly hours the follow the fortunes of all the many gathered nations in Kiwi land, and hopefully I will be presiding over another nerve jangling but ultimately successful campaign for England. The men in white have done their country more than proud in the previous two gatherings of rugby world and more of the same would be very much appreciated.

If their two warm-up matches are anything to go by though then this campaign could be rather painful to watch. I must say I derived very little pleasure from casting an eye over the back-to-back clashes with the Welsh, but ever the optimist I will be putting this down to the fielding of unfamiliar and experimental line-ups that contained some players who won’t even be making the trip around the world.

Anyway, here is my starting England XV that I would take into the World Cup, enjoy and feel free to have your say.

Front Row:

Andrew Sheridan

Solid as a rock. Come scrum-time Sheridan comes into his own. I think the Wallabies pack are still piecing together their vertebral columns after the memorable shunt and grind dealt out this time four years ago in the Quarter Finals. His name on the team sheet might well be enough to put the them off their breakfast if they come face-to-face in the Semis (might be getting a little ahead of myself here..)

Dylan Hartley

On the field he is relentlessly nasty, naughty and a lot of fun to watch. The beauty of Hartley is his will to win which at times does boil over, but England need some mean machines amongst their ranks if they are to intimidate the Southern Hemisphere sides and Hartley is wired up for this challenge.

Dan Cole

The man is a work-horse. Strong, snarling and prepared to put his neck on the line, he really is formed of the ideal Prop-making ingredients. I don’t for a second profess to be a front-row expert but he seems to have the mental and physical strength to tough it out against the world’s strongest front rows.

Second Row:

Tom Palmer:

The Stade Francais man has blossomed over the past couple of years and has turned in some consistently commanding performances. He is a good option in the line-out and provides great stability in the scrum. One of the easiest selection for me.

Courtney Lawes:

He has started well as an International player and I think he is worth his place. Along with club mate Hartley he provides a menacing presence in the English pack and his mobility is hard to find amongst the world’s elite group of locks.

Back Row:

Tom Croft:

If Croft and James Haskell are present in England’s back row then it is likely that England will carry a major scoring threat in the forwards. Both men have an eye for the try-line and Croft excels as a suport runner and line-out target. His pace is outstanding and provides a potentially match-winning edge at times.

Lewis Moody (if fit): (C)

When he is fit and at his best he can be utterly immense. He is a great character and when on top of his game he is one of those players who can carry a team even through the most adverse of circumstances. More committed Test match performers are very much few and far between and I think that if his fitness remains an issue that England could struggle to demonstrate the grittiness and mental strength that strikes fear into the Saffers, Kiwi’s and Aussies.

James Haskell:

I am a big fan of Nick Easter and think he offers a great deal, but with physicality and athleticism more important than ever before I think it is time for a change. James Haskell got the chance to show what he can do at 8 in the first warm-up against Wales and he made a strong impression. He seems to have a real edge about his character and I think he is the man to counter the big, bad, back-rowers of the Southern Hemisphere.

Half Backs:

Danny Care:

Big call this one. After the year he had in 2010 it seemed impossible that aything other than injury could come between Ben Youngs and a clear path to the number 9 shirt in the 2011 World Cup, but for me he has slipped back to second choice. After an outstanding start to last season and a strong showing in the autumn internationals Youngs was well on course, but his 6 nations showing was of concern to me. I think that after a bright performance on the opening day against Wales that his form became progressively less impressive and maybe just maybe he has played himself out of what was his place to lose. On the other hand Danny Care used the back end of last season to inspire club side Harlequins to an against the odds triumph in the European Challenge Cup. He followed this up more recently with a good performance in the first warm-up game against the Welsh, for me he starts at 9.

Jonny Wilkinson:

If you need a big stage player then look no further. He has been there, done that and kicked a “dead-duck” of a World Cup stealing drop-goal. He called it that, not me… His form since a change of scene in club rugby has been impressive and it finally seems that the worst of his injury demons are behind him. In 2003 he was our star, in 2007 his return seemed to galvanise an apparently hapless England side and in 2011 I believe he should regain the right to be first-choice at 10.

He seems very happy in his own skin again and has such control over his emotions, I think he remains the cool head that England need to make them tick. Toby Flood has on the whole been impressive since usurping Wilkinson a couple of years ago but has a tendency to lose his battle when the going gets tough, Jonny is a safe choice, but for me the right choice.

Centres:

Manu Tuilagi:

For me he is a must. Purists might play the ‘he isn’t actually English’ card but the young Pacific Islander could provide a much needed spark in England’s otherwise rather robust back line. Recent England gambles on hot-headed and inexperienced young players seem to working out well in the form of Northampton’s Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton and maybe now is the time for Manu to set the world alight with his combination of pace, strength and sheer athleticism. If he does get his chance from the off then he could make a massive impression.

Mike Tindall:

Thought long and hard about this one but Tindall just about gets it. I have to admit that I’m a little disappointed that England haven’t managed to produce a player of similar qualities to Tindall but with greater speed and imagination rather than having to resort to a player about seven years past his prime, but that is just the way it is. The fact that he is a captaincy option supports his claim for a starting berth and if Tuilagi plays then the newest member of the Royal Family could well be the man to keep the young dynamo in-check.

Back Three:

Mark Cueto:

Solid, reliable and experienced. These are three words you can certainly attribute to Mr.Cueto but ‘prolific try scorer’ is a three word title that doesn’t quite match up. He may be short of tries in recent appearances for England but he is strong in defence and possesses a pretty strong kicking game. As such he is a nice compliment to the more exciting and dangerous Chris Ashton on the other wing, and World Cup purists would love to see Cueto exact revenge for being denied the infamous ‘try that wasn’t’ four years ago against the Saffers in the final.

Chris Ashton:

Whether he is ‘Swallow-Diving’ his way over the line or touching down in more conservative fashion, one thing you can be sure of is Ashton’s unrelenting hunger for try scoring. His penchant for superb on the shoulder support runs has seen him explode on to the scene since switching codes and has driven him to be considered one of the best finishers in the world.

His form in the red rose has been just about as outstanding as his domestic form with Northampton since he made his debut. He simply hasn’t looked back since given his start in international rugby and if he is fit then he is probably the easiest selection of the lot.

Ben Foden:

Given their contrasting fortunes over the past eighteen months it seemed improbable that Delon Armitage could make a stab at ousting Ben Foden who in the aforementioned period was simply irrepressible. Whilst his form surged in the right direction Armitage’s career took a mini slump which resulted in disciplinary shortcomings, injury problems and ultimately just a lack of game time and form. However, the two recent games have highlighted a potential readiness for Armitage to return to Test match rugby and a somewhat indifferent performance from Foden on his return to the fold.

In spite of Armitage’s late surge, I think that Foden has done too much over the past two years and Armitage too little for selection. Ben Foden gets the 15 shirt, but keep your eyes on this one as Armitage is likely to get the chance in the group’s ‘easier’ games and may well impress.

Area of Concern:

One area of real concern for England must be the centres. Though Tindall was once world class he now lacks the pace and subtlety of the world’s elite in his position, sadly though there doesn’t seem to be a host of other options. As I see it we can’t continue with Tindall and Hape as our first choice in midfield as they are far too similar. As such Tuilagi got the nod alongside Tindall for me as the combination of these two blends excitement and freshness with familiarity and experience.

One interesting alternative though could be to select Wilkinson and Flood together in the same side, meaning that one of the two fills the inside centre role. In reality it seems unlikely that Martin Johnson will switch to this mindset so close to the World Cup and that is why I didn’t stump for it in my selection, but if given time I believe that it could work. Flood has experience at 12 for England alongside the likes of Wilkinson so it wouldn’t be an entirely alien concept, and it is one which people more in the know than myself are in support of. Aussie legend Michael Lynagh has gone public in his belief that England should use the time they have left to try this option out, but Johnson is perhaps too wary of introducing this at such a late stage.