Lions to Dragons?
Under Warren Gatland Wales have emerged into one of international rugby’s best sides. The New Zealand-born coach guided them to their second Six Nations Grand Slam under his five-year stewardship on Saturday, and their third in eight years. Cruelly handicapped in last year’s World Cup semi-final via Sam Warburton’s erroneous red card against France, this current crop could still clutch the Webb Ellis trophy in 2015. The starting XV on Saturday boasted an average age of just 25, but success outside of the Six Nations may follow sooner in the southern hemisphere.
The British and Irish Lions tour Australia next summer, and the Welsh will likely make up the majority of the 37-man squad. In South Africa 2009, they and Ireland – the top two teams at that year’s Six Nations – dominated the luckless Lions over three enthralling Tests. But with Ireland picking up a meagre five points from their five matches, it has reinforced Welsh dominance out of the pick of Britian and Ireland’s finest rugby talent. Warburton, 23, like Martin Johnson, could still skipper teams to triple glory.
Wales win the Slam:
Lowe down but not out
Modern football possesses many pet hates, and one of them is ESPN’s Rebecca Lowe giving teams the go ahead to emerge from the tunnel after she says a piece-to-camera. Whether this is Lowe or a television director’s idea is unknown, but it risks sullying her obvious competence at covering football.
Lowe however was tasked with a testing issue on Saturday when Fabrice Muamba collapsed, much to the horror of those at White Hart Lane and watching on television.
Word spread of Muamba receiving CPR and suddenly idle thumbs were frantically changing over to ESPN for updates and information on the Bolton midfielder’s state.
It is of immense credit to Lowe that she handled an emotional situation faultlessly, showing as much compassion as she did composure amidst a sombre atmosphere.
Flanked by a passionate Kevin Keegan and John Barnes, the trio deserve praise for their sensitivity, unlike David Pleat, commentating for Radio Five Live. His archaism was given the boot by ITV, but he still populates the airwaves, and stressed his ineptitude again. “Wealthy players were recoiling,” he said. As if wealth is pivotal to human emotions.
Shauna Muamba has tweeted her gratitude this morning:
(Cheer) leader of men
Neil Lennon can this week oversee his Celtic side clinch the Scottish Premier League title at deadly rivals Rangers’ Ibrox stadium.
As sweet as that may be for a Celt who has barely disguised his contempt for the Gers, it will also be a welcome antidote after the Hoops’ shock League Cup final loss to Kilmarnock at the weekend.
He had warned last week there would “be no treble” if Celtic played like they did in the first half of their Scottish Cup quarter-final against Dundee United, and now he won’t emulate the feat he achieved as a player 11 years ago.
Lennon’s suitability as a football manager is still questionable, even if you take away the unconscionable distress he has experienced from death threats and plots to kill him.
Scottish football, due to its lack of competitiveness, allows a manager to cut his teeth and act as a springboard into English football (Alex McLeish/Owen Coyle). But a barometer of Lennon’s qualities cannot be gauged at Celtic, especially when they are unchallenged in challenging for the league, with financially stricken Rangers wounded in the background. The Northern Irishman is fierier off the pitch than he was on it, and his partisan adoration for the Bhoys even handicapped them last season, as tensions between the Old Firm exacerbated. Pastures new may be better advised.
Cup warms up
The FA Cup has been dismal for many years but, like the latter stages of the Champions League (except for this year), it is becoming exciting for the first time since 2006. Twelve goals were served up from the weekend’s three completed games, and the quartet for the semi-finals is a mixture of clubs with fond associations with the tournament, sleeping giants and underachievers solely reliant on it to gloss over difficult campaigns. At the 2008 FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Cardiff City, some suggested a minute’s silence should have been held for the FA Cup. It is still limping on, but the latter rounds have offered a sweet dose of morphine to quell the demise.
Is Torres back?
Moyes faces the music
In the week of his 10th anniversary at Everton, David Moyes spoke of his regret at not winning at Anfield. For the 217th Merseyside derby on Tuesday, he made six changes from the team which beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0, and they were obliterated 3-0 by a Steven Gerrard-inspired Liverpool.
Although contradicting his candour, he was clearly preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland at Goodison Park, but they only drew 1-1. Denied a blatant penalty by referee Andre Marriner at 0-0, they nevertheless cancelled out Phil Bardsley’s opener to draw level in the 23rd minute. So dominant in the second period that a set of blue tents would not have looked out of place in Sunderland territory, they are nevertheless not used to attacking so incessantly. Simon Mignolet pulled off a magnificent double save, but Everton had just five efforts on target from a whopping 19 attempts. Moyes garners praise for the job he continues to oversee, but he lets himself down with his approach in the final third, and overdue perspective is warranted over him leaving the handbrake on for a number of years in L4.
Sunday saw the return of Formula One in its new home over at Sky Sports, who nabbed the rights to live coverage of every race from the BBC last year. By poaching Martin Brundle from the Beeb, they were learning from Channel Four’s adroit thinking when Richie Benaud transferred from the same station to lend his warm tone to Test match cricket in 1999. Familiar faces in new surroundings is like a comfort blanket even to overgrown children.
Simon Lazenby (left) chairs Sky's F1 coverage with (from left) Martin Brundle, Christian Horner and Damon Hill
It was suped up stuff. “SkyPads” are fast becoming an extension of the channel’s presenters, and glistening in the Australian heat, it was good for their modified product, if a superfluous distraction. Silver fox Damon Hill lacked the glow of his father, but Georgie Thompson was on-hand to add the phwoar factor, as if it was necessary with the bevvy of models who usually populate a grand prix. With such a plethora of gloss, the camaraderie was as dry as the tracks.
While the corporation’s live football coverage has regressed significantly this season (there is an obsession of showing crowd and/or touchline faces when the ball is in play), the F1 handling was as seamless as Jenson Button’s win. However, Sky being Sky, they billed this as the first ever F1 race in history. Much like how they perpetuate the myth that football started in 1992.