Three Lions Without Heart

England have been dumped out of Euro 2016 at just the last 16 stage having been defeated 2-1 by Iceland in Nice.

England did not deserve and more so they have shown nothing to suggest they are a good side over the course of what has been at best a mediocre tournament for most teams.

England showed no desire, no bravery, no will to win. It was not good enough and has never been good enough. The players showed no willing to change the game to become heroes, they have come up against four teams all of whom showed more desire and bravery than England did.

Roy Hodgson’s reluctance to play Jamie Vardy who has changed things every time he came on including the equaliser against Wales led to this. His dropping of Adam Lallana hurt England, his loyalty to Joe Hart lost the game, his faith in Raheem Sterling sealed England’s fate.

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Joe Hart has had his critics over the tournament.

His resignation sums up England really, resigned, underachieving, overpaid. A team picked from a country approximately the same size as Leicester.

Roy Hodgson leaves his post and that should improve England to an extent, it may bring excitement and pace to this England side. England need to look at the blueprint of what Eddie Jones has done to the national rugby team.

Bring back England’s traditional strengths and bring through the young players, players like Lingard, Rashford, all of those players that Gareth Southgate had faith in.

England have to start again drop the players that failed their country Hart, Rooney, Sterling, the new era is here and must be ushered in.

 

Is Muguruza Destined for Greatness?

The women’s game is drawing more and more viewers every year and as it grows the former greats are declining and retiring.

Venus Williams is no longer the player she used to be, the same is true of Caroline Wozniacki. Sharapova has left the sport following questionable drug test results. Serena Williams is also very close to ending her illustrious career.

Her waining power was illustrated in the French capital as Spanish number one Garbine Muguruza defeated one of the greatest female athletes of all time and a woman that has been at the top of her game for years. She forged a famous rivalry with her sister which has become one of the most hotly contested rivalries ever in tennis.

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Muguruza the moment she won the French Open.

Muguruza is coming of age. She came through her first round match of Wimbledon after suffering a scare from the young Italian, Camila Giorgi.

Wimbledon is a huge chance for Muguruza to prove that she is the real deal and at 22 she truly could be part of another wave of greats in women’s tennis. The Spanish player only turned professional in 2012 she has made remarkable progress since then.

Muguruza’s win at Roland Garros could act as a springboard for her to propel herself into pole position to lead in a new age of women’s greats.

Likely Lions

With approximately a year to go until the Lions tour New Zealand I analyse my XV that I would have if the first test were to be played tomorrow. Following English and Scottish test series wins and Ireland’s victory in their first test, the northern hemisphere looks to be recovering from the World Cup.

  1. Mako Vunipola

It has to be the English prop. Jack McGrath is very close behind. The Saracens man has a hugely improved scrummaging game and his work in the loose is wonderful. This man carries as much as and makes as many tackles as any back row. Streets ahead of any of his home nation compatriots.

2. Dylan Hartley (Captain)

The England skipper has led England to nine wins in nine games. His abrasive nature and dogged determination make him a hugely influential player. He has to go and he has to go as captain. He has tempered the fiery nature that saw him pick up 54 weeks worth of bans and has become a totem of self control and power. He leads from the front and he won’t be found wanting in the desire category either. Does his bread and butter of the set piece to perfection.

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Dylan Hartley winning the Calcutta Cup.

3. WP Nel

Nel is a hugely important part of Scotland’s scrum as well as being a key defensive cog in Scotland and Edinburgh’s systems. Dan Cole is very close to the South African born prop. The scrum will be key in New Zealand and Nel is possibly the best scrummaging tighthead in the world.

4. Maro Itoje

Anyone who thinks Itoje should not go on tour with the Lions must have been living under a rock for the last year. The Saracens lock is fast, strong and in form. His work over the park in the loose is wonderful. He is so talented he has become one of the best in is position in the world and just thinking about him matching up against Retallick is a mouth watering battle.

5. Alun Wyn Jones

Jones gets in due to the contribution he can give in terms of experience. He is a physical player and will add another lineout option for the Lions. Jones is one a very few Wales players that has played well in New Zealand. Kruis, Toner and both the Gray brothers aren’t far away.

6. Chris Robshaw

The Harlequins man has been redeemed well and truly since Eddie Jones took over, the best blindside England have had for years. His tackle rate and the amount of work he gets through is monumental. Lydiate is close but after this man’s performance in Australia he is impossible to leave out. England now have one of the finest back rows in the world and Chris Robshaw is a huge part of that.

7. James Haskell

The Wasps man is the man of the series despite only playing in two of the tests in Australia. Led on a path of redemption by Eddie Jones, he has come to the forefront. He is a fighter, he has eclipsed Warburton this year. One of England’s top performers in the Six Nations as well, he is well and truly nailed on to start on the Lions openside flank.

8. Billy Vunipola

The eight has been up there with the best this year. It seems as though he is finally becoming the player we always knew he could be. Another powerful ball carrying forward and a man that can go toe to toe with Read. Vunipola powers over players but contrary to popular belief has a bit of speed to himself as well. Faletau isn’t far away.

9. Rhys Webb

Webb is electric, his pace and sniping breaks make him the frontrunner for the ‘9’ jersey, he has a pass too. Webb has been one of Wales’ stars for the last couple of years and has inspired Wales to a few massive wins lately. Youngs’ kicking is superior but Webb just nicks it.

10. George Ford

Only one player could displace this player at the moment however he’s at 12 but we’ll talk about him later. Ford’s game management is becoming superior to any other player. His decision making is growing as well. The Bath fly-half has been among England’s top performers in Australia and his tackle counts would suggest his defensive frailties are no longer such a concern.

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Ford is back to his best for England.

11. Liam Williams

The Welsh winger had to be included after his performances against the All Blacks he terrorised Fekitoa in the first test, he could not be stopped, he tore through at pace. His abrasive edge and pace make him a lethal weapon in the wide channels. Would have had him at fullback but a certain Scotsman has that nailed down.

12. Owen Farrell

The Saracens centre is the best fly-half in the northern hemisphere, only problem with that is he’s also the best inside centre in the northern hemisphere. He works miracles for England here with Ford inside him. He is the best goal kicker in the world, that makes him priceless at international level. He is also a hugely influential defender, his desire is huge and his appetite to be the best is insatiable.

13. Robbie Henshaw

Could just as easily be Joseph but Henshaw’s power is important if we don’t have a powerful carrier at 12 we need one at 13. Henshaw is a hugely important player for Ireland and if given space by the two English playmakers inside him he will be given acres of space to wreak havoc in New Zealand. His defensive capabilities also make him important, defence will be key against the All Blacks.lions logo.png

14. Anthony Watson

Deadly, lethal two words that perfectly describe the Bath flyer. His feet are electric and his pace scintillating. He is also very capable under the high ball and he uses this to his advantage leaping up for cross field kicks which will be implemented due to his club mate Ford is being deployed at 10. Watson can score at will and he will score tries down under.

15. Stuart Hogg

Jared Payne unlucky to miss out but the fullback is truly sensational, his speed makes him an asset to any team he plays for. Hogg is one of the most exciting fullbacks in the world, he attacks with verve and pace. The Six Nations player of the championship is going to be a massively important man for the Lions should he play.

So the player count is hugely skewed in England’s favour but surely after the Grand Slam and Australia series that is justified. England have nine players, Wales have three, Scotland two and Ireland just one.  Let’s just hope whoever is named can produce the result we got in 2013 in Australia.

Can Murray Win Wimbledon?

The time is upon us to watch Wimbledon, the biggest tennis event of the year in this country.

World number one Djokovic goes into this tournament as the clear favourite having stormed his way to a championship in Paris and looking almost unstoppable. The Serbian is clearly playing some very impressive tennis.

Andy Murray recently won his sixth title at Queens and having been reunited with former coach Ivan Lendl it looks as though the Scottish player may be somewhere close to his best which he failed to look under Mauresmo.

Tennis - 2013 Wimbledon Championships - Day Thirteen - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Andy Murray has won Wimbledon once before.

With Rafael Nadal out both Murray and Djokovic look like they could be facing off against each other again if the matches go to plan. Having said that Roger Federer is always a threat on grass.

The strides both Nishikori and Wawrinka have made over the last two to three years also make them strong contenders. Also Berdych is not to be written off, he has reached the final before. The Frenchman Tsonga has endured a tough year or two but he seems to always step up his game when Wimbledon roles around.

The question most British tennis fans will be asking is can Murray really win Wimbledon? An answer that cannot really be given until he plays. At Queens he looked powerful and fast. His shot speed was a lot higher than he had been hitting for a while and Lendl seems to have had an immediate effect.

His confidence will be high but he will be wary of the Serb having been beaten by Djokovic in Paris. Murray is undoubtedly among the frontrunners but for me Novak Djokovic is absolutely unstoppable, it seems as though only one player can rattle the Serb and that’s Wawrinka.

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Wimbledon is an iconic championship.

One thing is for sure this championship looks to be hotly contested as we hurtle towards the ATP Finals later this year.

England On The Rise

England have done, they’ve won a series in Australia. That game in Melbourne may well be the most significant moment in English rugby since England’s last win in Australia which just happens to be the 2003 World Cup final.

Eddie Jones has taken England from eight in the world rankings to second in a matter of months. Just back in October Australia were competing for the World Cup against the All Blacks whilst England were trying to work out how 2015 had gone so badly wrong, nobody expected this.

Not only has pride been restored to England but they have thumped the Wallabies and are now building a seriously powerful, abrasive, young squad.

One part of the squad that is doing particularly well is England’s back row trio. Following Jones’ appointment there were cries including from myself to drop Robshaw and Haskell, how wrong was I? They are the two best players from the opening two tests by a mile.

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Haskell has been standout.

Haskell has been totemic in defence and a handful in attack at the breakdown and around the fringes. The Wasps openside seems to have picked up a slight knock following the test in Melbourne but he has certainly played a significant part in wrapping up the series.

Chris Robshaw, a man reborn, many believed that once the Six Nations was over he would discard the Harlequins man along with Haskell. After the win in Melbourne how can he? Robshaw showed all the heart and dedication we have come to expect from him as a player. He also seemed to be a bit fiery in the game clashing with Australians on more than one occasion.

Joe Marler may well rue his decision to sit out the tour as Mako Vunipola has been superb, his scrummaging greatly improved yet still offering himself up as a crash ball carrier along with his hugely talented brother, Billy.

In the backs a partnership is flourishing between Saracens out half Farrell and Bath fly-half Ford. For a long time the 10-12 channel has been a problem for England but it seems Jones has fixed that problem.

He has adopted a New Zealand like system playing another playmaker at 12 which can be referred to as a second five eighth. Ford and Farrell both playmakers in their own right but offer different things in attack and defence.

Ford looks more relaxed with Farrell on the field, Farrell takes the kicking duties allowing the young fly-half to play his natural attacking game. Farrell can sit deeper with Ford at 10 which suits his style more allowing him time to make decisions bring his big forward runners into the game.

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Ford and Farrell. friends on and off the field.

This is all down to Eddie Jones, Monday to Friday the week is fine tuned to give England the opportunity to win games every seemingly throw away comment, every training exercise, every selection call is engineered to help the team win the game.

Jones is an expert he manipulates the media, he man manages to perfection, the praise he has heaped on Haskell and Ford has seemed to push both of them to new levels in an England shirt.

He tells others to work harder and that has worked to with players such as Billy Vunipola and Marland Yarde now blossoming.

He has built a core of around 23 or 24 players he knows what they can do and they can rest assured should they continue to perform they will continue to play. Eddie Jones can thank Lancaster for introducing the likes of Watson, Farrell, Ford, Kruis, Vunipola and Nowell to international rugby but let himself make them international superstars.

It will be interesting to see if Jones is willing to take a gamble on any players in the third test. I’d like to see one or two given a go but with the core to remain the same. A whitewash would be truly something.

My England 23 for the final test

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain) 3 Dan Cole 4 Maro Itoje 5 Joe Launchbury 6 Chris Robshaw 7 Jack Clifford 8 Billy Vunipola

9 Danny Care 10 George Ford 11 Marland Yarde 12 Owen Farrell 13 Jonathan Joseph 14 Anthony Watson 15 Alex Goode

16 Jamie George 17 Ellis Genge 18 Kyle Sinckler 19 Courtney Lawes 20 Teimana Harrison 21 Ben Youngs 22 Henry Slade 23 Elliot Daly

How Far Can England Go?

England’s win over Wales on Thursday has made sure that their destiny is in their own hands and they won’t have to rely on other results to qualify for the next round.

Following Slovakia’s win over Russia on Wednesday it has sent England to the top of their group.

Hodgson has been heavily criticised for a number of reasons, firstly the fact that the Premier League’s most prolific striker, Harry Kane was taking corners and also the arguably negative approach that has been adopted over his tenure.

Today though the former Liverpool boss has to be commended his decision to introduce Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy at half-time proved to be inspired as both strikers scored goals to overturn the 1-0 half-time deficit.

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Roy Hodgson, England manager.

England have not done it the easy way conceding a late goal against Russia in their first game in Marseille and then having Gareth Bale give Wales a one goal half-time lead.

The character shown today and the way all three substitutes (Vardy, Sturridge and Rashford) played are encouraging for England. England could well progress to the quarter-finals should this form continue.

England should seal top spot this Monday when they play Slovakia in Saint Etienne. Wayne Rooney and his players will believe that should they play as they did in the second half and if Roy Hodgson does get his selection right then England could well impress a few people.

My England XI to play Slovakia (4-3-3)

1 Joe Hart; 2 Kyle Walker 5 Gary Cahill 6 Chris Smalling 3 Danny Rose; 20 Delle Alli 10 Wayne Rooney 17 Eric Dier; 22 Marcus Rashford 15 Daniel Sturridge 11 Jamie Vardy

Problem Solved?

Over the past few years, England has struggled to put together a midfield trio that can play against the best in the world.

Now though England have an embarrassment of riches at fly-half and centre. When you have a squad that at fly-half is so good you can afford to leave out Danny Cipriani that is practically the definition of strength in depth.

Even without Manu Tuilagi the centres in the squad are a highly entertaining and talented set of players. All the centres also will be around come the 2019 World Cup that is of course bar injury or ban.

After the first test though a clear partnership has emerged at fly-half and inside centre between George Ford and Owen Farrell.

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George Ford changed the game in the first test.

Both fly-halves by trade, Ford started on the bench in Brisbane but after 29 minutes the 23 year old entered the fray due to a tactical decision by Eddie Jones. It changed the game.

Burrell was not quite up to speed with the defensive system, Farrell’s move to 12 sured this up and Ford at 10 propelled England’s attacking game to a new level, as he set up two tries. Farrell also kicked well only missing one attempt at goal.

England look set to start with the same combination come the second test which kicks off on Saturday in Melbourne and could secure England a first ever series victory in Australia.

Jonathan Joseph seems assured to hold on to the 13 jersey for the foreseeable future even with the form Elliot Daly has been in for Wasps. With international rugby at the moment there is very little room to experiment with new combinations which means Daly may not get a chance unless Joseph suffers an injury.

George Ford’s outstanding passing game and vision in attack added to Farrell’s metronomic goal kicking and superb game management allows England to create space for the real speedsters out wide.

Anthony Watson and Marland Yarde are super quick and given space they are among the most dangerous finishers in the northern hemisphere and both have an extraordinary international strike rate.

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Farrell has finished at 12 for every game under Eddie Jones.

Farrell and Ford are both still young as well at 24 and 23 respectively. They look like the long term solution to the midfield problem that has blighted England for years. A combination that can secure a series victory in Melbourne.

Expected England XV: 15 Mike Brown 14 Anthony Watson 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Owen Farrell 11 Marland Yarde 10 George Ford 9 Ben Youngs

1 Mako Vunipola 2 Dylan Hartley (Captain) 3 Dan Cole 4 Maoro Itoje 5 George Kruis 6 Chris Robshaw 7 James Haskell 8 Billy Vunipola