Next Up, World Cup

England’s warm-up games ended with a win over Ireland in London, an important win with England opening their World Cup campaign against Fiji in 11 days time.

England have answered loads of questions in their win over Ireland and Lancaster will now have a very clear picture of who will take to the field to play Fiji on 18th September. England dominated the match against Ireland and although they scored 2 tries they could easily have had 2 more had Youngs passed backwards or Farrell had the vision to throw the right pass.

Pool A is most certainly the toughest of the 4 pools, England look sharp and being at Twickenham gives them a huge advantage going into the ‘Group of Death’. Wales are strong and although Rhys Webb is a huge doubt and Halfpenny is out of the World Cup following injuries when they faced Italy they still pose a threat. Australia are always dangerous and their win over the All Blacks a few weeks ago demonstrated just how deadly they can be.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Australia score a try as they beat England.

Even Fiji look good and their massive victory over Canada is a sign that they are not a write off and could challenge the big 3 of Pool A. Uruguay are likely to be the whipping boys of the group, they could be the victims of 4 heavy defeats and stand little chance of winning any game.

England look like they could be on the brink of going some way in this 2015 World Cup, maybe even to the final and there is a very real possibility of that happening should they top this tricky pool. The win over Ireland has shone a light on which players must be in that dressing room as the roar of the fans brings Twickenham to life at the start of 7 weeks that will change the face of world rugby in some way.

Jonny May has to be picked on the wing, Watson will start that much is assured but May must get the nod over Nowell. His try against Ireland was wonderful a display of power from the Gloucester flyer sees him surely shoot into the forefront of Lancaster’s mind. The devastation he can cause defences is both delightful and scary at the same time he makes light work of even the best defensive wingers. His try against the All Blacks in November and his performance against Ireland show this.

Mike Brown must remain as fullback despite the efforts of Alex Goode, yes Goode did play well against France but the mercurial Brown has to stay at his best he is among the best fullbacks in the world. The Harlequins star could well be the difference between a win or a loss. He is something special and along with Watson and May could form a worryingly devastating back three.

Tom Wood and Ben Morgan surely will start, Wood must start after his massively impressive game at Twickenham. He is undoubtedly a talented flanker with much in his armoury that England have only scratched the surface of. Morgan proved his fitness and budged his way into the squad ahead of the massive Vunipola who can be deployed as an impact player off the bench. As a Wales back with tired legs you don’t want Vunipola running at you that would scare the living daylights out of any player in that pool bar possibly giant Fijian Nadolo.

Tom Youngs finally answered his critics with a big game, the line out was better if scrappy as was the scrum. He will start but George may well overtake him over the course of the tournament as he gains more caps. The Saracens hooker is looking more like an international hooker with every minute he plays and Bath’s Webber is being edged out the squad rightly so.

The final question was answered overwhelmingly by the Bath maestro Ford. He was sublime, his sumptuous kick to Watson for England’s try was art, it was beautiful I as an avid rugby fan and self proclaimed connoisseur could say that kick was the epitome of fine art, the Michelin star dish of tries. It was something special. Ford has this little bit of pace this silky running and flair filled fun game that just sparks a team to life which was shown by the the way Bath played last season. One point in the game where it showed why Ford should start was when he wasn’t even on the field. Farrell (a good fly-half in his own right) threw a bad (because it was behind him) and poorly judged miss pass to Mike Brown. Had Ford been on the field England would have probably scored he would never dreamed of throwing a miss pass when he could instead exploit the shortage of Irish numbers so Brown could walk over the line.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

Ford makes a break against Ireland for England.

England are there they have their answers, they know now who they must pick to make their way to Twickenham in 31st October when (hopefully) England will be playing in their 4th World Cup final.

The race to Twickenham is well and truly on.

My England 23 to face Fiji: 1 J.Marler 2 T.Youngs 3 D.Cole 4 C.Lawes 5 G.Parling 6 T.Wood 7 C.Robshaw (C) 8 B.Morgan
9 B.Youngs 10 G.Ford 11 J.May 12 B.Barritt 13 J.Joseph 14 A.Watson 15 M.Brown

16 J.George 17 M.Vunipola 18 D.Wilson 19 J.Launchbury 20 B.Vunipola
21 R.Wigglesworth 22 O.Farrell 23 A.Goode

Norwich City Preview

Manager: Alex Neil
Stadium: Carrow Road
Captain: Russell Martin
Top Scorer: Cameron Jerome (21)

Norwich the newly promoted team that have the most recent Premier League experience, they have a wealth of talent in their squad which may make them a difficult team to beat over the course of the season.

Norwich had a rather strong start to the season in August and September only losing 2 games and recording a win over Watford and a draw with Bournemouth who were both outstanding over the season and at the end were automatically promoted back into the first tier of English football. Norwich racked up a healthy number of points and looked primed to yo-yo back into the Premier League. However it was not to be as their autumn run was a horror show for the club as they could only win 1 game throughout October and November. This saw them slip to 11th in the Championship table having been at the top at the start of October.

Cameron Jerome netted 21 goals last season in all competitions.

Cameron Jerome netted 21 goals last season in all competitions.

The team improved in December recording giant wins over Huddersfield (5-0) and Millwall (6-1). Neil Adams however would depart from the club in early January and Alex Neil joined, Norwich would only lose 3 further games that season. A run of 5 wins over the course of February and March would see some of their best football as they netted 16 goals and only conceded 3, the complete team, their undoubted performance of the season coming at Watford where they smashed their promoted counterparts 3-0 away from home. An outstanding performance. This purple patch also included the 4-0 obliteration of Millwall at Carrow Road, Norwich endured a very strong spell.

Through March and April their assault on the top of the table grew stronger with a run of 8 unbeaten games which saw them rise from 5th to 2nd which was a statement of intent from the Norfolk club. They played some absolute crackers over the latter part of last season including their final day 4-2 win over Fulham lifting themselves into pole position for the play-offs which saw Norwich fighting past both Ipswich and Middlesborough to complete the bounce back into England’s top flight. Norwich’s final push for promotion was wonderful to watch as a neutral and if they can produce performances like that in the Premier League will be hard to stop the club surviving the dreaded drop.

Nathan Redmond a great player, full of enthusiasm a constant threat both in built attacks as well as on the counter due to his pace. The England under-21 winger has been a mainstay in the Norwich squad for much of the last 2 seasons adding that bit of flair to a team that at times have been lacking. He is 1 of those players that can light a fire inside the Canaries and has steered them to promotion from his spot. The undeniable brilliance of the youngster has been noted by England boss Roy Hodgson, it must only be a matter of time before the pace laden winger earns a call-up to the senior national side.

Nathan Redmond celebrates one of his goals.

Nathan Redmond celebrates one of his goals.

The newly promoted club have only recruited 4 players over the off season. The acquisition of Hull striker Brady is a huge coup, he is a proven midfielder2 at the highest level after his seasons at Hull including loan spells whilst he was at Manchester United where he failed to make an appearance. The 23 year old Republic of Ireland international has been a wonderful player over the past years. They have also brought in the West Bromwich Albion duo of Dorrans and Mulumbu, Dorrans is a super creating player up the middle. Mulumbu adds another top class player to the ranks, both offer not just their quality on the field but also Premier League experience off it for Norwich City.

Robbie Brady celebrates a goal for former club Hull.

Robbie Brady celebrates a goal for former club Hull.

Norwich have offloaded much of the deadwood with very few high profile names leaving bar possibly Becchio the former Leeds man but he hasn’t been at his best for some time.

IN: Robbie Brady (Hull City, £7 million)
Graham Dorrans (West Bromwich Albion, £3 million)
Youssouf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion, Free)
Jake Kean (Blackburn Rovers, Free)

OUT: Cameron McGeehan (Luton Town, Undisclosed)
Lucciano Becchio (Belgrano, Free)
Mark Bunn (Aston Villa, Free)
Ignasi Miquel (Free Agents, Free)
Sam Kelly (Free Agents, Free)
Carlos Cuéllar (Free Agents, Free)
Kyle Callen-Fadden (Free Agents, Free)

Norwich will be a difficult team over the course of the season will that be enough to stay up? Only time can answer this question, I think that the quality of the Premier League may be too much for Norwich.

My Norwich City XI (4-2-2-2): 1 B.Johnson; 2 S.Whittaker 5 R.Martin (C) 6 M.Turner 23 M.Olsson; 14 W.Hoolahan 4 B.Johnson; NA R.Brady 22 N.Redmond; 20 R.van Wolfswinkel 10 C.Jerome

Bench: NA J.Kean 30 S.Bassong 24 R.Bennett 8 J.Howson 41 G.Dorrans 9 K.Lafferty 11 G.Hooper

Last Season: Championship Play-Off Winner
Prediction: 18th (Relegated)

Fantastic Farah Missed Two Doping Tests

Mo Farah, the runner that let this great nation believe the Olympic 10,000 metre champion is one of the greatest athletes in this nation that fateful Saturday that also saw Rutherford and Ennis-Hill win medals in London.

Those two medals won were incredible, but since then Farah’s coach Alberto Salazar has been caught up in a doping scandal and although originally there was little to suggest the British star had been doping it has now emerged the middle distance champion missed two drugs tests prior to his triumph at the Olympic Games in 2012.

Mo Farah following one of his victories at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Mo Farah following one of his victories at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The first missed test by the 32 year old was in 2010 the year before he joined Salazar at the Oregon Project. The second test came the year he joined Salazar, the doping agency turned up at Farah’s home and he claims to have missed the test by not hearing the doorbell. Mo Farah seems to have some questions to field following the fallout of the Panorama documentary ‘Catch Me If You Can’ which revealed the findings on Salazar.

Salazar’s most serious doping allegation was related to Farah’s training partner, Galen Rupp who finished 2nd behind Farah in the 10,000 metres at the 2012 games.

Galen Rupp after winning a silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Galen Rupp after winning a silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Farah did earlier this month pull out of a 1500m race in Birmingham due to being “emotionally and physically drained.” He followed this up claiming he was unhappy his name had been dragged through the mud before the missed drugs tests came to light.

It seems odd that Farah has been so defensive about the drugs testing scandal even though his name was not brought up in the documentary or results. The British runner may have to field some pretty tough criticism in the weeks to come relating to both his continued association with Salazar and the missed drugs tests.

Anabolic steroids can be injected or be used orally.

Anabolic steroids can be injected or be used orally.

These findings about the absence at testing prior to the biggest sporting event worldwide may well have wider ramifications for Mo Farah and we are yet to hear the last of the goings on behind closed doors at the Nike Oregon Project.

What’s Wrong With Rafa?

On Sunday the French Open came to an epic conclusion as Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka defeated the undisputed form player this season Serb Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Paris had previously been a stronghold for the supposed ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal.

Wawrinka after his French Open win.

Wawrinka after his French Open win.

The Spaniard has recently suffered a dip in form which has seen the 9 times French Open champion slip to 10th in the world rankings. This year Nadal suffered shock quarter-final defeats in both Paris and Rome following his loss to Andy Murray in Madrid. This is the lowest ranking Nadal has slumped to since 2005 although Nadal has failed to progress well in grass in recent years suffering shock defeats at Wimbledon over the past couple of seasons.

Nadal’s only win this year came in Argentina as he beat Juan Monaco in the final in Buenos Aires a tournament that failed to feature any other top level player. The Spanish former number 1 (now behind David Ferrer) has failed to find the form that he was blessed with from 2008 to 2010 in which time he won the French Open twice, Wimbledon twice, the US Open once, the Australia Open once, the ATP Tour World Finals once and bagged himself a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, with Nadal having only won at one Grand Slam event since that period it seems his grasp on the top four may be slipping.

Rafa Nadal in action against Novak Djokovic in the French Open.

Rafa Nadal in action against Novak Djokovic in the French Open.

Wawrinka may take Nadal’s place in the top 4 which over a number of years has been a fairly forgone conclusion with Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal dominating men’s tennis. But this recent surge from Wawrinka who is at the moment occupying 4th may threaten the Spaniard’s top 4 status which has been a key feature if the ATP tour since his first Grand Slam win in 2005 at Roland Garros.

Wawrinka seems to have broken into that exclusive party which held the top 4 which have for years been untouchable and been winning everything worth winning from the Grand Slams to the Olympic Games the top 4 have had their names carved into history as they dispatched of all opponents. The 2014 Australian Open changed all that as Wawrinka stormed to victory and his recent win in Paris will have only backed up the idea that Wawrinka is developing into a player of that top 4 calibre and with Wimbledon on the horizon this year could be the year we see both the demise of Spain’s great Nadal and the Swiss rising of Wawrinka.

Nadal leaves the court after his quarter-final loss to Djokovic in Paris.

Nadal leaves the court after his quarter-final loss to Djokovic in Paris.

With this in mind Wimbledon could well show us which players will dominate the courts around the globe for the foreseeable future and if we will ever again see Nadal lift a trophy at a major championship.

Current Men’s Rankings:
1st Novak Djokovic, Serbia
2nd Roger Federer, Switzerland
3rd Andy Murray, Great Britain
4th Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland
5th Kei Nishikori, Japan
6th Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic
7th David Ferrer, Spain
8th Miles Raonic, Canada
9th Marin Cilic, Croatia
10th Rafael Nadal, Spain