Friday, January 13, 2012

Favourites for the Australian Open

The 2012 Australian Open is rapidly approaching, and the first grand slam of the year always leads to a great debate about who could win.

Unlike the other three slams, there is little indication about player form, some players choosing exhibition tournaments as a warm-up.

On the back of the draw, now is a good time to look at the standout players.

Defending champion, top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic must start as the favourite in the men’s draw.

You can almost count the number of matches he lost last year on one hand (an incredible six), racking up three grand slams and five masters’ titles.

However, there have always been questions over the Serbian’s fitness, and his form certainly suffered at the end of the 2011 season.

It will be almost impossible for Djokovic to repeat his feat and, playing in his first tournament of the year, he could struggle to live up to expectations.

Just behind the world number one, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray are all in with a shout of lifting the title should Djokovic fail.

World number four Murray has had an excellent start to the season, teaming up with coach Ivan Lendl to win the Brisbane Open, and the two-time finalist is in the sort of form that should see him through to the final rounds.

Nadal and Federer played in Doha, both reaching the semi-finals.

Nadal looked unsure of himself in losing to Frenchman Gael Monfils, while Federer pulled out of his semi without hitting a ball.

This will raise questions over the Swiss’ fitness, but expect him to produce the goods on the day.

As for Nadal, his fans will be concerned about his form, but his fighting spirit should see him go deep.

It will be a massive shock if the title goes to anyone outside the top four, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the resurgent Juan Martin del Potro have very good chances of causing an upset or two.

Also, keep an eye out for young Austrailan Bernard Tomic.

The 19-year-old is ranked inside the top 40, and could very easily cause an upset or three, especially with the raucous Australian home support behind him.

The women’s draw, as always, is more open in terms of contenders.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki is unlikely to win her first grand slam, as a wrist injury is putting question marks against her participation.

Despite her consistent form, even fully fit, she lacks the weapons to finish off the big-hitters.

But there to take her number one ranking will be second ranked Petra Kvitova.

The 2011 Wimbledon champion will become number one at some point throughout 2012, and more grand slam titles are a certainty.

She seems to thrive on pressure situations, and although her form dipped in the latter part of 2011, she should be there to lift the title.

Victoria Azarenka, the world number three, is a rapidly improving player, her wide range of skills unmatched by most other players on the tour.

She won the pre-Open tournament in Sydney, beating some top players along the way.

Despite facing a tricky Heather Watson in the first round, she should be expected to reach her first grand slam final.

Elsewhere, 2011 runner-up Li Na is displaying the form that won her the French Open title last year, while Serena Williams and defending champion Kim Clijsters should never be ruled out.

Anything can happen at a grand slam, and new fan favourites tend to emerge after heroic performances on the court.

But what is sure is that the battle for the top rankings wil

Amir Khan granted rematch against Peterson

Amir Khan was granted a rematch against Lamont Peterson on Friday after the World Boxing Association found there were "multiple irregularities", including questionable refereeing and an intrusion during the scoring.

Khan lost his WBA and IBF belts to Peterson on a split decision after being docked two points for pushing in the December 10 fight and he later also questioned the presence of a "mystery man'' distracting judges at ringside.

The fight will be staged again within 180 days after the WBA concluded the December contest was "riddled with controversy as a result of a plethora of anomalies."

"In its resolution mandating the rematch, the WBA went out of its way to note that, under normal circumstances, it would not disturb the discretionary function of a referee,'' the organisation said in a statement. 

"However, in this case, because of the multiple irregularities, it was necessary for it to order the rematch.''

"I can go out there a second time and prove to my fans I could have won it the first time"

Amir Khan

It marks a victory for Khan's camp, which has spent a month protesting the outcome. The British fighter said "April or May could be a good date for us.''

"I want to get that rematch and beat him,'' he told Sky Sports. 

"I can go out there a second time and prove to my fans I could have won it the first time.''

The WBA said it was "questionable'' why referee Joseph Cooper docked Khan two points for "something for which points are almost never deducted'' and did not count a knockdown.

Video also emerged earlier this month - highlighted by Khan's camp - showing the presence of a "mystery man" distracting judges at ringside and then next to Peterson and his team as they celebrated the victory in the ring.

He was later identified as Mustafa Ameen but his appearance was unauthorised and he "seemingly communicated with fight officials throughout the fight,'' the WBA said.

"As further cause to order the rematch, the WBA also pointed to Mr. Ameen's apparent intrusion into the scoring process as well as possible discrepancies between the score sheets of the two sanctioning organisations and the local athletic commission,'' the WBA statement said

Azarenka slams home her ambition in Sydney

Victoria Azarenka emerged as a big noise for the Australian Open by winning the Sydney International title on Friday while beaten opponent Li Na asked her supporters to stop shouting during matches. 

"Maybe they think I'm stupid so they coach me," defending champion Li said after her 6-2 1-6 6-3 loss to Belarus's world number three at the Ken Rosewall Arena. 

"But I would like to say I'm not stupid.

"I can play very good tennis. I think if they come to see more tennis they will know not to shout. It is something I
couldn't change. I don't have to listen to what they say. I have to focus on my tennis."

"Maybe they think I'm stupid so they coach me"

Chinese no 1 Li Na

Any hopes Azarenka had of sneaking quietly into the Australian Open with a low profile and the focus on Denmark's world number one Caroline Wozniacki, Czech Republic's number two Petra Kvitova, French Open champion Li and serial headline act Serena Williams, disappeared. 

The 22-year-old, who has a reputation for grunting on court, will be seen as a serious title threat when the first major
championship of the year begins at Melbourne Park on Monday. 

After ripping through the first set, she faded in the second before breaking her opponent at 4-3 and then serving for
the match. 

Azarenka had started the week revelling in the attention focused on the battle for the top ranking between Wozniacki and Kvitova, sneaking through the draw and receiving the bare minimum of publicity. 

Perfect warm up

With nine of the top 10 women in the world playing in Sydney in a virtual dress rehearsal for Melbourne, Azarenka's win will have made her rivals sit up and take notice. 

"It brings a lot of confidence," she said. 

"But it's going to be a new week in Melbourne, a new tournament, so for me it's going to be starting from zero. I'm
glad the way I played here through those battles that I went through, so I've really tested myself before a big event.

"I'm just going to try to keep going the same way with the same attitude, the same way I'm playing. There is nothing really better than I could have done this week."

Li Na could not fend off the advancing Azarenka who looks in good form going into the first major [GETTY] 
On Li's supporters in the crowd, Azarenka said: "How many Chinese people are in the world? You know what? I just want to play the way that the crowd will start to love me. That's the thing." 

She refused to nominate her favourite for the Australian Open, but hinted it might be her: "I think it's your job to predict and my job to deliver." 

Li's failure to defend the title meant her ranking will dip from number five to number six on Monday. Australia's Sam Stosur will move from sixth to fifth despite her first-round loss to Italian Francesca Schiavone in Sydney. 

Asked whether losing in Sydney meant she would win in Melbourne, Li grinned. 

"I wish. I mean, this is a really good wish. I don't think anything went wrong in the match. It was a very good final. I
think both players showed their best tennis on the court. I don't think anything is wrong with my game," she said.

"I have nothing to worry about. I made the final last year in Melbourne so I think I should be okay.

Centurian Warner questions Indian resolve

Australian opener David Warner questioned India's resolve after slamming the equal fourth fastest century in Test cricket on a horror opening day for the tourists in the third Test in Perth on Friday.

Warner reached his hundred off 69 balls and did it in style, clouting debutant paceman Vinay Kumar for his third six of the innings.

The Indians, down 2-0 in the series and needing to win both remaining Tests to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, were routed for just 161 off 60.2 overs after being sent in to bat.

Australia then raced to 149 without loss at stumps, with Warner unbeaten on 104 and Ed Cowan on 40 for Australia to trail by just 12 runs.

The openers scored at better than six runs an over against an impotent Indian bowling attack and Warner questioned India's commitment.

"I was looking at my strike-rate and thinking this isn't Test cricket, this is something different"

Australia's David Warner

"In my mind, they are bowled over already," he said.

"They have to work out how they can play outside India."

Warner's prodigious hit was the second-quickest ton at Perth's WACA Ground, behind Adam Gilchrist's 57-ball blitz against England in 2006.

It capped a miserable day for the tourists with Sachin Tendulkar's quest for an elusive 100th international hundred again delayed after he was dismissed for just 15.

"I didn't even realise when I was on 80-odd I had only faced 40-odd balls and I was actually shocked," said Warner, who has now scored two centuries in five Tests.

"I was looking at my strike-rate and thinking this isn't Test cricket, this is something different. But that is how I approach the game."

The only setback was when he was struck around the left ear by Umesh Yadav on 80, the left-hander looking groggy as play was held up for several minutes after he sought treatment from the team physio.

But when play resumed he clubbed the next two balls for four and took just seven more deliveries to sprint to his second Test ton.

Hanging on to hope

Virat Kohli, who topscored in the Indian innings with 44, said it was bad toss to lose, but denied the cause was lost.

"Early on it was seaming around a bit, but as the day progressed it got better to bat on," Kohli said.

"They might come out tomorrow and lose wickets in clusters, you never know what might happen."

The Indian tail again showed little appetite for the contest as the tourists lost their last six wickets for just 30 runs.

The rejuvenated swing bowler Ben Hilfenhaus continued his fine season and took his series tally to 19 wickets with four for 43, while Peter Siddle claimed three for 42.

It was another inept batting display by India's ageing top order, with Virender Sehwag out for a four-ball duck and misfiring Rahul Dravid making just nine, while Tendulkar looked in superb form but also went cheaply.

Having played two elegant straight drives in the first over he faced, Tendulkar was deceived by a delivery from recalled paceman Ryan Harris that nipped back trapping him leg before wicket.

Fan favourite Simeone dreams of La Liga glory


Appointed as head coach of Atletico Madrid in December, Argentine Diego Simeone faces a tough challenge with a club who have struggled after the departure of some of their best players. 

However, former Atletico Madrid player Simeone is dreaming of a brighter and more successful future. 

Matt Rumsey reports for Al Jazeera.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Magpies track Morrison

Newcastle have made an enquiry about Manchester United youngster Ravel Morrison.
Press Association Sport understands there has been contact between the two clubs over the 18-year-old midfielder, who is out of contract at the end of the season.
No talks over a new deal have so far taken place and should no offer materialise, he would be able to leave the club on a free transfer, although United would be entitled to compensation of around £300,000. However, it is understood the Magpies' interest is yet to go any further than that initial enquiry.
Wythenshawe-born Morrison has three senior United appearances to his name, all of them in the Carling Cup.
But while hugely talented, he has had his problems off the field and last season pleaded guilty to two charges of witness intimidation.

Rogers disagrees with Ramsey

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers does not believe Aaron Ramsey should expect to be consulted over the recruitment of the next Wales manager.
Wales captain Ramsey, 21, said earlier this week he was disappointed that he and other senior players had not been contacted by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) over their search for a successor to Gary Speed, who died in November.
"I do not think they (the players) need to be asked, it's the job of the FAW," said Rodgers.
"Aaron is entitled to have an opinion, he is the captain of his country, but the FAW will make their appointment. My point is I did not know you had to ask a player about an appointment.
"Aaron is a wonderful talent so I am not being derogatory. He gave an opinion and that's credit to him, but I did not know a player had to be asked about an appointment."
Arsenal midfielder Ramsey, who will face Rodgers's Swansea side in Barclays Premier League action on Sunday, had earlier posted on his official Twitter account: "Firstly I would like to clarify my point.
"I used the word disappointed for a reason. We have just lost our manager and leader through a tragedy and not footballing reasons.
"For that reason I would have thought they would have contacted the players to hear what we thought would be the best way forward to continue our recent success on the pitch, in which we have been building for the World Cup qualifiers for the last 11 months with a clear view.
"With regards to being badly advised in my comments, I am a grown man and captain of my country, to which I care deeply about the future of Welsh football. I wasn't advised by anyone and nor would I need to be.
"I gave an honest answer to a specific question and everything I said was done with my best intentions, hence the fact I am willing to stand behind my beliefs and not leave my comments nameless."

Tevez future remains up in the air

The future of Carlos Tevez has been thrown into more confusion after talks between AC Milan and Manchester City officials broke up without reaching agreement just hours after Inter Milan withdrew from the race to sign the South American.
Tevez is still in Argentina, having effectively concluded he has no future at City since the furore over his non-appearance during that infamous Champions League game against Bayern Munich in September. Inter and Paris St Germain had both expressed an interest in signing Tevez but AC Milan have been front-runners for some considerable time.
It seemed a matter of when rather than if a deal would eventually be done, although hopes of a speedy resolution were dashed when City refused to yield from their present position of being unwilling to entertain any kind of loan for the 27-year-old.
However, with further negotiations planned for Thursday afternoon in London, when asked if Tevez will join AC Milan, Inter president Massimo Moratti said on the club's official website, "I believe so. That's football."
But within hours, the London talks had ended amid reports that a deal between Milan and City was off.
As Blues officials have strongly countered, it was impossible for a deal to be off because there was never actually one in place to start with. Indeed, City have been left bewildered by the whole process which, as far as they can see, is fairly straightforward.
With no loan moves being entertained, a stance unlikely to change at present, the club will happily talk to any suitor willing to offer what they view as a fair market value for one of the world's best forwards.
Evidently, Tevez's present status has not done much for his valuation. However, as he is tied to a contract that does not expire until 2014, City believe they have plenty of power, even if efforts to get Tevez back to Manchester will not be increased until the transfer window has closed.
Despite Thursday's developments, it would be a major surprise if Tevez was still a City player at that point.
As City found out during their failed attempts to sign Brazilian superstar Kaka from the Serie A giants three years ago, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani is an astute footballing politician. Having placed such store by trying to attract Tevez to the club, Galliani is unlikely to just give up when there is so much time left to do a deal.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Danny Care is dropped by England for Six Nations campaign


Serena Williams pulls out of Brisbane with ankle injury

Serena Williams  
Williams was one game from victory when she rolled her ankle
Serena Williams suffered an injury scare ahead of the Australian Open as an ankle injury forced her to withdraw from the Brisbane International.
The American, 30, fell heavily during a rally when serving for the match against Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.
She recovered to close out the match 6-2 6-4 but hobbled from the court, and later confirmed she will not play Daniela Hantuchova on Thursday.
Williams had initially been optimistic of being fit for the quarter-final.
"I'm anticipating it'll be OK," said the 13-time Grand Slam champion after her match.
"My initial thoughts [are that] I'm thinking I can play on. But at the same time I don't want to stress it out right now.
"I'm just going to play it by ear and see how I feel when I wake up in the morning."
Williams beat Chanelle Scheepers in round one on Tuesday - her first match since she was fined for an outburst in September's US Open final defeat against Sam Stosur.
Australian Stosur, the top seed in Brisbane, disappointed home fans with a surprise 6-4 6-2 loss to Czech Iveta Benesova.

Kenny Dalglish defends Liverpool conduct over Luis Suarez

Dalglish not looking for Suarez replacement
Kenny Dalglish has defended Liverpool's conduct during the Luis Suarez affair and insists the full facts have not been made public.
Liverpool will not appeal against the Uruguayan's eight-match suspension for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
But the player and club maintained a defiant stance with strong statements.
"I don't think we are digging a bigger hole - it is unfortunate we cannot be more forthcoming," Dalglish said.

Fixtures Suarez will miss

  • 3 Jan: Man City (Premier League)
  • 6 Jan: Oldham (FA Cup R3)
  • 11 Jan: Man City (League Cup)
  • 14 Jan: Stoke (Premier League)
  • 21 Jan: Bolton (Premier League)
  • 25 Jan: Man City (League Cup)
  • 28 Jan: FA Cup R4 (if Liverpool beat Oldham)
  • 31 Jan: Wolves (Premier League)
  • 6 Feb: Tottenham (Premier League, if Liverpool lose to Oldham)
An independent Football Association commission ruled that Suarez, 24, had racially abused Evra during a 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Manchester United in October.
The commission's report stated that Suarez, 24, had used the term "negro" seven times in around two minutes and claimed he had damaged the reputation of English football around the world with his conduct.
It also criticised the striker for providing "unreliable" and "inconsistent" evidence at the hearing.
Liverpool announced they would not be appealing against Suarez's ban, yet both player and club subsequently issued statements in which they refused to accept responsibility and criticised the way the affair had been handled.
In his statement, Suarez said: "I will carry out the suspension with the resignation of someone who hasn't done anything wrong and who feels extremely upset by the events."
After Liverpool's 3-0 defeat by Manchester City, which Suarez missed because he was starting his ban, Dalglish said: "Luis has made a brilliant statement and we stand by him.
"There are a lot of things we'd like to say and a lot of things we could say but we don't want to get ourselves into trouble. We know what has gone on. We know what is not in the report and that is important for us.
Mr Suarez said that he pinched Mr Evra's skin in an attempt to defuse the situation. He also said that his use of the word 'negro' to address Mr Evra was conciliatory and friendly. We rejected that evidence
Independent Regulatory Commission report
"It is unfortunate that you don't actually know the whole content of what went on at the hearing. I cannot go any further."
Suarez admitted saying the word "negro" to Evra, yet Dalglish argued the Uruguayan's background and nationality should have been taken into account by the independent commission.
"I would have thought that if you pronounced the word properly, you maybe understand it better," he said.
"If you get into asking a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not, they will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suarez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable.
"His wife calls him that and I don't think he is offended by her."
And Dalglish defended the much-criticised decision by himself and his players to wear T-shirts in support of Suarez at the Wigan match before Christmas.
"If one of your guys was in trouble would you help and support him if you knew it was the truth and you knew it was right?" he asked.
"If they want to show their support for their team-mate, what is wrong with that? I think it is a fabulous statement to make visually of your support for a guy who is endeared in the dressing room.

India's 'Swami Army' brings Bollywood colour to cricket

India fans in Sydney, 3 January  
India's fans keep their spirits up despite a tough start in Sydney

Related Stories

India's "Swami Army" has massed in Sydney for the second cricket Test in support of Mahendra Dhoni's side in its clash with Australia.
Swami is a Sanskrit word that means teacher or guru, and the members of the army say they are committed to bringing a bit of Bollywood glamour to the often staid world of international cricket.
The supporters' group was founded about eight years ago by Australian-born Indians, who have mixed their love of sport with a boisterous appreciation of Bollywood theatrics.
They have commandeered a section of the Sydney Cricket Ground, festooning it with banners and with saffron, white and green colours of the Indian flag.
The noise of hundreds of Indian fans in customised blue jerseys reverberates around this famous old stadium, which is celebrating its 100th Test match.
'Different beast'
To the tune of Waltzing Matilda, Australia's most memorable folk ballad, they sing themselves hoarse celebrating their cricketing idols.
Sumit Grover  
Sumit Grover is a key lieutenant of the Swami Army
"Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin Tendulkar he is our god," they bellow as a lone drummer rallies the troops.
"And he bats, and he bats and he scores another century, Sachin Tendulkar he is our god!"
While they may lack the numbers and cutting banter of their celebrated English counterparts, the Indian contingent is no less passionate.
"We are a different beast to England's Barmy Army," says Amit Grover, a 30-year-old lawyer from Sydney and one of the founders of the Swami Army.
"We are very much more family-friendly. It is more about bringing Bollywood to the cricket.
"The Barmy Army is fantastic in the way they devise their chants. I don't know if I'm as witty as them."
Amit says the Swami Army is "going global".
"We have regiments set up in the UK, US, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, so this isn't just an Australian phenomenon. It is going to be worldwide and global."
Amit's brother, Sumit, is one of the organisation's key lieutenants, who has worked with Australia's cricket authorities to enable its members to sit together. They have created a small but unmissable sea of light blue at the beloved venue in Sydney.
"We tend to switch into Bollywood mode when we're not doing that well," Sumit admits, as India creaks under the weight of another Australia onslaught.
"Normal supporters tend to be fickle when they are doing well and jump on the bandwagon but when they're not doing that well they tend to go home.
"That is what the Swami Army is all about. Let's create that culture of supporting the team no matter what they are going through," explains Sumit.
Sitting beside Sumit is his wife, Shweta, whose family came to Australia from Delhi via South Africa.
"Most of us who have formed the Swami Army are Australian-born Indians, so we do value our Australian culture but it is always good fun when the Indians come down here to support the team," she says as the massed ranks again burst into song.
Shweta Grover  
Shweta Grover says the Australian-born Indians do 
value their Australian culture
Australian fans do mostly appreciate the colour and verve the Indian contingent brings to matches. So do Kelly and Bryn, British tourists from Surrey, who are soaking up the Sydney sun and enjoying the Swami Army's histrionics.
"They are good fun. It is a nice atmosphere to have but I don't think they can really compete with the Barmy Army," says Kelly.
"They got a lot of original songs too, so it's great to hear them," adds Bryn.
The Sydney Cricket Ground would shake to its ancient foundations if batting legend Tendulkar could notch up his 100th international century during this second Test.
So far, though, his team has struggled, losing the first Test in Melbourne and being skittled out for just 191 in its first innings here. But the fans are keeping the faith.
"Cricket is a religion in India," says fan Anil Kumar.
"You don't stop supporting your religion when things get tough. You know, things get tough on the field and we just get louder and prouder. So we absolutely love our cricket and we'll never stop loving it."

Jeremy Guscott Q&A

Brad Barritt
Saracens' Brad Barritt would be Jerry's pick as England inside-centre

Former England and Lions centre Jeremy Guscott answers your questions for the first time in 2012.
Among the topics Jerry discusses this week are:
- England's Elite Player Squad
- 2012 predictions
- Harlequins' recent form
- The fastest players Jerry has played with
If you have any questions for Jeremy, please use the post form on this page. He will answer as many as possible but not every question submitted can be used. This week's answers appear below.

Hi Jerry. Everyone's talking about an expected overhaul of the England team for the forthcoming Six Nations. Which uncapped players would you expect to see in the squad next month?
Tom Reynolds,UK
Hi Tom. I would like to think players like Jamie George, Andy Saull, Brad Barritt and Alex Goode would be in. Also, Joe Marler, George Robson, Luke Wallace, Jordan Turner-Hall, Billy Twelvetrees, Nick Wood, Henry Trinder, Freddie Burns and Scarlets number eight Ben Morgan.
Should Mike Tindall announce his retirement from international rugby before Stuart Lancaster names the Elite Player Squad on 11 January, as a parting gift to England? This would give Lancaster the chance to change an extra player in the squad which I'm sure he'd find more than useful.
Leon James, Philippines
Hi Leon, the word is that Tindall will be left out anyway.
Harlequins full-back Mike Brown has been outstanding this year but so has Northampton's England incumbent Ben Foden. Surely they both deserve to start for England? Can they both fit in the same team or does one miss out? On form Brown has been better but Foden has the international record.
Rob, UK
Hi Rob. I agree Brown has been the stand-out full-back but Foden hasn't played badly enough to warrant being dropped by England. I don't believe there is room for both of them starting in the same team and Brown is unlikely to make the bench because he can only cover full-back.
Billy Twelvetrees
Leicester's Billy Twelvetrees is on the fringes of England selection
Do you think Lancaster is the man to realise that one of England's main problems is the lack of creativity in the centres? New Zealand have the pleasure of picking from Sonny Bill Williams, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and even Richard Kahui.
These players have the ability to create chances, whereas England of late seem to use both centres as battering rams. We have some outstanding wingers and two full-backs in awesome form (Foden and Brown), who would you pick in the centres to create chances for these players?
Adam, England
Hi Adam. There isn't a stand out creative centre. However, the most consistent performer has been Brad Barritt and he should be selected alongside Tuilagi. Barritt and Tuilagi can break the gainline, it's then up to support players to give them an option of off-loading/passing.
With all of the young English talent being mentioned in the run up to the Six Nations, I find it difficult to believe that I haven't heard Billy Twelvetrees' name mentioned too much. Whilst he may only be in due to injuries, he has played a key part in Leicester's revival and could be the answer to England's problems at 12. Your thoughts?
Scott, Ireland
Hi Scott. He hasn't really had enough exposure but I agree he has played his part in helping Tigers move up the table. He's certainly got the height and isn't light, he's got reasonable pace, but he very quickly needs one of those games where he makes three or four breaks that lead to tries and scores one himself.
Hi Jerry, why does Gloucester's Nick Wood keep getting ignored by England? He was outstanding against Saracens on Sunday in both the tight and loose, as he has been all season. He must now be considered as first-choice loose-head prop for the Six Nations.
James, England
I've read Nick Wood's name a lot recently in papers saying the same thing as you are. He must be in with a good shout of starting against Scotland. Given that Graham Rowntree would have had a big say in selecting England's props at the World Cup - Matt Stevens, Dan Cole and Alex Corbisiero - it would be a change of thinking for him.
The England team seem to have been without a bone fide open-side flanker for what seems like a long time. Who do you see as contenders for that position in the 2012 Six Nations? Where do you see Matt Kvesic (who Worcester seem to predominantly use at seven) and David Seymour from Sale in the pecking order?
John, Canada
Rob Miller
Sale full-back Rob Miller has impressed for the Sharks this season
Hi John. To be honest I've not seen enough of Matt Kvesic to give an informed opinion. If Lancaster wants to go down the route of an out-and-out seven, then the likes of Seymour and Saull and, on the very outside, Quins' Luke Wallace stand a chance. I would go for a left and right combination of Tom Croft and Tom Wood for England.
Jerry, who is your youngster to watch in 2012? For me it is hard to look beyond London Irish's Jonathan Joseph.
Brendan, Ireland
Hi Brendan. Irish are blessed with amazing young three-quarter talent, including your man Joseph but also Marland Yarde and Anthony Watson. Jamie George at Saracens would be another youngster to look out for.
Jeremy, as we enter 2012 can I tempt you into predicting the winners of the Six Nations, Heineken Cup, Aviva Premiership and Pro 12?
Stephen McGovern, Ireland
Hi Stephen, at time of writing this I would go for: France, Leinster, Saracens and Leinster.
Hi Jeremy, prior to the Christmas period you stated that you would assess Harlequins' chances of finishing top of the Premiership after the Christmas/New Year fixtures.
With two losses and two wins from those games what are your thoughts now? This period seems to have given them a chance to regroup and reintroduce a number of injured players, too. The sight of Tom Guest on the field, with Nick Easter likely to go to the Six Nations, is especially pleasing.
Nick Foord, UK
Jeremy, you finally predicted a win for Quins against Saracens over Christmas and we lost. Ouch! But with that loss and a stuttering performance against Exeter are Quins running out of steam?
Ben, England
Hi Nick and Ben. The Saracens defeat should serve Quins well, I think they will have learnt that you don't have to run the ball from everywhere, especially against a very good defence and in sticky conditions. A lot will depend on how many Quins are involved in international rugby that might unbalance the team. I believe they will make the play-offs with a home tie and make the final. Playing conditions will suit Quins in May.
Hi Jeremy, as a Tigers fan I went to the Leicester-Sale game on Sunday and was mightily impressed with the Sharks. Despite appalling conditions, their insistence of keeping ball in hand and trusting their handling skills was hugely impressive and contributed to a great game.
The one Sale player that stood out for me was Rob Miller at full-back. Do you think his performances deserve inclusion in the upcoming EPS or Saxons squad?
Jack, Leamington Spa, UK
Hi Jack, despite his good performances there's a lot of competition with Foden and Brown playing well. It will depend if Lancaster picks Armitage - if he doesn't then Miller stands a very good chance.
Jeremy, as a Wasps fan I can't but help but scratch my head at our recent performances and I am struggling to see why we have lost the confidence that we had at the start of the season. Any ideas why?
Max Durnford, England
Hi Jerry, what is going on Wasps at the moment? I know we have had lots of injuries and off the field issues - do you see the glory days returning to Wasps in the next few years?
Nile Weir, England
Hi Max and Nile. There's too much uncertainty surrounding Wasps and it must be incredibly difficult for players to block out. Some players will be looking for other clubs to join but they must contribute to their team playing well for other teams to think about signing them. Nicky Robinson hasn't played to the level he's capable of and that isn't helping.
What current centre would you most like to play with?
Chris Purchase, Wales
Hi Chris, I would like to play with Jamie Roberts. His ability to get past the first defender would make life easy. He would have to look more out than in, like he does at present, but if you can get on his shoulder you should be away. Sonny Bill Williams would be another.
Hi Jeremy, who would you say was the fastest player you played with or against? Was it either of the Underwoods? Also, who was the quicker of the brothers? Cheers.
Adam Stringer, England
Hi Adam, the fastest players I've played with or against would be my former Bath team-mate David Trick and cross-code legend Martin Offiah. I'd say Rory was the quickest - but only just.

BDO World Championships: Martin Adams role running the game

BDO World Championships

  • Venue: Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green
  • Date: 7-15 January
  • Coverage: Live on BBC and ESPN, reports and scores on BBC Sport website
Martin Adams 
Adams is bidding for a third
successive Lakeside title
Politics in darts is confusing at the best of times but Martin Adams's views are gloriously clear.
There may not be a battle as such between the Professional Darts Corporation and the British Darts Organisation - but three-time Lakeside world champion Adams is a BDO man and always will be.
Arguably the biggest name in the BDO, Adams's loyalty and desire for the organisation to succeed has seen him gravitate to the running of the game.


  • The BDO was formed in 1973 and held its first world championship in 1978
  • A dissatisfied group of 16 of the world's top players formed the World Darts Council (WDC) in 1992, but continued to play in the BDO
  • The 1993 BDO tournament was the last time all players competed in a unified world championship
  • The WDC, later the PDC, held its own version of the world championship in 1994
If the 55-year-old is to defend the title he retained by beating Dean Winstanley 7-5 in the final last year, he will do it as a member of the BDO board, having been voted on last summer.
"Everybody thought it would affect my game but I like to think it hasn't. I still believe I'm playing great darts," Adams told BBC Sport.
"I just have to make sure that, when I'm at a tournament, if any decisions need making then I have to step back from them. I can't be making decisions that might affect me in a particular event. It wouldn't be right to do that."
Adams's election to the board, along with four other new members, came at the expense of Olly Croft, the 82-year-old who had spent 38 years running the game.
Croft's tenure included a dispute in the early 1990s between administrators and some of the world's top players.
The result was the formation of the World Darts Council in 1992. It first held its own version of the world championship in 1994 and later became the PDC.

It's always disappointing when you lose a player to the other side, but I dare say it would be disappointing for Barcelona if Lionel Messi suddenly decided he wanted to leave
Martin Adams
Prior to the vote that saw him elected, Adams put his name to a letter sent to local darts authorities that said "a failure to act at this point in time will only act as putting a further nail in the coffin of the BDO".
Covering all aspects of the governing body, from the youth system to how it treats the PDC, the letter was a vision for the future shared by Adams, Barry Gilbey, Sue Getty, Derek Weston and Wayne Williams, all of whom were elected to run the game.
"Some of the other new board members came to me and asked if I would stand," Adams added.
"I gave it long thought and then decided to go for it. I didn't expect to get voted in, so it was a bit of a shock when I did. But, after standing and getting voted in, you have to do what you need to do.
"One of the biggest criticisms that came from the players and officials was that we were standing still, going around in circles every year. Lots and lots of players thought that. Hopefully now they can see we're pushing forward."

PDC order of merit

  • 1. Phil Taylor*
  • 2. Adrian Lewis
  • 3. James Wade*
  • 4. Gary Anderson*
  • 5. Simon Whitlock*
  • 6. Mark Webster*
  • 7. Wes Newton
  • 8. Raymond van Barneveld*
  • 9. Kevin Painter*
  • 10. Terry Jenkins*
  • * Former BDO players, correct at 11 December 2011
That "pushing forward" seems to centre around improving conditions at existing tournaments, increasing the prize money available and getting more BDO events on television.
In Adams's words, the BDO has to be "attractive for players" so they are not tempted to jump ship and play for "the other side".
To put that task into context, Adrian Lewis picked up a £200,000 cheque for winning the PDC title on Monday, double that on offer for the Lakeside champion. At the beginning of the PDC showpiece at Alexandra Palace, eight of the top 10 in that version of the world rankings were former BDO players.
But Adams, who thinks any repeat of PDC chairman Barry Hearn's takeover offer of 2010 would be "rejected by a massive majority", is bullish about the job on his hands.
"We hope there's new tournaments coming up after the World Championships; that is our intention. We can't just sit back and hope it happens. We've got to get up and make sure it happens," he said.
"I want to see the BDO as a successful organisation that is driving forward, providing new events for our players and better playing conditions at some of the events.
"It's always disappointing when you lose a player to the other side, but I dare say it would be disappointing for Barcelona if Lionel Messi suddenly decided he wanted to leave.
"You wouldn't stand in anyone's way because, if you did, you wouldn't get the performance out of him anyway. That's the situation we don't want to be in.
"The new board recognises that we need to make sure our system is attractive to these players, that they haven't got a desire to go elsewhere, that they're happy to stay with the BDO system."
If he succeeds, Adams's legacy to the BDO could be much greater than that of a three-time world champion.
Martin Adams