How Rally Mexico could define the 2019 WRC

53111233_692071961194992_1912944962958262272_n

Ott Tanak is on the verge of World Rally dominance (Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing)

Ott Tanak is a man in impeccable form at the moment. The Estonian star leads the World Rally Championship for the first time in his career, and depending on his performance on round three, this could just be the start of his dominance.

Rally Mexico is up next for the WRC circus. Held on roads high up in the mountains, the gravel event poses a completely unique challenge for the crews as the high altitude saps significant power from the engines.

It’s also the first gravel rally of the year – the surface the majority of the season is run on – which means the true pecking order will begin to be established after the winter madness of Monte-Carlo and Sweden.

Toyota driver Tanak heads into the stages first on the road after winning in Sweden last month, which means he will face the worst of the conditions as he sweeps away the loose gravel from the stages for those behind.

Tanak’s chief rivals, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Citroen’s six-time and defending world champion Sebastien Ogier, start second and third on the road this weekend, making them favourites to win and claw points away from Tanak.

However such a suggestion is to belittle the confidence Tanak oozes right now. Rally Mexico could be a real turning point in the Estonian’s relatively short career.

Nobody is expecting a Tanak victory for two key reasons: he is sweeping the gravel which he has never had to do in his career, and his Toyota Yaris has been prone to suffering engine issues on the Mexican stages in previous years.

However Tanak is in his absolute prime and right now he is the out-and-out fastest man in the World Rally Championship.

37.14% of all stags-2

Tanak has won more stages than anybody else this season (Credit: McKlein)

If anybody is capable of overturning the odds, it is Tanak. The graphic above shows the control the Estonian can have over his rivals.

Since last summer he has been almost untouchable. He has won four of the last seven rallies on all three surfaces (tarmac, gravel and snow) and is almost guaranteed to be winning multiple events as the season progresses if he maintains this form.

A win in Mexico would be devastating for his rivals. It would move him into at least a 14 point lead in the championship, but more than that it would leave Tanak with limited chinks in his armour.

Dzmtai8X4AAxuID.jpg-large

Tanak has a seven point championship lead over Neuville (Credit: Toyota Gazoo Racing)

World champion Ogier is busy adapting to his Citroen C3 after moving from M-Sport Ford last season, while Neuville is pushing the maximum out of his Hyundai i20 that isn’t looking quite as competitive as the Toyota Yaris.

If Tanak can win on a rally where he is seemingly at his weakest, ultimately the only thing stopping him thereafter would be himself.

The World Rally Championship has enjoyed some scintillating championship battles over the last two years, but the 2019 race could be over before it has even begun if Tanak is standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday.

The first proper stage of Rally Mexico, El Chocolate, starts at 16:18 UK time this afternoon. Stages will be live on BT Sport throughout the weekend.

Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi currently leads the rally after last night’s 0.7-mile city centre stage.

Sports Paper Review: March 8th

Copy of BREAKING NEWS-4

Fraser Munro spoke to Luke Barry and Bryce Donaldson about today’s big stories in sports, from Hearts’ striker penning a new three year deal to Scotland rugby captain being benched for the weekends game.

EN4News in Numbers: Sports

The news week can be a busy one, so don’t miss out on any  the sports stats that have been making the headlines. We’ve got everything covered from F1 potentially losing the Silverstone race track from its calendar to the philanthropic adult entertainment cycling club that lost its affiliation.

 

Copy of Copy of Copy of 2.4-4

(Credit: Jade du Preez)

Alfredo Morelos pens new deal at Rangers

 

Copy of BREAKING NEWS-2

Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos has signed a new deal at Rangers, remaining at the club until 2023.

The 22-year-old has scored 28 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions so far this season for the Glasgow club. He is also the top goalscorer in the Scottish Premiership, netting 16 times.

Morelos had signed a new contract in September, but has added an extra year onto his deal today.

He has been subject to interest from many clubs across Europe.

“They have been terrific for me and always back me which makes me want to score for them and then celebrate with them. I want to score many more goals for them, Rangers, and the manager, who has helped me so much, before this season ends.”

Most recently, he has been linked with Leicester City, where ex-Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has just taken over.

Morelos is pleased to be extending his stay in Glasgow however.

“It did not take me long to agree this extension because my career has progressed quicker and better than I could have expected when I joined this great club,” he said in a statement.

“I have come to realise just how special Rangers is and what it means to so many people around the world. Also, I feel a strong connection with the fans and they have made me feel special.”

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard was equally excited that Morelos had chosen to commit his future to the club.

“It’s always important at big clubs like this one to make sure your top players are secured long term,” the former Liverpool midfielder said.

“Alfredo has been excellent for Rangers and his scoring record tells you he is in tune with what we are trying to achieve.

“He is a competitive individual and he is a winner. He is what Rangers needs and it is pleasing that Alfredo feels so much at home with us that he is willing to commit.”

Morelos will be looking to add to his 16 league goals tonight, when Rangers travel to the capital to face Hibernian. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.

Stevenson reveals “excitement” at working under 10th Hibs boss

Lewis Stevenson

Lewis Stevenson has spent 14 years at the club (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian left-back Lewis Stevenson says it’s a clean slate for himself as he works under his 10th boss, Paul Heckingbottom, as he looks to impress his new manager.

The 31-year-old made his debut for the Edinburgh club in 2005 and is currently the longest serving player at the club.

However, he admitted he feels there is still the same nerves when a new boss is appointed.

He said: “Every time a new manager is appointed there is the same nerves and apprehension, and perhaps the same excitement as well. I have learnt something new from everyone who’s managed at Hibs, I don’t think it matters how old you are at all.

“With Paul coming all the way from England, of course the lads feel like they have a point to prove. But as soon as he came in it was clear he knew all about us so that helped put our minds at ease.”

The clubs perfect record under Heckingbottom came to an end in their quarter-final clash with Celtic at Easter Road on Saturday.

Stevenson spoke of the positives and negatives the side took from their defeat against the reigning champions.

He added: “There are things we did very well on Saturday and things we didn’t do so well, but we know what we need to focus on. If we can get rid of the negatives then that will stand us in good stead for the future.”

However, things are not about to get any easier for Easter Road side as they host Steven Gerrard’s Rangers on Friday night.

Lewis Stevenson

Hibernian were knocked out the Scottish Cup last weekend in a 2-0 home defeat to Celtic (Credit: David Ronney)

According to the veteran full back, the games against the bigger teams in Scotland are the ones he relishes most.

He said: “These are the games you really want to play in, when it’s a full house. Big crowds usually mean a higher tempo and a higher intensity of game. We’re a more physical side now and we’ll need all our stamina on Friday night.

“We’re looking at them as a team and we’re well aware how good a side they are from playing them at Ibrox earlier on in the season. But if we implement our game plan then we know we’ve got a very good chance to come away with all the points.”

Hibs are currently in sixth place, and only three points off rivals Hearts. With a European spot not yet out of sight, Stevenson spoke of the sides desire to push on and finish as high in the table as possible.

“We’re trying not to focus too much on how the table looks and just take each game that comes to us. We’ve got five games before the split and we’ll try to get three or four wins and see where that leaves us.”

Uche Ikpeazu inks new Hearts deal until 2022

Uche Ikpeazu

Ikpeazu will remain at Hearts until 2022 (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian forward Uche Ikpeazu has signed a two-year contract extension at Tynecastle.

The Englishman, who joined the club last summer, will remain at the Edinburgh club until 2022.

The striker has recently returned from a five month lay-off following a foot injury, and has been in fine form since.

The 24-year-old insisted that it was an easy decision to commit his future to Hearts.

“This club has given me a great platform to improve. I love the club, the fans, the city and my teammates as well,” he said.

“I genuinely think I’m improving and getting back to my best. I feel I’m back playing really good now.

“I feel confident and it’s just the goals to come, really. Now is the right time to extend my contract here because I feel the love from the management, the staff and the fans.”

Ikpeazu will be looking to net his first goal for the club since August tomorrow when Hearts face relegation battlers Dundee at Dens Park.

Wilson: Scotland can bounce back against Welsh

Matt Taylor

Danny Wilson is confident Scotland can put on a good performance in front of a home support (Credit: Bryce Donaldson)

Scotland Rugby Assistant Coach, Danny Wilson, believes his side can return to Edinburgh with a win against Wales after a disappointing 27-10 defeat in Paris.

The Scots will face off against a grand-slam hopeful Wales on Saturday at BT Murrayfield.

A number of key players have returned to the squad in the past week and many in the Scotland camp are quietly confident they can cause an upset and delay celebrations in Cardiff.

Wilson said: “We know we didn’t do ourselves justice in France but we need to bounce back this weekend.

“We had a blip in performance, and we have to make sure that we raise our performance to a level where we can put Wales under huge pressure.

“There is no better opposition to bounce back against. The motivation levels should be through the roof to play a side that is coming [to BT Murrayfield] and looking for a grand slam.”

Scotland will undoubtedly start the match as underdogs but Wilson doesn’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing.

He added: “From my experience, when Scotland have been underdogs they have been pretty dangerous and have produced some outstanding performances against some of the best opposition out there. That’s what this weekend is about.

Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw

Finn Russell comes back into the Scotland lineup while Greig Laidlaw has been dropped to the bench (Credit: David Ronney)

“This is an extremely passionate group of players. As a collective, coaches and players, we weren’t happy with our performances at the weekend against France and we have come back very keen to make sure we put that right this weekend. That starts first and foremost with a performance full of identity and passion.”

Scotland currently sit fifth in the table, above only a pointless Italy.

Should Wales be triumphant at the weekend they will still be on course for their first Grand Slam since 2012, whilst a Scottish victory (and a favour from Ireland) could see them leapfrog last weeks opponents. To do that, Wilson knows the importance of home form.

He said: “The pressure of playing in front of a home crowd is an important one, a driving one and we will want to put in a performance that will make that home crowd proud.”

If Scotland are able to live up to what they claim they are capable of it will restore confidence in the squad after back-to-back defeats.

Though Scotland are out of the running for the championship there is still a chance for silverware. Their reward, regardless of result, is sure to be a contentious final game at Twickenham against England to defend their title as the current holders of the Calcutta Cup.

Hibs boss calls for improved fan behaviour following bottle incident

Paul Heckingbottom

Paul Heckingbottom said Hibernian fans must conduct themselves in the right manner (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom has urged fans of the club to become “the best off the pitch” following an incident in last weekend’s Scottish Cup defeat to Celtic.

Celtic winger, Scott Sinclair was almost struck by a bottle and coin thrown from the stands in Saturday’s 2-0 defeat as the hosts bowed out of the Scottish Cup at the quarter-final stage.

The incident is one in a long series this season where missiles have been thrown towards match officials, managers and players themselves.

Heckingbottom delivered a message to the supporters of the Edinburgh club, urging them to behave themselves so that the club can become the “best supported” team on and off the pitch.

He said: “People can get carried away I understand that, people may have been out and had a few drinks before, but there’s still a way that you have to behave at a football match.

“And just like how I speak to our players about representing the club our fans represent the club as well, and [while] we want to be the best football team on the pitch, we [also] want to be the best supported team off the pitch as well.”

Heckingbottom continued, stating that misbehaving fans must be identified and disgraced, suggesting that sanctions must be handed out in order nip the issue in the bud.

He added: “It has been topical up here [but] you don’t want to see that anywhere you know.

“And we want to get a grip of it so whilst we can appeal to people to behave themselves and be responsible, we also need to get better ways to identify people and enforce penalties, enforce bans, things like that because you want the best possible products on the pitch and off the pitch.

“As a collective people have to take responsibility for it whether that’s fans in round about, friends if you’ve got a friend misbehaving, clubs to identify their own supporters if they’re possibly doing it and sanctions imposed by whoever can impose the sanctions.”

“You want as many people as you can attending, you want to grow the sport in your country and make it appealing not only to paying fans but TV fans as well and part of that is behaviour and how people perceive individual teams and the league as a whole.

“The safety of the players is paramount. As a footballer you should be going out there and giving it everything, that should be your sole focus to do your job and perform as well as you possibly can. Not worried that every time you take a throw-in or a set-piece and you’re near the fans that something is going to happen.”

Following the incident, Chief Executive Leeann Dempster issued a statement saying the club will be installing additional CCTV cameras to avoid issues like this in the future.

She said: “This incident, and the damage to our reputation, has led us to now invest further in upgrading our already modern CCTV set-up at no small cost.

“Clearly this is also money we would rather be spending on football.

“In future, there will be no hiding place for those few individuals who seek to tarnish the reputation of the vast majority who do Hibernian proud on a weekly basis at grounds all over the country.

“Any supporter caught engaging in behaviour that places players, staff and other fans at risk will be dealt with in the strongest possible terms available to us, whether that involves exclusion from Easter Road Stadium, a Football Banning Order or criminal prosecution when appropriate.

The Easter Road club return to Scottish Premiership action on Friday night as they host Rangers. Kick off is at 7:45pm.

My Morning Routine*

(Credit: Jade Du Preez)

McDonaugh: City can’t fall further behind league leaders

DSC_0854

McDonaugh’s City led for most of the season (Credit: Ross Cowper-Fraser)

Edinburgh City manager James McDonaugh has urged his side to keep winning games as they look to close the gap to Peterhead in the Scottish League Two.

City have been league leaders for much of the season, but following a 1-0 loss at Clyde on Saturday, they are now five points behind Peterhead with nine games remaining.

McDonaugh’s men bounced back from defeat with a 1-0 victory over Berwick Rangers on Tuesday, but the manager admitted City can’t afford to fall any further behind.

He said: “There probably was more pressure to be fair [on Tuesday] because we don’t want to fall further behind.

“Peterhead could’ve gone eight points ahead of us yesterday so we wanted to hang in there, that’s what we did.

 

“At this stage of the season we have more points than the team that won it last season; Montrose had 55 [points] after 27 games and we’ve got 58, so it shows you how well we’ve done.

“But it also shows you how good Clyde and Peterhead are as well. It’s just been a terrific league and sometimes you’ve got to just look at other teams and say how well they’ve done as well.”

City have been outstanding defensively this season, with goalkeeper Calum Antell claiming a clean sheet in almost half the games he has played.

However, McDonaugh admitted that he wants more creativity from his side going forward in the push for the title.

He added: “I would like to see a little more created in the final third.

“That’s the one thing we have to work on.

“We’ve played 27 league games [and] we’ve had 13 clean sheets in the league which is a fantastic return. Almost every second game, and Blair Henderson [has] obviously scored a fantastic amount of goals.

“I think we just need some other players to chip in with a bit more creativity and goal scoring.”

City head to Queen’s Park on Saturday, a team they have beaten three times already this season.

Although McDonaugh is aware beating them for a fourth time will be difficult, he added that there is now an added impetus on winning games as their destiny is now out of their hands.

He said: “You could say we have to win them all.

“We’re in a good position to still be challenging, we just want to try and win as many games as we can between now and the end of the season.

“If we were to finish top four and make the play-offs that would be a fantastic achievement. What I’m trying to say is eighth would have been an improvement because we finished ninth last season, and that’s a fact.”

“So to go from ninth place, fighting relegation, to then be going into a promotion play-off is fantastic. I think people maybe just get a bit carried away when you’ve been top for a lot of the weeks of the season.

“I think at the end of the day if we were to finish top four, three, two, one or whatever, it’s still a great achievement to be going in with something to fight for in the play-offs.”

To read more Edinburgh City articles, click here.

Townsend drops Captain Laidlaw as Russell returns to Scotland lineup against Wales

Gregor Townsend

Gregor Townsend has made the surprise change by bringing in Ali Price over Greig Laidlaw (Credit: David Ronney)

Scotland Rugby Head Coach, Gregor Townsend has left out nation captain, Greig Laidlaw in his first XV as part of four changes ahead of their match against Wales this weekend.

Ali Price is preferred over Laidlaw at scrum-half as Finn Russell, Willem Nel and Darcy Graham all come into the starting line-up.

Scotland host Wales at BT Murrayfield on Saturday as they look to stop the visitors hopes of a Grand Slam this Six Nations Championship.

With Scotland unable to win the tournament this year, Townsend explained why he made the changes to the side that lost to France two weeks ago.

He said: “We looked at every position. We also reflected on the fact that we are out of the championship now, so if there is someone out there that has really earned his opportunity.

Grieg Laidlaw

Greig Laidlaw has started the last six tests for Scotland (Credit: David Ronney)

“This is a good time to see if it helps the team.”

Russell is a welcome return to the squad after missing the match against France due to a concussion. His creative flair was greatly missed and despite his absence the play-maker still leads in the tournament for most try assists. His total currently sits at three and he will be looking to add to this account in front of a home support.

Price is set to earn his 23rd cap in Scottish colours and Townsend praised the Glasgow Warriors player.

He added: “Ali [Price] is one of the best in the game at moving the ball away quickly, through his own speed but also through his accuracy of pass.

“He has started this season in really good form.”

Gregor Townsend

Scotland have conceded 69 points in three matches this Six Nations (Credit: David Ronney)

Despite criticism Laidlaw has received for his inability to get the ball away quick enough from the break-down, Townsend still sees him playing a pivotal part from the sideline.

He said: “Greig [Laidlaw] is the only player who has started our last six tests so he is a key part of our squad. He is obviously going to play a different role this week from the bench but we see him playing an important part of the game on Saturday.”

Nel returns for his first appearance since coming off injured in the first week of the tournament. He will be a welcome addition to the forward pack which has struggled in the scrum, despite having the heaviest squad in the competition.

The prop only played 49 minutes against Italy but made six tackles and will work to stop a leaky defence that has conceded 69 points in three matches.

Graham makes his first start for Scotland after previously making two appearances as a substitute. He comes in place of the injured Sean Maitland and will join Edinburgh team-mate Blair Kinghorn at the back. The young winger turned full-back has impressed this year scoring three tries and leading the tournament in most carries, metres gained and clean breaks.

Tommy Seymour completes the back three and joins Jonny Gray to earn a half century of caps for his country.

Therefore the squad looks as follows:

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 19.38.59

The squad facing Wales (Credit: David Ronney )

To read more articles about Scottish rugby, click here.

%d bloggers like this: