How Rally Mexico could define the 2019 WRC

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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.

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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.

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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.

Cockerill: Tough match against Benetton a must win

 

Edinburgh Rugby head coach, Richard Cockerill has labelled Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 match against Benetton as a must win.

Cockerill’s squad travel to Italy where they face second placed Benetton in Conference B with Edinburgh hot on their heels, four points behind in fourth.

A win at the weekend for the Scottish side would bring them one step closer to the Pro14 play-offs.

Cockerill spoke about how important a positive result would be over the weekend. He said: “It’s huge for us in the context of the conference. We have had a couple of defeats in the last three games.

“It’s going to be a very tough day but we need to go there and win. The reality is we need to win and we can’t hide away from that.”

The last time the two sides met was in September last year where Edinburgh scraped a narrow 31-30 victory. Benetton are currently the third best form team in the tournament behind only Leinster and Munster.

However, Cockerill believes that there is the opportunity for another high-scoring game. He added: “They are a good side but teams create opportunities against them.”

Centre Mark Bennett, knows that the days of disregarding Italian opposition are long in the past. He said: “We can’t take them for granted. They are a top, top side.

“We need to go into this one rearing to go. We all know how big a game this is for the club.”

Edinburgh are coming off the back of a disappointing 17-19 home loss against Cardiff Blues. This was the first defeat at BT Murrayfield for Edinburgh since April 2018 but Bennett insists that team morale is still high.

He added: “We have won eight out of our last 10 games. We’re in great form.

“We’re full of confidence. We have a great team and we have to just go for it.”

Equine flu brings horse racing world to standstill

The British Horseracing Authority has banned all races in the UK after an outbreak of equine influenza.

The ban has effected Musselburgh Races, which was set to host a fixture on Sunday with eight races and a £160,000 prize – the biggest ever prize pot at The Races.

Musselburgh Racecourse general manager, Bill Farnsworth, said:

“We are naturally disappointed at losing our richest jumps racing fixture this weekend (Sunday 10 Feb) but the racing community is working together to minimise the spread of equine influenza and the decision by the BHA to cancel racing is without doubt the correct one.

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The £160,000 prize fixture will not be going ahead on Sunday. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

“The industry does prepare for scenarios such as these and I am confident that the stringent procedures which are in place across the UK will ensure that racing is back and up running as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Vaccinated horses typically have mild short lasting symptoms, but this new strain is effecting vaccinated animals. The BHA said that the disease was typically not serious:

“Symptoms may include a raised temperature, a cough and nasal discharge. It is highly contagious. Humans are not at risk from the virus, though can spread the virus on clothes and equipment.”

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All the horses are in quarantine and the stables are deserted. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

“All of the trainers who had runners at the fixtures at Wolverhampton, Ludlow and Ayr this week have been informed that their yards have been placed under a temporary hold which means that they will not be able to make any declarations until their horses have been tested and cleared.”

Symptoms typically take three days to appear which means that the full extent of the problem won’t be known until Sunday.

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The prestigious race course will lose betting revenue because of the cancellation of Sunday’s event. The BHA say they are sympathetic, but must impose the ban. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

Bill Farnsworth hoped that the disruption to Musselburgh would be minimal:

“A decision will be taken on Monday by the BHA as to when racing will resume, and if our next meeting scheduled for Wednesday (13 Feb) goes ahead as planned, there will be free admission for all.”

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The disease is airborne, but not harmful to humans. (Credit: Ryan Traynor)

The BHA only makes decisions on race horses but encourages all horse owners to seek professional advice and to get their horses vaccinated if they have concerns.

 

Hugh McIlvanney dies aged 84

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Hugh McIlvanney at the Football Writers’ Association Gala Tribute Dinner in 2018. (Photo credit: Football Writers’ Association via Facebook)

Scottish sports journalist Hugh McIlvanney has died at the age of 84, after a battle with cancer.

McIlvanney, widely considered to be one of Britain’s greatest sports journalists, was born in Kilmarnock and began his journalism career with local newspaper The Kilmarnock Standard, after leaving high school. He then went on to work long term for The Observer and The Sunday Times, for 30 and 23 years respectively.

McIlvanney was known for his football and boxing reports, especially the 1966 FIFA World Cup where England recorded their famous victory and the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Muhammad Ali & George Foreman, possibly the most famous boxing match in the world. He claimed the greatest ‘scoop’ he had was when he found himself in Ali’s villa, hours after the fight in Zaire.

Due to his illustrious career, McIlvanney formed close and personal relationships with some of the most successful football managers to come from Scotland: Sir Matt Busby, Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie even asked McIlvanney for help with producing his autobiography – Managing My Life.

Despite witnessing some of the most famous events in sporting history, McIlvanney had to write about some heartbreaking events, including the death of his friend Stein who sadly suffered a heart attack at the conclusion of a 1985 Scotland vs Wales match, for qualification to the 1986 World Cup. He was also present at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and subsequently murdered by a terror group. McIlvanney also reported on the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

When McIlvanney decided to retire in 2016 after a 60 year career, Muhammad Ali was one of the first to pay tribute to the great man. Ali said: “His words were a window to the lives, the courage, the struggles and the triumphs of the great champions of his time. He has contributed richly to the fabric of our sport”.

McIlvanney was awarded an OBE in 1996 for services to journalism, given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Scottish Press Awards in 2004, and is currently the only sports writer to be voted Journalist of the Year. McIlvanney also became the first journalist to be inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame, just two years ago, with an induction to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

Although he started his career in Scotland, McIlvanney was respected across the world – evidenced by the sheer amount of tributes pouring in. Former England star Gary Lineker tweeted: “Very sorry to hear that Hugh McIlvanney has died. Truly one of the greatest sports’ writers of all time”.

Former Aberdeen keeper – turned journalist – David Preece also paid his respects: “There are writers you will read whatever they write. Hugh McIlvanney was one of those writers”.

Former BT Sport commentator Derek Rae called McIlvanney “Scotland’s most gifted journalist’.

In a tribute to Hugh McIlvanney’s work, The Guardian has selected six of his best articles. The Rumble in the Jungle and The Thriller in Manila feature top of the list, and it comes as no surprise. Not only were they two of the greatest boxing matches to date, the way McIlvanney writes about the events makes you feel as though you were actually there. Also on the list; the 1966 World Cup Final, Celtic’s 1967 European Cup win in Lisbon, boxer Johnny Owen’s tragic last fight and the aftermath of Matt Busby’s retirement.

New England Patriots to face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII

New England Patriots will face the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3rd, after each winning their penultimate matches in the AFC and NFC Championships, respectively. 

Each game was a classic in their own right with both contests going to Overtime – the first time in NFL history that this has happened. The Rams overcame the New Orleans Saints to win 23-26 in a finish that was marred by controversy, whilst The Patriots were able to edge out the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 in what was a thrilling match.

Click here to see highlights of Patriots vs Chiefs.

Here in the UK, there is certainly a big appetite for American Football as the UK is the NFL’s third largest market with an estimated 13 million followers. The London games which take place in October has been a growing success year on year. Here in Scotland, before they discontinued in 2004, the Scottish Claymores received average audience attendances of over 11’000 per game. This matched the average attendances at most SPL games. 

Super Bowl LIII should be a fascinating contest and spectacle. This year’s half-time show is to be performed by Los Angeles pop rock band, Maroon 5, who will be joined by Travis Scott and Big Boi after the initial appointment drew a public backlash. 

The Patriots head into this as slight favourites in which will be their third consecutive year in the Super Bowl. For The Rams this will be their fourth Super Bowl in their entire history and have won it only once. These teams met in Super Bowl 36 where the Patriots were victorious. Will this year’s outcome be the same?

The game will be broadcast on BBC and Sky Sports, respectively.

Check this preview below to find out the key players and game predictions.

 

Circuit rallying comes to Scotland

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Circuit rallying is unique, and visits Scotland this weekend (Photo Credit: Luke Barry)

The Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship is heading to Knockhill Racing Circuit this Sunday for the third round of the 2018/19 season.

The championship is one of the fastest-growing in the country and has witnessed some of the best rallying battles in recent memory in its short three year history. Defending champion Chris West heads Sunday’s entry list in his Peugeot 306 Maxi, with Scottish heroes Alan Kirkaldy, John Marshall and Donnie MacDonald taking the battle to MSN Championship regulars West, John Stone and Tom Blackwood.

Now in its fourth season, the MSN Championship heads to various different race tracks across the UK, in a hybrid format between racing and rallying.

Rallying – where drivers race against the clock to set the quickest possible time – traditionally takes place in forests or on closed public roads whereas racing occurs on race tracks with a bunch of cars battling each other for position.

Circuit rallying mates the two disciplines together. The special stages are all set within the confides of a race track, but it’s a rally so each car sets off at 30 second intervals and races each other on the time-sheets and not the circuit.

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Fair (right) finds circuit rallying more relaxing than stage rallying (Photo Credit: Luke Barry)

This provides a very different viewing spectacle for onlookers and a unique challenge for the competitors. Cameron Fair regularly competes with double Scottish rally champion Jock Armstrong, but is sitting beside Alan Kirkaldy in his Ford Fiesta R5 on Sunday.

“Circuit rallying is quite relaxed for a navigator compared to a circuit event,” Fair said.

“There are no road sections which for me are the most stressful part of a rally. There’s also no route notes, just a map. Spitting out a description of the road to the driver at rally pace can be difficult. The map is more vague so there’s only so much you can tell the driver, and after multiple laps he knows the lay of the land so it’s a good opportunity just to watch the driver do his thing.

“Alan and I are going into the rally looking for a strong result, as Knockhill is a place we both know very well. We’ve finished on the podium in the past so it’d be wrong to say we aren’t looking for another top three this weekend.”

Fair is aware that the competition from the regular championship competitors will be tough, even if he and Kirkaldy have the home advantage.

“Chris West in the 306 is very quick, he drives that car very well.”

“John Stone has a new WRC [Ford] Fiesta which he won with at Rockingham last weekend so he’ll be on the money. There’s also a lot of top Scottish boys that will be there or thereabouts and wanting to make an impact. It’s certainly all to play for!”

Championship co-ordinator Darren Spann is enthusiastic to be heading to Fife for the second year in succession. Hear his thoughts ahead of the event below.

 

 

A full entry list for the Cobble Shop Knockhill Stages can be viewed here, while further information on the event can be found on the circuit’s website.

McGlynn “very happy” to be back managing Raith Rovers

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Stark’s Park, where John McGlynn manages Raith Rovers (credit: Colin Pine)

John McGlynn is back in charge at Raith Rovers, six years after leaving the club, and is targeting promotion back into the second tier of Scottish football.

The 56-year-old returned to Stark’s Park four weeks ago, replacing Barry Smith, who resigned his post at the beginning of September. And McGlynn revealed that the chance to take the reigns again at the Fife side was too good to turn down.

“It was the lure of Raith Rovers that I left Celtic for. When the opportunity arose, I felt like I was the right man for the job. I had a successful spell here before and I hope to repeat that this time around.”

McGlynn was previously at Raith between 2006 and 2012, and guided the club to promotion from the Second Division in the 2008-09 season. Two years later, he led the club to second place in the First Division, narrowly missing out on promotion to the SPL to rivals Dunfermline. He left in 2012 to join Heart of Midlothian, where he had previously been First Team Coach.

McGlynn was most recently manager at Livingston, who he left by mutual consent in December 2014. But despite being out of the managerial game for almost four years, he feels like it’s taken no time to adjust back.

“No, not at all. There’s so much to do that you can’t really do anything other than think about what’s right in front of you.

“Taking training, preparing for matches and so on: there’s so much work to get done here, you’re thrown right back into the mix.

“You just have to roll up your sleeves and get on with it.”

Joining McGlynn back at Raith is assistant Paul Smith. Smith was McGlynn’s number 2 during his previous spell at the club, and he revealed that one of the main attractions of re-joining the Rovers was reuniting with Smith.

“To work with Paul again was a key factor for me. We’ve both had a successful time here together previously, we know each other well and we know how to get the best out of the players.

“The partnership we have has worked in the past, it’s working now and it will work well in the future.”

McGlynn’s second tenure has seen the club pick up seven points out of a possible nine, and they will be looking to continue their unbeaten start to the season on Saturday, when they travel to Station Park to face Forfar Athletic.

New Stadium could give Edinburgh a Fortress to Defend

 

A new stadium planned to be built next to the Scottish national Stadium, Murrayfield, has been given the go-ahead by Edinburgh council.

It is hoped that the new build will be completed next year in time for Edinburgh Rugby to make it their new home.

With just under 8,000 seats it is hoped that sell-out crowds will gather to watch a revitalised capital side. With significantly less seats to fill than Murrayfield’s 67,000.

Less seats mean a more intense atmosphere can be achieved making Edinburgh a more daunting opponent, allowing them to build a club identity and creating a closer connection with fans.

Edinburgh forward, Rory Sutherland said:

“We would like somewhere we can call a home.

“It’s going to be important for creating an atmosphere, getting the support in … it can make a big difference.”

Head Coach Richard Cockerel added:

“It’s great to have your own home. we had over 7,000 here at the weekend and with the new stadium holding 7,800, we can start to get sell-out crowds like they have at Scotstoun.

“It then becomes our own atmosphere, our own pitch, our own stadium, our own branding, all those things. We can build our own identity and move forward.

“Edinburgh will have a permanent home that we can build a team and a club around.”

 

Griffiths rules himself out of Scotland squad

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Griffiths wants to focus on his fitness. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has withdrawn from Alex McLeish’s Scotland squad in a bid to improve his fitness.

The forward, who has scored four times for his country, was named in the initial squad that will face Israel on Thursday on the UEFA Nations League.

There had been reports that the 28-year-old striker had fallen out with McLeish after he was left on the bench in last month’s contest against Albania, but the Scotland manager insists the decision to withdraw was entirely down to Griffiths.

In a statement released by the Scottish Football Association, Griffiths declared he’d love to play for Scotland again should he be selected.

He said: “I had a good discussion with the manager to explain my decision. It’s not one that I’ve made lightly.

“It means a lot to me to play for Scotland and I hope to be part of Alex’s plans again in future, if selected.”

Scotland will play Portugal at Hampden Park on Sunday following their away trip to Israel. The side sit top of Group One in the UEFA Nations League courtesy of a 2-0 win over Albania in September, a game in which Griffiths was dropped to the bench.

Meadowbank Centre in funding crisis

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Concerns arise amid council vote.

Councillors are set to decide whom to award the contract for building the new state of art sports centre in Edinburgh. However, questions are raised over where the money for the project will come from.

The Edinburgh City Council Finance Committee is being asked to approve a £39 million contract to build the new centre but the Save Meadowbank campaign has exposed the pitfalls in the council’s plan.

Executive Director of Communities and Families within the Council, Alistair Gaw, submitted a paper to the finance committee for discussion on 11 October with the comment that the capital funding for the project will mainly come from the sale of 300 homes due to be built on one half of the site.

“This is completely inaccurate because his report is based on a previous Council plan which was thrown out by the planning committee when it met in June,” said Save Meadowbank spokesperson Heather Peacock in an official statement.

Campaigners claim the inaccuracy is due to the council maintaining their plan for the new homes while claiming to have started from a “clean state.” They are committed to preserving the Meadowbank’s green space and have cast doubts over the council’s plans and whether the project will commence.

Save Meadowbank’s representative, Russell McLarty, was particularly critical of the council’s approach to the situation:

“If they had had a more measured approach and looked at different options for the overall development of the site and funding – including borrowing – then they may have come up with something better. However, they are pushing ahead and are constrained by the desire to produce a sports centre – the council seem to have gone about this the wrong way.”

The council, when prompted, refused to comment on the situation.

A report to the council finance committee has warned that the figures may be unreliable and that the council may end up with a funding deficit of £24 million. It outlines a precautionary £7 million that should not be used until more accurate data is received.

 

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