Welcome to this week’s column. Apologies for the brevity of this week’s offering, but a bout of sickness has meant I’ve been a bit pushed for time. Hopefully there’s enough here to keep you entertained. Stories this week come from tennis, hockey, boxing, rugby union, cricket, football and sports politics.
So here we go.
The draw for the first round of the Australian Open has been made and Jo Konta, fit again after pulling out of the Brisbane International, has a tough draw. She faces American Madison Brengle, 92 in the world.
Heather Watson’s first opponent is Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan who, at 50, is ranked 24 places higher than Watson.
Naomi Broady is through the first round of qualifying, beating Kathinka von Deichmann of Liechtenstein 7-6 5-7 6-3. She plays Bibiane Schoofs of the Netherlands in the next round and needs to win three to get through to the first round proper.
The tournament begins on Monday 15 January.
Heather Watson seems to be getting into her stride before the start of the first Grand Slam of the year. She made it to the semi-finals of the Hobart International, losing to the 2017 champion and second seed Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-4 1-6 6-2.
Mertens will play Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine of Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania in the final.
Irish boxing star, Katie Taylor, will fight her first professional Dublin bout on 14 April. It will be her second defence of her WBA World Lightweight title.
The venue is yet to be decided.
Football – off the pitch
The big news this week is that Eni Aluko is in discussion with Paris St-Germain over a possible transfer. Aluko, 30, has five months left on her Chelsea contract. PSG lie currently in the French division one behind Lyon.
Drew Spence has been recalled to the England squad for their 10-day training camp in Spain; it will be the first time she has been involved since the debacle with Mark Sampson last year. The squad is preparing for the SheBelieves Cup in the US in March. The full squad is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), Siobhan Chamberlain (Liverpool), Mary Earps (Reading), Carly Telford (Chelsea).
Defenders: Gemma Bonner (Liverpool), Millie Bright (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (Lyon), Jess Carter (Birmingham City), Rachel Daly (Houston Dash), Gilly Flaherty (Chelsea), Gabby George (Everton), Alex Greenwood (Liverpool), Steph Houghton (Manchester City), Demi Stokes (Manchester City).
Midfielders: Isobel Christiansen (Manchester City), Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), Jo Potter (Reading), Jill Scott (Manchester City), Drew Spence (Chelsea), Keira Walsh (Manchester City), Fara Williams (Reading), Leah Williamson (Arsenal).
Forwards: Karen Carney (Chelsea), Danielle Carter (Arsenal), Toni Duggan (Barcelona), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Melissa Lawley (Manchester City), Nikita Parris (Manchester City), Jodie Taylor (Melbourne City), Ellen White (Birmingham City).
Meanwhile, although we are assured by the FA that the search for the new England Head Coach is well underway, some of the best candidates are slipping through their fingers. John Herdman, the Canadian women’s coach has just left his post, but has gone directly to take over the Canadian men’s team. One name that is, apparently, in the hat, is that of Phil Neville. As the current parlance would have it, I’ll just leave that here.
Football – on the pitch
FA Cup Fourth Round
After the excitement of last week’s third round, the fourth round draw has been made and this is where the WSL sides make their first appearance. Ties will be played on Sunday 4 February. There is one outstanding tie from the third round this Sunday (14 January) when Derby County take on Brighouse Town fourth round fixture away to Sunderland AFC.
The New Saints v Chichester City
Durham v Sheffield
Aston Villa v Middlesborough
Sunderland AFC v Derby County/Brighouse Town
Keynsham Town v Lewes
Tottenham Hotspur v Doncaster Rovers Belles
Liverpool v Watford
Cardiff City v Oxford United
Reading v Birmingham City
Plymouth Argyle v Leicester City
Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester City
Blackburn Rovers v Charlton Athletic
Yeovil Town v Arsenal
London Bees v Chelsea
Everton v Bristol City
Millwall Lionesses v Coventry United
For fixture times and venues please see the FA Website.
Rugby Union – off the pitch
Good news from Australia this week as it was announced that a deal between Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players’ Association means that its men’s and women’s sevens sides will be paid the same (at entry level), at least until 2020.
The fifteens team, the Walleroos, will be covered by the new deal and will receive payments for Tests for the first time.
There will be a new Pregnancy Policy to ensure players have the security to return to their contracts if they have children.
Rugby Union – on the pitch
There was one game in the Premier 15s last weekend:
Worcester Valkyries 7-38 Loughborough Lightning
We’re all-guns-blazing again this weekend with a full programme of fixtures:
Saturday 13 January
Wasps v DMP Sharks (2pm, Twyford Avenue Sports Ground)
Saracens v Worcester Valkyries (2pm, Allianz Park)
Harlequins v Loughborough Lightning (2pm, Surrey Sports Park)
Sunday 14 January
Richmond v Gloucester-Hartpury (2.30pm, Richmond Athletic Ground)
WBBL latest scores:
Melbourne Renegades 142/6 (20 overs)
Melbourne Stars 145/3 (19 overs)
Stars won by 7 wickets
Jess Duffin top-scored for the Stars with 40, ably supported by Claire Koski, who finished 33 not out. Erin Osborne took 2/14 from her four overs. In response Georgia Elwiss scored 58 not out and Mignon du Preez 45 from 35 balls as the Stars took the game with an over to spare.
Hobart Hurricanes 111/4 (20 overs)
Brisbane Heat 114/2 (14.2 overs)
Heat won by 8 wickets
The Hurricanes’ total never looked like being enough. Jess Jonassen took 2/17 off her four overs. Beth Mooney scored an unbeaten 62 from 43 balls as the Heat got home easily.
Sydney Thunder 145/6 (20 overs)
Perth Scorchers 144/6 (20 overs)
Thunder won by 1 run
Scorchers needed three runs off the last ball, but as Mathilda Carmichael came back for the second, ‘keeper Rachel Priest took the ball and broke the bails, denying the second run and super over and claiming the win for the Thunder. Earlier Priest had also top-scored with the bat with 42 from 32 balls.
But it was Rene Farrell who took the player of the match award for her dismissal of the two Scorchers openers. She also effected the run out of Perth’s English batter Nat Sciver.
Brisbane Heat 168/4 (20 overs)
Hobart Hurricanes 126 all out (18.5 overs)
Heat won by 42 runs
Kirby Short starred for the Heat with 79 of 55 balls as they posted an excellent total. In response the Hurricanes lost Hayley Matthews for just eight and after the top four had been dismissed, no-one else got into double figures. All of the Heat’s seven bowlers, excepting bizarrely, Deandra Dottin, all picked up wickets to contribute to the win.
Sydney Thunder 134/4 (20 overs)
Perth Scorchers 136/2 (18.1 overs)
Scorchers won by 8 wickets
The Scorchers were back to winning ways on Monday as they beat the Thunder with nearly two overs to spare. Alex Blackwell starred for the Thunder, scoring 81 off 58 balls, as their openers faltered with Priest bowled for a duck by the in-form Katherine Brunt. Stafanie Taylor also contributed with 31.
Elyse Villani was run out early on for just nine for the Scorchers, but Nicole Bolton scored 28 and then England pair Nat Sciver and Brunt took it on, scoring 61 and 17 not out respectively to ensure the win.
Melbourne Stars 132/5 (20 overs)
Adelaide Strikers 134/9 (20 overs)
Strikers won by 1 wicket
Lizelle Lee top-scored for the Stars with 52 with Katie Mack backing up well with 42 from 32 balls
Although the Strikers all got starts, none went on to make a big score and with the Stars taking regular wickets it looked as if they had the game sewn up.
When the ninth wicket went on 129 with just two balls to go it was down to last recognised bat Tabitha Saville to score the winning runs. Beams bowled a dot for the fifth ball but then committed the cardinal sin of bowling a no-ball on the sixth; one run for the no-ball and a free hit. Saville tonked the free hit for four and the Strikers had won the game.
Melbourne Stars 133/3 (20 overs)
Brisbane Heat 134/5 (18.1 overs)
Heat won by 5 wickets
Beth Mooney is in fearsome form, as the Stars found to their cost on Friday.
Katie Mack put in her second big score of the week with 57 off 48 for the Stars with Mignon du Preez backing her up with 30. Deandra Dottin took 2/13 off three overs for the Heat.
But there was no stopping Mooney. She hit seven fours in an innings of 57 off just 38 balls. She was ably supported by Jess Jonassen who scored 23 not out from 21 balls as the Heat won with nearly two overs to spare.
As it stands
Thunder are top with 12 points from 8 matches. The Heat are second with the same number of points, but from nine matches. They are followed by the Sixers and then the Strikers. Hobart Hurricanes are still to get off the mark and are bottom with no points from eight games.
Jaffa Super 6s Finals
The four qualifiers for Finals Day at the Copperbox Arena have been decided. The men’s and women’s tournament will be played on Sunday 28 January and the semi-final line-up is as follows:
10.45 am – East Grinstead v Leicester
12 noon – Bowdon Hightown v Holcombe
The women’s final will be at 15.45pm.
It’s finally happening. Today women will watch a football match from inside the stadium – legally.
From now on, there will be areas for women fans in the grounds at Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. There is a large female fanbase for men’s football in Saudi Arabia, but until now they have had to follow games on the television only.
The three grounds expect a big turnout at their first inclusive matches and also expect crowds to build over time. Make no mistake, this is a significant step for sports-loving women in the country, and while we realise it’s a drop in the ocean compared to many indignities women have to suffer, it is, however, a very definite drop.
Well done and commiserations to Ipswich Town Ladies in their third round FA Cup defeat to Charlton Athletic. The Blues took the lead through Cassie Craddock in the second-half, but Charlton equalised and then took the lead. Craddock was in again late on to take the game into extra time. Charlton, top of the league above Ipswich, took their chances, scoring three during extra time to take the game 5-2.