Women’s Sports Column 20-26 October 2018

CAYFS5MZWelcome to this week’s column.  Plenty to get through yet again with stories from rugby union, football, cricket, tennis, athletics, hockey, volleyball, golf, netball, boxing and taekwondo, plus the result of the Young Sportsperson of the Year award winner.   Also, from the seriousness of last week’s “And Finally” we come to the ridiculous of this week’s….

Let’s crack on.

Tennis – on the Court

Kremlin Cup

Jo Konta couldn’t quite make it to the final of the Kremlin Cup, succumbing to eventual winner and sixth seed Daria Kasatkina, 6-4 6-3.  In the other semi-final Ons Jabeur beat fifth seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 3-6 6-3.

Daria Kasatkina won the final, 2-6 7-6 6-4.

Luxembourg Open

In the Luxembourg Open semi-finals, Belinda Bencic defeated ninth seed Dayana Yastremska 6-2 3-6 7-6 and top seed Julia Goerges beat Eugenie Bouchard 6-7  7-5 6-1.

Goerges went on to win the final 6-4 7-5.

WTA Finals

Of course all eyes are now on Singapore and the fierce competition at the end of season finals.

Red Group:
Angelique Kerber
Naomi Osaka
Sloane Stephens
Kiki Bertens

Matches so far:
Stephens beat Osaka 7-5 4-6 6-1
Bertens beat Kerber 1-6 6-3 6-4
Kerber beat Osaka 6-4 5-7 6-4
Stephens beat Bertens 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3

White Group
Caroline Wozniacki
Petra Kvitova
Elina Svitolina
Karolina Pliskova

Matches so far:
Svitolina beat Kvitova 6-3 6-3
Pliskova beat Wozniacki 6-2 6-4
Wozniacki beat Kvitova 7-5 3-6 6-2
Svitolina beat Pliskova 6-3 2-6 6-3
Pliskova beat Kvitova 6-3 6-4
Svitolina beat Wozniacki 5-7 7-5 6-3

More news of who eventually triumphed next week.

Tennis – off the Court

After her exit from the WTA Finals at the group stage, Caroline Wozniacki has revealed that she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in August.

She said,

“In the beginning, it was a shock.  It’s obviously not ideal for anybody, and I think when you’re a professional athlete, it’s also not even more ideal.

“I think I didn’t want to talk about it during the year because I don’t want to give anyone the edge or thinking that I’m not feeling well, but I have been feeling well.

“You learn how to just cope after matches. Some days you wake up and you can’t get out of bed and you just have to know that’s how it is, but other days you live and you’re fine. You don’t even feel like you have it.”

There is no cure, but the symptoms of pain and swelling in the joints can be relieved by medication and treatment.

We cannot know at this stage just how and how fast the condition will progress, but Wozniacki is determined to fight through as far as she is able.

Taekwondo

There were a series of excellent results for British women at the World Taekwondo Grand Prix in Manchester over the weekend.

First, Lauren Williams won gold in the -68kg division, beating Matea Jelic of Croatia in the final 15-10.

Then Bianca Walkden took silver in the +67kg category, losing 6-4 to Olympic champion Zheng Shuyin of China in the final.

And finally, two-time Olympic champion, Jade Jones, won the -57kg title, beating Zhou Lijun of China 11-4 in the final.

Volleyball

Two weeks of Women’s Super League results to catch up on:

13 October
Tendring VC Ladies 3-0 Sheffield Hallam (25-16, 25-19, 25-15)
Polonia SideOut London 0-3 London Orcas (17-25, 10-25, 10-25)
Durham Palatinates 3-0 Bristol VC 1 (25-12, 25-4, 25-8)
Malory Eagles UEL 3-0 Birmingham Volleyball Club 1 (25-22, 22-14, 25-9)

20 October
Sheffield Hallam 3-0 Bristol VC 1 (25-17, 25-14, 25-12)
Team BU Wessex 0-3 Durham Palatinates (25-15, 25-19, 25-11)
Malory Eagles UEL 3-0 Polonia SideOut London (25-13, 26-24, 25-12)

Most teams have now played two games.  Durham are top with two wins from two with Malory Eagles second, also with two wins from two but with an inferior points quotient.  Three teams have no points, Polonia from two games and Birmingham and Wessex from only one.

Football

Last weekend’s Super League results:

Yeovil Town 1-2 Bristol City
Gaylor 33’
Graham 32’, 73’

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-6 Manchester City
Stanway 21’ 64’ 68’, Weir 43’, Parris 87’, Emslie 91’

Birmingham City 0-0 Chelsea

West Ham 0-1 Liverpool
Sweetman-Kirk 7’

Reading 0-6 Arsenal
Miedema 3’ 49’ 85’, Nobbs 7’, Mead 47’, Van de Donk 76’

It’s as you were at the top with another big win for Arsenal.  Five wins from five for the Gunners and a massive +24 goal difference.  Manchester City are second with 14 from six games and Birmingham third with 13, also from six.  At the bottom, Yeovil are still without a point and Brighton sit just above them with one point from six games.

Championship results:

London Bees 3-2 Lewes
Beckett 11’ 44’, Gould 63’
Quayle 17’, Kempson 26’

Charlton Athletic 2-0 Sheffield United
Stobbs 42’, Clifford 72’

Durham 2-0 Crystal Palace
Roberts 57’, Watling 89’ OG

Leicester City 1-1 Aston Villa
Axten 43’ (Pen)
Hutton 20’

Tottenham Hotspur 8-0 Millwall Lionesses
Addison 21’ 83’, Dean 29’ 50’ 71’, Wiltshire 30’, Neville 37’, Baptiste 62’

Tottenham are top of the Championship with their stunning 8-0 win over the Lionesses.  They have 15 points from five games.  Manchester United are second with 13 from five.  At the bottom, Millwall have a single point from five games and Aston Villa are just above them on two from five.

World Cup Build-up

More friendlies have been announced this week.

Scotland will play USA in Paisley on 13 November.  It will be the US’s first game in Scotland.  The question is, can the US do it on a wet Tuesday in Paisley?

England, meanwhile, will face Austria in Vienna on Thursday 8 November and then Sweden at Rotherham’s New York stadium on Sunday 11 November.

Hockey – on the Pitch

Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division

20 October
Surbiton 6-0 Bowdon

21 October
Holcombe 1-2 East Grinstead
Clifton Robinsons 1-1 Slough
Buckingham 1-2 Beeston
University of Birmingham 1-1 Canterbury

Surbiton march on.  Four wins from five and top of the table with 13 points.  Holcombe and East Grinstead lie second and third on 10 points.  Bowdon are bottom on two points.  Slough also have two points but are second from bottom on goal difference.

This weekend’s fixtures:

Saturday 27 October
Slough v Holcombe (12.30pm, Slough Hockey Club)
Bowdon v University of Birmingham (13.45pm, Bowdon Club)
East Grinstead v Clifton Robinsons (2pm, East Grinstead Hockey Club)
Beeston v Surbiton (4pm, Nottingham Hockey Club P1)
Canterbury v Buckingham (4pm, Polo Farm SC – P1)

Hockey – off the Pitch            

Women’s Hockey will finally have a new European league, launching in 2020.

The men’s league, which features the top 24 teams in Europe, has been in existence since 2007.

European Hockey is yet to finalise details, but it’s a great move and one that has been a long time coming.  We look to hockey to be a leader in sporting equality, so it is good to see that the women will, at last, get their chance.

Rugby Union – Off the Pitch

The long-running dispute between Coleraine Rugby club and Ulster Rugby seems to be at an end.  The authorities have now fined the club £5,000 for the incident in which a female referee was verbally abused at the club last season.

Colleagues of the referee, thought to be Grainne Crabtree, staged a protest and refused to officiate at Coleraine’s home matches until a satisfactory result had been reached.  They have now ended this protest, but it still is not clear whether the official has received an apology from the club.

The club has refused to comment as to what reparations have been made.

In a statement, the club somewhat disingenuously said,

“Coleraine Rugby Club is pleased that there has been a resolution to the long-running dispute involving rugby’s Ulster Branch Referees Society and the club,” a spokesperson said.

“The club has accepted the decision of the Ulster Branch review into this matter.

“We are now looking forward to giving a warm welcome to all referees and teams visiting our club for matches this week and in the future.”

It is unlikely that we will ever know just what the “resolution” has been.

Rugby Union – on the Pitch

Last weekend’s Premier 15s results were as follows:

20 October 2018
Wasps Ladies 31-15 Richmond Women
Loughborough Lightning 59-3 DMP Sharks
Gloucester-Hartpury 67-3 Worcester Valkyries
Harlequins 20-17 Saracens
Bristol Bears 75-13 Firwood Waterloo

It was a chastening weekend for both Worcester and Firwood Waterloo at the bottom, while at the top a shock defeat for Saracens sees a new leader.  Loughborough Lightning are now top with six wins from six and 29 points, including five bonus points.  Saracens are second with 25 and Harlequins third on 22.  At the bottom, there is no respite for Worcester who still have only two bonus points and Firwood Waterloo just above them on five.

This weekend’s fixtures:

27 October
Firwood Waterloo v Loughborough Lightning (12.30pm, Firwood Waterloo Rugby Club)
Worcester Valkyries v Bristol Bears (2pm, Sixways Stadium)
DMP Sharks v Wasps Ladies (5pm, Northern Echo Arena)

28 October
Richmond Women v Harlequins (3.30pm, Richmond Athletic Ground)
Saracens v Gloucester-Hartpury (3.45pm, Allianz Park)

Rugby Sevens

New Zealand powered their way to yet another win in the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Glendale, Colorado.

They defeated USA 33-7 in the final.  There was a hat-trick of tries for Portia Woodman, and one each for Sarah Goss and Niall Williams.  Tyla Nathan-Wong kicked four conversions.  The US scored one try, through Nicole Heavirland which was converted by Alev Kelter.

Canada beat France 28-0 in the bronze final.

Australia took fifth, beating Ireland in the fifth place play-off 21-19 and England finished eighth, beaten in the seventh place play-off by Russia 17-14.

The next round is in Dubai on 29-30 November.

Boxing

Katie Taylor retained her IBF and WBA titles at the weekend with a unanimous points victory over Cindy Serrano in Boston.

Taylor has now won all 11 fights since turning professional in2016.

BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year

Kare Adenegan has been named 2018 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year.

Adenegan has had a storming year, taking Hannah Cockcroft’s world record in the T34 100m.  She also took gold in the same event at the Para-athletics European games in Berlin, again beating Cockcroft in the process and also took silver in the T34 800m.

The original shortlist was whittled down to three, the other two being swimmer Freya Anderson and jockey James Bowen.

The shortlist and winner were chosen by a panel including BBC presenters, current and former sporting stars and two representatives from the Youth Sport Trust.

Athletics

Great South Run

Eilish McColgan won the Great South Run at her first attempt last weekend.

The race, run over 10 miles (16 km) was held in Portsmouth and Southsea.

McColgan won in a time of 54:43 with Steph Twell in second in 55:15 and last year’s champion Gemma Steel in third in a time of 56:56.

Netball

England Netball Investment

We all know that the seemingly best-supported women’s sport actually usually hangs precariously over a precipice, so news of any investment is welcome.

In January England Netball revealed it had a shortfall in funding which could have resulted in cuts to the England programme, but this week came the announcement that Vitality will extend its sponsorship of English netball for another three years.

Joanna Adams, Chief Executive of England Netball said,

“We want netball to be a career, and a career option for players and coaches. We want it to be a fully professional sport with a fully professional Superleague and we want to keep our young athletes in netball.

“As women’s football, cricket and rugby grow, we just can’t be left behind as a sport.”

“The Australian league is still the best in the world,” Adams added.

“But in the next three to four years we want to be as competitive as Australia, we want our top English stars playing in this league and we want to attract some of the top internationals too.

“We need more investment in Superleague so it is a similar environment to the national squad.”

So the immediate future for netball in England is bright.  I’m not sure about the England team being now known as the “Vitality Roses”, but needs must, I suppose.  Possibly marginally less bizarre than the Samsung Diamonds….

Fast 5 World Series

This weekend sees the third edition of the Fast 5 World Series.  It takes place at the Melbourne Arena in Melbourne, Australia on 27-28 October.

New Zealand won the first event in 2016 and England the second in 2017.  This will be the third and last time (for now) that the tournament will be held in Australia.

All teams will play six 24 minute games across the two-day series. Each team will feature on both days of competition, with finals held on Sunday.

The countries taking part are Australia, New Zealand, England, Malawi, Jamaica and South Africa.

The whole event is live on Sky Sports.

Cricket

Australia sealed a 3-0 win over Pakistan in their ODI series this week.  After skittling Pakistan for 95 in the first ODI, they pressed home their advantage to take the series easily.

Second ODI – Kuala Lumpur
20 October
Australia 273/7 (50 overs)
Pakistan 123 all out (40.1 overs)
Australia won by 150 runs

Captain Meg Lanning hit 124 and put on a stand of 181 runs with Rachael Haynes, who scored 79 as the Southern Stars made a fine 273/7 in their 50 overs.

In response Nahida Khan made 66, but no-one else could muster a score as Pakistan were all out for 123.  Sophie Molineux took 4/14 off nine overs.  Ash Gardner and Megan Schutt took two wickets each.

Third ODI – Kuala Lumpur
22 October
Australia 324/7 (50 overs)
Pakistan 235/7 (50 overs)
Australia won by 89 runs

Alyssa Healy fell three short of a century before she was bowled by Diana Baig.  Nicole Bolton was the only player to miss out, lbw for a duck to Sana Mir.  Everyone else got into double figures as the Australians put on an imposing 324/7.  Sana Mir took 3/53 from her 10 overs, and in doing so became number one ranked bowler in women’s ODIs.

Pakistan started well in response.  They had reached 49 before the first wicket fell, Muneeba Ali caught by Molineux off Gardner for 15.

Most of the Pakistanis got starts, but they soon fell behind the required rate.  Aliya Riaz top-scored with 51, but Pakistan fell short by 89 runs.  Gardner was again in the wickets, taking 3/44 off her 10 overs.

Golf – on the Course

Indian Open

Becky Morgan won her first professional tournament at the weekend, at the 119th time of asking.  She took the Indian Open title by two shots, finishing on -7.  Caroline Hedwall (Swe), Christine Wolf (Aut), Nicole Broch Larsen (Den) and Felicity Johnson (Eng) tied for second on -5.

In her 18-year professional career Morgan has had 22 top-10 finishes.

Golf – off the Course

The fourth oldest golf club in the world, the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society in Edinburgh, has voted to accept women members.  It has only taken them 257 years.

The club announced that 83.7% of members who voted were in favour of admitting women. The turnout was 67%.

We’re getting there, folks.

And Finally

The judging panel for World Rugby’s Women’s 15s Player of the Year has been announced.  And you couldn’t make it up.  Maggie Alphonsi (so far, so good), then it’s Fabien Galthié, George Gregan, Richie McCaw, Brian O’Driscoll, Agustín Pichot, John Smit and Clive Woodward.  Hmmm.  Call me cynical (and I’m not the only one), but how many of these esteemed names will have watched enough women’s rugby to reach an informed decision on this issue?  Well, probably one.

This is the governing body that not so long ago, last year in fact, produced its strategy for women and girls’ rugby, Accelerating the Global Development of Women in Rugby 2017-25.  Obviously the strategy doesn’t extend to participation on judging panels.

Of course I’m not saying that men don’t watch women’s rugby, but these seven?  I don’t think so.  Could they not at least have a fifty-fifty male/female split?  Obviously not.  But good luck to the poor souls that have to provide the panel with its crib notes so that they can come to a Verdict.

Come on World Rugby, you can do better. Can’t you?

More news and views next week.

Women’s Sports Column End-of-Year Review

loveWelcome to this, the last column of 2017.  And what a year it’s been!  Instead of the usual news this week, I thought I’d review the year – in terms of heroes and villains!  Everyone loves a listicle, particularly at Christmas, so here’s mine.  I’m sure the majority of my choices will come as no surprise to regular readers of the column.

So, for the final time this year, let’s crack on.

Heroes

1) Women’s Cricket World Cup Final

No prizes for guessing my number one in the heroes department this year.  The Cricket World Cup was a fabulous event from start to finish and I’m privileged to say I was at the final at Lord’s in July.  The media coverage was pretty good, the organisation at the group games was excellent and, of course, the standard of cricket was generally superb.  But the actual day was something else.  Twenty-eight thousand cricket lovers (MCC members not included) packed into Lord’s to experience the game, the occasion and the atmosphere.  And the game had everything; great batting, bowling, fielding (and that drop from Jenny Gunn), the threat of rain, competition down to nearly the last ball…..

It was a brilliant game between two well-matched teams, which leads me on to number two:

2) Indian Women’s Cricket Team

They’ve made fans and friends wherever they go.  They’re on a massive upward trajectory and are set to get even better. Captain Mithali Raj is rightfully considered one of India’s outstanding sports personalities.  One of the moments of the World Cup was when it was reported that a little girl in a Nike store asked for her Indian cricket shirt to have the name “Mandhana” (as in opener Sriti Mandhana) on the back.  And if that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.

India will be out for revenge in the New Year when they face England again in the Women’s Tri Series.

3) Rugby union – heroes and villains

Rugby union is on the up.  And while it is, I’m reluctant to stick it in both the heroes and villains categories so, on balance, it’s in the heroes.  The Rugby World Cup was a fantastic tournament rounded off by a spectacular final.  Laurel wreaths all round to New Zealand and England for such an outstanding display, with the Black Ferns worthy winners.

But it’s not all plaudits for the administrators and organisers.  Before the tournament started we had the announcement that the RFU was not going to re-issue contracts for the 15s, but instead would concentrate on the Sevens squad ahead of next year’s World Cup.  Then the tournament itself threw up some strange scheduling that meant people missed out on seeing matches they wanted to see.  And this was followed by the announcement from the Irish Rugby Football Union that its new women’s head coach would be employed only on a part-time contract – it hosts a World Cup, then cuts its commitment to women’s rugby?  How does that work?

World Rugby has since redeemed rugby’s hero status with its new World Rugby Women’s Plan 2017-25.

So, as I say, some hits, some misses in the rugby department, but, on the whole, it’s heading the right way.

 4) Mica McNeill and Mica Moore

When British bobsleighers Mica McNeill and Mica Moore had their funding withdrawn, their Winter Olympic dream could have been over.  But they were not going to give up that easily.  McNeill launched a Crowdfunding page to raise the £30k needed to field a team.  They did it with time to spare and will now be in Pyeongchang in February.

5) Advocates, volunteers and campaigners for women’s sport

Last, but by no means least, I’d like to celebrate the legions of people out there working tirelessly (and sometimes it’s the original thankless task) to promote women’s sport.  I’m going to name a few, but I know I will have missed a lot so apologies as there’s not enough room to mention you all.  If we could only become “mainstream”, how amazing that would be.  So here we go, in no particular order, three cheers for: Women in Sport, Women in Football, Suzy Wrack, WiSP, Scrumqueens, Women’s Elite Rugby website, England Netball, FAWSL website, CricketHer, Martin Whiteley, Martin Woodward, Tracey Neville, Shelley Alexander, Kieran Theivam, 4TLOS, Jen O’Neill and She Kicks, Girls on the Ball, Eleanor Oldroyd, The Magenta Project, Darren Gilham, Sarah Williams (Tough Girl), Female Coaching Network, Coach Annie Zaidi, The Offside Rule, Natalie Germanos, Jane Martinson and so it goes on…

Apologies to those I missed out.

I’ve not included the links to the individuals and organisations above, but if anyone would like any more information, just message me.

villainsVillains

1) The FA

As we all know, some sports governing bodies are better than others.  But the nadir of the governing body world has to the Football Association (FA).  It easily makes it to the top of my villainous tree this year.  First we had the scandal surrounding Mark Sampson and his behaviour towards Eni Aluko and Drew Spence in particular.  Its attempts to sweep the “problem” under the carpet backfired spectacularly and when asked to account for its actions by a House of Commons Select Committee, was unable to come up with the faintest useful answer.  So much for the organisation’s duty of care, vetting process and grievance procedures.

If that wasn’t enough it then decides to restructure the women’s elite game once again.  Just when we were getting used to the current structure the FA, in its wisdom, decides that WSL1 has to be organised to a “stronger commercial model” to “improve the performance of the women’s game on and off the pitch.”  In doing so it immediately put immense pressure on some of the less well-equipped teams, who are currently in their position on merit, to come up with £350k, amongst other things, in order to be able to apply for a licence.  Unfortunately, this has meant that Sunderland and Watford (with probably more to come) have taken the chance not to press forward with their investment in the women’s game, but to scale it back.  Yes, the teams may have been looking for an “out”, or as they euphemistically put it “becoming more community-focussed”, but the FA needn’t have handed it to them on a plate need they?

2) Neanderthal Man

As ever, ‘Neanderthal man’ is pretty much at the top of my list too.  These are the knuckle-draggers who think their views on absolutely everything are required reading – particularly their views on women’s sport.  The “Women’s sport will never be as popular”, “women aren’t as fast/strong/good/add your own adjective, as men”, the “the only way women would get equality would be to compete against men”, the “she looks like a man, anyway”, the “get back to the kitchen” comments, even “they’re all lesbians” is still doing the rounds after all these years.  I have reported a few in my “and finally” section this year and, I’m afraid it doesn’t look as if I’m going to run out of examples any time soon.

Get over it chaps!  Katie Taylor doesn’t have to fight Amir Khan to be a good boxer, Sarah Taylor doesn’t have to keep wicket to the bowling of Jimmy Anderson to be a good cricketer and Nikita Parris doesn’t have score for Manchester City’s men’s side to be a good footballer.

3) The ECB

The ECB was due to be in my “heroes” section, but I’m afraid the news of the last couple of days means that it also makes it into my “Villains” list too.

It appears that the Kia Super League will be no more after 2019.  It looks like it will be rebranded in line with the new city-based men’s competition.  So no more Western Storm, Loughborough Lightning et al…  Each of the current franchises (yes, I have deigned to utter the word) has tried so hard to develop its USP, expand its fan-base and facilities.  The tournament is still in its infancy, but the teams are already recognisable and have their own following.  It did have a good sponsor and commitment to TV and radio coverage.  But we have to start again.

So, yet again, a governing body has seen fit to “fix it” when it hasn’t been “broke”.  We’re yet to see the details of what’s to come, but I haven’t yet got past “why?”

4) BBC Sports Personality of the Year

Now, don’t get me wrong – I think the event is a good thing.  I find the whole evening a bit cringe-worthy, but the idea is a sound one.  But it was beyond disappointing this year that the four women nominated came in the last four places after the public vote.  Obviously there has been a lot of mansplaining on this issue – the women weren’t “good” enough, it’s a public vote so people vote for who they want to, some of the women are from minority sports, etc.

But they’re missing the point.

Women’s sport still consistently flies under the radar.

The popularity and media profile of Women’s cricket is at an all-time high, and yet this was not enough for Anya Shrubsole to finish higher than eighth from twelve nominees in the individual category.  How do we know these women are so good if we rarely see their achievements celebrated in the media?  And if their achievements are denigrated by the “usual” sport-watching public so much, how are we to know that taking six wickets in a Women’s World Cup final is worth rewarding?

How do these women ever raise their profile sufficiently to make a dent in the minds of the general public?   I’m afraid to say that at the moment they still don’t.  They are coming from such a low level of coverage, investment, support and recognition that it’s still a mountain to climb, all of which leads me on to my fifth villain:

5) Anyone who says it’s been a “watershed year” for women’s sport

Sorry to throw such a dampener on things, but while there’s been so much to celebrate this year (see heroes!), there is still so much work to do that I really don’t think it has been a “watershed” year.  There have been countless fantastic achievements, tournaments, records, performances, but in the eyes of the general public it counts for nothing until the “mindset” (ugh horrid word) of the sport-loving public is changed beyond recognition.  So while there has been undoubted progress and I personally have loved every minute of it this year, it’s not a “watershed year”.

But let’s not end on a negative note.  No, I’m not going to “look for the positives” (ugh again), but there has been so much to celebrate this year and we should ensure that 2018 builds on this.  As well as the usual annual tournaments, we have the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, Rugby World Cup Sevens, the Hockey World Cup at Surrey Sports Park, two teams still in the Champions League, and so it goes on.  And we sports-lovers will be there to see it all.  So let’s make every week of 2018 Women’s Sports Week and let’s cheer every extra televised fixture, every column inch and every interview.

Thank you for reading the column this year.  I’ve loved writing it, which I hope comes out in every word.  I’m having a couple of weeks off now, but will back in the New Year with more news, features, reports and interviews and I hope you’ll join me. 

I’d also like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a lovely sport-filled New Year.