Magnificent Scotland end Twickenham hoodoo as Red Rose wilt

By Sports Desk February 06, 2021

Eddie Jones questioned whether Scotland could handle the "weight of expectation" and they provided the sweetest of answers by ending a 38-year wait for a win at Twickenham.

Time and again Scotland had failed to beat their fierce rivals in their own backyard, but that elusive victory finally came as they regained the Calcutta Cup on a wet Saturday evening in London.

Gregor Townsend's side dominated the Six Nations champions on the opening day of the tournament, winning 11-6 to leave England head coach Jones with a face like thunder.

Jones will be asking why his ill-disciplined side started the defence of their title with such a flat, insipid performance in a game that marked the 150th anniversary of rugby's oldest fixture

Scotland had produced a sensational fightback to draw 38-38 at the same venue two years ago, before being denied an astonishing victory late on.

They never looked like suffering more heartbreak on this occasion, Stuart Hogg leading by example as they won at the famous stadium for the first time since 1983 to leave England shellshocked.

Scotland certainly did not resemble a team who might be feeling the pressure as they bossed the game from start to finish.

The Red Rose, starting the tournament with a depleted pack, were guilty of indiscipline time and again, with referee Andrew Brace losing patience when he sent Billy Vunipola to the sin bin.

Finn Russell deservedly put Scotland in front with a penalty early on and almost set up a try for Duhan van der Merwe with a clever kick, but the leaping wing was unable to grab a high bouncing ball and touch down.

Van der Merwe was not to be denied soon after, fending off Mark Wilson's tackle to put Scotland 8-0 up on the half-hour mark, but Scotland suffered a blow when Russell was yellow-carded just before the break for tripping Ben Youngs.

The boot of Farrell reduced the deficit to two points at the interval, with Scotland surely heading to the dressing room thinking they should have been further ahead after being frustrated by resolute England defending.

Russell returned with Scotland still leading and they continued to boss possession, managing the game superbly, and the fly-half's second penalty put them 11-6 up before he missed another shot at goal.

A furious Jones marched from the stands to the touchline to try and turn the tide, replacing Jamie George and Youngs with Luke Cowan-Dickie and Dan Robson before the hour-mark.

The excellent Hogg kept them on the back foot with a sublime, mammoth kick into the corner - not for the first time - and England were warned over their penalty count again, but more desperate defence denied Scotland a second try as they continue to hammer at the door.

Lacklustre England's day was summed up when Jonny May knocked on under no pressure in the closing stages.

Hogg said Scotland felt ready to "create a little bit of history" and start a "new chapter" this weekend and, as they finally celebrated on the Twickenham turf, it was evident the Red Rose had failed to live up to expectations.

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    A look to the sky, a wide smile, and a kiss. I did it, Jana. We did it.

    Barbora Krejcikova is a grand slam singles champion, barely eight months after she first cracked the world's top 100, and the first instinct is to suggest this will be a one-off.

    Ladies and gentlemen, a pandemic champion, an asterisk champion.

    Jana Novotna, her former coach and mentor, who died in November 2017, won just one singles slam too, but she was a long-time force in the women's game. Indeed, Krejcikova left no doubt about her influence on Saturday's success.

    But for those doubting Krejcikova's credentials, a little pause for thought.

    Novotna won 14 of her 16 grand slam doubles titles before landing that elusive singles crown in 1998 at Wimbledon, and Krejcikova landed five doubles majors ahead of her own remarkable singles breakthrough.

    Martina Navratilova, who handed Krejcikova the trophy, also won doubles titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open before she ever landed a singles major.

    This is, to some extent, a well-worn path by Czech players. So there is more nuance here. And stuff first instincts. Perhaps, like Novotna and Navratilova before her, this Czech player might he here to stay at the highest level.

    The 25-year-old from Brno has joined the ranks of those few champions who have won grand slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, and she will be up to 15th in the WTA rankings on Monday.

    Krejcikova might be back at number one in the doubles rankings too, as she and partner Katerina Siniakova have a Roland Garros final on Sunday against Iga Swiatek – last year's singles champion – and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

    Win that, and Krejcikova will be on top of the world once more in the discipline where she has honed the tools that brought her glory at Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's expense in what proved a thoroughly absorbing singles final.

    The slices, the drop shots, the lobs and the net approaches, and the double-handed backhand that flits between being weapon and weakness: all those shots were honed in doubles, mostly alongside Siniakova.

    Krejcikova spoke at the trophy presentation of her giddy amazement that Justine Henin, the four-time French Open winner, knew who she was when they bumped into each other behind the scenes in Paris.

    Navratilova chipped in.

    "In 2014, when you found out Jana moved back to Brno, you had the courage to go knock on her door and ask her for help. What gave you that courage?" asked the player who won 59 majors, including 18 singles slams.

    Krejcikova's reply? "My mum."

    Bravo Mrs Krejcikova.

    Krejcikova has spoken often about Novotna but here she opened up to explain how she had spent so much time with the great champion before her death.

    Novotna had kept news of her cancer out of the public consciousness, but Krejcikova not only knew, she felt she owed her driving force to stay by her side throughout the illness.

    "I was going through a really hard time when Jana was passing away," Krejcikova told the crowd.

    "I was most of the time with her and I really wanted to experience this, because I thought this was going to make me really strong.

    "And pretty much her last words were just, 'Enjoy and just try to win a grand slam'.

    "I know that from somewhere she's looking after me and all of this, this two weeks, is pretty much because she's looking after me from up there.

    "I just want to thank her. It was amazing I had a chance to meet her and she was such an inspiration to me. I just really miss her. I hope she's happy right now. I'm extremely happy."

    Three mixed doubles titles – one with Nikola Mektic and two with Rajeev Ram – plus two women's doubles with Siniakova, and now a singles triumph.

    Except we know Krejcikova does not feel alone on the court. She senses Novotna's guiding hand. This is a doubles partnership dressed up as a singles player.

    Novotna, weeks after winning Wimbledon, her destiny ever since she wept on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent after losing to Steffi Graf in the 1993 final, shed some light on what it meant for her.

    "I felt enormous relief and I felt that now it seems like this would be a new beginning for me," Novotna said.

    This is a new beginning for Krejcikova too. Never a factor in singles previously, she has properly arrived now. Like you always had to with Novotna, watch out for her at Wimbledon.

  • Blues set up clash with Highlanders in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final Blues set up clash with Highlanders in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final

    Hoskins Sotutu powered the Blues through to the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final as they beat the Western Force 31-21 on Saturday, denying the Crusaders a shot at silverware.

    Two tries from Sotutu and one each for Dalton Papalii and Mark Telea helped the Blues carve out a 28-0 interval lead, with Telea denied another try in the second half after the TMO identified an infringement by team-mate Ray Niuia, who was yellow-carded.

    By that stage, a Western Force fightback was under way, tries from Feleti Kaitu'u and Tevita Kuridrani having narrowed the deficit, and Rob Kearney went over in the closing stages to cut the deficit to 10 points.

    However, the Blues, helped by 11 points from the boot of Otere Black, were not to be caught and they will face the Highlanders at Eden Park in the final next Saturday.

    Sotutu had darted in down the left for the opening try, and Telea struck just before the half-hour mark after the Blues withstood a period of Force pressure, with Papalii going over for the third.

    Sotutu barged through again just before the break, as the Blues piled on the points.

    Kaitu'u made the first dent in the Blues' big lead in the 49th minute, going over from close range, and Kuridrani brought the contest to life when he scythed in for a second Force try just seven minutes later. A penalty from Black eased the Blues' nerves, meaning Kearney's late effort was just a consolation.

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    Wing Sevu Reece pounced for a hat-trick in the eight-try Crusaders show, with Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Oliver Jager and Braydon Ennor also going over for the men from Christchurch, who finished third in the series.

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  • Copa America: Cavani and Suarez ready for one more act of defiance Copa America: Cavani and Suarez ready for one more act of defiance

    There are aspects to the Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez of 2021 that make them wonderfully reflective of the Uruguay national team.

    Impassioned? Yes. Belligerent? Certainly. A footballing pedigree to rival the best in the world? Absolutely.

    What about quality? After all those years, are they still match-winners, entertainers, undimmed by the passing of time? Of course they are. Just ask Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

    Last August, Suarez was informed by new Barca coach Ronald Koeman that he would not be in his plans at Camp Nou. Too old to be relied upon, too expensive to bench seemed to be the feeling. Regardless, the Catalans reportedly had a list of teams to whom they would not sell Suarez for fear of the deal coming back to haunt them, a list that, apparently, inexplicably, did not include Atletico Madrid. He duly went to the capital on a two-year deal.

    Likewise, Cavani seemed to be offloaded all too readily by PSG, who had just lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich and appeared eager to freshen things up without their record goalscorer. Manchester United were, eventually, the team to gamble on the striker, who joined on a one-year deal with an option for another in October, by which time the Red Devils had failed to sign top target Jadon Sancho and been linked with several other alternatives.

    Both players, then, had a point to prove. Boy, did they prove it.

     

    Suarez scored twice and set up another on his LaLiga debut for Atleti in a 6-1 win over Granada in September. He then scored three times for Uruguay in the October international break, and again in the 3-0 win at Colombia in November.

    From December 19 to February 8, Suarez scored 11 goals in nine league games, including three braces in a run of four matches. He would end the season with winners against Osasuna and Real Valladolid, his 21 goals overall securing 21 points for Atleti throughout the campaign, the most of any player in the competition. And, of course, he won the title, for the fifth time in seven seasons.

    Not that such a contribution should really have been in doubt. While he may no longer be quite the all-round dynamo of his Liverpool and early Barca days, his ruthlessness in the opposition box has scarcely diminished; since 2011-12, only Lionel Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top five leagues than Suarez (325).

     

    Unlike his international team-mate, Cavani ended the club season empty-handed, despite scoring United's goal in the Europa League final with Villarreal, which they lost on penalties. Still, few could argue Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's decision to sign him was a mistake.

    Cavani did not play a full league game until December 29, and he served a three-game domestic ban for a social media post deemed racist by the Football Association, a decision decried as culturally insensitive in Uruguay. He still ended 2020-21 with 17 goals and five assists at a rate of one goal every 128 minutes, the best return of any United player. He also became the third Red Devil to score 10 or more Premier League goals in a single season in which he was 33 or older at the start (also Teddy Sheringham in 2000-01 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016-17), and he equalled the record of five substitute goals over a whole campaign held by Javier Hernandez (2010-11) and Solskjaer (1998-99).

    In the Europa League last-four tie against Roma, Cavani became the first player to score at least twice in each leg of a major European semi-final since 1986, when Klaus Allofs did so for Cologne against KSV Waregem. He was also the oldest player to score twice and assist twice in a Champions League or Europa League match, at 34 years and 74 days old. No wonder Solskjaer was so desperate to see him accept the one-year extension to his contract, and was presumably so relieved when he did.

    Cavani and Suarez finished 2020-21 on 22 and 24 direct goal involvements, respectively. Among South America players, only Messi (50), Luis Muriel (36), Duvan Zapata  (31), Lautaro Martinez (26) and Neymar (25) had more.

     

    So they come, then, to the Copa America, as two of the remaining members of that squad that lifted the trophy in 2011. They have the form, and undoubtedly the pedigree; they are Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorers, Suarez on 63 and Cavani 51.

    And yet Uruguay are often consigned to the also-rans when it comes to tournament predictions. While they have waited a decade to lift the trophy, they are the most successful team in the competition's history, with the most appearances (45) and titles (15), yet few will look beyond emergency hosts Brazil and Argentina as favourites or Chile and Colombia as outside bets.

    Perhaps the problem lies in a perception of bluntness around Uruguay's play, far removed from the ideals of jogo bonito. Despite holding the most Copa America titles, Uruguay boast a worse goal-per-game average (2.02) at the tournament than Argentina or Brazil; somewhat fittingly, their last triumph a decade ago came in the worst finals for goalscoring (54 in 26, or 2.08 per match) since 1922 (22 in 11, or 2.00 per match). Oscar Tabarez's men have also gone three games without a goal since a 3-0 win over Colombia last November.

    If only they had a couple of star strikers who have spent the past year defying the doubters...

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