UK Championship Preview: Who Can Win? (2)

Tomorrow is Saturday 1st December. Tomorrow means two things, 1) people are allowed to get excited about Christmas and 2) the UK Championship starts in York. After a brief insight into the favourites to take home the title earlier in the week, I am now looking ahead to the best of the rest and giving you my tips for the prize this year.

Mark Selby start his UK Championship vs Michael White at 7pm on Saturday.

Mark Selby start his UK Championship vs Michael White at 7pm on Saturday.

The first player under the spotlight today is the “The Jester from Leicester” Mark Selby. For the majority of the 2012 season Selby has been world number one until he was recently budged off top spot by Judd Trump. However, Selby will be eager to regain his place on top of the perch and what a better way to do it than by winning his maiden UK Championship title.
Having previously posted a personal best of a semi final place back in 2007, Selby has yet to better this feat and he will be itching to set the record straight in a tournament where he has tended not to have a good show. Even though saying that, William Hill currently have Mark Selby at 11/1 to win the overall tournament which, especially in Leicester will see plenty of money being splashed around on their home town man.

Former World Champion and 2008 UK Championship winner Shaun Murphy will be hungry to add another title to his collection. The world number 4 is one of the most consistent players I have ever seen. Every major tournament that occurs Murphy is always there in the latter stages year in, year out. The 30 year old Murphy, is priced up at 14/1 which on the surface looks silly. Maybe bookies don’t fancy him because he hasn’t had the best of years. He has been consistent not only in the sense that he gets to at least the quarters but has been consistent this year that he hasn’t won a lot. Like Selby, Murphy finished the Premier League season slightly disappointed with his performance and will hope to rectify this with his natural snooker ability and desire to succeed.

Between the world number 5 Mark Williams and the world number 7 Stephen Maguire they boast a collection of 3 UK Championships (Williams in 99 and 02, Maguire in 04), and are two of the most experience players in the game today. Williams for instance is a two time world champion and holds 18 major ranking titles to his name. The Welsh Warrior has looked like a new player in the last 4 or 5 years, his renaissance has reminded us that every player needs confidence in order to play well. Snooker is a sport of solitude and isolation for the players and it tests even the toughest of characters. Williams himself, will be quick to tell you that he had to go back to the practice table and fall back in love with the game. I, like everybody else am thankful he has.
Maguire on the other hand, is only 31 and holds 4 major ranking titles to his name. Maguire is the Livewire, if he turns it on the he is a deadly opponent on the table and at 18/1 is not a bad shout for going home with some silverware.

Three players complete the preview and they are three players that snooker almost lost at three separate points in time. The Captain, Ali Carter publicly stated that he was on the verge of walking away from the sport but after giving himself time to breathe and think and reassess what he wanted, he returned and is going into the tournament at 25/1. Carter has yet to win the UK Championships and he is an outside bet at adding a third major ranking title to his name. Next is 35 year old Graeme Dott, a man who again publicly announced his plan to quit snooker. Dott has been faced with many a demon throughout his career but has come back again and again. Even though Dott sits at 50/1 and has a notorious history of getting knocked out of the UK Championship early, maybe, just maybe he will prove a lot of people wrong once again.
Lastly we have 26 year old Northern Irish player Mark Allen. Allen who hasn’t fallen out of love with snooker as much as snooker has fallen out of love with him. Allen oozes natural ability but also oozes controversy. After his outburst against the Chinese players he was given a suspension and fine as a means of the proverbial “cane across the knuckles.” But after coming out a matter of days ago comparing modern day dictatorship, he will certainly be under scrutiny on and off the table.

Overall, my two tips that I have bet on myself are Mark Selby and Ali Carter. As two players who I admire and have only mustered a semi final spot in the tournament they can easily go all the way, especially Selby, after he reached the heights of world number 1 and stayed there for most of 2012.
However, for me other than the two I have bet on I fancy John Higgins to win it. He is a traditional style snooker player who has the temperament to go all the way. Realistically whoever beats Judd Trump, Neil Robertson or John Higgins has a great chance of winning the tournament.

The UK Championship starts tomorrow and you can watch it live on BBC (TV/Online) from 11am


First Round Fixtures:

Saturday 1st December

John Higgins v Michael Holt
Barry Hawkins v Liang Wenbo

Ding Junhui v Ryan Day
Stephen Maguire v Fergal O’Brien

Graeme Dott v Martin Gould
Mark Selby v Michael White

Sunday 2nd December

Mark Davis v Cao Yupeng
Shaun Murphy v Robert Milkins

Ali Carter v Steve Davis
Judd Trump v Mark Joyce

Mark Allen v Marco Fu
Stuart Bingham v Jack Lisowski



UK Championship Preview: Who Can Win? (1)

The early qualification rounds for the UK Championship kicked off this weekend and though it pitted players – many of whom won’t be expecting anything special in the tournament – against each other to work their way through the four qualifying rounds to ensure their names were on the fixture list for Saturday’s opening first round matches. 

So with less than a week to go till the big boys open their cases and chalk their tips here is a look into just who has a realistic chance of winning and more importantly tips for the outright winner if you want to have a cheeky bet on the winner.

At this time it is important to say that all information is based on current world rankings and current odds with William Hill (other betting establishments are available). Naturally after the result of previous PTC, European and Premier League results the three favourites for the Championship are Neil Robertson, multiple time winner of this event John Higgins and defending UK Championship champion Judd Trump. Interestingly enough these three men are three out of four Premier League semi finalists from the weekend and with Trump at 7/2 and both Higgins and Robertson at 7/1 the bookies like the fans are stating that it is too close to call. 

John Higgins will be hoping to add a 4th UK Championship to his 25 Major Ranking Titles

Out of the three Neil Robertson is the only man who hasn’t even featured in a UK Championship final, despite his victorious climb up to World Number 1 and winning the World Championships, the UK title has always avoided him. But the Australian won’t be deterred and he will be hoping that he can beat his best finish to a UK Championship which was in last years event where he was a beaten Semi Finalist. Robertson was beaten in the final of this years inaugural International Championship in China by the man who everyone is out to beat, Judd Trump.

Trump first burst onto the scene in the 2005/06 Welsh Open where he was knocked out in the first round. But immediately his potential was recognised and since then he was astonished and astounded crowds all across the world on his way to being World Number 1. A feat he completed by making it to the previously mentioned International Championship. Trump has also won the China Open in 2010, the Championship League Snooker event in 2008/09 and perhaps more importantly for the outcome of this years tournament, last years UK Championships. Trump will be the man everyone will think will take home the title for a second year in a row, and with his record over the last 3 or 4 years adding to that fact he is only 23 it is hard to bet against him, which is something I have done but more on that later in the week.

John Higgins currently sits at World Number 3, now everyone will have an opinion on Higgins based mainly on his previous demons with the match fixing scandal and subsequent ban from snooker. But Higgins is still a class act, a wonderful player who when the pressure is really put on him fights back and produces consistent and wonderful snooker. Higgins who last won this event back in 2010 will be eager to hit the ground running and dazzle his way to another Ranking Title in what has been a great career. Higgins is a 4 time world number 1, the longest reign lasting for two months short of 4 years, and has a whopping 25 major ranking titles to his name. And on form alone the Wizard of Wishaw is rightly amongst the favourites and will be a formidable opponent in the latter stages of the tournament.

To end the first of three parts spread out across the week is the man who last night took home the Premier League Snooker title, Stuart Bingham. Despite winning only one major ranking event in 2011 (Australian Goldfields Open) Bingham this year has shown good form throughout the season and will have the wind in his sails following his victory over Trump last night. His record at the UK Championships has improved near enough year in year out. He reached the Quarter Final stages where he was beaten by Mark Allen in 2010. That tournament run was a special one thanks to the two major wins along the way, beating veteran Marco Fu and dumping out Ronnie O’Sullivan to set up the tie with Allen. And despite for me being a serious contender to the title, Bingham is at 22/1 to take home the title he will be hoping to continue his momentum and cause a stir by doubling his number of ranking titles starting with his first round tie against 21 year old Jack Lisowski on Sunday 2nd December. Lisowski himself will be hoping to keep his own momentum up after scoring his first professional 147 during his third qualifying round tie. 

Look out on Wednesday for part 2 of UK Championship Preview: Who Can Win? Where I discuss the best of the rest and rate their chances on whether they can stake a claim to take Judd Trump’s title.



Lions Watch

A lacklustre display from the northern hemisphere teams. But is it all doom as we approach a Lions tour?Image

First thing first. This autumn internationals have been frustratingly disappointing from a British Isles point of view. Wales and Scotland fail to win a single game. England fall short twice. And Ireland having an average autumn too. Does Warren Gatland really have dilemmas? Let’s have a look at some players who have shined from each team to possibly be stir a problem for the 2013 selectors.

Dan Cole

The England tight head prop has stood out for me. Not only has his scrummaging been solid and accurate against massive sides, not notably South Africa, known for their big hits up front. His rucking and defence has been quite remarkable. With many turnovers to his name and being at the right point at the right time, Dan Cole is slowly becoming the real deal in that number 3 shirt.

Donnacha Ryan

and Ryan increasingly looks the dominant figure in the Irish second row, with Paul O’Connell struggling with injury and Donncha O’Callaghan no longer a first-choice. His presence in both the line out and scrums has been superb, rarely losing the ball when being thrown up and providing cover for the strong Cian Healy.

Toby Faletau

The welsh back row is a presence that Wales use to their advantage, confident ball carrying, strong, hard fast running and uses that to his advantage with a big tackle up front. Toby has excelled under Warren Gatland particular due to his ruthless style of play and given the freedom to roam the park, Faletau will be a good shout for number 8 come down under.

Stuart Hogg

The obvious candidate for Scotland, Richie Gray, will be on that tour, in fact arguably the only world class player on Scotland’s roster of players.

However Stuart Hogg over the past year has become a regular 1st xv player for the scots. Not only will he run at defenders, his pace and quick feet disguise well and he can easily break the game line. Through the year at full back his tackling has improved, with the other candidates at full back that the selectors have, If Hogg can have a solid six nations early next year, I am extremely confident he can be the surprise selection.

Would you agree with our choices? Who has been your stand out player from each team?

The Curious Case of Ronnie O’Sullivan

This week ITV4 showed a brand new documentary as part of their Sports Life Stories series about Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan. Coincidently on the same day, O’Sullivan announced that he would be sitting out the rest of the 2012/13 Snooker Season due to personal issues that he needs to resolve.

At the time I didn’t really understand what he meant but having watched the documentary you not only got a look at O’Sullivan through the years but you got an insight into the man. The man who usually lets the snooker and trophies do the talking and tries to stay humble on the microphone. And it is quite clear when watching that Ronnie O’Sullivan is just a normal guy, he is a father, a son and one hell of a sporting talent Britain has to offer.
O’Sullivan is like all geniuses in the sense that he suffers for his art, maybe not physically but emotionally he suffers a lot. 

5 time World Number 1 Ronnie O’Sullivan has recently announced he will sit out the rest of the season

Ronnie broke onto the snooker seen and only a matter of weeks after he turned 14 he was making his Television debut and only three years later won his first major title, beating Stephen Hendry in the 1993 UK Championships. Two years after he won his first Masters title by beating John Higgins. A career which on the table has seen him pocket just over £6 million in prize money, a career which has seen him take home 24 major ranking titles as well as a career which has seen O’Sullivan hit the heights of World Number 1 on no more than 5 different occasions down the years. The 2011 World Champion played some of the best snooker he had for a while, taking home the Premier League Snooker title as well as the Worlds.

The snooker he played over the 2011/12 season saw O’Sullivan named as World Snooker Player of the Year and Snooker Writer’s Player of the Year, only increasing his reputation as one of the best British sportsmen over the last 25 years. However this season Ronnie didn’t have the best of times during the PTC Events and after the Shanghai Masters he dropped out of top 16 for the first time since the 1994/95 snooker season. Then after advice from his doctor he didn’t travel and subsequently pulled out of the International Championships last week in Chengdu. Since then the statement was released of Ronnie’s departure from the game for the rest of the season.

Away from the table Ronnie has been troubled by many a demon throughout his career, emotionally he has been taken apart, built back up but then taken apart once again. A man who was a big family man even when growing up lost his father to life in prison before Ronnie even had the chance to win his first major title. But Ronnie Sr was a big part of the Rocket’s life and was the one who introduced and pushed Ronnie Jr to be the best he can be in the world of snooker. However, this was only the start of trauma O’Sullivan was going to suffer throughout his career.

Ronnie is a self announced perfectionist, he is always overly critical of his own play. He has always played of the mentality of living up to the expectation everybody gives him. He knows he is great, and that is the most scariest thing of all. It’s one thing for a player to be amazing, to be the best in the world, but when he knows it his ability shines through even brighter. O’Sullivan has since suffered from clinical depression, however he has expressed that he has a snooker depression and this causes him to have a social phobia. To imagine the life of a snooker player and with the vision of Barry Hearn, snooker can potentially be a lonely career if it hits you as hard as it has hit some of the players. Many players like O’Sullivan and most notably Graeme Dott have questioned why they are playing the game and have had to combat depression in some form. So it is a hard sport to play and takes a lot out of each individual who picks up a cue.

Just a look ahead to the next couple of weeks, I shall be previewing the UK Championships due to start on 1st December and will be giving you my tips for the outright winner of the tournament.



Joe Launchbury has been called up to the England squad

England have sprung a surprise by promoting the uncapped Wasp back-row forward Joe Launchbury into their matchday squad for Saturday’s game against Fiji. The 21-year-old Launchbury, who did not feature in the original autumn selection, has been promoted ahead of the more experienced James Haskell, Phil Dowson and Ben Morgan who have all been released back to their clubs for the next round of Aviva premiership games.


The Exeter-born, was outstanding for Wasps this term and it has shown with a Wasps team already bagging 19 points from 8 games. Having also played in this year’s IRB Junior World Championship. He started every match and excelled throughout but in the summer of 2012, he was ruled out of England’s senior summer tour through a knee injury sustained during pre-tour training.

There is still the debate, whether Launchbury should be playing lock or back row still remains, however a mouth-watering partnership with Courtney Lawes in the second row will not only be ruthless, but will set a firm platform for the future.

Ever since making his debut for Wasps against Leicester Tigers he has been an asset for the Wycombe-based club.

Do you agree, should England call up Joe Launchbury or will he justify his position on the pitch?


Trump Hits Top Spot In Style

Over the weekend I watched a lot of football, like usual. But in amongst the football I kept an eager eye out as I had done in the latter stages of the week as to the goings on in the inaugural International Championships Snooker Event in Chengdu, China.

The tournament was not only a great way to introduce the snooker world to the up and coming Chinese and Asian players but for the Chinese public to get another chance to see their Western cuing heroes. And when the final pitted Judd Trump against Neil Robertson I couldn’t help but envy every single spectator in the arena.

Judd Trump wins again in China, in 2011 he won the China Open

My only essence of annoyance is that even though snooker’s popularity has increased on an even grander scale than those involved could have ever imagined the only coverage was on British Eurosport 2. Now I have no qualms with Eurosport, I myself have found myself watched the World Cup of Table Football on a few occasions in the last 12 months and considering they will always be in Sky Sports’ shadow as the major sporting broadcaster on satellite and digital television but how can snooker ever maintain an audience or even expand when ranking events like this aren’t shown or advertised on more popular channels and networks.

However, those who saw the tournament let alone the final would have seen a mixture of high scoring action from the best players in the world and tight cagey affairs between two of the worlds best. The final was the latter and it can be summed up with this one statistic, the first century break in the match came in frame 17 when Trump hit 119 to complete his overhaul from 8-6 down to go 9-8 in front leaving him one frame away from the £125k prize and being the first winner of the tournament.

In the process of winning the tournament Trump also overtook Mark Selby as world number 1, an accomplishment he gained by making it to the final. He did so by beating veteran Peter Ebdon 9-1 in the Semi Finals. Both players had similar paths to the final in the tournament. Both came across favourable draws, Trump facing world number 71 Indian player Aditya Mehta in the 2nd round. An opponent trump made light work of, running out as winner after a 6-0 demolition. He then beat Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen in the quarters 6-5 to set up his Semi with Ebdon. Robertson on the other hand brushed aside Welsh duo Ryan Day and Matt Stevens without barely breaking a sweat before meeting unranked shock of the tournament, 14 year old Lu Haotian of China in the quarters before a hard fought 9-5 win in the semis against the Magician Shaun Murphy.

The Australian Robertson is a former world number 1 in his own right and he will be in the pack chasing the newly crowned rankings leader Trump as they go into one of the biggest months worth of snooker in the calendar year. Following the players’ returns to the UK they will be polishing the cues ahead of the 4th PTC Event of the Year in Gloucester from 10th-14th before flying out again, this time to Sofia in Bulgaria for the next leg of the European Tour. A big couple of days stand out for the end of November as the Premier League Snooker finals take place over two days (24th-25th) in Grimsby, the winner will hope to take momentum through to the UK Championships in York which start on 1st December. I for one simply cannot wait as we get mid way through the 2012/13 Snooker season and am stoked to see the UK Championships on the BBC once again.



England in India: Summary so far

After draws against Mumbai A and India A respectively many believe there is more to come from the England squad if they’re going to compete with India’s first team on their home turf. The fact of the matter is, the players from England’s opposition so far have grown up playing on India’s slow and dusty wickets, so there are positives to take from these two warm up games. 

Nick Compton’s 64 not out has increased his chances of opening with Alistair Cook

England have shown resilience and professionalism with the bat and they have taken quick wickets and broke partnerships, despite a couple of niggly injuries the games, in my eyes, have been a good lesson and England have learned well. Nick Compton’s unbeaten 64 on Monday put him in the driving seat for the opening batsman slot vacated by the departure of former captain Andrew Strauss. If chosen he will be partnering Alistair Cook, the new captain, who has shown he is one of the best number two’s in test cricket the modern game has seen.

With Jonathan Trott at number three the Ashes holders already have an opening batting line up that will not give their wicket away whether it’ll be in desperation to keep a spot, or if the style comes natural to them. Below them has a middle order which can and will get runs in Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Samit Patel and Eoin Morgan if selected. The runs doesn’t stop there though, Matt Prior, regarded as one of the best with gloves and bat will keep his place. England will be hopeful of Stuart Broad shaking off his heel injury as soon as possible to maintain his place in the Test XI. Broad who would consider himself an all rounder will be followed by Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann

The bowlers in the potential starting XI are James Anderson, Monty Panesar, Stuart Meaker and Graham Onions. England have had a strong line up for years and if they can pull together as a team they can make this series very interesting, both the batters and bowlers (especially spinners) have chipped in with impressive performances so far and with one warm up game to go on Saturday before the 1st test next Thursday, many will believe that if the top order can score runs and the seamers can join the spinner(s) in the wicket-taking fun, England can get back to the top of the test rankings with a series win.



Are Wales world beaters?

Wales were disappointed to finish fourth in last year’s World Cup, but there will only be celebrations if they finish the year fourth in the world rankings as it will mean they will avoid the likes of New Zealand in their 2015 World Cup group.

Currently standing at sixth place in the world, the Welsh will face Argentina, Samoa, NImageew Zealand and Australia at the Millennium Stadium knowing that they have to win these games, and hoping that France and England lose more games than they win.

The Wales squad, at least those who do not play for clubs in France and England, spent last week training in Poland, as they did before the World Cup and the 2012 Six Nations, described as by Shaun Edwards ‘The perfect place to be’. The monumental facilities and un-welcoming weather will clash to provide a stern training camp, just as it has done the past 15 months.

Wales will be without two key members of their grand slam team, the prop Adam Jones and the flanker Dan Lydiate, who both have long-term injuries. Former captain Ryan Jones left Spala early because he needed treatment on a shoulder problem, and Wales may be forced to move their captain Sam Warburton to blind-side flanker against the Pumas, the warrior that Sam Warburton has become, he can be unplayable anywhere on that rugby field.

Personally, Wales and more importantly, Rob Howley, will have a lot to prove regardless of a successful 2012 so far. If they truly want to be likened to the world’s best test rugby nations, they will need this autumn to be 100% otherwise 2015 will be very much a difficult tournament.

Have they got enough? No, I do not see Wales breaking into the top 4 especially with the power of the French and the English showing signs of world beating form.

Do you agree? Are Wales genuinely the northern hemisphere? Or does it really matter due to the enormous skill of the southern hemisphere teams?

It Isn’t About the Money in Professional Sport

Forget the money, forget the lifestyle, forget the materialisation that being a modern day footballer has become. As even though top Premier League players earn copious amounts of money and can live in the high life people do not give footballers enough credit for just how much it takes to make it at the highest of levels.

Rafael has just completed 300 minutes of Football inside a week

This lunchtime saw Manchester United host Arsenal and a prime example of having to be in top physical shape is a young Brazilian called Rafael Da Silva. Now at the moment he isn’t the best of players in the world but he must be pretty good to play for Manchester United. On top of that he must be a finely tuned athletic machine to have played three full 90 minute matches and an extra half an hour on Wednesday all in a week. To be able to play 300 minutes of football is one thing, but to do it at the highest level in three massive games for one of the biggest football clubs in the world is ridiculous. 

He played 90 minutes on Sunday in a fiery encounter at Stamford Bridge under intense condition. Then to go and play 120 minutes in all at the same Stadium following what took place on Sunday was incredible; not to mention the fact that he was the most senior man in the defence that night at the tender age of just 22. And on top of training sessions in between he then plays in the Saturday lunchtime kick off against one of United’s oldest and most familiar foes in Arsenal.

Now I’m not saying footballers do more than other sportsman or anything along those lines. I just think that its pretty unfair how people claim that footballers don’t do an awful lot , the broken record needs to be changed and replaced. Rafael is an example and in every sport hard work has to be put in to make it at the highest level. Whether it is a Snooker or Darts player practising and learning their trade in pubs and pool halls all the way to football and rugby players who play in the park, in the playground or anywhere they can get space to move the ball around. To be at the top of your sport you have to be a super-human in terms of athleticism along with mental and physical ability.

Over the summer we saw the Olympics hit London and suddenly everybody hit out at footballers questioning their commitment and sportsmanship, quite understandably but my feelings on the matter cannot be any more passionate towards football. Football is almost a different entity due to how much it is highlighted in the media and how every little thing is scrutinized in such a high profile way. But what people don’t realise is just how hard making it at the highest level takes and I feel more consideration and appreciation just needs to be shown more often.



Can Graeme Smith lead Surrey’s charge back to the top of county cricket?

Just after the turn of the millennium Surrey were on top of county cricket. They dominated with talented players such as Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe, which was demonstrated by Surrey winning the first T20 competition in 2003. Apart from recent success in the CB40, triumph has been a real challenge for the London team. However, Surrey fans will have their tails up going into the new season next summer.

Graeme Smith will be hoping to bring further success to Surrey.

After announcing the signing of South African Captain Graeme Smith on a 3 year deal on Thursday the expectation and hope would have significantly rose. Kevin Pietersen joined the Brown Caps in 2011 and despite his absence due to playing for England the confidence and playing style improved throughout the season. This resulted in promotion from the County Championship division two later that season.

Smith became the youngest South African captain at the age of 22 years and 89 days and its a position he’s held onto tightly through to the record breaking 94th test as captain earlier this summer against England. The Protea has scored 8,314 runs in 102 tests with an average of narrowly under 50. The opening batsman is considered one of the best on the globe and with those statistics, there’s reason to understand why.

It is a bold move from Surrey however, as even with his South African commitments he has instantly been given captaincy following the exit of Rory Hamilton-Brown at the end of the season. Smith’s wrote himself into the record books with South Africa but another challenge in the 31 year old’s career is whether he can captain Surrey to success.

Do you think Graeme Smith will bring success to Surrey?