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Issue 484 | February 3 2017

The Party’s Over Jamie Vardy on Leicester’s determination to rebound


P R E PA R E D F O R A N Y T H I N G

FROM FRONT LINE...


“ T H E H O N E S T P L AY E R G E T S UP IN THE MORNING, LOOKS HIMSELF IN THE MIRROR A N D S E T S H I S S TA N D A R D. ” - JIM TELFER BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS FORWARDS COACH, 1997


T H E

“ F i N a N i yo u yo u

F i N a L

o N E ,

i S S u E

4 8 4 ,

F E B r u a r y

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2 0 1 7

i S H i N G i S N S T i N C T: H aV E i T o r D o N ’ T ”

Cover and this page: Tom Oldham

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Love and Hate Nasser Hussain plays it nice and cool now, Trigger

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Diary Titans of tennis and the future of European golf

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Flats on Friday David Flatman on how to greet the last final whistle

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f e at u r e s

f r o n t

Editor’s Letter Tony Hodson on the joys of sport, and also of Sport

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Frozen in Time Always our favourite regular feature: the one with the fewest words

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Jamie Vardy Leicester City striker on the ups and downs of a barely believable career

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Ben ainslie British sailing great on setting out to win the America’s Cup for Britain

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Dan Cole Rock of the England rugby team on feeling battered and why there’s no need to sulk

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Ben Gibson Middlesbrough’s local hero on his journey from mascot to the starting 11

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Six Nations Statistics, tactics and tips, as we break down each team’s chances

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Top 20 quarterbacks Ahead of Super Bowl LI this weekend, we throw on the greatest QBs the NFL has seen

Sport uncovered Rio Olympic medallist Sophie Hitchon on why big arms are overrated and timing is everything

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Sport uncovered Chris Mears, Olympic diving golden boy, reveals why scars are cool

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LOV E

A N D

H AT E

Nasser Hussain CHArDONNAy LOVEr, Only FOOls and HOrses fAN, gOLf CLub CHuCkEr

“Multistorey parks are My rooM 101 thing. Covering

“i haVe Mellowed as i’Ve got older. It was mainly cricket that I used to be emotional about, especially as a batsman, because it’s such a frustrating game. There is still the odd thing that gets me angry. I throw the odd golf club. It’s things that I can’t work out after trying my hardest. I’ll be on the driving range hitting them straight down the middle, and then duck-hook it left out of bounds on the first tee. The club tends to go further than the ball.”

games around the country, we drive around a bit, staying in hotels and whatever. I always park up and can’t get out. Then I do my tyre in going over a curb. I just have a nightmare.”

“i’M probably happiest at hoMe on a day off with an Only FOOls and HOrses dVd on and some cheese on toast

for lunch, not thinking about or having anything to do with the game of cricket.”

“now i haVe kids, a glass of wine is a guilt y pleasure. When we’ve had arguments about homework and

Xbox and the kids have had their bath, cleaned their teeth, done their reading and are tucked up in bed, I’ll pour myself a glass of chardonnay at around 8pm. I know it’s not good for you, but it just needs to happen.”

“not that i’Ve stopped playing and i see how Much cricke t Means to people, how much they spend on coming

and how excited my boys get about it. But I’d change the way teams drift through the over rate and wander off. It’s so easily done as a player, because you play so much. When you get asked if you want to go off, you say: ‘Yeah. We’ll have tea and a biscuit.’ You’re forgetting little Johnny has waited all week to watch you.”

“i do a bit of training. It’s odd – when you’re playing and

you’re stressed, you tend not to go to the gym. Now I’ve got time on my hands, I’ll try to get out of the hotel room and get on the bike or whatever. Working with Sky and having the abundance of wine, curries and beer, you would end up the size of a house if you didn’t at least try to look after yourself.”

Corey Brickley

“in opponents, i Most adMired willingness to win froM any situation. That was the greatest thing about Shane

Warne. Everyone talks about his talent, feistiness and ability. Really, Shane’s greatest asset was his combative nature. When England got 551 in Adelaide in 2006, Warne walked in the dressing room and said: ‘Come on boys, we can still win from here.’ There he was on the fifth day, bowling England out and taking Australia to victory.”

Nasser Hussain was speaking at Lord’s, The Home of Cricket. Regular tours are available of Lord’s, one of London’s most iconic sporting venues. Find out more at tours.lords.org

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d i a ry

Quote of the week

Legends of the week The greatest ever (no need for the ‘arguably’ now, right?) female and male tennisers wowed at the Australian Open. The 35-year-old Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, while the also 35 Roger Federer pulled off a five-set victory over old rival Rafa Nadal to take his total to 18. Fairytale stuff.

“I want to apologise to the travelling support. The best man won on the night, but I’m deeply sorry” As classy in his first defeat as he’s been in past wins, Carl Frampton really had nothing to apologise for after Leo Santa Cruz edged him out in another heated boxing bout to level their rivalry 1-1 in Las Vegas. A decider in Belfast, please gents.

number of the week

2 tweet of the week Sam Rider was one of many people who tweeted us after we announced that Sport was closing. Thanks to all of you for the kind and touching words.

The FA Cup fifth round will have two non-league sides in it for the first time ever. Lincoln bested Brighton and now play Burnley, while Sutton United beat Leeds and will face Arsenal. Good luck to the Imps and The U’s.

stroke of the week

apocalypse now

Photo of the week

Australia’s Big Bash tournament is inclusive enough to stage both men’s and women’s finals on the same day. This new addition, which sees fielding sides dodge napalm en route to the middle, is in its trial phase. Led by Alyssa Healy, Sydney Sixers emerged from the flames to take the title.

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All pictures Getty Images

The Farmers Insurance Open in California has a rich pedigree. Past winners include Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods (seven times, no less). This year, it was won by 22-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm with a 60-foot eagle putt on the final hole. A Ryder Cup star of the future, we’ll wager.


f l at s

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Goodbye seems to be the hardest word

Main illustration: David Lyttleton. Pen pic: Peter Strain

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here’s always next week, mate,” my favourite head coach would say to me after a less than pleasing performance. “You might not be playing after today,” he’d add, giggling all the while. “But there’s always next week.” The thing is, though, that in sport – just as, seemingly, in print media – there does indeed come a point at which next week ceases to arrive. As a young boy, I used to watch Bath playing on Rugby Special and imagine myself as a mighty prop forward, wearing those famous hoops, giving all I could in front of those rickety, perfect stands. I never went so far as to imagine the quilted jacket brigade cheering my name, but it’s fair to say I always played pretty well in my young head. To have managed to inhabit that number one jersey for a decent while never felt anything less than a privilege, but one day I woke up knowing that this very Saturday would be my last. Having existed as a self-imagined immortal for so long, I felt instantly devoid of soul. As if all the good

I knew of myself had just been disproved. I had no idea how I’d react when that whistle blew for the last time. The crowd didn’t know I’d never play for my beloved club again after that day. In truth, only I did. I knew my body was done with the game, but to them I would have looked just as lumbering but generally enthusiastic as ever. In fact, as my body had begun to disavow me of one or two necessary talents over the course of that season, a number of supporters had turned against me. I was the regular recipient of online abuse surrounding my form and technique, and I had quickly gone from being a player who played for his team’s loyal fans to one who, being frank, despised them en masse.

“The cessation felt sudden, unapologetic – a stark reminder of one’s inherent fragility” 08

I realise now that this was silly and reactive, and that only a tiny minority had become what we now call trolls. But back then, with perspective and balance giving way to testosterone and body slams, my departing thought as I left that field so special to me for so long, was: ‘F**k you.’ I was offered a farewell ceremony but couldn’t think of anything worse than waving at any man who’d harangued me so. So away I slipped. I now cherish entirely the memory of my sporting career, but this is not how I ever saw its cessation happening. It felt sudden and unapologetic. It was a stark reminder of one’s inherent fragility, but it also taught me that today, the good bits are certainly to be enjoyed. It is with similar suddenness that we say goodbye to Sport. I read it once by chance, loved it, and called to ask if I could contribute. They said yes (eventually), we had a great time, and now we are gone. It is with both gratitude and sporting hope that we greet this final whistle. @davidflatman


E d i to r ’ s

l E t t E r

Thank you and farewell!

Daniel Mitchell

M

y sporting weekend just gone, in three acts. Act I: I followed news, on my phone, of Liverpool’s latest disastrous home defeat – this time to Wolves in the FA Cup. Cue fury and dismay. Act II: I was at Cheltenham, my favourite sporting venue of all, to see the brilliant, brave Many Clouds defeat the previously unbeatable Thistlecrack in one of the most captivating horse races I have seen. He then collapsed and tragically died, the cheers of an adoring crowd turning into a deafening silence of despair. It was heartbreaking. Act III: Sunday morning, reclining in full hangover mode on my sofa, I watched two ageing warriors roll back the years in an Australian Open final we will remember for a long time. Neither Roger Federer nor Rafa Nadal possess quite the lustrous locks of old, nor indeed the brute physical force – but to see their rivalry, one of the greatest in modern sport, burn once more on the biggest stage was simply thrilling. Federer’s victory, coming the day after Serena Williams eclipsed Steffi Graf’s career total of Grand Slam singles titles, reinforces his status as the greatest of all. Three very different events, provoking a whole range of contrasting emotions covering

the whole spectrum from joy to anguish – but this is the power of sport, and my life wouldn’t feel anywhere near as fulfilled or enriched as it has been without it. And it’s not just me, either. I am positive I speak for the entire team on the magazine – all of whom you see above, both editorial and commercial – when I say that our passion for sport, from football to wrestling (seriously) via everything imaginable in between, is as

has been our pleasure and privilege to share this passion with you, our readers, over a stunningly dramatic, compelling and, for British sport, hugely successful decade. For us, however, the end is here. Issue 484 is our final edition. Personally, I would like to thank Simon Caney – my predecessor, and the boss, mentor and now great friend who gave me the most amazing opportunity to work on a magazine I have loved from first to last – and

“I speak for the entire team here when I say our passion for sport is as unequivocal and undimmed as it was when we launched in 2006” unequivocal and undimmed as it was when this magazine launched in September 2006. Some of us – production manager Tara Dixon, picture editor Julian Wait (who started here on the very same day), features editor Sarah Shephard and myself – have been here pretty much from the start. Others have come and gone, but one thing has remained absolutely consistent – we all love sport, and it

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every single member of the team here, whose depths of talent, dedication and humour have made my job as editor staggeringly easy. On behalf of the team, I have one simple thank you – to everyone who has been a part of the journey, including every single person who has ever picked us up and shared in our passion. It has been very special for us all. @tonyhodson1


f r oz e n

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Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Dog days are over We’ve learnt a lot about sport these past 10 years, and we reckon you need three things to succeed. All of them are on show in this shot from the International Dog Sled Races in Todtmoos, Germany. First, you need the drive and will to succeed. Witness the fella on the right: eyes on the prize. But you also need to stay calm, like the more measured pooch on the left. Finally, and perhaps most importantly – as displayed by the dog in the centre – you need to retain that sense of unbridled joy, with a measure of lunacy thrown in. We hope we’ve brought you a bit of the latter.


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The uSual SuSpecTS Quiet cornerstone We speak to Dan Cole, England’s rock at tighthead prop, about Leicester Tigers, longevity and where he might thrive in the NFL Saturday Rugby union Six Nations: England v France ITV 4.50pm

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How will England build a case for the defence? Are Ireland world-beaters? Can Wales thrive without Warren Gatland? Will the British and Irish Lions tour on the horizon distract players and coaches? Might Eddie Jones’ shiner clear up before the end of March? This season’s Six Nations

ilence and awe.” Dan Cole’s dry, self-deprecating sense of humour keeps you on your toes. Usually, the signpost for sarcasm is an impish grin that cuts through the deadpan demeanour with excellent comic timing. But here, recalling how he reacted to coming across Martin Johnson during his academy days at Leicester Tigers, Cole’s face remains straight. “We probably integrated with the first team at 19 or 20,” he continues. “I remember an early session under Pat Howard. It was a clear-out drill. “My job was to hold a tackle bag and be a body, basically – getting hit by the senior boys.” Immediately after Cole was snapped up from his junior club South Leicester, a mere two miles away from the Tigers training centre, a certain set of principles were impressed on him. Welford Road favourites Dusty Hare, Neil Back and Richard Cockerill oversaw Cole’s early development. When he rocketed to an England debut at 22, on the back of a storming season that began on loan at second-tier Nottingham, his coaches were Johnson, Graham Rowntree and John Wells. The Leicester way, which values grounded graft and abrasive forward play more than any other, provided a perfect nursery. “As a kid reaching the first team, we got to four or five Premiership finals on the bounce,” Cole says. “It isn’t a bad place to learn your trade. Tigers have been renowned for our packs, so if you love that

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side of the game, you’ll suit the club well. “Supporters appreciate front-rowers. Coaches want a dominant scrum. Props aren’t put on a pedestal, though They don’t tell us that all we have to do is push. We’re expected to do the rest of our work, and that’s fair enough.” This foundation, and his service since, means Cole is hurting at the moment. The hapless 43-0 thrashing against Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup two weeks ago encapsulated a trough in Leicester’s recent history that cost Cockerill his job as director of rugby. Cole would never volunteer as much, but he has become synonymous with Leicester over 171 appearances. The C in ABC Club might as well stand for the 29 year-old’s surname. So his measured view on an awkward period carries weight. have been successful is“Leicester a particularly intriguing forever,” he explains. “Last year and the one, even without taking two years previous to that, we reached pretty sure a Premiership semi-finals into account the– I’m concurrent lot of clubs would take that. women’s under-20 “For us, theand standard is reaching finals and winning them. We’ve had tournaments. disappointing years where we’ve lost in Premiership finals. The good thing for us thenottrainers–So andignore it’s obviously that good because we’re outside the top four and we’re out and-full-kit combos of Europe – is that we all understand this above – Guilhem Guirado isn’t the norm. “Other teams might accept being – channelling Run-D.M.C fifth or sixth; losing one big game, and drink in these tribal winning a big game, losing the next rivalries asAtyour to one. We don’t. Tigers,tonic you aspire to better than that. You want k to be a be dreary January. winning trophies rather than being

Illustration Harry Malt. Pictures: Getty Images Xxx xxxxx xxxxxx

Words Charlie Morgan


Quiet cornerstone Dan Cole, England’s rock at tighthead prop, on Leicester Tigers, longevity and where he might thrive in the NFL Saturday Rugby Union | Six Nations: England v France | ITV, 4.50pm Words Charlie Morgan

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This foundation, and his service since, means Cole is hurting. The 43-0 thrashing against Glasgow Warriors in the Champions Cup two weeks ago encapsulated a trough in Leicester’s recent history that cost Cockerill his job as director of rugby. Cole would never volunteer as much, but he has become synonymous with Leicester over 171 appearances. The 29-year-old’s measured view on an awkward period carries weight. “Leicester have been successful forever,” he explains. “Last year and the two years previous to that, we reached Premiership semi finals – I’m pretty sure a lot of clubs would take that. “For us, the standard is reaching finals and winning them. We’ve had disappointing years where we’ve lost in Premiership finals. The good thing for us – and it’s obviously not that good because we’re outside the top four and we’re out of Europe – is that we all understand this isn’t the norm. “Other teams might accept being fifth or sixth – losing one big game, winning a big game, losing the next one. We don’t. At Tigers, you aspire to be better than that. You want to be winning trophies rather than being mediocre.”

ProPPing Prodigy

After Cole’s first Six Nations in 2010, Martin Corry had already recognised his former colleague would go way beyond mediocrity. Corry previewed England’s tour of Australia that summer with the suggestion that Cole “could potentially be the cornerstone of the England pack for up to 10 years”. k

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

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ilence and awe.” Dan Cole’s dry, self-deprecating sense of humour keeps you on your toes. Usually, his signpost for sarcasm is an impish grin that cuts through his deadpan demeanour. But here, recalling how he reacted to coming across Martin Johnson during his academy days at Leicester Tigers, Cole’s face remains straight. “We probably integrated with the first team at 19 or 20,” he continues. “I remember an early session under Pat Howard. It was a clear-out drill. My job was to hold a tackle bag and be a body, basically – getting hit by the senior boys.” Immediately after Cole was snapped up from junior club South Leicester, just two miles away from the Tigers’ training centre, a certain set of principles were impressed on him. Welford Road favourites Dusty Hare, Neil Back and Richard Cockerill oversaw Cole’s early development. When he rocketed to an England debut at 22, on the back of a storming season that began on loan at second-tier Nottingham, his coaches were Johnson, Graham Rowntree and John Wells. The Leicester way, which values grounded graft and abrasive forward play more than any other, provided a perfect nursery. “As a kid reaching the first team, we got to four or five Premiership finals on the bounce,” Cole says. “It isn’t a bad place to learn your trade. Tigers have been renowned for our packs, so if you love that side of the game, you’ll suit the club well. “Supporters appreciate front-rowers. Coaches want a dominant scrum. Props are not put on a pedestal, though. They don’t tell us that all we have to do is push. We’re expected to do the rest of our work.”


Visionhaus/Corbis via Getty Images

Cole promptly dismantled the Wallabies’ scrum that June, and is more than halfway to vindicating Corry’s prediction. Despite serious neck surgery in 2014, he has amassed 72 Test caps – including three for the British and Irish Lions. Eddie Jones has started him in each of his 13 internationals to date. Saturday evening’s renewal of Le Crunch will be the 20th consecutive England match in which Cole has worn number three. Famously sparing with the label of ‘world-class’, Jones believes Cole has reached the cusp of that coveted bracket by maturing at set-piece and “scrummaging a lot straighter”. Another of Jones’ observations is that quiet diligence is key to leadership. Pondering his own durability in such an abrasive position, Cole agrees. “It’s a learning process,” he adds. “And I’ve probably learned as much in the past year from Eddie Jones than I ever have previously. You need to take an interest in your body, because your body is all you have in rugby. It’s… not a weapon, but it’s all you have. If you lose it, you can’t play. “As a front-rower, you’re going to be tired. You’re going to feel battered. If you learn to care about that, you’ll work on your flexibility and mobility, rest, do your stretches and figure out what works for you. “I’d like to think that I’m a better player now – it might not be the case – than I was

last year because of the knowledge I’ve picked up.” Boiled down crudely, scrummaging at tighthead amounts to wrestling against two 115kg humans simultaneously – spearheading the shove of seven other forwards as the opposition loosehead tries to burrow underneath you. All the while, a referee and a pair of touch judges scrutinise the intricacies of your bind and body position as you attempt to hold firm. The temptation is for onlookers to judge the contest in black and white terms, to herald a definitive winner and loser – or a cheat and a victim. The truth is, with so many moving parts, the scrum battle usually undulates across 80 minutes. Look at England’s 27-14 win over Argentina in November. Cole received a yellow card for repeated infringements on the stroke of half-time before returning to tame the Pumas in the second period. “You’ve got to be mentally resilient, to back yourself,” Cole says. “With England, you’ve got the opportunity because the coaches have picked you. You trust in them. As long as your teammates respect you and it’s a two-way thing, as long as you’re doing what the coaches are asking of you, that’s all that really matters. “You can come under fire for this, this and this, but you have to look at what you can do better and start with yourself. Often you’ll watch a video back and there will

be three possible interpretations of what’s going on. If you’re on the wrong end of one of those, you take it on the chin. “Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but you just have to block it out. You should trust the opinion of Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick over, with due respect, a person writing an article. No offence.” Lifting his palm, Cole laughs at the double apology, reinforcing his phlegmatic nature. Since the birth of twin sons Henry and Ralph six months ago, the mantra ‘only bad moments, never bad days’ resonates with him. Sulking after a hard day does not feel appropriate with two baby boys to care for, not that perspective is ever a problem at Leicester.

Life Lessons from Leicester

Tom Collett’s name might be unfamiliar even to ardent fans. The mobile, skilful hooker starred for Tigers Academy teams and England age-groups alongside Courtney Lawes and Joe Marler. In 2007 he helped overturn an Ireland Schools side captained by Peter O’Mahony. A couple of years later, Collett was forced to retire because of nerve damage caused by a dislocated shoulder. But, under Tigers’ guidance, he stayed in rugby and is now their strength and conditioning coach. Collett was best man at Cole’s wedding to wife Isobel in August 2015. According to k

“i’m not the fLashiest carrier or passer, but there is stuff i do weLL that i pride myseLf on, whether that’s pushing in the scrum, Lineout Lifting, mauLing or cLear-outs”

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the groom, he both “knows his stuff” and embodies a rare loyalty. “The club rallied and looked after Tom, but he’s worked hard,” Cole says. “I think that’s the thing with Leicester. The club looks after you, provided that you put in as well. If you’re looking for a free ride at Leicester, it’s just not going to happen. “On the other side of things, they will not let you down if you show the qualities that the club is supposed to have. You could be a local and love the club, having watched them as a kid. You could come from the outside and love the environment because your upbringing aligns with Leicester’s ethos. And that’s the way it works.”

view of his influence. Besides tallying 31 tackles and steering the scrum, Cole was extremely active. From launching lifters in the lineout to ramming breakdowns, he revels in busy anonymity. “I’m not the flashiest carrier,” he says. “I’m not the flashiest passer of the ball. But there is some stuff that I do well that I pride myself on, whether that is pushing in the scrum, lineout lifting, mauling, whether it’s clear-outs. “If I’m stood next to Billy Vunipola in the backline, I’m happy for Billy V to get the ball. I’ll clear out, because that’s a better result for the team than me carrying and getting knocked on my arse and then us losing the breakdown. If there are opportunities to carry, I’ll take them, yes.

“Other teamS might aCCept being FiFth Or Sixth – lOSing One big game, winning the next One. we dOn’t. at tigerS, yOu aSpire tO be better than that”

Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

StatiStiCS and unSeen ClaSS

When he is not changing nappies, Cole is a big NFL aficionado. Tampa Bay Buccaneers are his team, with explosive Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack his favourite player. Might he associate more closely with offensive linemen, though – the unheralded units who protect the quarterbacks from pass-rushers? Over the course of four matches and 257 minutes for England last autumn, Cole made just one carry and two passes. “I-thank-you,” he jokes, with a point of acknowledgment. “And those passes slipped out of my hands.” But don’t let those meagre numbers colour your

“But just carrying to be seen by people to go: ‘Ooh, he’s doing this’? I might be on the floor for as long as it’d take to make three clear-outs, or whatever. It’s that attitude. “I guess offensive linemen are only seen when they mess up; they get picked on when they give up a sack. Nobody sees them block, block, block. When people look in detail, they see what you do. But in some regards, [props] are often having a good game if they aren’t noticed as well.” Cole’s quiet contributions will be important over the next two months. Holders rather than hunters, England face a difficult Six Nations challenge. “Last year, with the new coaching staff, there was a

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feeling that we started from scratch,” he says. “We are Grand Slam champions now, so we will be targeted. You don’t fly under the radar anyway, as England... “If you look at World Cup cycles, you have to get used to going into games as favourites and winning as favourites. The autumn was probably the first time in a while that the message was: ‘England should win all four games.’ If we didn’t win all four games, by this amount of points, we were terrible. “Those internal and external pressures shift. Expectations move from being happy at winning games, beating South Africa and beating Australia, to actually believing we should beat everyone. Ireland are as good as anyone, Scotland had a strong autumn. Even Italy beat South Africa. This year will be a harder competition because everyone knows what everyone else is about. Everyone is a stage further on.” Though Mako Vunipola is a significant absentee, England’s front-row stable looks healthy. Jamie George is more than an able stand-in for Dylan Hartley at hooker. Loosehead Joe Marler has Matt Mullan, Ellis Genge and Nathan Catt under him. Kyle Sinckler is impressing with Harlequins – and has done the same whenever he has replaced Cole from the bench. The blend of characters is varied, too. Cole does not mind revealing that live scrummaging gets heated – you can imagine spiky tyro Genge enjoying that – but insists the intensity is beneficial. “It’s co-operative competition,” he says, amused at what sounds like marketing jargon. “That’s the best way of looking at it. In any group, you need contrasting personalities. If there were six people like me, it would be very boring. Coaches do a good job of meshing those traits. And the underlying theme is always getting better.” Sinckler, who has admitted to growing up in the belief that he was a dinosaur (seriously – look it up), might seem to be a completely different fish to Cole, an understated social media abstainer. Cole reckons Sinckler is “more dynamic than I ever was” and that his muscular, 30-metre bursts ensure he is pushing for a starting spot. Perhaps the Tiger is too modest to recall his own past of barrelling runs. In any case, France – buoyed by their performances in narrow November losses to Australia and New Zealand – are a dangerous foe to face first up. “The French have fantastically skilful players in the backline who can offload and offload,” finishes Cole. “Three years ago in France, they went 80 metres to score in the last minute of the game to win. “But you know they’re going to try to beat you up in some regard as well, whether that’s at the scrum or maul. They take pride in that, especially against England.” Les Bleus will bring blunt force as well as traditional enterprise to Twickenham. The hosts are fortunate they have such a solid figure on their front line.

@CharlieFelix


STaTE of EaCH n

England

last year: Grand Slam champions Captain: Dylan Hartley. Brought a streetwise edge to the side last year and started all 13 wins at hooker. Head coach: Eddie Jones. Sets the media agenda with witty press conference wisecracks, but is exacting and uncompromising behind the scenes. Unsung star: Jonathan Joseph (above). Easy to notice his dancing feet and outside break, but his defensive organisation and anticipation are exceptional. Killer stat: Of their 46 tries in 2016, 17 came from a lineout and 15 came from turnovers.

IrEland

Tactics: Achieve set-piece ascendancy, dominate the gainline, smash rucks for quick ball, spy space out wide. In defence, swarm and smash.

last year: 3rd Captain: Rory Best (pictured, top). Calm communicator and combative player who embodies Ireland’s breakdown nous.

Best-case scenario: Carriers step up in the absence of both Mako and Billy Vunipola, ploughing England to another clean sweep.

Head coach: Joe Schmidt. Deals in microscopic details; devises surgical gameplans that seek out opposition weaknesses.

Worst-case scenario: France poop the party at Twickenham before a resurgent Wales prevail in Cardiff. Home victories over Scotland and Italy paper the cracks before Ireland run riot at the Aviva Stadium.

Unsung star: Devin Toner (above). A towering expert in the all-important art of maul defence and thoroughly awkward to play against. Killer stat: CJ Stander, in phenomenal form for Munster, has made 100 carries in six Champions Cup pool matches for his province.

Prediction: 1st. Potential for back-to-back titles, their first since 2001, despite injuries and the Dublin trip.

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Tactics: With Johnny Sexton out of Ireland’s opener, the kicking of Conor Murray is crucial, but Ireland also trust their handling and spread the ball accurately. They are the tournament’s most disruptive team at the breakdown, too. Best-case scenario: Sexton gets healthy and the explosive Sean O’Brien stays fit as Scotland and Italy wins provide Slam-sealing momentum. Worst-case scenario: Vern Cotter’s cohort click in the Edinburgh opener, making away games in Italy and Wales look far tougher. Prediction: 2nd. They could well beat England, but their difficult schedule might provide a slip-up before that.


Wales

last year: 2nd Captain: Alun Wyn Jones. Taking over from Sam Warburton, Jones is a totem of consistency for this uncertain Wales set-up. Has also said: “Followers are for Twitter. I want leaders.” acting head coach: Rob Howley. As caretaker, Howley will feel the heat of Warren Gatland’s gaze as much as any Lions hopeful.  Unsung star: Taulupe Faletau (above). His awesome talents are not heralded enough. Killer stat: The last time Ireland visited Wales in 2015, the hosts set a record for the most tackles in a Six Nations match (250). Luke Charteris

Words Charlie Morgan

ITaly

(31) also set a new mark for the most tackles by an individual.

last year: 6th Captain: Sergio Parisse (top). Turns 34 in September and has flirted with international retirement. Remains a Rolls Royce of a number eight whose class endures.

Tactics: Even in victory against South Africa, Wales endured a muddled autumn. If route one is going to be traded for something cute and cohesive, backs coach Alex King must earn his corn.

Head coach: Conor O’Shea. Enthusiastic, innovative O’Shea has immersed himself and gathered a good backroom team including Mike Catt and Brendan Venter. He is targeting the Wales game fiercely.

Best-case scenario: The introduction of Thomas Young allows an expansive style to work straight away. Wales snatch an unlikely Championship.

Unsung star: Francesco Minto (above). The Treviso man made 16 tackles against South Africa. An industrious back-row foil.

Worst-case scenario: Italy in Rome is a beastly start. Lose that and four more losses could easily follow.

Killer stat: Parisse’s winning ratio from 55 Six Nations matches is 17 per cent.

Prediction: 5th. Other teams simply look more settled.

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Tactics: A robust driving lineout maul was instrumental in seeing off the Springboks. In phase play, plenty revolves around fly-half Carlo Canna, who poses a sparky running threat. Best-case scenario: Taking two of three home fixtures – Italy host Wales, France and Scotland – constitutes success. Add one losing bonus point on the road for a dream return. Worst-case scenario: Parisse falls victim to frustration and is suspended. The Azzurri ship more than four tries in each tie after that. Prediction: 6th. Expect prickly resistance for at least an hour in most games; maybe one win. Don’t count on much more. k

All pictures Getty Images

aTIon

Statistics, tactics, personnel and predictions – dive into our thorough, team-by-team Six Nations guide


Last year: 5th captain: Guilhem Guirado (above). Probably tied with Argentine Agustin Creevy as the second-best hooker in the world behind Kiwi Dane Coles. Head coach: Guy Noves. The Toulouse legend was always likely to bring France back to their roots. Unsung star: Kevin Gourdon (top). Yet to make a Six Nations appearance, but is a mightily resourceful, muscular backrower and should feature for France from the off. Killer stat: Monster wing Virimi Vakatawa made 12 offloads during last season’s tournament – four more than Billy Vunipola in second place.

ScoTLand Tactics: While the world was deriding them for failing to look after possession in 2016, France honed free-flowing interplay that worried New Zealand in November. Maxime Machenaud and wonderkid Baptiste Serin will direct a bruising pack.

Last year: 4th captain: Greig Laidlaw (above). Thrives off the responsibility of kicking for goal. Knows it is time for Scotland to trade potential for statement results. Head coach: Vern Cotter. Old ‘Ice Eyes’ is heading off for a mega-money post at Montpellier in June, reportedly worth €1m per year. He is proud enough to want a strong finish before Gregor Townsend takes over.

Best-case scenario: Ransacking Twickenham would strike fear into the heart of the already-wary competition. Worst-case scenario: England gorge on spilled passes to register a bonus-point win. The French press attack Noves’ approach thereafter.

Unsung star: Ross Ford. Fraser Brown will be breathing down Ford’s neck, but the Edinburgh hooker commands a place in the 23 at least. Now boasts 103 Test caps, including one for the Lions and 50 in the Six Nations without a try.

Prediction: 3rd. Wesley Fofana’s ruptured achilles deprives them of an electric gamebreaker.

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Killer stat: Scotland’s 11 tries in 2016 is the most they have managed in the Six Nations. Tactics: Cotter would be crazy not to adopt the approach serving Glasgow Warriors so well. Expect precise patterns directed from scrum-half before Finn Russell is released to ignite his backline. Best-case scenario: Ireland are vanquished at Murrayfield in round one and Jonny Gray cements his place as a Lions Test lock by inspiring one away victory over France or England. Worst-case scenario: Failure to beat Wales: hugely irritating. Prediction: 4th. But could also sneak into the top three.

@charlieFelix

All pictures Getty Images

France


“I still pinch myself” Jamie Vardy on the ups and downs of his rollercoaster rise Words Alex Reid Photography Tom Oldham

T

rue to form, Jamie Vardy picks up a can of Coke and cracks it open as his interview with Sport begins.

He’s just finished a hard morning’s work at Leicester City’s training ground, and we’re not sure that every nutritionist would recommend this as immediate post-session recovery. But then, Vardy is a footballer who – when playing for Fleetwood Town in the Conference back in 2011/12 – developed a routine of having three cans of Monster energy drink every day ahead of training. One first thing in the morning, another two just before a session. When the club doctor expressed alarm at his caffeine intake, Vardy duly scaled back. He swapped the Monster for cans of Red Bull. Late last year, he said that his routine during the 2015/16 season, when Leicester became the least likely league champions ever and Vardy went on that 11-game

scoring streak (breaking a Premier League record in the process), was to have a glass of port the night before a game. It seems to have had little negative impact on his form. Yet given all of the above, there must have been people on Vardy’s improbable rise, from non-league striker to England international, who tried to change his ways. “Not really – I think everyone is different,” he says cheerily. “What works for me might not work for someone else. But what works for them won’t work for me. That’s just how it is. “With the port, I just had it one night – a little glass to help me to sleep. I had a great game the next day, so it kinda stuck.”

Speed demon

The mind boggles at what Arsene Wenger, who tried to sign Vardy for Arsenal over the summer, might have made of such routines. The truth is actually that while

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Vardy has adapted his lifestyle and calmed down in recent years – something that he credits to the influence of his wife Rebekah – his stamina has never been a problem through his career. Vardy trains hard and plays with devilish commitment, making up for his slight, wiry stature by harrying defenders. The obvious question is whether those years playing at Stocksbridge Park Steels for £30 a week, while working full-time in a factory or getting up at 5am as a joiner, has given him a hunger that not every academy product player can match. “It’s hard to say,” says Vardy. “But with me coming from non-league, it makes me realise what an incredible opportunity I’ve been given. You never want it to end. You want to keep trying to get better and better. “You do see youngsters getting too much too soon, then eventually they don’t make it. For me, not having that and having to work so hard to get to where I am… Maybe that does make me k


“When it comes to actual finishing, I think it’s an instinct. You get a splitsecond to decide what to do” appreciate it a bit more. But everyone has a different path into the game.” One thing Vardy is adamant about is that he isn’t alone in having almost fallen through the cracks. “I think there’s loads,” he says firmly on whether he saw other non-league players who could also have made it. “There’s many players I saw who have the ability to play in the professional game. “Personally, I think it’s a bit of a snobbery kind of thing. Would a club want to risk taking someone from non-league or would they want to go and pay a bit more for someone who’s been there and done it? Thing is, that player might not give you what you need anyway. “It’s just about being willing to take a risk, which I don’t think a lot of clubs

have been willing to do. But to be fair, at the minute, it’s starting to happen a bit more regularly. And that’s only good for the game. If someone comes from nonleague, it gives those clubs money, keeps them afloat – because finances aren’t that great in non-league football. It’s tough for clubs to even survive, so that money is important for the grassroots of the game.”

Ups and downs

Vardy knows about that first-hand. The £15,000 fee Stocksbridge received for him from Halifax in 2010 helped them do important work on their ground (which now has a stand named after Vardy himself ). Yet going from being completely unknown in his early and mid-20s to being

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one of the most recognisable footballers in the country now must be a strange thing to adapt to. “It’s always going to have its ups and downs,” he says evenly. “It’s great being noticed and to get the recognition I have – but it’s not so great when you want to take the family out, you’re with the kids and you’re getting harassed for a picture. I mean, the kids are only young, so they don’t really know what’s going on and it’s not really ideal for them. But it’s just one of those things that comes with the job.” Off the pitch, similar to his attitude on it, Vardy admits to being a pest. A jack the lad, in his words. His manager, Claudio Ranieri, affectionately calls him “Radio Wanker” because Vardy never shuts up in the dressing room. The former captain of Fleetwood Town, Steve McNulty, referred to him as “a lairy little bastard”. Vardy is bullish about most things thrown at him. That includes questions he began to face when his profile shot up about an assault conviction that left him wearing an electronic tag for six months a decade ago, when he was 20 years old (Vardy insists he was just defending a friend in a fight). Yet in his autobiography, From Nowhere, Vardy directly addresses an incident in the summer of 2015, in which he was filmed calling an east Asian man a “Jap”. He says he didn’t realise just how offensive the term was and explains that, as well as releasing an apology statement, he made an effort to meet the person involved so he could privately apologise face to face, away from the media. Not trying to play down the incident, he writes: “I do care about what happened” and “the footage gets worse every time I look at it”. Whatever your thoughts on Vardy (and he realises that some people will never forgive him for it), he hasn’t tried to belittle the seriousness of what occurred.

Target practice

Back on the training pitch, and Vardy is pinging shots at goal as he showcases Nike’s new Hypervenom boots for Sport’s photoshoot. The first one smashes off the bar from outside the box with a power that makes our photographer whistle. One of his early nicknames was ‘The Cannon’ – as in ‘loose’, but it could easily apply to the finishing prowess coiled within his right boot. “I’ve always been a striker,” says Vardy. “I’ve never changed positions, so I think that helps. But when it comes to actual finishing, I think it’s more of an instinct: you have it or you don’t. “Basically, you get a split-second to decide what to do. If the keeper comes sprinting out at full pace, it’s easier to go around him, whereas if he’s stopped to position himself, then you need to find the right angle to put the ball past him.”


Not that Vardy has always had a chance to show his predatory instincts this season. Aside from a spectacular 4-2 win over Manchester City in December, in which Vardy scored his first Premier League hat-trick (pictured below) and the team seemed to have turned the clock back a year, Leicester have struggled domestically. “I couldn’t tell you,” he says of the reasons behind that. “I’m not dodging [the question] – I really couldn’t. We just know

the pitch, having not even played league football by the time of his 25th birthday. “It was a really proud moment. Leicester’s first time as well, being there – and we did amazingly well to qualify from the group. Now it’s the next stage, it’s a two-leg shootout and anything can happen.” “I know Sevilla are up there in La Liga, alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid,” says Vardy of Leicester’s next opponents, who currently sit in third spot, on the same points as second-place Barcelona,

S ta r t e d at the bottom Strikers who went from non-league to top-flight Ian Wright

“We just went back to basics against City. We went back to exactly what we know – and that’s what we need to do”

Spotted by a scout playing for Dulwich Hamlet, he signed for Crystal Palace a few months before his 22nd birthday. Went on to play for Arsenal, breaking Cliff Bastin’s record to become the club’s all-time highest goalscorer.

Charlie austin Called up to the same England squad as Vardy in 2015, the now Southampton striker was working as a bricklayer when he scored 46 goals in 46 games for Wessex League Premier Division side Poole Town in the 2008/09 season.

Les Ferdinand Leaping ‘Sir Les’ was playing for Hayes and working as a painter and decorator, when he was spotted by QPR at age 20. Within six years, he was playing for England and scoring 20 Premier League goals in a season.

Kevin Phillips

and having won a game more. “So it’ll be a great experience, and we’ll make sure we give it a go.” Giving it a go is Vardy’s speciality. His well-charted career path has been so eventful that if the long-talked-about feature film does go ahead, you wonder exactly how they’d cram everything in. The tabloid stories about his family, the Vardy party, the fact that he had a lookalike seemingly showing up everywhere dressed entirely in Vardy get-up from kit to wrist cast (a sort of ultimate ‘full-kit stalker’). Yet none of it has dampened his passion for football. “I still pinch myself, all the time,” he says when asked if it has all sunk in yet. “Just because I know where I’ve come from, what I’ve achieved and what I’ve had to go through to get here. “I’ll always be pinching myself until the end of my career.” @otheralexreid Designed for finishers, the Nike Hypervenom 3 is built for goalscoring. Available now at nike.com

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Jamie Vardy A Conference player at 25 when he moved to Leicester for a nonleague record £1m fee. Vardy helped the Foxes gain promotion and win the Premier League. He also has five goals for England.

All pictures Getty Images

that we need to get our Champions League form to be replicated in the league. That’ll drag us up the table. I think we just went back to basics against City. We went back to exactly what we know – and that’s what we need to do. “It’s definitely been frustrating. But we all know what situation we’re in and we’ll give 110 per cent to make sure that we’re not down there at the end of the season.” “The club is moving forward,” he insists. “Fair enough, we’re in a blip at the minute, but off the pitch and on the pitch, we know where the club want to be – and I want to be a part of that.” One competition that’s proved the exception for Leicester this season is the Champions League, which cranks into action again in mid-February for the knockout stage. Leicester lost their final group match to Porto, but they’d already qualified by that stage and topped the Group G standings. “It makes a change from watching it!” says Vardy on how he felt hearing the Champions League anthem as he stood on

A defender for Baldock Town in the early 1990s until an injury crisis saw him moved up front. At 21, Watford signed him. He became Premier League top-scorer for Sunderland in 1999/2000.


l i v i n g t h e d r e A m Middlesbrough’s promising centre-back Ben Gibson on bringing the good times back to the Riverside Words Amit Katwala

B

en Gibson leads Sport down a narrow corridor at Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Park training ground,

pointing out those who have gone before him in squad photos that line the walls. There’s Jonathan Woodgate, who came through Boro’s academy and had spells with Leeds, Real Madrid and Tottenham. There’s Stewart Downing – back at the club after making his mark at Aston Villa, Liverpool and West Ham. And now there’s Gibson, an imposing centre-back who has already been marked out as a future England centre-back.

The nephew of Middlesbrough’s multimillionaire owner Steve Gibson, the 24-year-old has been a solid performer for his hometown club, who are enjoying their first season back in the Premier League after seven years away. Those within the club can’t speak highly enough of his application and ability. But it hasn’t always been easy, as Gibson tells us.

Dave Parnaby, Middlesbrough’s academy director, says you have made your own pathway to the first team. In short, you have forced your way in. Do you agree?

“Yeah, I think so. My path wasn’t easy, really. Because the chairman is my uncle, who owns the football club, everyone automatically assumed that I was there for only one reason. So for me, every session,

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every game, I had to prove myself more than the other players had to because I had critics from a young age. For me it was a massive thing, and I knew what I wanted to do – I know the best way for me to go about it, and how to get the best out of myself. “I remember knocking on Dave’s door, and knocking on managers’ doors when I was 15 trying to get in the under-16 team. I just wanted to get as high as I could as quickly as I could, so that’s probably what Dave’s referring to. There’s not many lads at that age who would be upset about being left out of a team that’s a year above them. I obviously came through the academy and then went on loan [at Plymouth, York and Tranmere], did my thing, learnt my trade at a full-time professional level. Then I came back and broke into the team.”


You had more options than most young players – why football, and why Middlesbrough?

“First, obviously it’s my home. And in Middlesbrough we aren’t a town that has a lot of money – as a young lad there isn’t loads to do apart from play football on a weekend with your mates. You train during the week, you play on the street when you can – that’s what every young boy in Middlesbrough does. So I was no different. I fell in love with the game, fell in love with this club and I’ve never really looked back since that first trial. In Middlesbrough it’s every lad’s dream to play for the club. There is nothing else. It’s football. I’ve been one of the lucky lads who made it to this point.”

With your uncle being the owner, you must have been immersed in the club from a young age. What’s your first memory? “I was mascot – I think I would have been five or six – and we played Liverpool at the Riverside. Paul Ince was their captain. My mum’s still got the photos of me running out with my little Middlesbrough kit on. So probably that one – being on the pitch, meeting the players. Obviously I would have been at games earlier than that, but that’s the first memory.”

Those must have been the glory years?

“Yeah, very much so. That would have been 1998/99, so there and after that we were in the Premier League. We won the Carling Cup [in 2004] as it was then, even qualified for Europe [having finished seventh in the league in 2005] and reached the UEFA Cup final [in 2006]. Those were amazing years for this football club, when we were not a team fighting relegation from the top flight but a rock-solid Premier League team. It’s up to us now to bring those days back.”

When did you start training with the club?

“I was 10 when I signed for Middlesbrough, and 11 when we first came to this facility. It was three nights a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday – with the game on the Sunday. We’d come straight from school. The sessions started at 5.30pm, but I’d get here at quarter to five, five o’clock, so I could spend half an hour practising my own stuff, seeing Dave, asking what I could work on. I was always hungrier to do more. I wanted to make myself a better player and practise left foot, right foot, my skills – because I fancied myself as a bit of a centre-midfielder then, believe it or not.”

Theo Walcott has scored six goals in 17 games for Arsenal against Chelsea, and bagged an FA Cup hat-trick last weekend. Didier Drogba is the all-time top-scorer in the fixture, with 13

How much of a difference has Aitor Karanka made to the club?

“The gaffer’s had a huge impact on this club in the three years he’s been here. He’s stabilised us, narrowly missed out on promotion and then got us promoted the year after. This year, we’d like to be a bit higher [Boro were 16th when Sport went to press, prior to the midweek games, on Tuesday evening]; our performances probably deserve that. But we haven’t quite nicked the results where we would have wanted. Ultimately, this year is about staying in the league and not getting sucked back down into the Championship. We’re in a good position to do that.”

There’s talk of a move to Chelsea or Everton. And an England call-up...

“Obviously I let other people talk about that. That’s not for me to get carried away with. I’ve had a good first 20 games in the Premier League, and I’m not going to get ahead of myself and start thinking about other things. If people want to start talking about England, then I’ll let them do that. But obviously it would be a dream come true if I were called up.” Opening doors: Gibson (left) with Dave Parnaby and Adam Clayton (right)

GunninG for the Blues

Another dream come true.

“Another dream come true [Gibson grins]. I seem to be ticking them off, yeah.”

@amitkatwala

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the weekend’s fixtures saturday

Chelsea v arsenal Sky SportS 1, 12.30pm Crystal palaCe v sunderland, 3pm everton v bournemouth, 3pm hull City v liverpool, 3pm southampton v West ham, 3pm Watford v burnley, 3pm West brom v stoke, 3pm tottenham v middlesbrough Bt Sport 1, 5.30pm

sunday

man City v sWansea Sky SportS 1, 1.30pm leiCester v man utd Sky SportS 1, 4pm

Ian Horrocks/Getty Images, Getty Images for Premier League, Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

“There is noThing else. iT’s fooTball. i’ve been one of The lucky lads who made iT To This poinT”


The Top 20

Quarterbacks On Sunday, Tom Brady bids to be the first quarterback in NFL history to win five Super Bowls. Is he the best ever? We asked the experts at Gridiron magazine for the 20 greatest QBs of the Super Bowl era Words Will Gavin Sunday NFL | Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots @ Atlanta Falcons | Sky Sports 1, 10pm

18. dan fouts sa n d i e g o C H a r g e r s | 1 9 7 3 -1 987 1 x nfl MVp

20. Jim Kelly B u f fa lo B i l l s | 1 986 -1 996

Fouts, one of the most prolific QBs during the 1970s and ’80s, never quite led the Chargers to a Super Bowl during his 15-year career, but what a passer. Breaking the passing yardage record in three consecutive seasons, he led the league in every major passing category at least once in his career. And he had the best beard ever seen on a quarterback.

4 x s u p e r B ow l r u n n e r - u p

17. warren Moon H o u s to n o i l e r s, M i n n e s ota V i K i n g s, s e at t l e s e a H aw Ks, K a n sa s C i t y C H i e f s 1 984-2 000 | 1 x n f l M V p

The most unfortunate QB on this list, Kelly was an integral part of a powerful Bills offense in the 1990s. Immensely talented and with the intelligence to run a prolific no-huddle offense, he turned his team into a dynasty – one that went to four consecutive Super Bowls, in fact, but lost the lot.

Would be higher on this list if he hadn’t spent six years in Canada at the start of his career. Shattered records there before leading the NFL in passing twice, making nine Pro Bowls and taking home the MVP award in 1990. The first black QB to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

19. Kurt warner

16. Ben roethlisberger

s t lo u i s r a M s, n e w yo r K g i a n t s, a r i zo n a

p i t t s B u r g H s t e e l e r s | 2 00 4- p r e s e n t

Ca r d i n a l s | 1 998-2009 | 1 x s u p e r B ow l , 1 x

2 x s u p e r B ow l , 1 x s u p e r B ow l r u n n e r - u p

s u p e r B ow l M V p, 2 x s u p e r B ow l r u n n e r - u p

The first active QB on the list. Suffers from the fact that, early in his career, he was more of a game manager. But his development into a pocket passer in the past five years, and his downfield throwing ability, make him a must-pick. One more ring as an offensive focal point, and he could be top 10.

Plucked from the obscurity of NFL Europe to lead a Rams’ team known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to victory at Super Bowl XXXIV in his first season as a starter. Warner’s later resurgence in Arizona, leading another perennial loser to the Super Bowl, lands him on this list.

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13. Fran Tarkenton

15. Terry bradshaw

10. bart starr

M i n n e s oTA V i k i n g s, n e w yo r k g i A n T s | 1 961 -

g r e e n bAy pAC k e r s | 1 956-1 9 7 1

1 97 8 | 3 x s u p e r b ow l r u n n e r - u p, 1 x n F l M V p

2 x s u p e r b ow l , 2 x s u p e r b ow l M V p

The Vikings QB beat defenses with Tarkenton’s arms and legs like no one before – he still ranks fourth in career rushing yards amongst QBs, and eighth in passing. He took Minnesota to three Super Bowls, sadly losing all three. At the time of his retirement, Tarkenton owned every major quarterback record.

Many wax lyrical about Tom Brady beating the odds as a sixth-round pick, but Starr did it as a 17th-round pick in 1956. Won seven titles in total, including the first two as MVP after the Super Bowl era began. His passing numbers aren’t spectacular, but Starr was one of the clutchest quarterbacks of all time.

p i T T s b u r g h s T e e l e r s | 1 970 -1 98 3 4 x s u p e r b ow l , 2 x s u p e r b ow l M V p

How can one of only three four-time Super Bowl champions be so low on this list? A great arm and an excellent leader, but statistically he’s one of the worst QBs here. Although he became a greater focus later in this 1970s dynasty, his rings will always be put down to Pittsburgh’s ‘Steel Curtain’ defense and excellent running game.

12. steve young sA n F r A n C i s C o 4 9 e r s | 1 987-1 9 9 9 | 3 x s u p e r b ow l , 1 x s u p e r b ow l M V p, 2 x n F l M V p

Three Championships, a two-time MVP, the league leader in passer rating six times, holder of the all-time NFL passer rating record and second in rushing touchdowns by a QB. And yet always seems underrated – as the man who followed Joe Montana, he has been labelled the ultimate system QB.

9. roger staubach DA l l A s C ow b oys | 1 969 -1 9 7 9

DA l l A s C ow b oys | 1 989 -2000

11. brett Favre

3 x s u p e r b ow l , 1 x s u p e r b ow l M V p

AT l A n TA FA lC o n s, g r e e n bAy pAC k e r s,

Not unlike Bradshaw, Aikman’s stats suffer from being on a run-heavy team with a top offensive line. But he was a great passer with a strong arm, a quick release and supreme accuracy. Put Aikman on a pass-heavy team, and he might be considered one of the best ever. Instead, he’ll have to settle for those three championships.

M i n n e s oTA V i k i n g s | 1 9 91 -2 01 0 | 1 x s u p e r b ow l , 1 x s u p e r b ow l r u n n e r - u p, 3 x n F l M V p

Favre outside the top 10 might be the biggest upset on this list. The gunslinger was part of only two losing seasons in his career. Reached the playoffs 12 times; won three consecutive NFL MVP awards. Never afraid to make an unconventional play; won games with moments of magic.

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2 x s u p e r b ow l , 1 x s u p e r b ow l M V p, 3 x s u p e r b ow l r u n n e r - u p

After winning the Heismann Trophy, Staubach had to serve for six years before joining the NFL at 27. Nicknamed ‘Captain America’, he led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl four times in eight seasons as a starter. He’s also responsible for the NFL’s first ever ‘Hail Mary’ – a 50-yard pass to Drew Pearson with 32 seconds left to beat the Vikings in the 1975 playoffs. k

All pictures Getty Images

14. Troy Aikman


6. John elway D e n V e r B r o n C o S | 1 98 3 -1 9 98 2 x S u p e r B ow l , 1 x S u p e r B ow l M V p, 3 x S u p e r B ow l r u n n e r - u p

Like another Broncos Super Bowl winner coming up, Elway suffered from heartbreaking playoff losses that almost derailed his legacy. Some will say it’s saved by winning two rings late on thanks to the great running back Terrell Davis, but his scrambling was excellent, his deep ball was wonderful, and the fact he is sickeningly successful at everything he does means he’ll be furious at making only the top six here. Wonder if he’s reading?

4. aaron rodgers

8. Drew Brees

g r e e n Bay paC k e r S | 2 005- p r e S e n t

Sa n D i e g o C h a r g e r S, n e w o r l e a n S Sa i n t S

1 x S u p e r B ow l , 1 x S u p e r B ow l M V p,

2001 - p r e S e n t

2 x nFl MVp

1 x S u p e r B ow l , 1 x S u p e r B ow l M V p

If you’re new to the NFL, you have had the genuine privilege to watch some of the very best of all time doing it – and Aaron Rodgers has perhaps the greatest arm, the deepest talent and the most supreme physical gifts of any QB in NFL history. He is already arguably the greatest quarterback ever to watch, but could he finish his career at number one on this list? More discipline in his play, partnered with a couple more wins in the big game, and there’s every chance.

Do whatever you can to get a ticket to Wembley in October, to see a guaranteed Hall-of-Famer do his thing. Some knock Brees with claims of inflated stats or lack of postseason success, but how do you argue with the 19 different all-time quarterback passing records he currently holds? Brees has no fewer than five seasons during which he’s passed more than 5,000 yards. The most for any other quarterback? One.

5. Dan Marino M i a M i D o l p h i n S | 1 98 3 -1 9 9 9 1 x S u p e r B ow l r u n n e r - u p, 1 x n F l M V p

Part of the great draft of 1983 that’s already seen John Elway and Jim Kelly on this list, Marino was the best of the group – but he will go down as the greatest QB never to win a Super Bowl. He was the first to pass for 5,000 yards in a season, first to throw 40 touchdowns in a year and supreme in primetime (20 wins on Monday Night Football). The great shame is that he never had a great receiver or offense around him to augment his unquestionable talent.

7. Johnny unitas Ba lt i M o r e C o lt S, Sa n D i e g o C h a r g e r S

All pictures Getty Images

1 956 -1 97 3 | 1 x S u p e r B ow l , 3 x n F l M V p

NFL historians will be livid that Unitas is only seventh on our list, but with so many achievements coming before the Super Bowl era, this placing is a credit to his legacy. Originally cut by the Steelers before signing in Baltimore – he didn’t start until midseason and his first pass was picked off for a touchdown – but he turned his legacy around with his performance in ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ – the Colts’ 1958 Championship win over the New York Giants.

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3. peyton Manning i n d i a n a p o l i S c o lt S, d e n V e r B r o n c o S 1 998-201 5 | 2 x S u p e r B ow l , 1 x S u p e r B ow l M V p, 5 x n F l M V p

The greatest regular-season quarterback of all-time, and it’s not even close. For all the physical skills Rodgers has, Manning has the greatest brain of any QB. His surgical accuracy, obsession to improve and ability to read the defense and adjust meant he changed the way the position was played. It’s probably harsh on Peyton that he will always be remembered as a man who couldn’t do it in January, but his last Super Bowl win tipped his postseason win-loss ratio to 14-13 – simply not good enough, for a man of his talents, to see him higher than three on our list.

1. tom Brady n e w e n g l a n d pat r i ot S | 2 000 - p r e S e n t 4 x S u p e r B ow l , 3 x S u p e r B ow l M V p, 2 x S u p e r B ow l r u n n e r - u p, 2 x n F l M V p

2. Joe Montana Sa n F r a n c i S c o 49 e r S, K a n Sa S c i t y c h i e F S | 1 97 9 -1 994 | 4 x S u p e r B ow l , 3 x S u p e r B ow l M V p, 2 x n F l M V p

If Manning is knocked down by his postseason record, Joe Montana’s four wins in four Super Bowl appearances saw him considered the best of all time for many years. A clutch fourth-quarter performer, an unquestioned leader and one of the coolest men to ever do it, he threw the ball with great accuracy, never gave the defense time to breathe and rarely missed an open man. Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense and getting to throw to Jerry Rice certainly helped his cause, but for many years there was no one better in the position. That is, until…

NFL fans are probably sick of the story by now: picked in the sixth round, passed over 198 times before he was taken as the seventh quarterback in the 2000 draft. Tom Brady came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. He may not have the physical tools of Rodgers, or the perfect Super Bowl record of Montana, or even be able to say he changed the way the position was played like Manning. But by the time Sunday rolls round, Tom Brady will have started in 14 per cent of all Super Bowls and could become the first QB in the history of the league to win it five times. Some wonder how his legacy would be considered if he had remained a three-time winner after losses to the New York Giants in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. But longevity is part of the case in his favour – the fact his fourth ring came 10 years after the third and, unlike Manning or Elway before him, he carried that Patriots team. Incredibly, he may have played even better this year, in his quest for number five. Some say coaching has made Brady the man he is, but the truth is that he achieved these feats in a constantly evolving offensive scheme – his adaptability in 16 years at the top shows his mental ability and his will to win. The symbiotic nature of his relationship with head coach Bill Belichick, the pair feeding off each other’s obsessive need to succeed, is one factor that makes them both worthy contenders as the best of all time. Win or lose on Sunday, and even with the mild stain of Deflategate on his CV, Brady is the greatest. @willgav Join Gridiron and Visit Houston at Bloomsbury Bowl Lanes London to watch the Super Bowl. Entry £10, including a free beer or soft drink and a free copy of Gridiron’s Super Bowl Preview Magazine. Tickets at Gridiron-Magazine.com/ SuperBowlLI or check out @Gridiron on Twitter

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No British team has won the America’s Cup in its 166-year history. Sir Ben Ainslie’s crew is, this summer, out to become the first Words Graham Willgoss

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Lloyd Images/Getty Images

Sail of the century

Mean motherf**kers. That is what it will take to win the America’s Cup for Great Britain for the first time since the competition began in 1851. That, at least, is the theory of Martin Whitmarsh, former team principal at McLaren turned chief executive of Land Rover BAR. “There are racing drivers who are arrogant, selfish, mean, committed winners,” Whitmarsh explains. “I used to say when I was hiring racing drivers, one of my simple measures was: ‘Would I be happy for my daughter to bring him home?’ And if I was, then I had questions about him as a racing driver. Because the best racing drivers are absolutely mean motherf**kers and they are the ones who would kill their granny for the race result.” But Sport is oversimplifying. Ainslie’s character is, Whitmarsh attests, far more complex.  “There are exceptions,” he continues. “I wouldn’t have been happy for my daughter to bring home Alain Prost, for example, or Ayrton [Senna], or Kimi [Raikkonen], or even Lewis [Hamilton]. But you would say Jenson [Button], I would… k


He could compartmentalise. If you meet him out of the car, he is a nice, ordinary, affable bloke. But I think he transitions when he gets into the car. He is a different personality. And Ben is exactly the same.  “Ben is a very different person on the shore to what he is out on the water. That’s quite intriguing. Because there are a lot of racing drivers who are always the same: they’re mean motherf**kers when they’re on terra firma, just as they are when they have their backside in a racing car. Everyone is different in their approach. “But in the white heat of competition, they have to be absolutely focused, determined. The real winners will do absolutely anything to win.” We ask Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history with four gold medals: what if he was the same animal with his team off the boat that he is on it?  “I might be thrown off a bridge,” he replies. “[But] it’s a different intensity you have in a team sport as opposed to an individual sport. You see it with many individual sportsmen. You have to temper your emotions to the team. That’s part of team sport; bringing individual talents together. The team is only as good as the sum of its parts.”  We speak to Ainslie and Whitmarsh at the final event of the America’s Cup World Series in Fukuoka, Japan. It’s the last of a series of regattas held in nine different destinations – from Portsmouth to the Far East via, among others, Gothenburg and Chicago. Ainslie’s team won the Japan series, and therefore take a two-point head-start into the 2017 America’s Cup Challenger Series, beginning in Bermuda in May. The winner of that will then take on holders Oracle in the 2017 America’s Cup, in the same waters, the following month.

Winning the bloody thing

Whitmarsh is clearly enjoying being part of a competitive operation again after a year away from Formula 1. He knows what it’s like to be in the business of winning. His task now is to apply that to claiming the world’s oldest international sporting trophy – originally awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight, won by the schooner America. “It’s been 166 years,” he says. “There is this fantastic trophy, produced by [London silversmiths] Garrard & Co, commissioned by Queen Victoria, and our sailing nation has never won the bloody thing. It really makes you think: ‘Shit!’  “It’s also an opportunity for me. What racing does for you in terms of the tempo, the adrenaline, the focus, it is like going to war. And it’s something you miss.” Ainslie has put his team together with the aim of making America’s Cup history. He personally got in touch with Whitmarsh.  “I’ve brought a complete ignorance of sailing,” says Whitmarsh. “I’m not a sailor. [But what I do have is] the experience of being in a team looking for all these

“Our sailing nation has never won the bloody thing. It really makes you think: ‘Shit!’” Martin Whitmarsh marginal gains [through] teamwork, processes, having a system that’s looking for incremental improvements. We all want the eureka breakthrough that’s going to give us the victory, but actually, in these well-developed technical sports, it’s about incremental gains. Unless you develop with the discipline, the focus, the rigour, the analysis tools that find and grab those small increments, then you don’t see them, you don’t harness them. “In F1, generally the quickest car wins. In America’s Cup, generally the quickest boat wins. There is a lot of technology in this. But you still have to take into account the psychology of these athletes, who have to get hold of these bits of technology and deliver the performance from them.” Broadly, the technology that Ainslie will take charge of in Bermuda is a state-ofthe-art catamaran with a solid aeroplane wing-like sail and sexy ‘go-faster’ hydrofoils to provide lift and speed. It is, like all his boats, called Rita. Why so? 

Mean machines: Whitmarsh with Lewis Hamilton at McLaren

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“I was a teenager and I was at an event with my parents,” Ainslie, who will turn 40 this weekend, explains. “We were in Tenerife, and my mum came across a local church whose patron saint was St Rita. She made a little prayer... The event went really well, so she said: ‘St Rita must be a lucky charm for you.’ This boat must be Rita number 25 or something. My mum is very proud of it. I’d hate to change the name – it would upset her greatly, I’m sure.”

Good buggers

Mrs Ainslie can already be rightly proud of her son. His Olympic successes aside, he has already lifted the America’s Cup – with the USA’s Team Oracle in 2013. He is also a knight of the British Empire. “I never make anyone call me ‘Sir’,” says Ainslie. “I always felt like it would be a good comeback at some point, if someone was being a little bit rude. It always seems like a bit of an age thing as well, doesn’t it? A gentleman in his 70s. You’d call him ‘sir’ out of respect.”  Sport is fortunate enough to be sat just behind Ainslie on his team’s catamaran in one of the practice races in Fukuoka. The ruthlessly orchestrated blur of co-ordinated effort from the crew is a sight to behold, the boats gunning along separated only by a matter of inches in some cases.  Among others to have joined Ainslie on board at different times are actor Mark Ruffalo, Welsh rugby international Leigh Halfpenny and All Black great Dan Carter. Is there an extent to which Ainslie’s team, like New Zealand rugby, encourages the guiding principle of being a ‘good bugger’?  “One of the first guys I employed was Jono [Macbeth], our sailing team manager,” says Ainslie. “He’s actually a Kiwi, funnily enough. He’s very much of that ilk: great integrity, strength of personality. We took our time picking the guys – we wanted the right skill set and personality. That’s important. Not just the sailing team, but everyone – the way people behave.” 


Another man on Ainslie’s team with the right credentials is Giles Scott, winner of the Finn class gold medal in Rio last summer. “It was the first time in 24 years I’ve actually watched the Olympics on TV,” says Ainslie. “Giles’ win was fully deserved. It was a proud moment for all of us.” He is keen to stress, however, that his team is not built on “the billionaire model”: going out with an open cheque book and signing the best talent, throwing them together and expecting it to work. This is a team of talented grinders, not galacticos.

Sailors, not monsters

Ainslie identifies the New Zealand and Japan teams as his team’s biggest threat to their qualifying to face the holders for the cup in Bermuda. Whitmarsh lays down the task facing them: “Winning it is difficult.

How can they possibly grow up in that circumstance and have the balance and humility that you’d like them to have? “We’ve made monsters in F1. Sailors don’t get that attention, but that also has to be an inherent part of the personality. Ben is very generous like that, very humble.”  Ainslie also has complete conviction. “Our goal is absolutely to win,” he says. “It’s been great to set up a completely new team and take on the likes of Oracle and New Zealand. These teams that have been around for decades. And to actually be beating them, to stay on top of them in the World Series, is a huge achievement.” If the Land Rover BAR team are successful, Whitmarsh says it could be a breakthrough moment for sailing in the UK. “This is a fast, dynamic, televisual sport. It has never been that before. You’ve got all this great history, but let’s be honest: it

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Sir Ben Ainslie Winning it first time is extraordinarily difficult. If we can do that first time out, we will make a piece of history.” As well as being a winner, Whitmarsh describes Ainslie as “unusually smart and humble. He has the confidence of being a winner, but he has that rare humility and intelligence mixed with it… “I think humility comes easier because sailing, even at the highest level, does not attract the scrutiny or acclaim that other sports do. Having been involved in the creation of some young world champions in F1, in fairness to them, it’s pretty difficult to remain normal and humble because they get elevated to such an extent. By the time they’re in their early 20s, they’re millionaires living in Monaco, with the whole world bowing down to them.

was never fast enough, short enough, close enough to shore, dynamic enough and it didn’t have the on-screen graphics that you and I can understand. Because this is an inherently bewildering sport in which two boats round a marker and go off in opposite directions, and they’re racing each other. You think: ‘Hold on, what’s going on here?’ But now it’s televisual, I think it’ll be huge. “If we win this, I think it’s bigger than the Bradley Wiggins [Tour de Francewinning] moment. It’s the oldest sporting trophy in the world – 166 years, it started in the Solent, we challenged the world. And we’ve never won the bloody thing.”

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“Our goal is absolutely to win. It’s been great to take on the likes of Oracle and New Zealand – teams that have been around for decades”


Sophie Hitchon Hammer thrower, 25

and field events, which you can’t do every day. In javelin, there is a lot more impact on the shoulder, knee and elbow – more force going through the body all at once. “With the hammer, the throw involves more of a gradual build-up. Rhythm is key to whether it will go far. Some days you just don’t have the timing. “We don’t focus much on the upper body at all in training. It’s all about building power in the lower body. That means we do a lot of squats and Olympic weightlifting such as cleans and snatch – both of which are all about lower-body drive. You want the radius of the hammer to be as wide as possible and, if you’re really tight in your upper body, that becomes really difficult. Everyone’s always surprised when I tell them your arms don’t do anything in the throw – you just want them to be as relaxed as possible.”

Photography: Spiros Politis. Makeup: Sadaf Ahmad

“A

round 90 per cent of our training is throwing. It’s different to other track


Photography: Spiros Politis. Makeup: Sadaf Ahmad

my spleen in 2009 changed my life in so many different ways, all for the positive. I’m happy I got ill, because it forced me to push myself. For a few months after coming out of hospital I was worried about taking my top off because of what people might say. But once I came to terms with the fact that I’ve got a scar, I realised it’s a cool thing. It’s a symbol of where I came from and how hard I’ve had to work to overcome so many setbacks. It’s like a tattoo that tells a story. “That experience changed the way I feel about my body in a number of ways. I had to change my whole lifestyle because I lost my spleen, which is the organ that gives you your immune system. For a while I had to take all these drugs that made me feel so awful I wasn’t able to train. Against everybody’s will, I weaned myself off them. For a year and a half, I’d get ill every month but eventually I believe my body adapted. “Now I feel like I’m stronger than I would have been because I’m stronger of mind. It changed my perspective on being an athlete and a person. It’s not the journey I would have chosen before, but now I would never change it.”

“T

he scar down my abdomen defines who I am as a person. What I went through after rupturing

Diver, 23

Chris Mears


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Issue 484  

The party's over - for Sport magazine, and for Leicester City. Their fleet-footed striker Jamie Vardy tells us about life after the miracle,...

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