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The Big Interview

Victoria Pendleton: Olympic champion remains defiant ahead of her Cheltenham Festival debut

Posted March 11, 2016

London Evening Standard

Victoria Pendleton’s decision to ride Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham next Friday has been dismissed as a prize-winning PR stunt.

Victoria Pendleton courtesy of London Evening Standard

Victoria Pendleton courtesy of London Evening Standard

A year ago the double Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist had never been on a horse, apart from a couple of ponies she rode as a child. Then Betfair, who are not sponsors of Cheltenham, bought the horse, assembled a panel of experts including champion trainer Paul Nicholls, and offered Pendleton a rumoured £200,000.

Betfair has been so successful in publicising the race under the catch phrase Switching Saddles that more has been said about the novice jockey than jump racing’s biggest festival of the year.

When we meet, Pendleton insists that her motivation was not money, nor PR, but a fresh challenge after putting away the bike following the London Olympics four years ago and an appearance in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing the same year.

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Ahead of Tottenham double header, Claudio Ranieri reveals secrets behind Leicester rise

Posted January 7, 2016

London Evening Standard

Claudio Raniere

Switched on: Claudio Ranieri has Leicester punching well above their weight thanks to a change in tactics he made soon after joining the club (Ben Hoskins/Getty Images). Photograph courtesy of London Evening Standard

Claudio Ranieri laughs when I ask him whether his second coming to England has answered his critics.

He was labelled The Tinkerman for continually changing his line-up while at Chelsea and he has never won a top-flight title during a managerial career dating back to 1988.

His sacking as boss of Greece after a 1-0 defeat by Faroe Islands in November 2014 gave his opponents more ammunition but last summer he was back in the hot seat again at Leicester City.

Gary Lineker, a great with both Leicester and England, bemoaned that Ranieri was an “uninspired choice”.

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AB de Villiers: England have weaknesses in their batting which we can expose

Posted December 23, 2015
London Evening Standard
 

 

Exclusive: South Africa star explains why he believes his side will win the Test series and how they can get the better of ‘world class’ Root
 

 

de Villiers

Stroke play: AB de Villiers is one of the world’s most complete batsmen. Photograph Courtesy of Evening Standard

AB de Villiers is widely seen as the most gifted striker of a cricket ball in the world.The South African’s talents were recognised again today as he was named the ICC’s ODI Player of the Year for the second season in a row after his brilliant quickfire batting lit up the World Cup.

However, over the next month it is De Villiers’s magnificence in the Test arena that will be of concern to England as they prepare to face his side in a four-match series.

South Africa are No1 in the Test rankings and England are fifth but the hosts have just suffered a 3-0 defeat in India, their heaviest in nine years.

Allan Donald, a great of Proteas and world cricket, admits he is “nervous” ahead of the series which starts on Boxing Day in Durban.

However, when I ask De Villiers how the four Tests will pan out he says without hesitation: “I see us winning 2-1.”

I am talking to the man just as he is about to board a flight to Durban and

with the calmness that has always marked his play he admits: “Obviously your confidence is reliant on your results and when you have a bad series then it definitely affects your confidence as a team but we are still No1 in the world so we have got reason to still be confident.”

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Wales fly-half Dan Biggar: Keeping England target Shaun Edwards ‘massive’ for Welsh rugby

Posted December 16, 2015

London Evening Standard

Eddie Jones’s rebuilding job with England following their World Cup shambles could not have been more extensive, with the entire coaching regime of his predecessor Stuart Lancaster replaced this week at an estimated cost of £2million.

Dan Biggar

Picture courtesy of Evening Standard
‘Scary Shaun’: Bigger says Edwards has been the biggest influence on the Welsh team in the last few years (Getty)

But one RFU target, Shaun Edwards, the right-hand man of Wales coach Warren Gatland, has not been lured to Twickenham — and Dan Biggar, the undisputed star of the principality’s World Cup campaign, could not be happier about it.

“Who would have blamed Shaun for wanting to coach England?” said the 26-year-old fly-half. “If anyone deserves a shot at it, with his track record and how good a coach he is, he should have a great shout. And he’s English!”

Listening to Biggar talking about Edwards, there can be no doubt the former rugby league star would have shaken up those who inhabit Twickenham’s corridors of power. “A lot of people say that they’re intimidated by Shaun… and he’s quite scary,” admits the Ospreys star. “He has scared me quite a few times.

“You don’t really want to mess about in training or make many mistakes because he’s not the type to pull you to the side and have a quiet word with you. He’ll let rip on the training field or in the changing room.

“He’s been, for me, the biggest influence on the Welsh team in the last few years in terms of his determination to win, attention to detail, his motivational skills. He’s superb and he’s a major reason why we’ve had so much success over the last few years.

“Shaun Edwards staying is a massive thing. It means that familiarisation of the routines, the training sessions, the schedule of the days, what they expect from us, that all stays in place.

“If somebody else had come in and wanted to do things a different way, it would have taken us a bit of time to react and get used to it. Now that everyone is staying in place, it’s a massive relief to Wales as a whole and for us as players it gives us confidence in being familiar with everyone in the camp.”

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South Africa vs England: Joe Root believes tourists are ‘more than capable’ of series win

Posted December 11, 2015

London Evening Standard

England could not have timed their arrival in South Africa today any better. For although the hosts are still the No1 Test team they are reeling from one of the most chastening defeats in their history.

South Africa’s 3-0 drubbing in India, completed on Monday, was their first overseas Test series loss since 2006. It was Hashim Amla’s first series defeat as Test captain and the country’s worst batting performance since 1912. By contrast, although England also lost their autumn Test series against Pakistan, they came close to winning one match and ended the tour on a high, taking the one-day series and the T20s.

Jo Root

Jo Root courtesy of Evening Standard (Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)

I ask Joe Root whether this has given England a psychological advantage to help them win the four-Test series, which starts on Boxing Day.

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