The Leinster back-row, who is 24 on Thursday, learned he would be starting at openside flanker at breakfast last Saturday morning after Chris Henry suffered a severe migraine. Ruddock seized his opportunity, scoring his first Ireland try on his fourth appearance, and now is looking ahead to taking on a pedigree Georgia pack with most experienced in France’s Top 14. “It was a good win, but there’s a lot more left in the tank. The focus now is on getting all of that out this weekend. We’re hoping to improve our performance on last weekend.” Ruddock was thrust into the starting line-up after some time on the periphery with Ireland and Leinster. “It was a little bit of a shock getting the start (but) I was more than ready,” added Ruddock, who is more often a blindside flanker. “Around breakfast time I found out and I was happy to be starting, playing seven. “I got my head round playing seven nice and early. I knew I was covering it anyway from the bench. I was able to narrow my focus and concentrate on that role.” Ruddock is the son of former Wales head coach Mike Ruddock but was born in Dublin and pledged his allegiance to Ireland. He made his Test debut in Australia in 2010 and had to wait nearly four years for his next opportunity, coming off the bench against Italy in the 2014 Six Nations, before a first start in Argentina in June. With the benefit of hindsight, he is glad to have been patient. “I had to take a good hard look and work out what was best for me, in terms of my career, and whether or not staying at Leinster would allow me to develop,” Ruddock added. “After weighing up all the options I decided what I could learn at the club and within the Irish system was more beneficial than me going elsewhere and maybe getting a bit more game time. “Possibly in other teams maybe I would’ve been getting a bit more game-time, but I had to bide my time and learn from the expertise that was around me. “I’m glad I made the decisions I made and I’m enjoying getting a bit more game-time now these days.” Among the experiences was captaining Emerging Ireland in the 2013 Tbilisi Cup, including against Georgia. Ruddock added: “That was a great experience. The Georgia one was a great win for us. We managed to perform well. “It was a real physical encounter and probably our toughest game of the tournament, against a Georgian team who have a lot of pride in playing for their country and a lot of pride in being a physical outfit who can take anyone on, especially up front.” “They want to get up, meet you head on and win the physical battle,” Ruddock said. “They’ve got some real threats on the ball who can punish you if you don’t get your roles right. “You have to meet it head on in the early stages of the game, don’t let them build confidence in their perceived strength and after that hopefully have some ways to work outside of those lines and try to create a bit of space elsewhere. “Hopefully we’ll have some ways to break them down. If you’re just going to run straight and hard at them all day, they’ll be well able to defend. “We need to come up with some ways to create some space.” Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt found plenty to improve on after the Springboks display to ensure there will be no complacency on Sunday. “Everyone’s got a lot of respect for them,” Ruddock added. “Everyone’s got a bit more confidence after a good win, but Joe’s brought us back down to earth and the reality is we didn’t perform to the best of our ability. Rhys Ruddock is relishing another physical battle with Georgia after his starring role as a late-comer to Ireland’s victory over South Africa. Press Association
Munster scrum-half Murray laid on Robbie Henshaw’s try while Sexton booted Ireland’s other 14 points at the Aviva Stadium, leaving Wales and Cardiff between Joe Schmidt’s men and a European clean sweep. “They are quality players: Conor and Johnny have proven they are world-class,” said Zebo. “Playing out wide it can be really easy I suppose because you know what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it. “Joe Schmidt has a great game plan and those two boys are more than capable of executing it.” Henshaw’s vital try on Sunday owed much to Murray’s cleverly-disguised box-kick, that caught Alex Goode just out of position, allowing the Ireland centre the half-yard to claim the hoisted ball and dot down. Racing Metro fly-half Sexton again dominated proceedings through his tactical aerial assault, ranging from high bombs to inch-perfect touch-finders. The British and Irish Lions half-back pairing continue to set Ireland’s relentlessly accurate tactical standards, the perfect lieutenants for taskmaster head coach Schmidt. The debates would rage long on whether Murray and Sexton are the globe’s peers in their respective positions, but as a duo Ireland’s half-backs currently seem to have little equal. Ireland dispatched England 19-9 in Dublin on Sunday, setting up an all-out assault on a first RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam since 2009. Playmakers Murray and Sexton completely outshone Ben Youngs and George Ford, again conducting Ireland’s tactical rhythm. Zebo also hailed Connacht centre Henshaw’s part in the try that sent Ireland into a 16-point lead. “It was an unbelievable score: Robbie is a classy player,” said Zebo. “He called for that ball and was clever enough to know that the advantage was there, but it was also a touch of class again from Conor, putting it right on the money. “It was two quality pieces of play from two quality players.” Boss Schmidt has been at pains to play down any Grand Slam talk in the wake of Ireland equalling their best-ever winning run of 10 Tests. Zebo admitted the former Leinster coach is right to shift the focus off the ultimate prize and on to the March 14 clash against Wales in Cardiff. The 24-year-old Munster flyer predicted it will be easy to resist the temptation to daydream about Grand Slam glory – because Schmidt will distract the Ireland squad with sheer hard work in training. “It’s a huge test: Wales on their day can beat anyone,” said Zebo. “They are an unbelievably dangerous side and that will be the massive focus for us now – it’s the biggest game of our season now. “We can’t think about Grand Slams, we’ve just got to focus on Wales. “If you look too far ahead of yourself you’ll slip up. So we’re just focused on preparation now, trying to recover and regroup and put our best foot forward for Wales. “I don’t think it will be hard to keep things like Grand Slam talk off our minds. “Each day there’s something new in training, we’re kind of in a bubble and we don’t really get wind of these exterior things that would be whispered about. “So we’re just constantly trying to improve and constantly training hard, with meetings and everything we don’t get a chance to think about these kinds of things, so we’ll just be focused on Wales.” Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton have proved they are the best half-back combination in world rugby, according to Ireland team-mate Simon Zebo. Press Association
Gareth Southgate’s side breezed through qualifying, dropping just two points and conceding two goals in 10 matches. However, the national side have managed just one runners-up spot (in 2009) since last winning the tournament in 1984 but Stones is determined to change that. Press Association Everton defender John Stones believes England’s Under-21s have a real chance of ending years of disappointment by winning this summer’s European Championship. “I am gaining a lot of experience and that is massive and as a person and a player I have matured a lot, especially this season. “We are always trying to better ourselves. We said that last season and I know we’ve not lived up to that this season but we will work hard, come back and hopefully do well.” Stones is the prime example of how youth can flourish under Roberto Martinez but the defender is not the only one to have benefited from the Spaniard’s approach. Highly-rated 19-year-old Brendan Galloway made his first-team debut last weekend at West Ham while Luke Garbutt, who joined Stones in England’s Under-21 squad when it was named on Wednesday, has also had a breakthrough campaign with 10 appearances. Garbutt, 21 today, is out of contract this summer but Stones believes there is no better place for him to continue his development. “It is down to him (whether he signs a new contract),” he told Press Association Sport. “When he has come into the team he has done really well and taken his chance and that is what you have to do as a player. “I know he will come away with us with England Under-21s and look to put his stamp there as Luke Shaw is not going (Manchester United’s left-back is not fit). “He will relish the chance to play, especially in tournament football, and hopefully bring that back to us next season. “The gaffer gives us that chance and Luke knows that. He has a sensible head on his shoulders and knows what to do and I am sure this summer is going to help him out massively.” Captain Phil Jagielka, who picked up a clean sweep of first-team awards with player of the year, players’ player and goal of the season, also praised Martinez’s approach to blooding more youngsters. “We have a good bunch of lads (aged) 24 and down,” he said. “We had 14 players who could have potentially won young player of the year and that is due to the fact a lot of the boys played against Krasnodar in the Europa League. “It is nice to see the manager does expect a large chunk of his young lads to progress to the first team and it is nice Tyias (Browning) and Brendan have come through this season after Stonesy and Luke. “It is important for a club like Everton that we bring people through in a regular basis.” “With the players we have it is going to be an exciting tournament and we will go into it looking to win it,” he said. “Without getting ahead of ourselves we have to be positive and do that for the nation. “There has been a lot of disappointment in recent years of this competition and hopefully we can rectify it this year.” Stones’ outstanding season for Everton, despite sitting out a large chunk of the campaign after surgery on an ankle injury, earned him the club’s young player of the year award and has already led to him being linked with bigger Premier League teams. The 20-year-old is keen to build on a promising two years since his £3million move from Barnsley. “I’ve enjoyed it as I’ve played a lot of games and the more the better, even though I know it has not been the best season,” he added. “I can take a lot from the ups and downs and the way we turned it around. “Being out for three months with an injury you realise how much everything means to you.
There is virtually nothing to split the three that have already been assessed by the handicapper, but the Weld/Aga Khan 85-rated Serefeli will be fancied by many to prevail. Pat Smullen’s mount had to work to justify favouritism here on debut over seven furlongs last month. However, going up in distance now on this improved surface can suit the son of Footstepsinthesand nicely. An hour earlier, Smullen will again don the Aga Khan silks, this time on Shahzeena in the Ladies Day June 20th Fillies Race, a contest where Bolger’s pair, Countess Constance and On Vocals, have work on. We are going to learn more about Roca Rojo and Urbestchance here after their impressive debut performances, and with anticipated progress it should be an informative heat between that pair and the 94-rated Shahzeena. Elsewhere on the programme, it is to the maidens that the eye is drawn principally; indeed the opening race for the three-year-olds throws up a puzzle for punters with two fancied contenders in the same ownership. The Derrick Smith, Mrs John Magnier and Michael Tabor triumvirate have the David Wachman-trained Black Wolf Down and the Aidan O’Brien-handled Sir Isaac Newton. Maybe the latter can bounce back from his eclipse, at odds of 1-6 at Chester, which ruled him out of Investec Derby contention. The finale, meanwhile, sees Rivers Of Babylon go into battle for Willie McCreery and Connor King with good credentials, given her 80-rating. The principal races at Gowran on Wednesday have attracted small fields but they are no less interesting for that. Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger are represented in both the four-runner Summer Festival Weekend June 20th and 21st Rated Race, and the Ladies Day June 20th Fillies Race, which has five hopefuls. The Coolcullen and Rosewell House participants in the former, Ringside Humour and Serefeli, have the plus point of being previous course winners at Gowran and are joined by Jessica Harrington’s Buyer Beware and John Murphy’s Seaforth. Press Association
Rooney bundled home Anthony Martial’s cross to end a barren run in the Premier League that had stretched to 999 minutes, before Juan Mata added a third at the death. Louis van Gaal has had his doubters during his 14-month spell in charge, but United are now top of the table for the first time since they beat Swansea 4-1 in David Moyes’ first game in charge on August 18 2013. United’s stay at the top of the pile then, just like Moyes’ tenure, was a brief one – they were knocked off the top the following day – but Van Gaal will be hoping his team can remain there for the rest of the season. Van Gaal’s old friend Dick Advocaat can only dream of climbing so high in the standings. Sunderland are bottom of the table after seven matches. Advocaat made his intentions clear from the start. Ola Toivonen came in for Jermain Defoe and Sunderland lined up in a defensive 4-5-1 formation. As has been the case for the majority of the season, United had plenty of possession but initially struggled to do anything with it. Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia bombed on down the left and right flanks respectively while Martial’s trickery and strength caused the visitors problems, but Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon saw little of the ball. The only time Sunderland came under any real threat was when Pantilimon booted the ball up in the air and caught it outside the penalty area. Wayne Rooney ended his 11-match goal drought as Manchester United climbed to the top of the Barclays Premier League for the first time in over two years with victory over Sunderland. Luckily for the goalkeeper, he was spared a card and Mata drove the free-kick into the wall. John O’Shea headed into David de Gea’s arms and the Spaniard then saved with his legs from Yann M’Vila during a rare promising spell for the visitors. The home fans became anxious as Mata, Rooney, Martial and Michael Carrick were guilty of wasteful passing in the final third. But there was no need to worry. In the fourth minute of first-half injury time Daley Blind found Mata, who squared to Depay and he finished from close range. Sunderland brought on Steven Fletcher for Adam Johnson, but 38 seconds into the second half they conceded again. Martial bundled his way into the box and squared for Rooney. Lee Cattermole tried pushing the United captain out of the way, but the ball struck the striker’s knee and went in. The strike meant Rooney became United’s joint third-highest league goalscorer, moving alongside Denis Law. De Gea saved at his near post from Toivonen and Patrick van Aanholt, but Sunderland never looked like getting back into the game. Depay wasted a chance for a third, but Mata fared better, driving home Ashley Young’s cross in the final minute to spark chants of “We are top of the league” from the Stretford End. Manchester City’s defeat at Tottenham at lunchtime opened the door for United to move to the summit and they grasped the opportunity, winning 3-0 at Old Trafford. After an admirably stubborn effort in the opening stages, Sunderland buckled in first-half injury time when Memphis Depay scored his first Premier League goal. Press Association
Mauricio Pochettino is preparing Tottenham for their seventh match in a gruelling three-week period, making Sunday’s difficult trip to Swansea even tougher. That was a third straight Premier League win and a run Spurs will look to extend at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday – a task Pochettino knows will be far from easy. “We expect another big, big game and a very tough game,” the Tottenham head coach said. “Swansea is a team that started the season very well. “I think that they have a lot of good players and play in a philosophy that always puts the opposition in a very difficult situation. “I think it is another a challenge for us to compete Sunday. “It is true that the effort was fantastic from players in the last few weeks. We played a lot of games and very tough games. “We need to compete and make a big effort, but before the international break we need to do our best, to give our best, and try to win the game. “They are a very important three points for us to keep our position or improve our position in the table. “It’s true that we will expect a very tough game and they have had all week to prepare for the game against us. Now, we are thinking to be ready for Sunday.” Press Association It is a match for which in-form attacker Son Heung-min is amongst the absentees. The £22million summer acquisition has impressed in his short time at White Hart Lane and his cutting edge was missing at the Stade Louis II on Thursday. Erik Lamela gave Spurs a deserved lead against Monaco, but Pochettino was left ruing missed opportunities as the hosts secured a late 1-1 draw. “We had chances and needed to create more because the game was there for us,” he said. “The second half was under our control, we dominated but then we conceded a goal. “In football, this can happen. You need to score and kill the game. We needed to be more clinical. “I’m disappointed but at the same time, I’m happy with the performance and the effort, that was brilliant. “We’ve played a lot of tough games in the last few weeks and we need to praise the players because the effort from the squad has been fantastic. “Now we have to be ready for Swansea, another difficult game.” The upcoming international break will be welcome respite for the north Londoners after a frantic spell of fixtures. It is a test they have passed impressively bar the Capital One Cup derby defeat to Arsenal, with Thursday’s Europa League draw in Monaco coming just days after comprehensively beating Manchester City.
Alex Lowes and his Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team-mate Randy de Puniet will start from the third row with Michael van der Mark on the Pata Honda. Davies lies second in the standings but cannot afford to let Sykes get off to a good start as he is close enough in third to take the championship runners-up spot. Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes took his 30th career pole position as he was joined on the front row of the grid by team-mate and newly-crowned world champion Jonathan Rea for the final two races of the World Superbike Championship season. Sykes won the floodlit superpole session at the Losail circuit in Qatar ahead of Rea and the Aruba.it Racing Ducati of Xavi Fores. Chaz Davies, team-mate to Fores, will head row two after edging out the Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils duo Leon Haslam and Jordi Torres. Press Association
Former world number one Rory McIlroy has given his enthusiastic backing to chief executive Keith Pelley’s vision for the future of the European Tour Pelley vowed on Tuesday to make the European Tour a “viable alternative” to the more lucrative PGA Tour within three to five years, promising to experiment with formats, increase prize funds and adopt a “players-first” philosophy. That philosophy has resulted in the number of tournaments required to maintain membership being reduced from 13 to five, excluding majors and WGC events, to make it easier for US-based players outside the world’s top 50. And Pelley wants to see the so-called “flagship” event of the Tour, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, live up to its billing by offering more prize money than its current “unacceptable” 5million euros. “He makes a great point,” McIlroy said after his opening round of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, which Pelley hailed as the Tour’s true flagship event. “The Colonial in America has a prize fund of a million more (than Wentworth). He said to me if that’s our flagship event, that’s a bit embarrassing for the European Tour. “T here’s a lot of things to be done, but he’s made a great start and he’s saying all the right things. I had breakfast with him for about 40 minutes (on Tuesday) and then Justin (Rose) and Henrik (Stenson) and I met him for about an hour and a half that afternoon as well, just going through a few different things. “He’s trying, not really for us guys, but the guys coming through like Matt Fitzpatrick, to provide them a viable alternative instead of going to America because they feel like they have to. “Now they can stay at home and have 10 USD 7million events to play in with plenty of world ranking points, and then they can go over and play the majors and WGCs and three or four invites on the PGA Tour if they don’t feel like they get enough good golf on the European Tour. ” I love where he’s thinking. I love everything that he’s saying. It’s just a matter of now trying to implement those changes, which is obviously easier said than done.” Press Association
Press Association Louis van Gaal will speak to the Manchester United board before deciding whether to quit Old Trafford. Van Gaal’s future looks increasingly bleak after he suffered his fourth straight defeat as United manager. United lost 2-0 at Stoke on Boxing Day and, although the margin of victory was narrow, there was a huge gulf between the two sides when it came to flair, penetration and skill. Van Gaal rejected the idea that it would be better if Woodward backed him with a public statement. “No,” he said. “Because for me it’s much more important that people are saying that to me. “I am not so interested in public sayings.” The Dutchman admitted he had to take his share of the blame for United’s longest winless streak since the 1989-90 season, however. “I am part of the four losses,” he said. “I have received (support) all the time, but we have lost today, so there is a new situation.” Van Gaal dropped Wayne Rooney for the game at Stoke, but there was no change in the quality of United’s play. They never looked like troubling the Potters, whose fans mocked the opposition, branding them “boring” throughout. The 64-year-old admitted his players froze when he needed them the most. “In the first half we didn’t dare to play our football,” he said. “I have analysed that as a consequence of the pressure that you have to cope with as a group as an individual player. “I have said to my players at half-time that we had nothing to lose and then you can cope better with that and you have seen that in the second half, but it was not good enough.” Van Gaal admitted it was a “difficult decision” to drop Rooney, but one the striker took as well as he could have. “(He responded) like a very good professional,” Van Gaal said. Mark Hughes was surprised Van Gaal dropped Rooney for the first time during his 18-month spell as United boss. “From our point of view a team without Wayne Rooney is a team that maybe isn’t quite as strong, but maybe he wasn’t fit enough to start,” the Stoke manager said. Having already beaten Manchester City and Chelsea this season, Hughes was happy to gain another big scalp. “We gave a similar performance to the first half against Man City, who are a good team also, so we are delighted that we are able to do it again,” said Hughes, who enjoyed 13 successful years on the playing staff at United. “It is a feather in our cap. Against the elite teams in the league you have to be brave and go toe-to-toe and we showed that once again.” Memphis Depay’s embarrassing gaffe handed Bojan Krkic the chance to put Stoke ahead and he did not pass on the opportunity, stroking the ball into the net from Glen Johnson’s pass, and when Marko Arnautovic sent a fierce drive into the top corner in the 26th minute, it was game over for Van Gaal’s men. Whether it proves to be the final nail in the coffin for Van Gaal himself remains to be seen. There was no word from the club in the immediate aftermath of the game on whether the Dutchman would remain in charge. When asked whether he thought he would be in charge for Monday’s Premier League game against Chelsea, Van Gaal offered only a meek response. “You have to wait and see, but I think so,” the United manager said. Van Gaal did admit there was a “new situation” compared to Wednesday, when he said he had received supportive phone calls from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, his predecessor David Gill and former manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The former Ajax manager then raised the possibility that he could walk away from the club. “I can also quit by myself, but that is something that I speak with Ed Woodward by himself, and not with you,” Van Gaal said in his post-match press conference. “I have said already in former press conferences that the club has to fire or sack me. Sometimes I do it by myself, but I am the one who wants to speak first with the board of Manchester United and with my members of staff or with my players and not with you. I don’t think that is the sequence.”
Jake Patterson,21, plead guilty on Wednesday to three of four charges against him for kidnapping […]