Sergey Kovalev will contest the 17th consecutive world title bout of a decorated career on Saturday in Las Vegas when he squares off against pound-for-pound superstar Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez.

While unified middleweight king Alvarez is stepping up two weight classes in a bid to become a four-weight world champion, the 175lbs light-heavyweight ranks have been Kovalev's domain for much of the past decade.

The 36-year-old is currently in possession of the WBO portion of the title, a belt he first got his hands on more than six years ago.

Canelo will arguably present a challenge unlike anything Kovalev has had to reckon with over the course of a 38-fight career but, as the triumphs below show, his combination of classic skills and chilling power usually find the answer.

 

NATHAN CLEVERLY (2013, TKO 4)

An emphatic breakout performance away from home earned Kovalev his first world title as he battered Cleverly, then one of British boxing's brightest stars, to a fourth-round loss. The champion's home crowd in Cardiff were stunned as he wilted under a relentless assault, going down twice in the third before referee Terry O'Connor waved it off in the next session.

BLAKE CAPARELLO (2014, TKO 2)

The third defence of his WBO crown was supposed to be a formality as a huge unification clash lay in wait, but unheralded southpaw Caparello landed a solid left that made Kovalev touch down in round one. The response was brutal – the Australian taking a knee after being sapped by a straight right to the body and Kovalev dumped him down twice more in the neutral corner to bring an early close.

BERNARD HOPKINS (2014, UD 12)

Hopkins defied age and most sane conceptions of normality when he dominated Beibut Shumenov to unify the WBA and IBF light-heavyweight titles at the age of 49. That set up a meeting with Kovalev for three of the four major titles and the younger, more powerful man ensured the all-time great finally ran out of road. Kovalev dropped Hopkins heavily with a right hook in the opener and proceeded to win every round on all three scorecards.

JEAN PASCAL (2015, TKO 8)

Kovalev's reputation as a fearsome puncher, one backed up by a considerable weight of evidence by this stage of his career, contributed to plenty of one-sided beatdowns. More of the same looked to be on the cards in round three of his initial meeting with Pascal, who was repeatedly staggered and knocked halfway through the ropes in the third.

The Canadian roared back, thrillingly fighting fire with fire and putting Kovalev on the retreat, only for the champion to grind him down with straight, hurtful shots. A pair of withering right hooks resulted in a stoppage, although Pascal did enough to earn the dubious consolation of a rematch, staged the following year.

ELEIDER ALVAREZ (2019, UD 12)

Andre Ward handed Kovalev the first defeat of his career before stopping him in the rematch, crushing an aura in the process. A further loss to Eleider Alvarez appeared to spell the end, although a switch of trainer to Buddy McGirt proved inspired. Kovalev went back to basics and boxed off his imperious jab to win a wide decision in the return.

Pound-for-pound superstar Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez will attempt to join the rarefied ranks of boxing's four-weight world champions when he faces WBO light-heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Alvarez stepped up to take out an over-matched Rocky Fielding and win the WBA super-middleweight title last December before reverting to his more natural home of the middleweight division.

That is where the 29-year-old Mexican's long-term future is expected to lie regardless of the weekend outcome, although victory over the ageing but still-fearsome Kovalev would have to rank among his finest accomplishments.

Here, we look back at some of Canelo's best nights in the ring.

 

JAMES KIRKLAND (2015, KO 3)

James Kirkland had been dubbed a 'mini Mike Tyson' before he came face to face with Canelo. Erislandy Lara worked Alvarez hard in his prior fight 10 months beforehand, but the Mexican was back in top form at Minute Maid Park, Houston. Kirkland was first knocked down with a right in the opening round and lasted only until the third before another spectacular blow sent him crashing over and stopped the fight early.

MIGUEL COTTO (2015, UD 12)

After taking out Kirkland, Miguel Cotto and the WBC middleweight title were next on Canelo's list. The judges' scores - 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109 - had Alvarez the clear winner as he claimed the belt from the in-form Puerto Rican, landing a big win for Mexico after a complete performance in which Cotto was out-thought and out-fought.

JULIO CESAR CHAVEZ JR (2017, UD 12)

A huge fight for Mexico saw compatriots Canelo and Chavez do battle on the 2017 Cinco de Mayo weekend. Victory secured the bragging rights for Canelo and it never looked in doubt, his opponent schooled and scarcely landing a punch as all three judges called the fight 120-108 in a simple points decision.

GENNADY GOLOVKIN (2018, MD 12)

This was a victory long in the making. Canelo and Golovkin had battled to an entertaining draw a year earlier, before a rematch was put on hold as Alvarez served a six-month ban for failing a drugs test. Despite many observers judging it differently, Canelo was awarded a majority decision after 12 rounds.

DANNY JACOBS (2019, UD 12)

After dispatching Fielding, Alvarez underlined his status as the world's premier middleweight with a 12-round win over the accomplished Jacobs. Although plenty of the sessions were competitive and the scores rightly close, there was none of the controversy that followed Canelo's verdicts against Golovkin after the Mexican built up an early lead in a well-rounded display.

England and South Africa are tantalisingly close to glory as they prepare to face off in the Rugby World Cup final.

Ahead of Saturday's much-anticipated showdown in Yokohama, we asked Lewis Moody - a World Cup winner with England in 2003 and a losing finalist against the Springboks four years later - to talk us through what it will take to emerge victorious in rugby's biggest game.

Here is the former flanker's guide to securing World Cup success.

 

'HOW DO YOU KEEP THOSE EMOTIONS IN CHECK?' - GETTING THE MINDSET RIGHT

Players from both sides will try to prepare for the contest as if it is any other game, although Moody acknowledges this is "easier said than done".

"Everyone, including the players, knows what's at stake," said Moody, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019.

"The hardest thing is keeping your energy in check so you don't burn yourself out, whether that's through anxiety, nerves or excitement. You can sort of play the game in your head and then your body has emotionally played it already. So you've got to keep that composure and unleash it at the start of the game. 

"You have to figure out what works for you, how do you keep those emotions in check? For me, it was going to the cinema the night before a game, completely switching my brain off from anything rugby-related and just having a laugh.

"All the work has been done, you know all the moves, you're fit. It's just about figuring out what mindset you need to be in to deliver on that day and for me it was about being as relaxed as possible. Each player prepares in a different way - and just allowing them to do what's normal for them is key."

 

'FIGHTING A BATTLE IN YOUR OWN BRAIN' - THE AGONY OF THE FINAL HOURS BEFORE KICK-OFF

If the days leading up to the game are tense, the final hours in the lead-up to kick-off present the toughest mental challenge of all.

"Without doubt the worst part for me was the evening before and then the morning of [the game], because that's when the anxiety [is at its highest]," explained Moody.

"You're in your room, all you're thinking about is preparing for the game. Have you got your kit bag ready? Have you got your tracksuit and everything you're going to be wearing? Is it the right stuff? Have you got a spare pair of boots in case one breaks, a spare gumshield? It's just going through this list of things and then going to sleep and hoping you actually get some.

"You just want that time to disappear; you want to be on the pitch. Your comfort zone is when you've crossed that white line and you're right into the thick of it doing what you know. Up until then you can't control anything and your body is just playing tricks.

"Your mind is trying to maintain all those positive moments, the impacts you want to have, but the other half of your mind is allowing the gremlins to creep in. You don't want to be the person who makes the mistake [that costs your team the game]. So you're fighting a battle in your own brain until you cross that white line. That's when it all relaxes and your body just goes into doing what it does, that muscle memory takes over and life becomes simple."
 

'ULTIMATELY IT WILL COME DOWN TO DISCIPLINE'

Amid heightened emotions, maintaining discipline looks sure to be vital, while Moody also feels much will depend on whether South Africa can deny England quick ball at the breakdown.

"Ultimately it will come down to discipline, because it's going to be a tightly fought game," he argued.

"The key for me will be the speed of ball that the forwards can get for the backs and that will come down to the breakdown. New Zealand, for whatever reason, swapped Sam Cane out [in the semi-final] and it meant England had free rein at the breakdown, really. We also had 19 turnovers against the All Blacks, which is an unprecedented number. 

"I think having Tom Curry and Sam Underhill there, who clearly haven't been phased by any of the players they've played against or any of the occasions - if they can boss that breakdown and keep England's momentum going, then that will be decisive.

"They're going to be coming up against some serious units in the South African backline, in [Siya] Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and [Duane] Vermeulen, who will be doing their utmost to impose themselves on that English triumvirate. It will be a fascinating contest and there's no way in my mind South Africa will allow England the same speed of ball and momentum that they gained on Saturday [in their semi-final win over the All Blacks]."

 

'ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS TURN UP AND DELIVER IN THOSE 80 MINUTES'

England could hardly have performed better in their last-four victory over defending champions New Zealand, as they mixed a stunning defensive display with a slick and composed attacking performance to secure a 19-7 win.

Yet Moody, a veteran of 74 Tests between 2001 and 2011 including three for the British and Irish Lions, does not feel Eddie Jones' side will necessarily need to deliver the same all-round showing on Saturday. 

"It's not about delivering the same performance. It's about delivering the performance that is necessary to beat this opposition," he said.

"Last weekend it was that type of rugby, this week it might be drop goals, penalties, a hard-fought forward battle. It's about doing what it takes to win the match that's in front of you.

"The reality of a final is its one game, all you have to do is turn up and deliver in those 80 minutes. And that's where it can all change.

"We saw it in 2011. New Zealand were far and away the best side in the world that year and yet they only beat France by one point. All of a sudden the pressure and the anxiety came on. Even in '03 we should have beaten Australia by 15-20 points really with the opportunities we had - it just shows how pressure can get to you some times."

 

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South Africa stand on the brink of making history when they face England in Saturday's Rugby World Cup final.

The Springboks have already lifted one trophy this year after winning the Rugby Championship in August, and Rassie Erasmus' team are looking to do something that has eluded rivals New Zealand and Australia in the past.

In the previous five years when there has been both a Rugby Championship – or its previous incarnation the Tri Nations – and a World Cup, the winners of the first tournament have subsequently failed to also deliver success on the global stage.

With South Africa in a position to finally end that sequence, we take a look at those who have previously conquered the Southern Hemisphere only to fall short at the World Cup.

 

1999: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND, WORLD CUP WINNERS – AUSTRALIA

The All Blacks won the first two Tri Nations and made it three in four years by thrashing South Africa 28-0, beating Australia 34-15 and claiming another victory over the Springboks.

However, a 28-7 loss to the Wallabies in the final fixture suggested New Zealand were not so invincible...

At the World Cup, the great Jonah Lomu scored eight tries yet France stunned New Zealand 43-31 in the last four, with Australia then winning the final against Les Bleus.

2003: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND, WORLD CUP WINNERS – ENGLAND

Four wins out of four delivered another Tri Nations triumph for New Zealand.

The All Blacks scored 282 points in their four World Cup pool games in Australia too before easing past South Africa 29-9 in the quarter-finals.

But Elton Flatley's accuracy from the tee consigned New Zealand to another semi-final loss and sent Australia back to the final, where Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal in Sydney delivered a famous success for England.

2007: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND, WORLD CUP WINNERS – SOUTH AFRICA

Neither Australia nor South Africa could deny the All Blacks another Tri Nations title in 2007, though it was a Northern Hemisphere nation who would stop their run at the World Cup.

New Zealand led 13-3 in the first half of their quarter-final against France only to suffer another knockout loss to their World Cup nemesis as Yannick Jauzion scored a brilliant converted try 11 minutes from time to seal a 20-18 success.

Defending champions England beat France in the semi-final but Percy Montgomery won the battle of the boots with Wilkinson in the final as South Africa secured their second World Cup.

2011: TRI NATIONS WINNERS – AUSTRALIA, WORLD CUP WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND

In the final Tri Nations before Argentina joined to form the Rugby Championship, Graham Henry's team lost their last two matches as Australia triumphed for the first time in a decade.

The World Cup was hosted in New Zealand and after years of being the nearly men, it was the All Blacks' turn to taste global glory again.

France were their final opponents and, in a tense, low-scoring contest, New Zealand won 8-7.

2015: RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS – AUSTRALIA, WORLD CUP WINNERS – NEW ZEALAND

Four years ago, Australia beat the other three nations to win the Rugby Championship, and came out on top of a World Cup pool that included Wales and hosts England.

The Wallabies narrowly saw off Scotland 35-34 and ousted Argentina 29-15 to set up a final with a New Zealand side that had hammered France 62-13 in the last eight.

No team had ever retained the World Cup before but Dan Carter shone on his international farewell to ensure Steve Hansen's side lifted the Webb Ellis Cup again.

Arsenal desperately need a positive result against Wolves if they are to draw a line under a tumultuous week at Emirates Stadium, but Nuno Espirito Santo's men have a strong record against the top flight's 'big six'.

The Gunners have been reeling since they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Crystal Palace in a game that saw Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka booed by his own supporters, and the visibly angry Switzerland international cupped his ear to the disgruntled crowd as he left the field.

The result left Arsenal winless in two league games and facing something of a crisis of leadership as they prepare to face Wolves, who arrive in north London unbeaten in their last five league matches.

Last season's FA Cup semi-finalists have conceded just three goals in that time, and Arsenal need only look at the champions to learn about the threat they pose - it is less than a month since Wolves stunned Manchester City at Etihad Stadium, Adama Traore scoring two late goals in a 2-0 victory.

All eyes will be on Xhaka, should he play, as fifth-placed Arsenal seek to stave off the challenge of five teams within three points of them in the Premier League table.

EMERY MUST FIND MEN WHO CAN GO THE DISTANCE

Unai Emery has rotated his Arsenal midfield continuously this season and he has no shortage of match-fit replacements for Xhaka should he opt to leave his under-fire playmaker out against Wolves.

Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock have both played deep-lying midfield roles in recent matches and Emery may opt to trust one of them alongside Matteo Guendouzi in what is likely to be a high-octane battle in the middle of the park.

Nuno likes to pack the middle of his midfield in away games and the combination of Leander Dendoncker, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho helped Wolves come from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Newcastle United last time out.

That game followed a familiar pattern for Wolves, who have conceded the first goal in more Premier League matches (seven) than any other side this season, though they have come back to draw five of those games.

While the average time Arsenal take to score their first goal in Premier League matches is 39 minutes, Wolves take an average of 61 minutes to find the net.

Twice in league games this season Arsenal have led by more than one goal only to draw 2-2. As they go up against the division's comeback specialists, they can ill afford to slip up again.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: GRANIT XHAKA V RUBEN NEVES

Having left him out of the rollercoaster EFL Cup defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, Emery has a big decision to make about whether to recall the much-maligned Xhaka.

Gunners greats Ian Wright, Nigel Winterburn and Emmanuel Petit have been among the many to condemn his actions but a return to the XI has not been ruled out.

Should he get the nod, Xhaka could win back some favour with supporters by getting the better of Neves in a key midfield battle.

The pair operate in similar roles to vastly differing degrees of adulation, even as the Opta data portrays Wolves star Neves as generally less effective than the Arsenal skipper.

Xhaka has created four more scoring chances, registered three more tackles and provided three more blocks in the Premier League this season despite playing one game less.

He has additionally contested 33 more duels at a superior success rate and his passing accuracy of 86.54 per cent is comfortably in advance of Neves' 75.45 per cent.

However, the Portuguese former Porto man can lay claim to having made seven more interceptions than Xhaka, a skill that will prove useful as the visitors attempt to stymie their opponents' play in north London.

FORM GUIDE: WOLVES IN CAPITAL MOOD

The prospect of a trip to London will not daunt Wolves, who have not lost a Premier League match in the capital since March 2012, when Fulham thumped them 5-0.

They have won three and drawn four of their seven subsequent matches in the city, and their recent form has been good no matter where they play.

Nuno's men have scored in each of their last nine Premier League games and could set a club record in the competition by finding the net on Saturday. Only table-topping Liverpool (19) are on a longer current goal-scoring run in the competition.

Arsenal must make the most of early opportunities, given that Wolves have scored a league-high 85 per cent of their Premier League goals in the second half of games this season (11/13), and Emery will take heart from his side's imperious home record on Saturday afternoons.

Arsenal have not lost at home at this time on a Saturday since the opening day of the 2013-14 season (1-3 vs Aston Villa), winning 20 and drawing two since then.

Goals are rarely in short supply at the Emirates, where Arsenal have scored in each of their last 23 league games, but the Gunners have kept just one clean sheet in their last seven.

HISTORY SAYS...

Arsenal have faced Wolves 10 times in the Premier League, breezing to consecutive victories in their first six matches against them in the competition.

Since then, however, they have won just one of their last four (D2, L1) and they failed to win either of their clashes with Nuno's newly promoted side in 2018-19.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan rescued a point for the Gunners in this fixture last season, scoring an 86th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw, and Wolves were 3-1 winners when the sides met at Molineux in April.

That victory ended a run of 16 league games without victory against the Gunners and another win on Saturday would see Wolves recording consecutive top-flight wins against them for the first time since September 1979 (a run of three).

We are edging closer to the release of Football Manager 2020 on November 19, meaning new elements and features of the game are seeing the light of day.

That also means talk of those precious 'wonderkids' is starting, as managers look to get a head start on which young talents to snap up early instead of forking out massive sums for the same kids a few years down the line.

A player's potential is never a guarantee of future success. Injuries, a lack of faith from the manager or poor mentality can cause havoc with so-called 'hot prospects'.

Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo Goes, Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz are all 'wonderkid' certainties, but only a select few clubs will ever be able to afford them.

But, with the right guidance, the following lesser-known players could prove to be similarly smart acquisitions and cost significantly less...

Dillon Hoogewerf - Manchester United

A 16-year-old forward, Hoogewerf was one of the hottest prospects in Ajax's academy before Manchester United snapped him up ahead of this season. A silky dribbler and all-round attacking threat, he promises to be a talent would-be United bosses will want to focus on the development of. On the flipside, youngsters don't always reach their potential at the biggest clubs, meaning he might prove an interesting option to smaller sides… if you're patient.

Pedrinho - Corinthians

The latest - after Vinicius and Rodrygo - in a long line of Brazilian talents to be dubbed the 'next Neymar', Pedrinho looks destined for the top. An outrageously skilful attacker who usually plays out wide for Corinthians, the 21-year-old likes to come in off the right flank and on to his left foot, as he relishes a shot after beating his man. Comparisons with Arjen Robben are understandable, but the quicker you make a move, the less you'll have to stump up.

Sandro Tonali - Brescia

Given Tonali now has a full season of professional football under his belt, he's likely to be one of the hardest to attain from this list. Nevertheless, he is still at Brescia despite links with the big Italian clubs, therefore making him a tantalising proposition if you've got a bit of a budget to play with. Dubbed the 'next Andrea Pirlo', Tonali is a deep-lying midfielder who possesses a brilliant range of passing. He will also be among the very best teenagers right at the start of the game.

Antonio Marin - Dinamo Zagreb

A favourite of many on FM19 due to his immense potential and relatively low cost, left-winger Marin should still be a hot prospect and fairly attainable. He made seven league appearances for Dinamo last season, most of them coming in the final few months of the campaign, so his fee is unlikely to have rocketed just yet. Securing the 18-year-old in a deal that sees him remain in Croatia on loan for a season could be wise for his development, particularly if Dani Olmo is sold in the first few months of the game.

Devyne Rensch - Ajax

As you might expect from an Ajax academy product, Rensch is calm and composed in possession and a fine reader of the game from centre-back. He has already signed professional terms despite being only 16, so you won't be able to poach him like United have done with Hoogewerf, but he certainly shouldn't be considered unattainable. Similarly, Perr Schuurs is another interesting option at centre-back, though at 19 and now exposed to first-team football with the Dutch champions, he could be trickier to acquire.

Julian Aude - Lanus

Although Argentinian football can truly be a treasure trove of promising talent, work permits are often an issue for many players, particularly if they're young. But with Aude you shouldn't have such problems, as the 16-year-old also has Italian citizenship. The Lanus academy product has impressed with Argentina's youth sides due to his remarkable technical wizardry for a full-back, while he's also a tenacious competitor. Obviously, his age makes Aude a gamble, but he'll be affordable for many and there's little doubt about his potential, it's just a case of nurturing him.

Bryan Gil - Sevilla

The production line that nurtured Jesus Navas, Antonio Puerta, Sergio Ramos and Jose Antonio Reyes has gone a little stagnant in recent years, but Bryan arrived on the scene last term and made 11 substitute appearances in LaLiga, making an impact on the left flank in most - if not all - of them. Unless you want him on loan, he'll be difficult to sign initially for smaller clubs, but if he does become a realistic target at any point, he will provide a strong option as an out-and-out, old-fashioned left winger.

Odin Thiago Holm - Valerenga

A technically gifted central midfielder, Holm, 16, is yet to make a splash in the Valerenga first team. However, he is very highly rated in Norway, with his ability on the ball and eye for a pass drawing comparisons – perhaps predictable, given his name – with Bayern Munich star Thiago Alcantara. Considering his relative unknown status and the fact he is not playing in one of the more fashionable leagues, Holm would likely be a cheap, low-risk purchase that could really pay dividends down the line for managers aiming for a long stay.

Fernando Ovelar - Cerro Porteno

It's still to be confirmed if Ovelar will be on the game, as he is only 15. However, he has already made nine appearances for Cerro Porteno in Paraguay and scored his first goal in November 2018 when he was just 14, making him the Paraguayan Primera Division's youngest scorer and appearance maker. Although it's still early days in his career, he's a skilful and gifted forward, and if you fancy yourself as a manager adept at bringing youth talents through to the first team, he could be a shrewd investment.

Ronaldo Camara - Benfica

Already a regular for Benfica's Under-19s despite being 16, Camara is a potential diamond. A well-rounded attacking midfielder, the Guinea-Bissau native is not your average playmaker. He has a fine range of passing and can certainly dribble, but he is also a tireless worker and loves to tackle. Benfica are famous for selling cheaply acquired talents for huge sums and Camara looks to be of the same ilk… unless you can get him early.

The last time England faced South Africa at a World Cup with a Farrell playing as the designated goal kicker at inside-centre, Andy Farrell only took kick-offs.

In 2007, the defending champions went into a pool-stage encounter at the Stade de France with an injury crisis in midfield. Both Jonny Wilkinson and Olly Barkley were unavailable, thrusting Mike Catt into his first international outing at fly-half for eight years.

Outside him was the Wigan Warriors rugby league great who Saracens, with no little financial help from the Rugby Football Union, had persuaded to switch codes. Injuries and prolonged conjecture over what would prove his best position meant Farrell's transition had been far from smooth.

The knives sharpened further as an abysmal England were crushed 36-0. The experiment had failed. What a waste of money. A gritty, back-to-basics line-up with Farrell consigned to the bench recovered to reach the final and lose a more competitive rematch 15-6.

Twelve years later, the on-going returns might mean the RFU have never spent cash so shrewdly, even if Farrell Jr was obviously not a part of the initial grand plan.

Rugby league royalty

"He was kicking and screaming when we came down here," Andy Farrell told the Daily Mail, when recalling his son Owen's reaction to the family's 2005 move from Wigan to Hertfordshire for the switch to Saracens.

"He didn’t want to leave Wigan because he was playing league. But that lasted about two weeks."

By virtue of his father alone, Owen Farrell's lineage is one of rugby league royalty.

A Wigan regular at 16, a Great Britain international at 18 and captain of his country three years later, Andy Farrell was the loose forward, goal-kicking titan of a Warriors team that won six league titles and four Challenge Cups during his 13 seasons there.

Throw in Owen's rugby apprenticeship at the town's celebrated St Patrick's club and the fact his maternal uncle is current Wigan captain Sean O'Loughlin and it is easy to see how tightly those ties seemed to bind.

"We planned for him to go back up north on the train every weekend, to carry on playing league," Andy explained.

"He did that once or twice but then I took him to training at Saracens and he soon forgot what he was missing out on."

Hot-housed talent

Speaking to the Mirror last month, Wilkinson recalled Owen Farrell and his partner in England's creative department George Ford as eager teenagers along for the ride at the 2007 World Cup.

Ford's father Mike was England's defence coach at the tournament having been part of the backroom team at Saracens, essentially plotting a path for Andy Farrell as an esteemed former league player who became a high-end union tactician.

“When you look at the calibre of rugby talent in their fathers it comes as no surprise to me what those two have become," Wilkinson said.

"It is no surprise those guys are exploring stuff that we did not get near until we were much older."

Running to fetch Wilkinson's practice balls was virtually second-nature to Farrell. Watching elite training sessions and joining in wherever and whenever he could was something he had done from infancy.

“Faz brought him down from a really early age – it must have been five or six. He always had a rugby ball in his hands – he was destined to play the game,” former Wigan full-back Kris Radlinski told the Express in 2013.

"The players made it a comfortable environment for him. At the end of training, we would start catching and kicking a ball around with Owen. He became one of the lads."

Playing in tandem, as they will in Saturday's World Cup final, Owen Farrell and George Ford lend England an uncommon flair, one forged in the everyman surrounding of league's heartlands in the north of the country – a long way removed from union's public-school tradition.

Big Faz and Little Faz

Owen and George transferring their league-reared and hot-housed skills gave them an advantage racing through England's age-group teams before becoming the heartbeat of Eddie Jones' seniors.

As Andy Farrell discovered more than a decade ago, making the switch in the autumn years of your career is an altogether different challenge.

"He is getting to grips with it but it is probably a bit too late, with his age, to be where he wants to be," Mike Ford said in the aftermath of his friend's South Africa ordeal in 2007.

An international career effectively finished at the end of the tournament, it might have been tempting to return to the loving bosom of league – see Sam Burgess' understandable decision after England's 2015 World Cup campaign went south with him playing inside-centre and scapegoat.

But, despite speculation sometimes hinting in that direction, Andy Farrell's interest in coaching was already piqued and he had a son making waves in the Saracens academy. This was no time to walk away, something his innate determination might never have allowed in the first place.

By 2008, "Big Faz" and "Little Faz", as they were known at Wigan, were part of the same Premiership first-team squad under Jones. Since retiring in 2009, Andy Farrell has become one of the most respected defence coaches in the sport thank to stints with Saracens, England, the British and Irish Lions, Munster and Ireland. He will replace Joe Schmidt as Ireland's head coach when they return to action after the World Cup.

Owen Farrell has won five Premierships with Sarries, three European titles, starred on his second Lions tour in 2017 and risen to become his country's Mr Dependable and captain across an international career where – for now, at least – a 2016 Six Nations Grand Slam is the highlight in terms of honours.

As ferocious in the tackle as he is metronomic from the kicking tee, Owen has quietly become an inspirational leader in his father's mould. Something outlandish will have to happen in Saturday's final for his smirking stare down of the Haka before England's semi-final evisceration of New Zealand not to be the image of the tournament.

"I was always watching dad lift trophies," Owen Farrell told the Daily Mail in 2013. "That made me want to do what he does."

This weekend, the major prize that eluded his father and one that could not have felt further away on that bleak Paris night against the Springbok will be close to Owen's grasp. A would-be centrepiece in the dynasty building of the Farrells: rugby league and rugby union royalty.

When Rassie Erasmus took over as South Africa head coach just a year and a half before the Rugby World Cup, the former Springbok knew he had taken on a "huge task".

Erasmus already had more than enough on his plate as South Africa's director of rugby, a role with a wide-ranging remit.

The 47-year-old was still getting his feet under the table in that job when Allister Coetzee's turbulent reign as head coach was brought to an end in February 2018.

Erasmus agreed to the challenge of turning around the fortunes of a Springboks side who had won only 11 of Coetzee's 25 games in charge and dropped to sixth in the world rankings.

"It is a huge task to coach the Springboks and I am very privileged," Erasmus said.

"I really believe we have the players and the rugby IP [intellectual property] to turn things around and to mount a serious challenge at next year's Rugby World Cup."

Even the most optimistic fans of the Springboks might have raised eyebrows over such positive comments from the new head coach.

Yet the potential was there to see in a 2-1 home Test series defeat of England, led by Siya Kolisi after he was named as South Africa's first black captain.

A shock defeat of New Zealand followed last September and South Africa dethroned the All Blacks to win the Rugby Championship just a month before facing Steve Hansen's side in their first match of the World Cup.

Although Steve Hansen's two-time defending champions won that World Cup opener at International Stadium Yokohama almost six weeks ago, it is the Springboks who will contest the final with England at the same venue on Saturday.

Cheslin Kolbe has established himself as one of the most lethal wings in the world after being handed a debut last September, while Faf de Klerk is among the recalled players to have thrived under Erasmus after the 30-cap eligibility rule for overseas-based stars was scrapped.

Erasmus has turned South Africa into an uncompromising, well-drilled side, possessing relentless and brutal physicality, with explosive backs and busy scrum-half De Klerk pulling the strings.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi said: "Rassie has made a massive difference. That difference has not just been to the South Africa team because his decisions have affected the whole nation.

"He is a coach who has an honest opinion about every player and he is not someone who does things behind closed doors but does it openly and everyone knows about it.

"Players have respect for someone who is honest and open and says what he is looking for. It gives you more freedom to go out there and express yourself. He does not put you in a box and that has been one of his outstanding features."

Erasmus will relinquish his head coach duties after the showdown with England this weekend and, regardless of the outcome, he has lifted the gloom and made a proud rugby nation a major force once again.

"Take it back".

It is not a complicated slogan. But it is one the Houston Astros took on before this year signifying one thing: they wanted to take the title back after failing to repeat as World Series champions in 2018.

Taking that into account, there is no other way to look at the 2019 season for the Astros than as one of failure.

With Houston's 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, the Astros fell in seven games in the World Series. It is a second-place finish for Houston, something this team wanted no part of during the year.

"It was a good year," Alex Bregman said before the start of the playoffs. "But none of that means anything now. It's all about the postseason."

He continued: "In this game, when we show up to spring training, we're not worried about winning the Hank Aaron award or MVP. We're worried about winning a World Series. The only MVP award we worry about is the World Series MVP."

Bregman went 0 for three in the Game 7 loss and six for 32 (.188) in the series.

The 2019 season was about one thing for the Astros: winning. It was not about winning their first title, it was about winning another one. It was about getting back to the World Series and winning a second title in three years; something that the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and St Louis Cardinals have all done since the start of the millennia.

Wednesday's loss was a failure. Not a failure for one game, but a failure over 180.

Gerrit Cole's Game 5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, in which he struck out 10 batters while allowing one run in eight innings, does not matter anymore. Jose Altuve's walk-off homer against the New York Yankees to win the pennant is a distant memory now.

Former Astros catcher Brian McCann put it best after throwing out the first pitch in Game 1 of the World Series: "When you win a championship somewhere, it's special. It lives on forever."

But it is the Nationals who claimed this year's title. The Astros won 117 games but they were not crowned the champions.

The reasons why are simple: Justin Verlander went 0-2, Houston went 15 for 57 (.263) with runners in scoring position including one for eight in Game 7, the Astros overexposed Will Harris as he gave up two huge home runs in Games 6 and 7 and they went 0-4 at Minute Maid Park – losing four games in a row at home for the first time all season.

Were the Astros great this year? Absolutely. Were they the best team in baseball? You can certainly make that argument.

But if Houston are put on the spot and asked after this series if this season was a failure, they can answer with only one word: Yes.

The Washington Nationals are the 2019 World Series champions.

A team that started the year 19-31 are walking away with the Commissioner's Trophy this season, while a 107-win Houston Astros have been left empty-handed.

So how did this Astros team that had the best wRC+ since the 1927 New York Yankees and a rotation featuring the likely first- and second-place finishers in the American League Cy Young race fail to win a championship?

The reason is simple: the Nationals beat them. So how did they beat them? Here are a few ways.

 

Why the Nationals won the World Series

Rendon and Soto were the best position players in the series

This is not up for debate. While Alex Bregman might win the AL MVP, George Springer has a World Series MVP already under his belt, Carlos Correa was a Rookie of the Year and Jose Altuve was the MVP in 2017, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon were without a doubt the two best players in this series.

These two men combined to go 17 for 56 (.303) with five home runs and 14 RBIs in the World Series. They were constant threats every time they stepped up to the plate and went 12 for 33 (.363) on the road. They hit four of their five home runs at Minute Maid Park.

There is little doubt who the best position players in this series were.

Strasburg etched his name into the postseason record books

Stephen Strasburg is basically Sandy Koufax in the playoffs. That is a bold statement but statistically, it is true. Koufax went 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 57 innings in his postseason career. Strasburg is now 6-2 with a 1.46 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 55.3 innings. In this postseason alone, he went 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA in six games (five starts). He struck out 47 batters in 36.3 innings.

While Rendon and Soto were the best position players, Strasburg was undoubtedly the best pitcher.

They were road warriors

Coming into series, the Nationals were pretty good on the road this season and in the playoffs. They went 43-38 during the regular season away from home and 4-1 on their way to winning the pennant.

That success continued Wednesday as the Nationals won their fourth game in as many attempts at Minute Maid Park this series. That was the absolute difference. The Astros had home-field advantage — which should have mattered considering they were 60-21 at home in the regular season — but the Nationals were the team that played better in Houston.

The Astros were helpless at home, scoring a total of 11 runs in four games. The Astros' ineptitude at the plate had something to do with that, but Washington's pitching did too. While the Astros certainly contributed to the Nationals' road success, tons of credit have to go to Washington for playing their guts out on the road.

Lewis Hamilton will again go looking for a sixth Formula One title at the United States Grand Prix this week.

The Briton won in Mexico last time out but could not finish far enough ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to clinch the drivers' championship.

However, Hamilton needs only to finish eighth or better to celebrate in Austin, while he will be handed the title regardless of his finish if Bottas fails to win.

Hamilton has had championship success in the United States before, as we learn with this week's F1 numbers, courtesy of Opta.
 

2 - Hamilton could become the first driver to claim the title in the United States twice. Jack Brabham (1959), Jochen Rindt (1970), Emerson Fittipaldi (1974) and Hamilton (2015) have all celebrated Stateside previously.

6 - Hamilton has the most wins in the United States and is just one pole away from Ayrton Senna's record of five at this event.

10 - The defending champion has 10 race wins this season, putting him just one short of his best career haul of 11 in a campaign (2014 and 2018).

17 - Hamilton, like Michael Schumacher, has 17 career victories in the Americas, meaning he could take the outright record this weekend.

7 - All seven previous winners in Austin have started from the front row, with three of them on pole.

3 - Mercedes have won the past three races (Hamilton in Russia and Mexico, Bottas in Japan) without starting from pole – their best ever such run.

9 - Only one driver has ever claimed more pole positions in a season without winning the title than Charles Leclerc's seven so far. That was Ronnie Peterson's nine in 1973. Leclerc, who is tied with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2002, has also contributed five of six consecutive Ferrari poles – one short of their all-time record run.

100 - Max Verstappen will race his 100th grand prix – as will Carlos Sainz.

8 - The United States Grand Prix has had eight different circuits – the most in F1 history – while Austin will host the race for the eighth time. Only Watkins Glen (15) has hosted this event more often.

England were stunning winners against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, destroying the title ambitions of the mighty defending champions.

A 19-7 triumph last Saturday sets up Eddie Jones' side for a shot at South Africa in the final, and already England are being tagged as firm favourites.

But the Springboks side that edged past Wales to reach the showpiece match will have plenty to say about the destination of the trophy this weekend.

And history is littered with examples of teams bringing out their best for semi-final matches, only to fall short on the big day.

Here is a look at some of the notable occasions when sides have not saved their best until last.

1987: Rugby World Cup - France stun hosts, surrender to All Blacks

In the days before World Cup semi-finals were automatically played in super stadia, Sydney's modest Concord Oval staged Australia's semi-final against France. A thriller was locked at 24-24 going into the dying moments, with Michael Lynagh having missed kicks to put the game to bed, when a jaw-dropping French attack resulted in Serge Blanco diving in at the left corner for the winning try. France were ecstatic, through to the first World Cup final, but New Zealand were behemoths lying in wait and the Eden Park final was a one-sided affair, the All Blacks powering to a 29-9 victory.

1999: Rugby World Cup - Quelle horreur! France falter at the last again

Jean-Claude Skrela's apparently formidable French swept through the group stage unscathed before dropping 47 points on Argentina and - mon dieu! - demolishing the All Blacks 43-31 in the semi-finals. France scorched back from 24-10 behind to sink the Kiwis in a Twickenham classic, inspired by the brilliant kicking of Christophe Lamaison and the gallivanting Christophe Dominici. Having edged out South Africa a day earlier, the Wallabies had considerably more left in the tank than Les Bleus when it came to the final, Rod Macqueen's men roaring to glory as 35-12 winners on the back of 25 points from the boot of Matt Burke and tries from Ben Tune and Owen Finegan.

2003: Premiership - Twickenham agony for dominant Gloucester

Gloucester looked bankers to be crowned kings of English rugby for the first time, after a stunning 2002-03 regular season saw them finish 15 points clear of distant nearest rivals Wasps at the pinnacle of the Premiership. Nigel Melville's side were far and away the best team over the campaign but then collapsed when it mattered most. The Cherry and Whites went straight into the final, which was the privilege at the time for the table-toppers, with Wasps and third-placed Northampton scuffling it out in a single semi-final for the right to join them. Wasps edged that game and then the side captained by Lawrence Dallaglio defied all logic by thumping Gloucester 39-3 at Twickenham to take the trophy.

2007: Premiership - Cherry and Whites off colour as Tigers pounce

Dean Ryan this time led Gloucester to the top of the Premiership table, albeit only marginally ahead of Leicester, but again there was crushing disappointment around the corner. A seven-try, 50-9 destruction of Saracens in their Kingsholm semi-final pointed to Gloucester being in great shape to gun at glory. At the very least they should have been highly competitive against Leicester in the championship match, so the 44-16 outcome in favour of the Tigers was a baffling outcome. Ryan admitted there was "mismatch.... across the field", while the Guardian memorably described the final as being "like watching field mice fleeing a combine harvester".

2015 Super Rugby: Hurricanes' hopes blown away

Everything was set up for the Hurricanes. They played a supreme regular season, finishing streets ahead of the Super Rugby pack with 14 wins from 16 matches, and after bulldozing the Brumbies 29-9 in the semi-finals they had home advantage at Westpac Stadium in Wellington for the title match. Chris Boyd's team looked nailed on, yet sport is rarely that straightforward. The Highlanders, who had never before won the competition, produced a powerful performance in the final and emerged 21-14 victors, silencing the home support who had showed up for a coronation. As Boyd said: "We were just a little off." And that can be enough in finals, where the switched-on invariably get their reward.

Tiger Woods has matched Sam Snead's record haul of 82 PGA Tour wins.

Woods ended an 11-year wait for his 15th major title by triumphing at Augusta National this year, and he started his 2020 PGA Tour season with yet another title.

Snead's mark of 82 PGA Tour victories has stood since 1965, but on his return from knee surgery the 15-time major champion moved onto the same total after triumphing by three shots at the Zozo Championship on Monday.

We take a look at Woods' 82 triumphs to date.

1996
Las Vegas Invitational
Walt Disney World/Oldsmobile Classic

1997
Mercedes Championships
Masters
GTE Byron Nelson Golf Classic
Motorola Western Open

1998
BellSouth Classic

1999
Buick Invitational
Memorial Tournament
Motorola Western Open
US PGA Championship
NEC Invitational
National Car Rental Golf Classic Disney
Tour Championship
American Express Championship

2000
Mercedes Championships
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Bay Hill Invitational
Memorial Tournament
U.S. Open
The Open
US PGA Championship
NEC Invitational
Bell Canadian Open

2001
Bay Hill Invitational
The Players Championship
Masters
Memorial Tournament
NEC Invitational

2002
Bay Hill Invitational
Masters
U.S. Open
Buick Open
American Express Championship

2003
Buick Invitational
Match Play Championship
Bay Hill Invitational
Western Open
American Express Championship

2004
Match Play Championship

2005
Buick Invitational
Ford Championship at Doral
Masters
The Open
NEC Invitational
American Express Championship

2006
Buick Invitational
Ford Championship at Doral
The Open
Buick Invitational
US PGA Championship
Bridgestone Invitational
Deutsche Bank Championship
American Express Championship

2007
Buick Invitational
CA Championship
Wachovia Championship
Bridgestone Invitational
US PGA Championship
BMW Championship
Tour Championship

2008
Buick Invitational
Match Play Championship
Arnold Palmer Invitational
U.S. Open

2009
Arnold Palmer Invitational
Memorial Tournament
AT&T National
Buick Open
Bridgestone Invitational
BMW Championship

2012
Arnold Palmer Invitational
Memorial Tournament
AT&T National

2013
Farmers Insurance Open
Cadillac Championship
Arnold Palmer Invitational
The Players Championship
Bridgestone Invitational

2018
Tour Championship

2019
Masters
Zozo Championship

Tiger Woods, who two years ago was unsure if he would ever play again because of injury, landed another big win on the PGA Tour to match Sam Snead's record of 82 titles.

After his emotional 2018 Tour Championship success and his stunning triumph at this year's Masters, where he landed a 15th major, Woods won again at the Zozo Championship in Japan.

Following Tiger's return to the top, Omnisport looks at some of the most stunning statistics from the 43-year-old's illustrious career.

 

MAJOR WINS

Woods famously sits second in the list of men's major winners, edging to just three behind Jack Nicklaus' tally of 18 with his fifth Masters success earlier this year. Tiger has won the US PGA Championship on four occasions and boasts three successes at The Open and U.S. Open.

PGA TOUR WINS

Sam Snead has long held the record for the most wins on the PGA Tour, but Woods has moved alongside his fellow American great, who died in 2002. Snead won titles in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, landing his last win on the tour at the age of 52.

 

MOST WEEKS AT WORLD NUMBER ONE

Woods has topped the Official World Golf Ranking, which was introduced in 1986, for 683 weeks, more than double the time spent at number one by his nearest rival in this regard, Greg Norman (331 weeks). In eight years - 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 - Tiger remained atop the rankings for all 52 weeks of the year. His stint as number one between June 2005 and October 2010 - a period of 281 weeks - is another record.

 

CAREER EARNINGS ON PGA TOUR

Woods came into the Zozo Championship with career earnings of $118,704,468 on the PGA Tour, a figure that will now rise even further. He has earned over $25million more than his nearest rival in this regard, Phil Mickelson.

 

CONSECUTIVE CUTS

Between 1998 and 2005, Woods made the cut in 142 consecutive PGA Tour events, comfortably surpassing the previous record streak of 113 held by Byron Nelson.

 

RECORD SCORES IN MAJORS

Woods' record for the lowest 72-hole score in relation to par at The Open was taken by Henrik Stenson in 2016, the Swede's 20-under total at Royal Troon one shot better than Tiger's winning mark at St Andrews in 2000. Woods still holds the joint-best winning score at the Masters, having finished 18 under in 1997. Jordan Spieth matched that effort in 2015.

 

CAREER GRAND SLAM WINNER

In addition to being one of only five men, together with Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen, to have won golf's four majors since the introduction of the Masters in 1934, Woods held all four titles at once following his 2001 triumph at Augusta, which completed the much-vaunted 'Tiger Slam'. No player has ever won the four present majors in the same year

Tiger Woods made more history on Monday when he matched the great Sam Snead's record haul of 82 PGA Tour victories.

When Woods rolled in the winning putt at the Masters in April it was like reliving a bygone era, given it had been 11 years since the American's last major triumph.

There was considerable doubt whether Woods would ever challenge at the highest level again, as he sought to overcome career-threatening back injuries and a slump in form.

But he has shown he still has the game to land big titles, and by triumphing at the Zozo Championship in Japan, which drew a star-studded field, Woods moved level with Snead.

Here, we take a look at the timeline of Woods' dramatic, albeit largely injury-affected, fall and rise to becoming a major champion again.


September 2013 - Woods was named PGA Tour Player of the Year after winning five titles in 2013. He ended the year as world number one.

March 2014 - Underwent surgery to treat a pinched nerve and missed that year's Masters.

June 2014 - Returned to play the Quicken Loans National in June but missed the cut. He played The Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA Championship but struggled at all three and ended the year ranked 32nd.

February 2015 - After withdrawing from the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods announced an "indefinite break" due to poor form, He had recently shot an 11-over-par 82 at the Phoenix Open.

April 2015 - Returned to play the Masters and showed signs of promise - finishing tied-17th after going five under par for the tournament.

September 2015 - Having missed the cut at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, the first time he had failed to make the weekend at back-to-back majors, Woods confirmed he had undergone a second major back surgery to correct a pinched nerve.

October 2015 - A month later, Woods underwent a follow-up procedure to his previous surgery to help relieve discomfort.

September 2016 - Woods filled the role of non-playing vice-captain in the United States' Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine.

December 2016 - After a 15-month absence, Woods finally made his comeback at the Hero World Challenge and placed 15th.

February 2017 - Having failed to make the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open a week previously, Woods withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour ahead of the second round, with his agent citing back spasms.

April 2017 - Woods announced he would miss the Masters for a second year running, and later that month he underwent a fourth major surgery to help ease pain in his back and leg.

May 2017 - A humiliating mugshot of Woods was released after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Woods quickly explained the incident was due to "an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications". He later pleaded guilty to reckless driving at a Palm Beach County courthouse.

July 2017 - Woods' inactivity led to him dropping out of world's top 1,000.

December 2017 - Made his latest comeback at the Hero World Challenge and finished tied-ninth, before showing good form at the Valspar Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational early in 2018.

July 2018 -  Finished three shots behind winner Francesco Molinari at The Open, having held the lead midway through the final round at Carnoustie.

August 2018 - Carded a 64 - his lowest final round in a major - on the last day of the US PGA Championship to claim second place, two shots behind winner Brooks Koepka.

September 2018 - Woods secured the Tour Championship at East Lake, his long-awaited victory coming after he was named by captain Jim Furyk as a wildcard pick for the US team to face Europe in the Ryder Cup at the end of the month.

April 2019  - Fourteen years after winning the Masters for a fourth time, Woods claimed a fifth green jacket and celebrated a 15th major victory, coming from behind to win such a title for the first time.

October 2019 - Woods landed more silverware in brilliant style in Japan, landing the Zozo Championship title by three shots in Japan. It gave him an 82nd PGA Tour title, equalling the record set by Snead.

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