THE appointment of Andy Flower as England team director means that England now have the captain-coach combination they needed when Michael Vaughan quit last northern summer – but it has come about by outrageous fluke.
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Six months ago, Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores were in charge and neither [Andrew] Strauss nor Flower was dreaming of power, let alone world domination, which will be demanded if they somehow manage to win the Ashes. Yet here they are, two hardy souls raised under a Southern African sun, daring England’s players to raise their game through a diet of hard work and tough love.

"I want an ethos of constant improvement within the side," Flower said at Lord’s this week. "I want our players to be constantly moving forward and challenging themselves and I want us to be physically and mentally strong. These are some of the principles that we’ll build this team on."

As Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, who appointed Flower made plain, the coach-captain relationship is crucial to an international side. Show a united front and even the top dogs in the dressing-room will come to heel, and that is something that needs to happen if England are to perform as a team and not, as is increasingly the case, as a bunch of disparate, but not untalented, individuals.

"Captains and coaches don’t always have to agree or to get on perfectly," Flower said. "In fact, it’s healthy if there is always debate between the two of you and the rest of the management team and squad. I respect Andrew. I think he’s a very good cricketer and a very good captain."

One worry about Flower’s partnership with Strauss is that while they would have made a wonderfully contrasting pair as batsmen, they are perhaps too similar as thinkers.

Mind you, having too much integrity could be a nice problem for England to have.

As you would expect from a man who has just been handed an extra megawatt of power in his job, Flower refused to reveal his strategic plans, insisting that he had only just got the post. Yet, as Moores’s assistant for 20 months, and as interim coach on the tour to the West Indies, he has been involved long enough to know what he wants to change. His chief targets are "Player plcs" and the complacency caused by central contracts.

The concept of the Player plc, which has but one shareholder, is not new.

When he was England coach, Keith Fletcher was critical of Robin Smith for concentrating more on his business interests off the field than those on it. Most players are at it now and while few will blame them for maximising their profits in a relatively short career, it is easy to forget where priorities lie.

Changing that and dismantling the system of central contracts will not make Flower popular, but when you have defied Robert Mugabe and his henchmen by wearing black armbands to signify the death of democracy in Zimbabwe, you are obviously not easily swayed from your convictions.

England’s new team director possesses resolve and determination, which was also illustrated when he quit county cricket with Essex in 2007 to become a coach, forgoing a benefit worth at least £300,000 ($622,000). Success is never guaranteed when you move platforms, but with Flower you sense it has a better than even chance.

According to Morris, there were 30 applicants for the England team director’s post, although he would not reveal how many made it to the final interview in front of the four-man panel he chaired. He is confident that England have chosen the right man.

Flower’s appointment has not been universally approved, however. Duncan Fletcher, one of his predecessors, said he had been handed the job before proving himself under real pressure, although that is something that the Ashes and World Twenty20 tournament will surely bring.

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JOE PRIDE was left stunned when the trainer’s warhorse, Vision And Power, thundered home to win the famed Doncaster Mile at Randwick yesterday.
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For owner Nick Moraitis, whose galloper Might And Power won races such as the Caulfield and Melbourne cups and the Cox Plate, it was a moment to dream about.

For jockey Jim Cassidy it was another triumph. A time to give thanks to his personal trainer, the veteran Malcolm Ayoub. A time to thank Racing NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy for allowing him to ride Vision And Power half a kilogram over weight.

The grand slam-winning jockey, who was aboard Might And Power in the above triumphs, has been in sensational form, claiming group 1s at each of the past three Saturdays. Cassidy hadn’t wasted so hard to ride at 51.5kg for a long time.

"I knew it wouldn’t stop me if I remained strong of mind," Cassidy said before thanking Ayoub, who arrived from Perth to punish the jockey in early morning weight-reducing sessions at the Coogee RSL Club.

"I’ve been sucking on a grapefruit from Moraitis’s for a week," said Cassidy, who must now choose between Vision And Power and his AJC Australian Derby winner Roman Emperor in next Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick.

Moraitis wondered aloud: "Am I still dreaming, I can’t believe this has happened again."

When asked about Cassidy, he replied: "He says it all himself. He has been unbelievable, he has been loyal, he is a real knockabout, Jimmy. He is a man’s man and he has ridden that horse to perfection again. He is class."

For the 36-year-old Pride it was a career highlight. He might never have touched a horse until he was 20 but Pride is on the rise.

"There are three races I’d like to win and this is one of them," Pride said – the others being the Melbourne Cup and the Cox Plate. "I’ve watched these growing up as a punter … you don’t even think you could win one."

Vision And Power has won the Goerge Ryder and Doncaster in consecutive starts, both group 1 races.

"It is unbelievable, I can’t believe this horse has done it," Pride said. "To go to the level he has gone to today is a fantastic performance.

"Great for my team at home, I’m just so proud of the horse."

Pride admitted having concern in the run, as Vision And Power was back and wide, but said: "He has this explosive finish. The last 200 metres was freakish."

Vision And Power was able to fend off the Con Karakatsanis-trained Black Piranha, which made its run down the outside of the track with the very unlucky Whobegotyou.

"The horse has run super," Karakatsanis said. "It is remarkable to run second in a Doncaster, but he is such an honest horse, he tried his heart out."

Connections of Whobegotyou viewed the stewards’ video in the hope of lodging a protest.

"There wasn’t enough to believe stewards would uphold a protest," Whobegotyou’s trainer Mark Kavanagh said.

"There was enough to say, he was deadset unlucky, several runs didn’t open. We’ll put it down to the one that got away."

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THE National Rugby League has banned two fans for life and sin-binned three others for five years over offences ranging from assault to streaking and ignoring a smoking ban.
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NRL spokesman John Brady said league representatives issued the banning notices to five men at their Sydney homes yesterday in the presence of police who are also prosecuting two for assaults following incidents at three games during the past three weeks.

The ages of the fans and the teams they support have not been revealed.

Mr Brady said the bans took the number of spectators excluded from matches for bad behaviour in the past three years to 16.

He said three banning notices were issued after the Rabbitohs-Bulldogs match at ANZ Stadium last Monday night, including a ban for life to a man who assaulted a security guard and a five-year ban to a man who became involved in the same incident.

Another man at the match was banned for five years after failing to follow instructions to leave ANZ Stadium after violating smoking regulations.

"The NRL is also proceeding with another life ban against a man for an assault in the car park at EnergyAustralia Stadium [in Newcastle] following the match between the Manly Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights two weeks ago," Mr Brady said.

A man who ran naked onto the playing field at Parramatta Stadium three weeks ago has also been banned for five years.

"In all cases the NRL bans are game-wide and are in addition to any impending police or court proceedings. Bans are enforceable under the Enclosed Lands Protection Act and anyone who breaches a ban will be subject to criminal proceedings," Mr Brady said.

"It is important that people know bans on fans can be enforced. It is not something that we just do here and there. It is ongoing."

NSW Police major events commander Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford said yesterday police supported the action by the NRL and worked with the league to identify those responsible.

"The decision by the NRL is supported by police and sends a clear message to those involved that assaults and serious offences won’t be tolerated at football games," Assistant Commissioner Clifford said.

"Sport doesn’t need these types of people ruining a game for others, and a ban will remind them for a long time that their behaviour is unacceptable."

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Having arrested lingering doubts about their ability to pick up competition points on the road, the Gold Coast Titans risk spoiling the good work of the past fortnight if they cannot bring their form back in their travel bags to Robina on Friday night.
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That is the message from the club’s veteran five-eighth Mat Rogers, who has helped guide the Coast franchise to successive away victories in Melbourne and Townsville that have earned them early-season status as equal competition leaders.

The Titans next play host to the scales-crushing Canberra Raiders, a club known as the Green Machine and now boasting a squad virtually full of Incredible Hulks.

"We’ve really got to make it count," Rogers said.

"If we go out and put in an ordinary performance this Friday then the previous two weeks really mean nothing.

"We know if we can win our fair share away from home and maintain our clean sheet at home then we’ll be thereabouts at the end of the year."

The dual international was forced from the field in the 14-10 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday night with a gaping head wound but, describing it as "just a superficial cut", he was yesterday named at number six for the encounter with the Raiders at Skilled Park.

The bill of health is not as clean, though, throughout the Titans squad, with Brad Meyers poised to miss up to three games with an AC joint injury and forward trio Aaron Cannings, Mark Minichiello (ankle) and Michael Henderson (groin) all under injury clouds.

They will be given until tomorrow to prove their fitness.

A largely fortunate run with injuries to date this season – captain Scott Prince’s two-week stint in a suit and tie with a hamstring problem aside – has been a major contributor to the Titans’ lofty position on the NRL table, according to Rogers.

"We’ve had a little bit of consistency throughout the first part of the season, Princey being the obvious omission there," he said.

"It’s been a tough couple of weeks on the road but we that after this game we’ve got a 10-day break."

They may need each one of those days to nurse bumps and bruises from the clash with the top-heavy Raiders, who pose another physical challenge for a Titans pack already derided this year for a perceived lack of size.

"There are certain ways to play big sides and they are a big side, Canberra, and not only in the forwards – right across the park," said Titans coach John Cartwright.

"You look at Terry Campese, who plays in the halves, he’s over the 100kg mark and their wingers are about the 100kg mark.

"We’ve just got to be smart about things. We won’t be intimidated at all."

Cartwright insisted his forwards were big and ugly enough to withstand the Canberra stampede.

"If you look at our pack weight – you’ve got Matt White, Aaron Cannings, they’re both over the 110kg mark and Luke Bailey’s about 108kg," he said.

"So I wouldn’t say we’re the biggest side in the league but we’re not the smallest either."

Gold Coast Titans: Preston Campbell, Kevin Gordon, Esi Tonga, Brett Delaney, Chris Walker, Mat Rogers, Scott Prince, Luke Bailey, Nathan Friend, Aaron Cannings, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minnichiello, Ashley Harrison.

Interchange Matthew White, Josh Graham, Luke O’Dwyer, William Zillman.

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THE Western Force were stunned last night when told Brett Sheehan and not Test halfback Luke Burgess would be the opposing starting halfback when they play the Waratahs at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night.
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When Force coach John Mitchell, who had just arrived in Sydney with the team, was informed of Sheehan’s promotion, he asked a journalist: "You’re not pulling my leg?"

When convinced Burgess was on the bench, Mitchell added that starting Sheehan for the first time this season was "surprising, to say the least".

This is not to say the Force don’t rate Sheehan, as, after all, they are pursuing the Waratahs’ No.2 halfback for next season. The startled reaction had more to do with the Test incumbent being dropped to the bench at a time when his form, after a slow Super 14 start, had picked up considerably.

Nonetheless Burgess had been under threat for some time. After just a few rounds, the Waratahs selectors were contemplating dropping Burgess and Kurtley Beale for Sheehan and Daniel Halangahu, but at the last minute opted against it.

A few weeks later, Burgess was informed by the Waratahs team management that his spot was again in jeopardy, but several prominent performances made his spot safe … until yesterday.

Sheehan’s promotion would also have a lot to do with who will run out in the Force No.9 jersey – Josh Valentine. The former Waratahs and Wallabies halfback is a pugnacious, cheeky performer who can antagonise his opponents, as shown several weeks ago when Reds back-rower Scott Higginbotham threw a punch at him during one ruck.

Sheehan is similarly aggressive and will not be intimidated by Valentine.

Waratahs coach Chris Hickey explained that Sheehan had been promoted because he "had been doing a really good job for us with relatively little game time this season, so we’d thought we’d give him the chance to rip in from the start this week".

Mitchell, meanwhile, knows that sooner or later Burgess will be on the field.

"The Waratahs are blessed with two very good halfbacks, and they probably complement each other pretty well," the Force coach said.

"Brett’s pretty good defensively, and also good in the carry. This may bring a little more patience in their phases because of that physical presence, and then as the game wears on, Luke can come on and be a significant threat around the ruck area."

The only other Waratahs change is Timana Tahu moving to outside-centre for the injured Rob Horne, while Peter Playford comes on to the bench.

Will Caldwell will become NSW’s most capped second-rower, with his 64th state appearance having him move ahead of Tom Bowman and John Welborn.

While the Waratahs are trying to overcome last weekend’s disappointing reversal against the Bulls, it was not as dramatic as the Force losing in the last seconds to the Hurricanes.

"Naturally we were gutted by last week," Mitchell said. "The guys played some good rugby and we were pretty unfortunate not to get the result.

"We haven’t been conditioned to that situation, and this has been a huge learning curve for us. It’s more about looking at the things we didn’t do during that late period. That has been the focus of this week, rather than focusing on the negative of not getting the result."

WARATAHS: Sam Norton-Knight; Lachie Turner, Timana Tahu, Tom Carter, Lote Tuqiri; Daniel Halangahu, Brett Sheehan; Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh (c), Ben Mowen, Will Caldwell, Dean Mumm, Dan Palmer, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Res: Damien Fitzpatrick, Sekope Kepu, Chris Thomson, Luke Doherty, Luke Burgess, Kurtley Beale, Peter Playford.

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