England losing in the Six Nations, Willie Mullins rolling in the winners at Leopardstown and Harry Kane amongst the goals, it must be February. Here I break down the key talking points from the weekend’s sporting action.
1. Groundhog day
New coach same problems. After an error-strewn performance at Twickenham on Steve Borthwick has plenty to ponder.
England have now fallen at the first Six Nations hurdle for the fourth year in a row. This latest defeat condemning them to three successive defeats against the Scots, with Gregor Townsend’s record versus England now reading: P6, W4, D1, L1.
Next up it’s Italy, who tested French resolve with a battling display in Rome, if England are to nab a first victory under the new regime, Borthwick will need to find improvement and fast.
England to win the Six Nations @ 16/1
2. One season wonder?
After breaking through towards the back end of the 2013/14 season, Harry Kane returned with 28 goals in all competitions the following campaign.
Naysayers regarded him a one-season-wonder. Too slow, too orthodox, a lack of guile in the big moments. Plenty of criticism has been hurled the way of the 29-year-old Spurs captain, yet he has maintained a healthy goal-scoring habit.
But can he be considered an all-time great? Jimmy Greaves’ record is in the rear-view mirror, and after notching the winner against Man City last weekend, that’s 267 Premier League goals and counting.
However, Kane remains without a major team honour to his name for club or country.
That fact is unlikely to change in the immediate future with Tottenham out of contention in the domestic competitions, their only remaining shot at silverware is the Champions League. The question must be begged: Can Kane truly be considered a great without the prizes to back it up?
Tottenham to win the Champions League @ 16-1
3. Changing of the guard
At Leopardstown on Sunday there was the sense of an ending. Honeysuckle, winner of the last three Irish Champion Hurdles and cheered on by an adoring crowd, was dethroned by the young pretender in State Man.
State Man dictated proceedings from the front under Paul Townend and never looked like being caught on the run-in.
With Epatante, a champion hurdle winner in her own right, decisively dispatched by Constitution Hill by a sum total of 29 lengths on his last two outings, it is the latter alongside State Man who carry forth the baton as the next generation of two-mile hurdlers.
For State Man’s efforts he was reeled in from 6s to 11-4 for Cheltenham’s hurdling showpiece. Whether Willie-Mullins’ charge can challenge the freakish Constitution Hill is another question. But he is certainly a viable candidate.
State Man to win the Champion Hurdle @ 11-4
There is no escaping the fact that this season so far Everton have been dreadful. While the risk of relegation adds an urgency to the situation, most would have forgiven Sean Dyche if he had failed to find significant improvement against the league’s runaway leaders Arsenal.
However, Everton won the game courtesy of a goal made in Burnley. Dwight McNeill thumped an inswinging corner into the danger zone and James Tarkowski was on hand to power a header past a hapless Aaron Ramsdale.
At its best, Dyche’s football is gloriously simple: 4, 4, 2, balls into the box with big men to attack them, all the while remaining infuriatingly compact through the middle of the pitch. It’s not always pretty, but when it works, as Arsenal discovered, it is mighty effective.
The transformation of Everton was there for all to see. But can Dyche’s humble principles deliver a great escape?
Everton to finish in the bottom three @ 11/10
5. More Irish dominance?
After the ‘Greenwash’ of 2021 a special advisory group was formed to consider what changes could be made to make British Jumps racing more competitive and boost festival chances.
Unfortunately, changes to British racing cannot solve a problem like Willie Mullins. The man from Kilkenny is a force of his own when it comes to Cheltenham and is the most successful trainer in the meeting’s history with 88 winners.
Mullins is on the march again after posting a 1,739-1 five-timer at Leopardstown on Sunday with each of his winners underlining the strength of his hand come March.
Aside from State Man, it was Gaelic Warrior who stole the headlines, carrying top weight to victory in the Grade B Festina Lente Charity Liffey Handicap Hurdle and becoming the first to do so this century.
Gaelic Warrior is now into 9/2 for the Ballymore and 5/1 for the Supreme. With such a strong squad you wouldn’t bet against Mullins returning from Cheltenham to Closutton with another record-breaking haul of winners come March.
Gaelic Warrior @ 9/2 to win the Ballymore