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Six Nations: Luke Fitzgerald can rest easy next time

Luke Fitzgerald admits he barely slept a wink before Saturday’s great Irish
escape against Italy.

fitzGERALD HAS PROVEd HIS CLASSGive us a break: after his solid display
against Italy (left), Luke Fitzgerald hopes he will get another chance to
team up with Keith Earls (top) and Fergus McFadden (above) in the back three
against France on Sunday

But he can rest easier now, hoping that he and wing pair Fergus McFadden and
Keith Earls will be given further opportunites to prove themselves following
last weekend’s first outing together at 15, 14 and 11 respectively.

Previously Ireland saw the affable Fitzgerald as an out-and-out winger, though
he himself prefers full-back. At the weekend he got his wish to start in at
number 15 in the laboured win over Italy.

Simultaneously Leinster clubmate McFadden was given his Irish debut wide
right, while Munster’s Earls lined out on the left.

It was a young back three and one with considerable potential. Fitzgerald and
Earls are 23 and McFadden is 24. Fitzgerald has 17 caps, Earls won his 14th
on Saturday and McFadden hopes that last weekend proves to have been just
the first of many.

Bearing in mind the experience and try-scoring of the back five whose
injury-enforced exclusion saw that young threesome called together for the
first time in Rome, the gaps they were asked to fill were considerable.

Geordan Murphy, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Shane Horgan and Andrew Trimble have
been there, done that and filled several chests of drawers with the
tee-shirts. Between them those five have won 228 caps.

With injuries having ruled out Kearney and Murphy for the foreseeable future,
Fitzgerald would like to fill the vacancy for a full-back that has left.

Gavin Duffy probably has other ideas, of course, but that’s another matter
altogether. The Connacht man lost out against Italy and if Fitzgerald gets
his way Duffy is just going to have to continue to be patient. Currently he
is the man in possession and although, in rugby, that does not necessarily
translate as 9/10ths of the law, it does present a decent enough case until
such times as form dictates otherwise.

“I was delighted to get picked there,” Fitzgerald said in the wake of
Saturday’s 13-11 win. “Obviously I haven’t come into the Six Nations with
great form – there’s been a few bad injuries along the way – but, to be
honest, I was happy with my performance against Italy.

“I did what was asked of me and did the simple things well enough, which was
important for me. Hopefully that’s enough for me to get in again against
France.

“As regards the two other lads, it was great for them to be involved. Fergus
is a good mate of mine and obviously a good buddy from Leinster, so it was
great to see him do well.

“Earlsy as well; he’s a friend from a long time back. We really enjoyed
playing together and hopefully we get another opportunity again in the next
couple of weeks and get used to one another and maybe creating a bit more.”

Fitzgerald admits that he saw the Stadio Flaminio outing as “a really big
opportunity for me”. But he also reveals that it took its toll in terms of
sleep deprivation.

“I think expectations were pretty low – which is tough at times – I was a
little more nervous than usual, I must admit. I didn’t have a very comfy
sleep the night before. I was tossing and turning a bit.

“But thankfully I did a pretty good job, I think, and hopefully I’ll be able
to get a few more games in there and build up a bit of momentum in that 15
position,” he said.

He feels experience played its part in Ireland getting out of jail via Ronan
O’Gara’s late drop-goal winner in Rome.

“I think there’s a fair bit of know-how in this team now and a lot of very
experienced guys in there. There was no panic when Italy got their late try;
we re-gathered ourselves well on the line and tried to put pressure on the
kicker.”

Elaborating on that tactic he explained: “We were just trying to get in his
eye-line and make him miss that kick. I don’t know if we had anything to do
with it but he missed it anyway.

“Then we talked about trying to put good pressure on the kick-off and winning
the ball back and we did that. I thought we were pretty clinical when we got
in drop-goal range and obviously ROG did great to put the ball over. And we
held out well in the end.”

Fitzgerald will await tomorrow’s team announcement with considerable interest
– and probably not much sleep.

Continue reading here: Six Nations: Luke Fitzgerald can rest easy next time

Speedweeks is back with changes and same ol’ excitement – CBSSports.com

Ready or not, NASCAR 2011 is about to take the green flag.

It may only seem like yesterday when Jimmie Johnson locked up his fifth straight Sprint Cup title at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but in reality nearly three months have passed since the checkered flag flew on the 2010 season.

So after a season of changes, driver moves, team personnel shuffles and rules modifications, the brand new racing campaign is about to kick off at Daytona International Speedway with the official start of Speedweeks this weekend.

The two weeks spent at The World Center of Racing won’t mean much to the rest of the season. The preparation and actual racing at Daytona is really a season of its own.

“Everything we do at Daytona, whether it’s the Bud Shootout, qualifying, the Gatorade Duels or the 500 is so different than how we prepare and execute during the rest of the schedule,” said crew chief Steve Letarte, who takes on the task of calling the shots for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season. “It’s just a different deal when we’re at Daytona and then move on to Phoenix the next week to begin what many of us believe is the real season.”

Speedweeks 2011 has the additional intrigue of taking place on a brand new racing surface, which Daytona received for the first time in more than three decades. After last year’s pot hole-plagued Daytona 500, track management tore up the storied 2.5-mile oval and replaced it with what has so far been a lightning-fast and billiards table smooth new coat of asphalt.

“Everybody is happy with the surface,” said Jeff Burton, who turned laps on the new layout during both December’s Goodyear tire test and the January Preseason Thunder session. “The tire combination seems to be really good. It’s going to be a Talladega-style race for sure versus what we’ve seen at Daytona. I think it’s going to be an exciting Daytona 500. You’re going to have to change your mind set a little bit about how to do the Daytona thing. I think it’s gone really well.”

However, practice and testing is one thing — actual racing is another. With teams hesitant to draft in packs during either of the two tests at the track a true feel for what to expect under green flag conditions won’t come until this week’s practice for Saturday night’s Budweiser Shootout all-star race.

“No one really wanted to risk tearing up any good equipment during the test sessions so I’m not sure we got a definitive look at how the draft is going to affect us until we all get out there together,” said defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray. “I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of a tentative wait-and-see kind of game until that happens.”

One thing that was clear during the pair of sessions was the phenomenon of how successful a two-car drafting hook-up could be. Just like what Talladega Superspeedway’s new racing surface created, the new Daytona has given birth to the strategy of a pair of cars locking together in a draft that was good for nearly 10 additional miles per hour than single car runs.

“I was a little surprised to see it, but it looked like it worked pretty well,” Letarte said. “I’m sure we’ll see quite a bit of it. There’s less real estate here than at Talladega, so it’s a little bit harder to do.”

However, Letarte still isn’t completely sure about what some of the nuances will be with the two-car draft citing strategy and engine overheating as two key elements yet to be determined.

“How fast can you go and what do you need to do to do it?” Letarte said. “The driver has to learn things how to do it and relay to me what other tools I can give him to make that easier. We’ve seen at Talladega, the cat’s out of the bag, when it comes to the end of the race that’s kind of how Talladega finishes. Whether this will be the same way or not, I don’t know yet.”

While the Sprint Cup Series and the Daytona 500 are the main event, the nearly two-week stay in Daytona is jammed with other racing as NASCAR showcases its top three divisions. In addition to the Sprint Cup Bud Shootout, Gatorade Duel qualifying races and the 500, both the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series begin their seasons at Daytona.

The No. 2 Nationwide Series underwent an overhaul in the offseason with a new championship policy introduced that effectively eliminates Cup regulars from running for the title. The “Pick a Series” rule means the likes of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard or last year’s champ Brad Keselowski can run the entire schedule if they want but will not accumulate points toward the crown.

The policy now shines the spotlight on a different group of drivers who are committed as full-time Nationwide competitors. This year’s champion will come from a group including former Cup regular Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Jason Leffler and Brian Scott.

“I have no problem running against any Cup veteran driver and in fact welcome the chance to learn by racing against them,” said Bayne, who will run the series for Roush Fenway Racing while also making 17 Sprint Cup starts for the Wood Brothers. “This new policy though gives me and some others a shot to win the championship which would be a big accomplishment in our careers.”

The Nationwide Series will also have a new look on the track as the next generation series car — introduced in a four race trial schedule last year — gets rolled out full-time.

The Mustang, Camry, Impala and Challenger models that carry much more brand identity and manufacturer awareness than their predecessors will help further establish the series away from its Sprint Cup big brother’s shadow.

“We think it’s very, very important for the Nationwide Series,” Nationwide Series director Joe Balash said. “We’ve been working on that project for a number of years now to try to put together what we feel is the best package to move the series forward, to continue to help us in all our safety aspects and to continue to tighten the competition on the race track. And that car is basically the formula that we put together to do that.”

The Nationwide Series opener will also bring with it “Danica Mania 2.0,” as the Indy Car race begins her second season competing in NASCAR.

Patrick will once again run a limited series schedule for JR Motorsports while maintaining her full IndyCar Series slate for Andretti Autosport.

Patrick’s first year was nothing stellar but she still believes progress was made that will help her through year No. 2 of her foray into stock car racing.

“I feel a lot more comfortable,” Patrick said. “I’m continuing to understand the limits of the car. I still have a lot to learn, it’s still pretty new. I’ve got about a third of a season under my belt, but definitely better off than I was last year, so I’m looking forward to it.”

It will be interesting to see just how much Patrick has improved from 2010 and whether the media frenzy that accompanied her arrival to Speedweeks last year happens again this February.

One thing is for certain — predicting what happens in Daytona is futile. Always a crapshoot, this year’s edition of the annual trek to central Florida should be particularly mysterious given the multitude of variables.

That should be music to racing starved fans’ ears from coast-to-coast.

Continue reading here: Speedweeks is back with changes and same ol’ excitement – CBSSports.com

Cool hand Luke can rest easy next time

Luke Fitzgerald admits he barely slept a wink before Saturday’s great Irish
escape against Italy.

fitzGERALD HAS PROVEd HIS CLASSGive us a break: after his solid display
against Italy (left), Luke Fitzgerald hopes he will get another chance to
team up with Keith Earls (top) and Fergus McFadden (above) in the back three
against France on Sunday

But he can rest easier now, hoping that he and wing pair Fergus McFadden and
Keith Earls will be given further opportunites to prove themselves following
last weekend’s first outing together at 15, 14 and 11 respectively.

Previously Ireland saw the affable Fitzgerald as an out-and-out winger, though
he himself prefers full-back. At the weekend he got his wish to start in at
number 15 in the laboured win over Italy.

Simultaneously Leinster clubmate McFadden was given his Irish debut wide
right, while Munster’s Earls lined out on the left.

It was a young back three and one with considerable potential. Fitzgerald and
Earls are 23 and McFadden is 24. Fitzgerald has 17 caps, Earls won his 14th
on Saturday and McFadden hopes that last weekend proves to have been just
the first of many.

Bearing in mind the experience and try-scoring of the back five whose
injury-enforced exclusion saw that young threesome called together for the
first time in Rome, the gaps they were asked to fill were considerable.

Geordan Murphy, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe, Shane Horgan and Andrew Trimble have
been there, done that and filled several chests of drawers with the
tee-shirts. Between them those five have won 228 caps.

With injuries having ruled out Kearney and Murphy for the foreseeable future,
Fitzgerald would like to fill the vacancy for a full-back that has left.

Gavin Duffy probably has other ideas, of course, but that’s another matter
altogether. The Connacht man lost out against Italy and if Fitzgerald gets
his way Duffy is just going to have to continue to be patient. Currently he
is the man in possession and although, in rugby, that does not necessarily
translate as 9/10ths of the law, it does present a decent enough case until
such times as form dictates otherwise.

“I was delighted to get picked there,” Fitzgerald said in the wake of
Saturday’s 13-11 win. “Obviously I haven’t come into the Six Nations with
great form – there’s been a few bad injuries along the way – but, to be
honest, I was happy with my performance against Italy.

“I did what was asked of me and did the simple things well enough, which was
important for me. Hopefully that’s enough for me to get in again against
France.

“As regards the two other lads, it was great for them to be involved. Fergus
is a good mate of mine and obviously a good buddy from Leinster, so it was
great to see him do well.

“Earlsy as well; he’s a friend from a long time back. We really enjoyed
playing together and hopefully we get another opportunity again in the next
couple of weeks and get used to one another and maybe creating a bit more.”

Fitzgerald admits that he saw the Stadio Flaminio outing as “a really big
opportunity for me”. But he also reveals that it took its toll in terms of
sleep deprivation.

“I think expectations were pretty low – which is tough at times – I was a
little more nervous than usual, I must admit. I didn’t have a very comfy
sleep the night before. I was tossing and turning a bit.

“But thankfully I did a pretty good job, I think, and hopefully I’ll be able
to get a few more games in there and build up a bit of momentum in that 15
position,” he said.

He feels experience played its part in Ireland getting out of jail via Ronan
O’Gara’s late drop-goal winner in Rome.

“I think there’s a fair bit of know-how in this team now and a lot of very
experienced guys in there. There was no panic when Italy got their late try;
we re-gathered ourselves well on the line and tried to put pressure on the
kicker.”

Elaborating on that tactic he explained: “We were just trying to get in his
eye-line and make him miss that kick. I don’t know if we had anything to do
with it but he missed it anyway.

“Then we talked about trying to put good pressure on the kick-off and winning
the ball back and we did that. I thought we were pretty clinical when we got
in drop-goal range and obviously ROG did great to put the ball over. And we
held out well in the end.”

Fitzgerald will await tomorrow’s team announcement with considerable interest
– and probably not much sleep.

Continue reading here: Cool hand Luke can rest easy next time

Three to go… – ESPN (blog)

CHARLOTTE — Celtics guard Ray Allen needs a trio of 3-pointers Monday night against the Bobcats to tie Reggie Miller‘s NBA record of 2,560 career 3-pointers. Will the record be matched (or even fall) in Charlotte? Past history suggest Allen is going to at least give himself a chance.

In eight career games here, Allen is averaging 20.9 points and chucking an average of 7.3 triples per game. He’s made 2.8 trifectas per game in Charlotte, which means an average night is likely to at least etch his name on the same line as Miller in the record books Monday.

There’s a sentiment among some fans that it would add to the moment if Allen breaks the record Thursday night in Boston when the Los Angeles Lakers visit the TD Garden. But Allen isn’t the type to alter his routine in order to steer the moment toward a certain date.

“I think everybody knows, but there’s a sense of me getting sidetracked if you worry about it, because you feel like you’ve got to shoot it from beyond the arc,” Allen said last week. “I don’t want to press, I don’t want to step outside of what we’re trying to do here, and just continue to be who I am and do what I’ve been doing this whole time. I know it. I know it’s in the back of my mind. I know it’s there, but this is me being here, being where I am, I’m here because of the preparation I’ve put in my whole career, so I just stick to that and let it carry me the rest of the way.”

Even with that pressure, Allen said he’s savoring the pursuit of a new NBA milestone.

“No, I truly am enjoying it,” Allen said. “This is a moment that I’ve never experienced before. I don’t know how many people can experience this type of moment. We’re playing a team sport, but there’s the individual element that is associated with me right now [and] as much as I’ve always been very into the team, it’s something that everybody is pointing at me, like, ‘You need to keep doing this, you need to do that.’ It’s all a testimony to the guys that can stay around for a long time, because, you get 20,000 points, however many minutes, whatever it may be, but longevity produces greatness in any sport.”

Continue reading here: Three to go… – ESPN (blog)


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