Analysis – Unbeaten England have reasons to be cheerful

Defeats by Italy and Uruguay and a draw with Costa Rica in Brazil last June were viewed by many England fans as the lowest point in the team’s chequered history but six wins from six in Euro 2016 qualifying are beginning to change perceptions.

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It is an easy Group E — second-placed Slovenia trail England by nine points — and two teams automatically qualify for the expanded 24-team tournament in France, but even coach Roy Hodgson cannot have expected 18 points at this stage.

His joy at fulltime could have been very different if Wayne Rooney had not made it 3-2 in the dying minutes to move one goal behind Bobby Charlton’s England record tally of 49.

“We dominated the game totally for long, long periods,” Hodgson told ITV.

Hodgson also put a positive spin on his decision to start centre half Phil Jones at right back and then substitute him after a error-strewn first period for midfielder Adam Lallana, with right back Nathaniel Clyne on the bench.

Lallana helped set up Jack Wilshere’s two pile-drivers and midfielder Jordan Henderson filled in well at the back, a tactic Hodgson said was intentional to keep England on the attack.

“Jordan did very well at right back, we were thinking that we would be limiting our options if we replaced Phil Jones with another defender,” Hodgson said.

“It was harsh on Nathaniel, he doesn’t deserve that…but it was the best way to get Lallana on. Luckily both moves worked out well.”

Another indication of England having more bite in the final third, in contrast to a dour recent goalless friendly in Ireland, was midfielder Wilshere finally netting for his country on his 28th appearance.

His two carbon copy crackers from outside the box were worth the wait and the 23-year-old acknowledged he should shoot more having become accustomed to sometimes over intricate passing at Arsenal.

“It has been a long time coming. When the first one came I just hit it so I had a little bit of confidence for the second one,” he said.

Tougher tests await and there remain major question marks defensively but England fans are rightly feeling a lot more cheerful.

(Writing by Mark Meadows, editing by Ed Osmond)

Titans can’t rule out Taylor move

Amid rumours linking Dave Taylor to a Japan rugby move, Gold Coast coach Neil Henry admits he can’t guarantee the inconsistent big man’s NRL future at the Titans.

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Not taking a backward step after controversially demoting Taylor to 18th man ahead of Sunday’s NRL win over Canterbury, Henry admitted the club may have to explore their options with the ex-Queensland State of Origin X-factor.

In the Maroons’ team barely a year ago, Taylor has suffered a dramatic fall from grace at the Gold Coast with a year still left on his $400,000-plus annual contract.

There are reports he has been shopped around to English Super League clubs as well as the speculation Taylor will take the big bucks offered in Japanese rugby next year.

Henry wasn’t ruling anything out after leaving him out of their impressive 28-14 NRL victory over the Bulldogs despite the absence of forward Nate Myles (Origin duty).

“He’s contracted and by rights he will be here next year,” Henry told Triple M NRL radio.

“But we need to explore other options – he does have a healthy contract out of the salary cap.

“We need to say ‘mate you need to be making a statement that you are going to be here long term’.

“And I haven’t seen that so far this year. That’s the honest truth about it.”

The Gold Coast are looking at cutting underperforming players after Daly Cherry-Evans’ backflip on his lucrative Titans deal and Myles’ 2016 Manly move opened up salary cap space.

The Titans reportedly first sounded out English Super League clubs before speculation emerged Taylor may be headed for a code switch.

“He’s got a year to go and I think we all know Dave can be brilliant one week and doesn’t quite get there the week after – consistency has been his problem,” Henry said.

“He’s such a talented footballer for a big man, so skilled.

“It’s not a hard job for him but he just needs to do that job every week.”

Windies must stick at it: Clarke

A small but vocal minority of the Sabina Park crowd in Kingston made their feelings plain to West Indies coach Phil Simmons on Sunday.

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After watching their once-proud cricket team cop a thrashing by Australia for the second time in a Test in two weeks, they’d clearly had enough.

“Shame,” they shouted at Simmons and his coaching staff after the humiliating 277-run loss, the Windies’ sixth-heaviest defeat by runs in their Test history.

Despite the ease of Australia’s victories, captain Michael Clarke has backed Simmons and the Windies young talents.

He says both coach and players must be given time to prove themselves.

“They’ve certainly got some fight in them, they’ve certainly got talent,” Clarke said.

“I just think they need to be patient.

“Phil Simmons is a lovely guy and fantastic coach, so I’ve got a lot of confidence West Indies will continue to get better.”

Windies skipper Denesh Ramdin, who himself came under scrutiny for some poor tactical decisions during the second Test, says it’s clear there’s a long way to go for his team.

But Ramdin hopes lessons can be learnt from their Australian hiding that will make his young side a better team next time around.

“The effort can’t be faulted, sometimes we fought but we didn’t fight for as long as we wanted to,” he said.

“I’d like to build a team and move forward in that vein.

“They’re one of the best all-round teams in the world and we didn’t be as consistent as we wanted to so we’d like to take this moving forward into the next series.”

WEST INDIES’ HEAVIEST TEST LOSSES BY RUNS

382 v Australia, SCG 1969

379 v Australia, Gabba 2005

352 v Australia, MCG 2000

351 v South Africa, Centurion 1991

312 v Australia, Port of Spain 1999

277 v Australia, Kingston 2015

266 v Pakistan, Port of Spain 1977

256 v England, Birmingham 2004

256 v England, Port of Spain 1960

255 v India, Chennai 1988

Australia crush West Indies to win series 2-0

Australia, who won the first test in Dominica by nine wickets last week, outplayed their hosts not just with bat and ball, but also in the field.

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West Indies were already in a hopeless position at the start of the day’s play and Australia ruthlessly wrapped up the win, taking eight wickets in 34 overs.

Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon completed the rout when he clean bowled Jerome Taylor for a golden duck.

Steve Smith was named man of the match after making 199 in the first innings, while right-arm fast bowler Josh Hazlewood was voted man of the series.

He took 12 wickets at an average of 8.83.

“The new ball is key on these types of wickets,” Hazlewood said at the victory presentation. “There was always something there if you put the ball in the right areas.”

Captain Michael Clarke had declared his side’s second innings late on Saturday to set West Indies a 392-run victory target with more than two days left.

But his boldness paid off and he was full of praise for his bowlers.

“What they’ve done really well is executed their skill over long periods of time, the whole attack,” Clarke said.

“Our goal is to be more consistent away from home, so a really good start in these two test matches. We’ll enjoy tonight and then look forward to what’s ahead.”

The way Australia brushed past a West Indies side that drew a recent series with England will serve as a confidence booster ahead of the Ashes which starts in three weeks in Cardiff.

West Indies resumed at 16 for two and lost five wickets in another feeble session for the addition of 56 runs before lunch.

Shane Dowrich (4), Darren Bravo (11), Jermaine Blackwood (0), Shai Hope (16) and Jason Holder (1) all fell.

Denesh Ramdin (29) offered some resistance after lunch but Kemar Roach and Taylor were out in quick succession.

The Australian attack shared the spoils, with Mitchell Starc claiming three wickets, while fellow quicks Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson, and Lyon, collected two each.

Medium-pacer Shane Watson chipped in with the other wicket.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Windies win a pre-Ashes boost for Clarke

The Ashes.

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The two words Michael Clarke didn’t want his team to speak about during their two-Test tour of the Caribbean.

Worried his team might lose their focus and worry more about England than the West Indies, Clarke says he made it crystal clear he didn’t want any talk about the Poms over the past month.

Now, having wrapped up a 2-0 series victory over the hapless hosts with a 277-run thrashing inside four days at Jamaica’s Sabina Park, Clarke is officially letting the Ashes build-up begin.

“I’d be lying to say it hasn’t been in the back of everyone’s mind but the fact we’ve been really disciplined on playing really good cricket in these conditions against this West Indies team is a really good achievement from the boys,” Clarke said.

“We’re all excited about what lies ahead. I’ve spoken a lot about consistency away from home, I just hope this is the start of it.”

Australia couldn’t have asked for a better Ashes warm-up than their two matches against a young and outclassed Windies side.

After winning the first Test inside three days by 10 wickets, the victory at Kingston was just as comprehensive.

Needing seven wickets to wrap up the win, the tourists claimed 5-56 in the morning session on day four before securing the series midway through the afternoon session.

Steve Smith’s first innings 199 earned him man of the match honours while Josh Hazlewood, who took 2-18 in the second innings to finish with seven wickets in the match, was named as player of the series.

Hazlewood ended the series with 12 wickets at an amazing 8.83 per scalp but Mitchell Starc (10 at 16), Mitchell Johnson (8 at 18.62) and Nathan Lyon (8 at 19.25) also ended the series with averages under 20.

Clarke says there’s no doubt the performance in the Caribbean will be a boost heading into the English summer.

“Confidence is a vital part of any team and any squad,” he said.

“You have to earn that though. It takes a lot of hard work to feel you can walk out onto a ground in an international game and have success and once you get it you want it to stay forever so you’ve got to ride that wave for as long as you can.

“At the moment if guys aren’t bowling as well as they’d like or making as many runs as they’d like somebody else is stepping up and I think that’s where we’re having success at the moment.”

Australia will depart Jamaica on Tuesday (Wednesday AM AEST) with the first tour match of the Ashes campaign against Kent to start on June 25.