Predictions for 2017: sport – Telegraph.co.uk
By Will Greenwood, Rugby World Cup winner and Telegraph columnist
There are certain games you have just got to be at. You have them in your diary six months in advance and you know that whatever else is going on, you are going.
Whatever school play my seven-year-old son might be in, the excuse is coming out. Itâs a miss-a-family-event kind of game. Maidenhead v Old Pats, the top two in South West 1 East, going head to head, and my Maidenhead, who I coach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, will be ready. That is Saturday 11 March. I canât believe itâs not in your diaries.
A week later is whatâs shaping up as the biggest game in history, multiplied by 100: Ireland v England. Flights are booked, my seven-year-old has been told, it will be a monstrous game. We could have the Six Nations up for grabs, British and Irish Lions tour places to be decided, England going for a world-record 19th successive win, the survival of the human race at stake. What a prospect.
Personally, I think England are better than Ireland. There isnât a level playing field in the Six Nations because one teamâs at home and the other is away but even though the Aviva Stadium will be as hostile and raucous and rocking as ever, England are good enough for that second successive Slam.
And while weâre on the Six Nations, the introduction of bonus points is a big step forward. I love that thereâs a three-point bonus for winning the Grand Slam. A few years ago no one would have thought of that.
Imagine this scenario: a team winning four games by big margins (thus earning bonus points) could finish above a team winning all five narrowly (earning no bonus points). The Grand Slam champions could finish second in the Six Nations! Not now. Little things like this show that rugby has its house in order.
Another keen spectator in Dublin will be Warren Gatland. The Lions head coach knows the importance of picking form players and those who perform in big games. This is exactly the game on which to judge potential Test Lions.
Gatland has a tough call at 1 and 3 â thereâs every chance Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong of Ireland and Englandâs Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole are the midweek and Saturday props for the Lions.
There are selection quandaries everywhere â are Kruis and Itoje his second row? Thereâs Billy V against Jamie Heaslip at No8. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are formidable at half-back. What about Robbie Henshaw in midfield? Are Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney in the back three?
The Lions squad is looking heavily Anglo-Irish. Elsewhere I see Scotlandâs Stuart Hogg playing, Walesâs George North having a sniff, Toby Faletau and Alun Wyn Jones having a look-in, and Scotlandâs Jonny Gray having a chance.
Some have written off the Lions and of course New Zealand will be phenomenally hard to beat. Their ability to score 14 or 21 points in six minutes is streets ahead of anyone else; from 60 to 80 minutes they are amazing.
And winning with the Lions is so hard â but thatâs why we get on a plane and go. There have been five winning Lions tours in 125 years. The reason you go and watch sport is to be there when it happens.
As Robbie Deans told me when I was coaching the Barbarians with him, the great thing about rugby is you get what you deserve. So if you go on the field possessed and ready to go and have a dig, youâve got a chance. Think Sheffield Eagles against Wigan Warriors, or Leicester City.
One player who epitomises this spirit is Owen Farrell, who has to be in Gatlandâs team. Every now and then someone comes along, like Jonny Wilkinson, who redefines standards of excellence and desire and commitment and drive and self-belief.
Farrell is one. He is your original David. He would take any Goliath. And I would pay money to watch him do it. Thatâs why the first Test on 24 June 2017 is also in my diary. Iâd better tell my son now.Â
By Simon Briggs, Telegraph tennis correspondent
Andy Murrayâs time has come at last. After a decade spent chasing the coat-tails of legends ahead of him, Murray finished the 2016 season with a flourish, beating the world Nos 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in seven days at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
And what about No 1? That was Murray. Only a week earlier, his victory in the Paris Masters had carried him to the top of the chart for the first time. This was a big moment in the context of the tour and earned him more messages of congratulation, he suggested, than his three grand slam titles put together.
So how secure is Murrayâs grip on the top spot? And how much does he want to stay there? In his autobiography, John McEnroe described No 1 as âa very strange place indeed â the peak of the mountain, those icy winds blowing around my head â¦ It was very difficult to get comfortableâ.
Yet Murray seems unlikely to cede this precious pinnacle easily. Not after the agonies he put himself through to get here.
Mathematically, his prospects look strong. Murrayâs 905-point lead over Novak Djokovic might not sound like much, but the tennis rankings work on a rolling 12-month system and the vast bulk of his 12,410 points were earned since the start of April.
He has very little to defend for the next three months, and a lot to gain. For Djokovic, who was almost unbeatable in the first half of 2016, it is the other way around.
Motivation will not be a problem. Once Murrayâs season had finished, he went to Scotland a couple of times to celebrate his father Willieâs second marriage. Then it was Miami for a fortnight of lung-bursting drills under coach Ivan Lendl.
âHe will absolutely work his socks off to try and stay No1,â said Leon Smith, Murrayâs first coach and now the British Davis Cup captain.Â
By Ben Bloom, Telegraph athletics correspondent
There are probably fewer than 30 seconds left in Usain Boltâs major championship career. With the fastest man on the planet dropping the 200metres for his farewell season, his involvement at the summerâs IAAF World Championships in London is likely to consist of three 100m races â unless he is persuaded to add one last relay anchor leg before exiting stage right.
Boltâs retirement will be the day so many in the sport have feared. Never before has athletics been blessed with such a charismatic and popular figurehead and it can be forgiven for squeezing every last drop out of the Jamaicanâs star quality next year.
The eulogies will deservedly flow and there are few within the athletics world who do not wish to see him bow out with yet another gold medal. But as the sportâs president Lord Coe is well aware, athletics must work doubly hard to build on Boltâs work.
In Wayde van Niekerk there is considerable hope that the sport has already found its next sprint star. The manner in which the South African shattered Michael Johnsonâs longstanding 400m world record to win Olympic gold in Rio was the most astonishing track feat of the Games and, should he attempt to double up with the 200m in Boltâs absence, van Niekerk could leave London with two gold medals and the gaze of the world upon him.
The biggest championships in Britain since London 2012 will also be a final chance to see Mo Farah, the host nationâs most successful track athlete in history, inside the Olympic Stadium before he turns his attention to the road and marathon running.
No one has come close to beating him over 5,000m or 10,000m at a major championships for four years and he is a clear favourite to achieve the feat again.
With Jessica Ennis-Hill retired, Greg Rutherford will probably be Britainâs only other Olympic or world champion competing in London and it will fall to a crop of young athletes in sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, middle-distance runner Laura Muir and Sophie Hitchon, the ballerina turned hammer-thrower, to build on recent achievements and win medals on home turf.
Whether they will line up against athletes from Russia â currently exiled from international competition for running a state-sponsored doping regime â remains to be seen. The sportâs governing body is yet to reveal a timeframe for the nationâs return to the fold and indications suggest the Russian flag may still be absent from London this summer.
By Michael Vaughan, Ashes-winning England captain and Telegraph columnist
This promises to be a wonderful year for English cricket on and off the field. In fact 2017 could be a landmark 12 months, potentially bringing a first trophy in a global 50-over tournament, victory in Australia and the approval of a new Twenty20 domestic league that could revolutionise the game here.
Englandâs one-day team have been a revelation over the past 18 months. Since being knocked out of the 2015 World Cup after some abysmal performances, the team has reinvented Englandâs approach to the one-day format.
Under captain Eoin Morgan and coach Trevor Bayliss, the team has adopted an attacking, ultra-positive approach that makes them one of the most exciting England teams to watch in any sport. They are a rival for any other one-day side in the world.
Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes and Jason Roy can destroy a bowling attack. They give Morgan a great opportunity to win the ICC Champions Trophy, which will be held in England in June.
Home advantage has worked for England before â they have made the finals of the two previous tournaments held in this country. The difference is that those teams in 2004 and 2013 were not very good. This England side would beat both. So if they could go all the way to the final in the past then there is no reason why they cannot go a step further in 2017.
The Champions Trophy is a mini-World Cup. It is short with a compact schedule so teams need to get on a roll quickly. England host Ireland â for the first time â with two matches as preparation but then it is straight into the tournament.
The top two teams in each group of four go through to the semi-finals and England have a tough section to crack first. It will basically be two from England, New Zealand and Australia who will go through to the last four.
Bangladesh are in Englandâs group and knocked them out of the last World Cup but should not pose the same threat in English conditions. If England go through they then have two matches to win a trophy. They can do it.
Hosting the Champions Trophy makes this a lopsided summer. Englandâs main Test series will come, first, against South Africa with four Tests starting in July. Whoever is in charge of the side by then, he will face a tough challenge against South Africaâs seamers, who recently blew away Australia in their own back yard.
After that it is Englandâs first ever day-night Test, at Edgbaston for the first of three Tests against West Indies. In a series that could have an end-of-summer feel about it, it is a good step to add novelty with the floodlit match. A pink ball in the hands of Englandâs seamers could make it a short game.
The schedule for 2017 is crazy. There is too much cricket and somehow the team has to keep going with an Ashes series to end the year.
Right now England are in a much better place than Australia, but they have recently made big changes following the loss to South Africa and could have recovered their poise by the time England arrive in November.
Off the field, the ECB will be hopeful of gaining approval for a new Twenty20 league run along the lines of the IPL and Big Bash. We need something new, and for cricket to reach a different audience. It has worked everywhere else and could be a huge success both commercially and for interest levels in the game. I am a big fan of the proposals and it promises to be a fascinating year.
Wondering what the New Year holds? Read moreÂ predictions for 2017Â from Telegraph writers sharing what they think will happen in the worlds ofÂ science,Â money,Â style, politics,Â travelÂ andÂ culture.
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