Leinster fly-half Jimmy Gopperth was on target with three penalties and the conversions of hooker Aaron Dundon and centre Noel Reid’s tries. Centre Ross Wardle rounded off a screaming move for the Dragons for their only try with the kicking duties shared by wing Tom Prydie and outside-half Jason Tovey. The wing booted a penalty, while Tovey converted the touchdown and added three penalties of his own. Press Association Reigning RaboDirect PRO12 champions Leinster withstood a late onslaught from Newport Gwent Dragons to edge a much-needed 23-19 victory at Rodney Parade. The Dragons’ fortunes were not helped by the loss of lock Adam Jones for 10 minutes in the sin-bin when he was accused of taking the man out of a line which, within minutes, saw Leinster take the lead for the first time. They pounded the home line and, when hooker Aaron Dundon surged through a pile of bodies, the television official decided he had got the ball down, leaving the conversion easy. It seemed Leinster had wrapped up the game and that the Dragons would not even get a losing bonus point for their efforts when centre Reid finished off a sparkling move down the left from half-way. But the Dragons would not give up and Tovey punished the Irishmen’s mistakes with two further penalties before the Welsh side were camped on the opposition line in the dying moments but could not get over for the crucial try to win the game. Both sides had plenty to prove after defeats last week. The Dragons, in sixth place before kick-off, were thrashed by the Ospreys 40-17 at The Liberty Stadium while fifth-placed Leinster went down in Limerick to Munster 19-15. The Achilles heel of the Dragons, their set-piece, was hammered in the opening moments and Leinster’s second row pair of Quinn Roux and Tom Denton began to stamp their mark on the line-out situation. Yet, with bravery, the home side kept out the Leinster threat as the game stagnated for half an hour. Former Newcastle stand-off Gopperth was the first half star as he booted a neat 30-metre penalty, his second attempt at goal in the game, to put the visitors ahead – although the home fans were not pleased by some of the decisions going against them during the period. But, if Gopperth had a good half for Leinster, Prydie was the Dragons’ hero. He posted a penalty from 45 metres to tie the scores up at 3-3 after 15 minutes and was part of the brilliant move that saw Wardle cross from a move from halfway. The final 10 minutes of the half were the most lively as Prydie tried another long-range penalty but saw it go wide before Gopperth landed his second penalty to reduce the arrears to four points. Tovey restored the home side’s seven-point with a 10-metre penalty when Leinster strayed offside. It signalled a ding-dong half in which Gopperth got Leinster back into the match with another penalty as they fought to regain the initiative.
Mauricio Pochettino does not feel Southampton need to strengthen in January due to the quality coming through the club’s fabled academy. “But overall I would say the Premier League is financially the most potent league in the world. “Most of the time it is much easier to sign a player who is the finished product, probably from abroad, instead of using younger players and giving them confidence, time and the possibility of coming through the ranks and be part of the senior side. “It is understandable because managers depend on results of every single game. “What’s been the case here in Southampton is that two good things have come together – the fact that there’s been a very good project in place for a long time, in the sense that we always push players through the academy, and a manager that fully believes in young players and wants them to come through the ranks.” The focus on young players at St Mary’s has been complemented by big-money acquisitions. Dani Osvaldo, Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren were astute, if expensive, summer signings, as was Gaston Ramirez the previous year. The Uruguayan has yet to justify his £12million price tag and is reported to be growing increasingly unsettled at St Mary’s. Ramirez’s representative has previously suggested the player did not like Pochettino and this week suggested Inter Milan were interested in the attacking midfielder – talk the Saints boss played down ahead of Saturday’s trip to Arsenal. “Gaston knows perfectly what I think and I know what he thinks,” he said. “That’s a private matter between us. He is fully obliged to fulfil his contract. “That’s all he has to do as a Southampton player. He has to work in order to fulfil that contract and be part of the team.” That conveyor belt of talent makes Pochettino, whose side sit third in the standings, confident about the future and relaxed about business in the January transfer window. “We don’t see that as a problem,” the Saints boss said. “We have a lot of young players coming from the academy that are pushing really hard. “They are making a case for being in the senior team. Players like Sam Gallagher and Harrison Reed, very exciting players. “So in that sense we are not worried about the depth of our squad because we have a lot of young players that guarantee us a very good future in the immediate future. “We are covered in that sense so we are not worried.” Southampton’s focus on home-grown talent is an unusual one in the richest league in the world, but one increasingly pointed to as the way to go. Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse have flourished after being brought into the first team, while several others have been given Premier League experience as teenagers. “I think there’s great talent in English football academies, as much as in Spain, Brazil or Argentina,” Pochettino said. “It all comes down to individual decisions. Every club makes their own decisions. Press Association The production line that in recent years has produced Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott shows no signs of letting up, with Adam Lallana the latest graduate to receive a senior international cap. The Saints captain has played a starring role this season and is one of 12 players from the youth system to have featured in their matchday squad.
Press Association The 25-year-old, who joined the Gunners from Real Madrid in a club-record deal on transfer deadline day, saw his tame first-half penalty saved against Marseille in the Champions League on Tuesday night, but then provided the perfect pass for Jack Wilshere to fire in a second goal which all but sealed a place in the knockout stages. Ozil has returned a number of subdued displays since his high-profile move three months ago. “Mesut moves well between the lines, so it is always difficult to defend against him,” the 6ft 6in defender said. “When the centre-back comes out with him, there is always space for others to go in, so he helps us create more chances. “We are playing well as a team and we should continue that in the Champions League and the Premier League.” Arsenal travel to Cardiff on Saturday aiming to consolidate their place at the top of the table. Mertesacker said: “We are on a good run and we are in a good position. We want to keep that.” However, Mertesacker – who is now an integral part of the defence after initially struggling for consistency after he joined from Werder Bremen in August 2011 – believes the best is still to come from his fellow Germany international. “Mesut has made good progress. He is in good form and you can see that,” Mertesacker said. “He was always a threat (against Marseille) and he never gave up after the penalty that he missed. “We are very delighted with him, especially in the transition from defence to offence, when he is always a threat. “He can play the balls, he is the one who always goes deep all of the time. He is in good form and I think we will see more.” Mertesacker added: “Sometimes he looks like his head is going down, but we said at half-time that we do not care (about the missed penalty). We just go on and that is what he did.” Ozil’s arrival seemed to lift the whole club, with a renewed sense Arsene Wenger’s current crop of talent can finally come of age in 2014. The contribution of Ozil within the team, allowing the likes of Wilshere – who scored his first goal against Marseille inside the opening 30 seconds – and Aaron Ramsey more freedom, is not lost on Mertesacker. Mesut Ozil will always provide Arsenal with an extra threat to open up defences – and there is plenty more to come from the £43million man, according to team-mate Per Mertesacker.
The 1999 Heineken Cup winners scored four tries to claim a bonus point against the Italians for the second week running following the 48-0 thrashing in Belfast seven days ago. Second-half scores from Craig Gilroy, Robbie Diack and Jared Payne accompanied a late first-half effort from Luke Marshall as Ulster made it four wins from four games following earlier successes against Leicester Tigers and Montpellier. Ulster never looked like losing their unbeaten record once Marshall crossed two minutes before the break but they left it late to grab the bonus point when Payne dived over with not much more than a minute remaining. Ulster started brightly as they looked to take the game to Treviso early on but they only had a 10th-minute penalty from Paddy Jackson to accompany their enthusiasm. Alberto Di Bernardo levelled the scores just before the half hour with a straightforward penalty but the pivotal moment came two minutes before the break when Marshall touched down out wide for the first try of the game. Payne’s beautifully weighted chip ahead bounced perfectly for the inside centre and he did enough to squeeze in at the right-hand corner. Jackson was off target with the conversion attempt but he ensured Ulster were two scores clear at the break as he struck a second penalty with the final play of the half. Leading 11-3 at the start of the second period, Ulster moved further ahead thanks to a third strike from Jackson just six minutes in. Brilliant interplay from Ruan Pienaar and Darren Cave then created a chance for Ulster out wide and Treviso full- back Brendan Williams was subsequently sinbinned for a deliberate knock on. Ulster initially came away with nothing but they were soon celebrating a second try as the extra man told and Gilroy touched down out wide. Jackson sent over the impressive extras and Ulster were home and dry at 21-3 up with just over 16 minutes remaining. Things got even better for Ulster almost immediately as Luke McLean saw yellow for offside after 67 minutes and Diack made him pay by burrowing through just 30 seconds later. Jackson again converted – this time from a far easier angle – and Ulster were 28-3 to the good, with 11 minutes left to find the bonus point score. That came at the death when Andrew Trimble put Payne over to ensure Ulster head into rounds five and six in good shape to qualify for the knockout stages for the fourth year running. Ulster surged further ahead at the top of Heineken Cup Pool Five after they secured maximum points from a 35-3 victory over Benetton Treviso at the Stadio di Monigo on Saturday afternoon. Press Association
The gesture has been linked to anti-Semitism in his homeland. After West Brom caretaker manager Keith Downing said Anelka had been “surprised” by the resulting outcry, the player on Saturday night claimed the salute had simply been made as a “special dedication” to his friend. “This gesture was just a special dedication to my comedian friend Dieudonne,” he tweeted in both French and English on his official account. However, the French minister for sport Valerie Fourneyron had earlier condemned the gesture on Twitter, describing it as “shocking” and “disgusting”. She wrote: “Anelka’s gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting. There’s no place for anti-Semitism and incitement to hatred on the football field.” Following the draw, in which Modibo Maiga and Kevin Nolan goals had briefly put West Ham back in front before Saido Berahino finished the goalscoring to earn West Brom a point, interim Baggies boss Downing was quick to defend Anelka. “I’m aware of it but it has got nothing to do with what is being said,” Downing replied when asked about the gesture. “It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well. He uses it in his act and I think speculation can be stopped now, it is absolute rubbish really. The 34-year-old scored his first Baggies goals with a brace at Upton Park after being recalled to the starting line-up for the first time in over two months. But during his celebration for his first strike, which levelled the game following Joe Cole’s effort for the Hammers, Anelka seemingly performed the ‘quenelle’ salute made famous by French comedian Dieudonne. Press Association “He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it.” Press Association Sport understands the FA is aware of the gesture and will be looking into the matter while anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out has offered its assistance to the governing body. In a statement, Kick It Out said: “Kick It Out has been made aware of West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka making an alleged gesture, known as the ‘quenelle’, which carries antisemitic connotations during today’s (28 December) fixture against West Ham United at Upton Park. “The campaign is in contact with partners in England and France regarding this matter and has offered its support to the Football Association in any forthcoming investigation.” Anelka had not played since the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool on October 26 but was recalled as one of six changes made by Downing, who looked to prevent any tiredness with the game coming less than 48 hours after a Boxing Day draw at Tottenham. The caretaker manager was pleased with Anelka’s display and is adamant the former Arsenal and Chelsea man is happy at The Hawthorns. “I thought he had a good game,” Downing added. “He combined with Berahino really well. He has the quality to drop in and link the play and controls the game from that area. “He got on the shoulder for his first goal and then a typical poacher’s goal from the corner. “It has been a while since he has played but his dedication and attitude has always been spot on. He is prepared to play and wants to play.” West Ham had only averaged one goal in their previous nine Barclays Premier League home games as they welcomed the Baggies to Upton Park. But, despite remedying their lack of goals, it was in defence where Sam Allardyce’s side were found wanting. With central defensive duo James Collins and Winston Reid already sidelined, Allardyce would have winced when he saw James Tomkins forced off after just 10 minutes with a groin complaint. With Guy Demel replacing Tomkins, West Ham had no recognised central defender on the pitch and Allardyce felt that cost his side a crucial three points as the Hammers remain inside the relegation zone. “You try and defend with two full-backs playing centre-half,” he said. “The fact of the matter is it is not their positions and where it is not their positions and you are playing against the Anelkas of the world. “At the end of the day that is nobody’s fault if you are overpowered by the opposition’s players. If we had our full quota of defenders fit today we would have won.” Ravel Morrison, Ricardo Vaz Te, Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Mladen Petric are also missing for the Hammers and Allardyce reckons he needs to get them fit as soon as possible to turn their luck around. “It is like drawing a rabbit out of the hat at the minute for me,” he said when asked about possible return dates for his crocked players. “Every day and every week goes by and we have got to get them all fit as quickly as we can, it has been weeks and weeks and weeks for too many of our players. “That is why we are paying the price at the moment, we used to be great at keeping clean sheets but because of our defensive problems we are finding it hard to do that. “Finally we have scored three goals at home and we haven’t won the game but that is no real fault for the players who played today.” West Brom striker Nicolas Anelka has defended his controversial goal celebration during Saturday’s 3-3 draw with West Ham after it emerged the Frenchman could face a Football Association charge.
Moore said: “He’s probably the best five-furlong horse in England and Ireland. He was back to his best today. If he gets a hard pace to run at he’s about the best there is.” Lynam added: “Ryan said he was super today. Unlike his trainer, he is improving with age. He’s very honest – too honest – and Ryan loved him today. “We’re looking forward to another good season. If he gets three things – his ground, that he’s bouncing out of his skin, and that Ryan Moore rides – he’ll go to the Temple Stakes. If not, then he’s off to the King’s Stand at Royal Ascot.” Kingsgate Native’s effort delighted his trainer Robert Cowell, who said: “He’s nine years old and showing no signs of stopping. “He looked a bit burly today but the plan was to have him ready to defend his title in the Temple Stakes. I don’t think he’ll be going to Royal Ascot anyway.” Press Association Sole Power recorded back-to-back-victories in the Pearl Bloodstock Palace House Stakes at Newmarket with another classy display. Ryan Moore brought Eddie Lynam’s dual Group One winner to lead inside the final furlong after Justineo and Stepper Point had made the running in this Group Three five-furlong dash. Despite having to be switched right for a clear run at a vital stage, the 9-4 favourite found a terrific turn of foot and got home by half a length from Kingsgate Native, who was also second 12 months ago. Hot Streak was another head away in third.
City’s 3-2 win at Everton put them in control of their own destiny and meant Toure’s brother Kolo and his Liverpool side – favourites for the championship before last weekend – are unlikely to win it without help from other teams. The Reds play their penultimate match of the season at Crystal Palace on Monday night and, while victory there would take them three points clear at the top of the table, City have two games still to play and a superior goal difference. “Oh yes, it’s been really difficult. You can’t imagine how difficult,” Yaya Toure said of the fight within the family. “Your family have to try to be balanced – they are divided. Sport is unbelievable in that it can break hearts. “If it is my brother who wins it I would still be happy for him. It would be amazing for him. “But whatever I’m doing I always try to win – I’ve always been the same. I will only lose if someone is better than us. “But it’s still so tight – Liverpool still have a chance and so do Chelsea – they beat us twice, don’t forget. It’s going to be exciting. “The family don’t want to choose a side. We don’t know how it will end. “They just say ‘the best team will win it’. They know that both teams have the quality to do it so let’s wait and see.” City have been here before, of course – famously winning the title on goal difference with virtually the final kick of the 2011-12 season. Press Association That experience will stand Manuel Pellegrini’s side in good stead as they seek the two wins at home to Aston Villa and West Ham which should clinch a second title in three years. Asked whether City would be happy to win it by a similarly tight margin again, Toure added: “Of course we would. We know at this club how important goal difference is. “But I don’t want to live through something like that again. We had QPR at home when it was almost too much for my heart. Going right to the last minute – it was unbelievable. “I think the supporters would say like me that we don’t want to live through that again. I hope this time, in these two games, we can make a difference earlier and get the wins early. “Aston Villa and West Ham are coming. We need to be sharp. We need to be ready. “We need to be well prepared for these games and not make it so close as last time. “But we cannot just think we will finish on top. Premier League games are always tight, always difficult. “Even if teams are defending they can go on the counter-attack and score goals. “We are aware of that but with the players we have and the experience we have of 2012 we can keep on going – we are just two games away.” Last weekend Toure missed out on the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year award after it went to Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, who has 30 league goals this season. The Ivory Coast international, who has scored 19 league goals from midfield, claimed in the lead-up to the ceremony African players were undervalued and if he was South American he would have received far more recognition. So was he disappointed not to have won the PFA award? “To be honest I was, because I’m a competitor,” he said. “But as well, Suarez had an excellent season. He was also very good. It was well deserved from him. “The most important thing is trophies for the team. We always remind each other of that. It’s not only me – we have a few players.” Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure admits family loyalties are being stretched to the limit after the title race took another potentially decisive turn.
Press Association “First I have to see how quickly the players can pick up my philosophy,” he said. “I haven’t worked with most of them and it is very important that there is a click between the players and the manager. “For me, the challenge is always first and not fourth.” Van Gaal arrived in Manchester on Wednesday only four days after guiding Holland to a third-placed finish at the World Cup. The former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax boss posed for pictures alongside assistant manager Ryan Giggs and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward before being officially unveiled to the media on Thursday. Van Gaal’s principal concern after his first 24 hours in charge appears to be satisfying the commercial demands that will be placed upon him. On Friday he will fly out to the USA with the players who are not on a post-World Cup break for a pre-season tour comprising matches against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Roma, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Van Gaal said: “It’s the biggest club of the world. In two days I know already how important Manchester United is. “I have to prepare a team and I have to adapt to this big club. I will do my utmost. It will not be easy, but when you see my career, you can see what I have won. The future will show if I can do that again. “I have met a lot of people and when you see that kind of people who love the club, it’s a big family. They expect a lot of me, they are very excited to meet me, but can I fulfil that expectation? “I think I can but because of the greatness of this club, it’s also much more difficult than at another club. “This club is also guided in the commercial way, and we have to fulfil that also, and it is not always possible to fulfil the commercial expectations and the football expectations. That is my big challenge I think.” Many pundits believe United’s squad needs a major overhaul after the disappointment of last season’s seventh-placed finish, which cost David Moyes his job after less than a year. They look especially short of authority at the back after the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, with left-back Luke Shaw and midfielder Ander Herrera the only signings so far. A number of players are likely to be playing for their futures on the US tour, but Van Gaal insisted he would give all his current squad the chance to prove themselves. “My method is always the same,” he said. “I want to look at the players. In the first three or four weeks I want to see what they can do. “Maybe I shall buy other players. The players that we have bought now, Shaw and Herrera were already on the list, so I gave my approval because I like them. First I want to see the players performing my philosophy.” Another issue Van Gaal will take time over is deciding who will be his captain. Robin van Persie has been heavily linked with the role after wearing the armband for Holland, while Van Gaal also confirmed he wants to find backroom roles for Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville. Almost exactly a year ago, Moyes was sat in the same room giving his vision of a future with United, but on Thursday his duties extended to watching the Open not far away at Hoylake. It was impossible not to note the contrast between the two men. Van Gaal insisted he is not the egotist he is often presented as but he was quick to put journalists in their place during a generally good-spirited 22 minutes. “I’m a democratic and empathetic human being,” he said. “Of course I have a strong personality but the other characteristics are more important. “The media wants to show (the autocratic) part of the personality but that part is (very small). When it is repeated always then everybody thinks like that. “Autocratic and a strong personality is not the same. I have a strong philosophy and every year I have trained it is confirming that philosophy. “Sir Alex (Ferguson) also has a strong philosophy and it was always confirmed because he won a lot of titles with Manchester United. I hope I can do that.” Moyes was never able to step out of the shadow of Ferguson, the Scot an ever more looming presence from the directors’ box as the season went on. That seems unlikely to be the case with Van Gaal, who said of his fellow managerial great: “He called me to congratulate me and we have talked. “We know each other very well and I will drink coffee and drink wine with him – maybe the best wine.” Louis van Gaal presented his Manchester United philosophy to the world and set his sights on the Barclays Premier League title. The Dutchman was greeted by a hail of flashbulbs as he made his public debut as United manager with a press conference at Old Trafford. Van Gaal appeared determined not to state too firm expectations for his first season but, asked whether simply making the Champions League would be adequate, he made it clear he is aiming for top spot.
Press Association The 22-year-old spent three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid after joining the Blues from Genk in his native Belgium. Courtois returned to Stamford Bridge this season and made his debut in a 3-1 win at Burnley as the first of three successive appearances under Jose Mourinho. A statement on chelseafc.com read: “Chelsea Football Club is pleased to announce Thibaut Courtois has today signed a new five-year contract.” Courtois added: “I’m very happy with this new deal, it’s really nice to have signed this new contract for five years. “My future was already sorted but it’s nice to know I’m going to be here for another five years and now I can just concentrate on playing games. “I hope we can win a lot of games and trophies.” Courtois’ return has placed Cech in an unfamiliar predicament, on the substitutes’ bench. It is a situation reminiscent of when Cech was installed as number one ahead of the established Carlo Cudicini after his signing from Rennes in June 2004. That was also a decision made by Mourinho. Thibaut Courtois has signed a new five-year contract with Chelsea, putting Petr Cech’s future into further doubt. Courtois has begun the Barclays Premier League season, his first with the Blues despite signing in July 2011, as first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Cech. Now Cech, the Blues’ number one for a decade, could be left to seek pastures new in January after Chelsea placed further confidence in Courtois by handing him a new deal. The 32-year-old Czech Republic goalkeeper has two years remaining on a four-year contract he signed in 2012 after helping Chelsea to the 2012 European Cup. Whether he now sees out the deal remains to be seen, with Paris St Germain and Real Madrid among the clubs who were reportedly monitoring his situation closely during the summer transfer window. Despite being a newcomer to the Chelsea team, Courtois, who had two years remaining on his existing deal, has proved his credentials on the big stage. He won Spain’s Primera Division title with Atletico last season and the Europa League in 2012. Three times he played against Chelsea for Atletico – in the European Super Cup in 2012 and in last season’s two-legged Champions League semi-final, when he played at Stamford Bridge as a Blues player for the first time. Atletico prevailed, but lost to city rivals Real Madrid in the final. Courtois was also Belgium’s first-choice goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, when they reached the quarter-finals.
Much has been made this week of Rory McIlroy being a target for the opposition in the Ryder Cup, one of Europe’s “big dogs” that US captain Tom Watson wants to bring down. “But no matter where I play, I’ve still got the same objective, which is just to win my match.” Asked to put himself in an American player’s shoes and decide whether his scalp or Poulter’s would give greater satisfaction, McIlroy added: ” I think maybe in this format and in this environment and in the Ryder Cup, probably Poulter just because how good his record is (12 wins from 15 matches). “I know Watson has been talking about targeting us two and whatever, but at the same time it’s only one-sixth of the team. “There’s 10 other world-class players that he has to worry about as well and they are just as capable of putting points on the board for Europe. “They can try and target us all they want, but there’s guys alongside us that can do just as good a job. Someone beats me, they win a point. They win a match against me, they get a point, no more, no less.” Manchester United fan McIlroy revealed he was in a “trance” listening to former Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson address the European team on Tuesday evening, the four-time major winner seeking Ferguson’s advice after his meltdown in the Masters in 2011. But the Northern Irishman is confident he will be rather more alert when the pressure is on come Friday morning. ” I’m the sort of character that would enjoy that, enjoy that environment, enjoy being in the spotlight and being one of the guys that everyone is focusing on,” he added. “I like that. I’ll embrace that and it comes as part of what I’ve done this year and who I am. Being number one in the world and all that comes with that, you expect that and you just try to handle it as best that you can.” Quite a difference from McIlroy’s first experience of team golf as a professional, the 2009 Seve Trophy in France under the captaincy of a certain Paul McGinley. “What’s been great this week for me personally is he’s quoted me back a couple of the things that I said to him that week,” McGinley said. “I’ve built a little profile of things that I’ve said to players in the past so there’s continuity in my message to them. “Without any prompting, him being able to quote them back has been a big thrill for me that he remembered what I said to him back in 2009 when he was kind of 40th in the Order of Merit, never mind 40th in the world, and look at him now, top of the world.” Fast forward two years and the answer is eerily familiar. “I’ve got a responsibility just to put points on the board and I’m one-twelfth of a team unit here,” the 25-year-old said on Wednesday. “I’m going to play the same role as everyone else just to try and get points on the board.” And the similarities do not end there. In 2012, McIlroy went into the Ryder Cup as the hottest player on the planet, the reigning US PGA champion and winner of two of his previous three tournaments in the FedEx Cup play-offs. Arriving at Gleneagles, McIlroy is again top of the world rankings with four wins under his belt this season, having won the flagship BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour in May and following it with the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA titles in consecutive appearances. It is therefore understandable that Watson would single out McIlroy and ‘Mr Ryder Cup’ Ian Poulter for special attention, but McIlroy was content to play the perfect team member ahead of Friday’s opening day. “I have a job to do which is to go out and win points for Europe and I don’t care what number I play or who I play with,” McIlroy said. “I’ve got a responsibility just to put points on the board and I’m one-twelfth of a team unit here. “I’m going to play the same role as everyone else just to try and get points on the board. So I wouldn’t say it wouldn’t be a thrill, of course, leading the team out would be a huge buzz and a great thrill. But anyone fortunate enough to be at Medinah in 2012 and Gleneagles this week might be hard-pressed to spot the difference between the situation then and now. ”This week I’m not the number one player in the world,” McIlroy said in Chicago. ”I’m one person in a 12-man team and that’s it. It’s a team effort. There’s 12 guys striving towards the same goal. I’m just part of that.” Press Association