Donald McRae

Author's posts

Sep 25

Charles Piutau: ‘I felt invincible as an All Black … but it’s such a short career’

He missed out on winning a World Cup to sign for Ulster but the New Zealander has no regrets and will become the world’s highest-paid player when he joins Bristol in 2018

“I really had to see the bigger picture,” Charles Piutau says as he considers the wrench of abandoning his Test career with the All Blacks to play for Ulster and, from next season, Bristol. Piutau, a dynamic full-back who can also play on the wing, will become the world’s most highly-paid rugby player when he joins Bristol. Yet his motives are more than mercenary and reflect his arduous childhood as well as the growing problems for Test rugby.

“When I was in New Zealand it felt like the All Blacks were everything. It felt like you were going to play forever. You felt invincible. But, taking a step back, you realise it’s such a short career. For me, what really hit home was remembering everything my parents had done for me and my siblings. They left Tonga for New Zealand to give us better opportunities. And for me, coming here, I had the same chance to do something similar for my family.”

Related: British & Irish Lions to reduce fixtures for 2021 South Africa tour

Related: Rugby union: talking points from the Premiership weekend

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Sep 18

Hughie Fury: ‘I’ve had no teenage life, no drinking or friends. I’ve sacrificed everything’

Tyson Fury’s cousin left school at 11 and, with his father in and out of prison, dedicated his life to boxing – next Saturday he could become a world heavyweight champion

On a bleak afternoon in Windermere, where Hughie Fury is preparing for this Saturday’s WBO world heavyweight title fight against Joseph Parker, the past rolls in like a heavy bank of cloud bringing yet more rain to the Lake District. Fury remembers a childhood of little education, a family of Travellers tested by his father being in and out of prison, and a life marked by sacrifice.

He talks simply, without the surreal or distasteful flourishes of his notorious cousin. Tyson Fury was the undisputed world heavyweight champion for just under a year before, last October, relinquishing all his belts amid controversy, depression and associated mental health issues. Hughie is less troubled than Tyson but he lacks the charisma of Anthony Joshua, his far more famous British contemporary who holds the IBF and WBA titles and dominates the popular imagination as the only heavyweight in the world who matters.

Related: Judge Adalaide Byrd’s bizarre call gifts Álvarez another shot at Golovkin

Related: Tyson Fury: I don’t need David Haye and his antics to make money

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Sep 04

Chris Lewis: ‘Talk about acute fear – the first night in prison was the hardest time’

The former England cricketer who served six-and-a-half years for drug smuggling recalls how reporting an approach by a match-fixing gambler led to his fateful offence and how Sachin Tendulkar would never let a bowler into his head

‘I remember going into jail the first time,” Chris Lewis says in a plush hotel on Park Lane in Mayfair. Coffee cups chink and, in the lounge across the marble lobby, a lonely pianist plays tinkling old standards to himself. But Lewis, the former England cricketer who served half of the 13-year prison sentence he received after being arrested for trying to smuggle cocaine worth £140,000 from St Lucia into Britain in December 2008, is back inside.

“Talk about acute fear,” the 49‑year‑old says more intently than if he is describing his Test debut in 1990 or opening the bowling in the World Cup final two years later in front of a crowd of 100,000. “My mind is trying to find any information I have about jail and it all comes from films. You’re scaring yourself and the first night you don’t know whether you can stand it. That was the hardest time. You don’t know how you’re going to survive.”

Related: Former England cricketer Chris Lewis gets 13 years for cocaine smuggling

If a bowled fast I would sometimes read I was like a ‘gangster’

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Aug 01

Moeen Ali: ‘If it wasn’t for cricket I don’t know what I’d be doing now’

The hat-trick England spinner describes how a junior club in Birmingham kept him off the streets and off drugs, his father’s distressing experience of racism and how his high profile helps counter negativity regarding Islam

“How’s it going?” Moeen Ali asks as if it’s just another ordinary summer afternoon rather than an hour since he became only the fourth man in history to complete a Test victory by taking a hat-trick.

Moeen’s deceptively casual way of answering my phone call at The Oval on Monday afternoon soon gives way to delight when, 12 days since we met in Birmingham, he returns to the reflective tone of that first interview.

Related: Moeen Ali takes hat-trick to seal emphatic England win over South Africa

I could have easily gone into that whole drugs line. I was pretty open to it because my friends were easily influenced.

Related: Moeen Ali delights in historic hat-trick after England’s Test win

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Jun 26

Zafar Ansari: ‘If money was a motivation I would have stayed longer in cricket’

Having broken into the England Test side the player’s decision to walk away from the game aged 25 caused quite a stir but he explains that, for him, there is a lot more to life than cricket

Professional sport is scarred by stories of ageing athletes clinging to faded glory, or by bleak tales of their struggles in retirement, and so Zafar Ansari stands out in shimmering contrast. Ansari played three Tests late last year, his debut in Bangladesh and two in India, picking up five wickets and grinding out a highest score of 32. It was a start in the hardest arena of cricket and so Ansari’s retirement in April, having just turned 25, seemed unusual.

Of course those who knew him felt no shock. Alec Stewart, the director of cricket at Surrey, for whom Ansari had played since the age of eight, was supportive. “It’s a brave and considered decision,” Stewart said. “He was always open and honest.”

Related: County cricket: Yorkshire v Surrey and more as day-night matches begin – live!

Related: Pink balls at night may not be every County Championship batsman’s delight | Vic Marks

Related: Eoin Morgan says dropping himself from series decider was a ‘tough call’

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Jun 24

Steve Harmison: ‘I didn’t want the public to know about my depression’

The former fast bowler was the world’s best when he led England’s attack at the 2005 Ashes but tells Donald McRae he spent the peak of his cricket career battling depression and feared fans would not understand

“I’ve been through a fucking hell of a lot,” Steve Harmison says in the deserted bar of Ashington Football Club on a quiet afternoon. “I’ve had the upmost highs and the lowest lows. I’ve gone from being the No1 bowler in the world, to bowling that ball in Brisbane [when, in 2006, Harmison delivered the most embarrassing opening delivery of an Ashes series]. I’ve gone from feeling on top of the world to being in a clinic in the Priory. How much higher can you get and how much lower can you go? I don’t think you can.”

This past week has felt like the dog days of summer across most of the country but, in Northumberland, the heat has been muted. Harmison has dressed accordingly – in sandals, shorts and a long-sleeve shirt. The 38-year-old former fast bowler takes a swig of his fizzy drink as he reflects on a cricketing life studded with plaudits but riven with lasting pain.

Related: Jonathan Trott: ‘I was going back into that pressure cooker, that place of judgment’

I thought: just bump into somebody else’s car and I’ll miss my flight and get three more days at home

Jonathan Trott said ‘I’m not a nutcase’. You don’t use those words to talk about mental health

Related: Women’s Cricket World Cup: team-by-team guide to the tournament | Vithushan Ehantharajah

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May 08

Roberto Durán: ‘Fighters would take one look at me and crap in their pants’

The former world boxing champion, nicknamed ‘Hands of Stone’, has fond memories of a hell-raising career but is happy with the calmer life he leads now

On a Saturday evening in Leeds, in an anonymous hotel where he winks and shouts out hello to a passing waitress who returns his wave cheerfully, Roberto Durán keeps gripping my arm and cackling. The 65-year-old Panamanian, who was a renowned world champion at four different weights and boxed professionally in five separate decades, is in a jovial mood while reliving his years as the most menacing fighter on the planet.

When he fought Sugar Ray Leonard for the first time, on 20 June 1980 in Montreal, Durán transfixed some of his intimidating predecessors. Joe Frazier, the former world heavyweight champion who had fought three savage battles against Muhammad Ali, stared at Durán.

Related: Canelo Álvarez v Gennady Golovkin – finally the fight we all want to see | Kevin Mitchell

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Apr 24

Anyika Onuora: the untold story of Britain’s Rio Olympic medal winner who nearly died

Ten months before Anyika Onuora won bronze with the GB 4x400m team in 2016 she was in hospital with life-threatening malaria. Here, for the first time, she tells of her survival and comeback

“Honestly, it feels like therapy,” Anyika Onuora says with a light laugh. Ninety minutes after she began her incredible and previously unknown story, the Olympic medal-winning 400m runner sounds relieved. “I’ve been hesitant to talk about this for such a long time because I don’t like sympathy or attention. I’ve always just got on with things.”

Onuora did not tell her Great Britain team-mates in the 4x400m relay, with whom she won bronze at the Rio Olympic Games last year, that she had been so ill with malaria 10 months earlier there were concerns she might die. “I still haven’t. No one, apart from my family and closest friends, knows. I don’t know how people are going to react now. But I knew that, eventually, I had to tell my story.”

Related: US glory in women’s 4x100m relay but hope springs for Team GB after bronze

I wanted to cry but it was too painful. I started shaking uncontrollably. I honestly thought: ‘I’m going to die.’

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Apr 10

Barry Hearn: ‘I hit my son with a proper shot but he dropped me twice’

When Eddie Hearn was 16, his father decided to see if he had what it takes to be big in business. The pair’s competitiveness is the bedrock of Matchroom Sport – the force behind the Joshua-Klitschko world title fight at Wembley Stadium

April is a huge month in the money-spinning world of Barry and Eddie Hearn and the father-and-son promotional duo are in knockabout form. Eddie saunters into his dad’s office in Romford and says: “How was Miami?”

“Great,” Barry beams as he rocks in his chair, having landed at Heathrow a few hours earlier. “They’re going crazy about you selling 90,000 tickets for Joshua-Klitschko. They can’t believe it. Where’ve you been?”

Related: Wladimir Klitschko praises Anthony Joshua’s strength but queries his ability

The modern snooker player is in bed at eight with his eye mask and glass of milk

How do they feel about the rise of UFC? ‘People are trying to lure us in’

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Mar 27

Gregor Townsend: ‘If we were to win at Saracens it would be the biggest result in our history’

He will take over at Scotland in the summer but for now the Warriors’ head coach is only focusing on knocking out the European champions on Sunday

“I was hugely shocked,” Gregor Townsend says as he remembers how, 20 years ago, Glasgow faced Leicester in a play-off to decide which club reached the quarter-finals of the old European Cup. Townsend was a gifted playmaker for Northampton then. Leicester were Northampton’s bitterest rivals and, on a dismal afternoon, they demolished Glasgow 90-19.

Townsend is now the inspirational coach of Glasgow Warriors, the rejuvenated club which has helped transform Scottish rugby. This summer he will became Scotland’s national coach but first, on Sunday, Glasgow play Saracens in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup. The game represents Glasgow’s greatest achievement – and illustrates Scotland’s progress.

Related: Rugby union talking points from the weekend’s Premiership action

Related: Warren Gatland refines search for bearers of Lions pride | Robert Kitson

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Dec 12

Phil Taylor: ‘Players today are different. What are you on about? Snapchat?’ | Donald McRae

The 16-time world champion did more than anyone to elevate darts on to the big stage but, as the world championship draws closer, he doesn’t like all that he sees

“You sacrifice your life for it,” Phil Taylor says on a gloomy late afternoon in Stoke. The last grey streaks of light are fading as the greatest darts player in history sighs and considers the personal cost of creating a legacy built on a record 16 world titles. The latest world championship starts on Thursday and Taylor shrugs. “These players on TV now have got a lot to thank me for. Without me they wouldn’t be there. But my time is coming to an end.”

Taylor seems introspective and weary – without much of his old cheek and sparkle. But this is the man who, beyond his extraordinary capacity to win final after final, year after year, dragged darts out of cramped pubs into huge arenas around the world filled with thousands of singing fans, gleaming television lights and prize money piled in the millions. Is the enormity of his achievement, and all it took to create, in danger of being forgotten?

Related: Phil Taylor’s sweet 16: how he powered to his world title triumphs

Related: Can Phil Taylor, the greatest darts player of all time, step away from the game that made him? | Ed Caesar

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Jun 14

Chris Gayle: ‘You’re with men. You’re good-looking. What do you expect?’

West Indies star is used to defending himself but insists the sexism row over his interview with an Australian TV reporter was blown out of proportion

Chris Gayle doesn’t trust me but blunt honesty is preferable when, in exchange, he is fiercely concentrated during our hour together. The West Indies batsman is calm yet defiant, combative but wounded. Before we offer our contrasting opinions, when it feels right to tell Gayle his attitude towards women is wrong and for him to voice suspicion of “you people”, he warrants serious attention.

Earlier this year, before the World T20, the English cricket pundit Mark Nicholas dismissed Gayle and his team-mates. In a breathtakingly arrogant and nonsensical phrase, Nicholas wrote: “The West Indies are short of brains.”

Related: Chris Gayle’s latest excruciating interview and his startling race remarks | The Spin

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Apr 27

Marc Márquez: Valentino Rossi was my hero, now it’s a pleasure to fight with him

MotoGP world champion has not started the season well but his duel with the Italian veteran has the ingredients to become one of motorcycling’s great battles
• British trio aim to close gap on MotoGP maestro Márquez

Even on a sleepy morning in Cardedeu, a village near Barcelona, Marc Márquez is on a roll. The MotoGP world champion and Valentino Rossi, his former idol turned rival, are set for one of the sporting stories of the year. A battle between Márquez, who has won the title in both his two completed MotoGP seasons, and the rejuvenated Rossi, a six-times MotoGP winner, is fuelled by brilliance, charisma, controversy and drama.

Márquez finished 35 points clear of Rossi last year, having begun with 10 straight wins, but this season is different. The 22-year-old Spanish sensation trails The Doctor, the 36-year-old Rossi, by 30 points. In three GPs so far, Rossi has won two and Márquez one, with the last race marked by their collision as the young champion crashed on the penultimate lap in Argentina. This Sunday, at the Spanish GP, Márquez and Rossi, who regard each other as kindred spirits, are expected to ramp up the intensity of a simmering duel.

One of the most beautiful things on the bike is the overtaking and we both like that – and winning

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