Sez Les: Toni’s words could aid England rugby lads

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WHEN England face Scotland tomorrow at the start of rugby union’s Six Nations Championship, the man from Sheffield who was the country’s top sports coach last year, will have a particular interest in the result - regardless of the fact the oval ball isn’t his game.

Toni Minichiello was named UK Coach of the Year for 2012 having overseen the rise of Jessica Ennis to become Olympic heptathlon champion and, so, the world’s greatest woman athlete.

The rugby connection and his extra interest in tomorrow’s clash at Twickenham (when no doubt it will be ‘Brave Scotland’ battling gallantly) arises from an invite from England rugby union coach Stuart Lancaster.

Toni was asked to speak to the England squad (along with former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss) at a squad dinner in Leeds.

“He spoke brilliantly,” said Lancaster. “He spoke so well about dealing with expectations and how top-line athletes should react under pressure.

“He also pointed out how important it was not to believe all the hype and also how to respond when everyone piles on top of you.”

Of course, Minichiello finds himself officially redundant after his role with UK Athletics, the national governing body, came to an end.

He has been offered a consultancy contract to continue training Ennis. And offered it on a “take or leave it” basis.

A strange Part of the Olympic legacy I imagine. Getting rid of the role occupied by top sports coach in the country.

And if you think of the extra interest in athletics the Olympics must have generated, what sort of legacy is it whereby Don Valley Stadium looks set to close? The place where it started and developed for Jess.

I HAVE a personal motto about going to any football match, anywhere, at any level. You never know what you might see!

Two and a bit years ago, I was more than happy to be sent one early-season afternoon to Oakwell for a reserve team game between Barnsley and Wednesday.

A rather lanky 16-year-old right back was playing for Barnsley. I think it was his reserves debut.

He was obviously raw; he’d long legs, was a bit Bambi-ish but there was something that said to me - even so raw - that this kid has something.

Months later I saw him (in midfield) for the Reds’ reserves at Bramall Lane.

I recall a jocular remark, mimicking a manager, around that time to then Barnsley boss Mark Robins... “I’ll take young Stones off your hands”. His reply: “You couldn’t afford him.”

Therefore, I noted with special interest that John Stones headed out of Oakwell yesterday into the Premier League with Everton.

And, in a way, I was glad I popped to Oakwell on Tuesday to see an excellent Barnsley performance under the impressive David Flitcroft but in which John Stones, no longer that raw, lanky lad but a developing and increasingly confident 18-year-old, was outstanding in his final appearance there.

The top moment, one of staggering skill, was when Stones ran towards the touchline for a difficult, high ball dropping in swirling conditions. He took it on his instep, pulling it through his legs at the same time. I’ll follow his progress with interest.

AFTER two goals by Adam Le Fondre against Chelsea the other night, the query has gone out from this desk - has another ex-Rotherham player ever scored twice against European champions?