15 Rugby union Five Nations: France v Ireland (Paris), Wales v Scotland (Cardiff)
THE SHOWDOWN is expected in March in Paris, where England have not lost since 1988. The French, under Pierre Berbizier, are building a formidable side, although they will be without their best loose forward, Laurent Cabannes, and their best scrummager, Laurent Seigne. Ireland, with their new director of operations, Eric Elwood, and a renewed appetite for rugged disruption of the opposition, appear to be over the worst and could spring a surprise. Bookies' favourite England, France 11-10. Sporting wager Ireland 12-1.
17-30 Tennis Australian Open (Melbourne)
22 Rugby league Regal Trophy final (Headingley)
30 American football Super Bowl XXVIII (Atlanta)
WHEN the Dallas Cowboys had finally finished rubbing Buffalo noses in the Pasadena turf last January, a return to this season's Super Bowl looked a formality. They meet the New York Giants today to decide who will win the National Conference East and, most likely, who will be the NFC's representatives in the showpiece. The American Conference has not supplied a Super Bowl winner since 1984, and Buffalo, who have lost on the last three occasions, may again be led to the slaughter. Bookies' favourite Dallas Cowboys 9-4. Sporting wager Green Bay Packers 33-1.
5 Rugby union Five Nations: Scotland v England (Murrayfield), Ireland v Wales (Lansdowne Road)
6-13 Snooker Benson and Hedges Masters (Wembley)
12-27 Winter Olympics (Lillehammer)
THEY'RE back - to sighs of relief from the BBC. Torvill and Dean's return will rescue the Winter Olympics from being the biggest television turkey since Eldorado. Elsewhere, Alberto Tomba, the best slalom skier ever, will try to become the first skier to hit gold at three Olympics running, and Dan Jansen of the US will go faster on skates than any man in history.
Bookies' favourite Torvill and Dean 6-4.
19 Rugby union Five Nations: England v Ireland (Twickenham), Wales v France (Cardiff)
19-24 Cricket First Test: West Indies v England (Jamaica)
IT IS England's misfortune that the West Indies were probably at their most vulnerable in Australia this time last year. Things have changed and the middle order of Brian Lara, Carl Hooper, Keith Arthurton and Jimmy Adams now looks dauntingly strong. Good early form is important. Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad have unpredictable pitches that will suit England far better than the expressways of Barbados and Antigua. If England don't reach Barbados at least level, the West Indies are likely to win the series by three matches.
Bookies' favourite West Indies to win series 2-9. Sporting wager England to win two Test matches 6-1.
5 Rugby union Five Nations: France v England (Paris), Ireland v Scotland (Dublin)
11-13 Athletics European Indoor Championships (Paris)
15-17 Racing Cheltenham Festival
JODAMI is favourite to repeat last year's triumph in the Gold Cup, but jumping mistakes have blotted his copybook this season. The Fellow has already run in three Gold Cups - second twice and fourth - and seems to have had his chance. Of the younger brigade Barton Bank has done nothing wrong and demonstrated courage as well as class in the King George. Bookies' favourite Jodami 4-1. Sporting wager Flashing Steel 20-1.
17-22 Cricket Second Test: West Indies v England (Guyana)
19 Rugby union Five Nations: England v Wales (Twickenham), Scotland v France (Murrayfield)
20 Motor racing IndyCar season opens (Surfers' Paradise, Australia)
26 Boat Race Oxford University v Cambridge University (Thames)
27 Football Coca-Cola Cup final (Wembley)
27 Motor racing Brazilian Grand Prix (Sao Paulo)
HE CAN'T lose. Mansell's gone, Prost's gone, and - at last - he's got his hands on the Williams-Renault. In grand prix racing, though, the driver's talent is the only constant, and Ayrton Senna would be wise not to count on an automatic extension of the technical superiority of the Anglo-French team. After all, Senna himself won the last two grands prix of 1993 in a McLaren-Ford - which may be good news for McLaren's new team leader, the young Finn Mika Hakkinen. Bookies' favourite Ayrton Senna 8-11. Sporting wager Jean Alesi 25-1.
7-10 Golf US Masters (Augusta)
8-13 Cricket Fourth Test: West Indies v England (Barbados)
9 Racing Grand National (Aintree)
16-21 Cricket Fifth Test: West Indies v England (Antigua)
16 Snooker World championships (Sheffield, to 2 May)
THE question at the Crucible will be whether Stephen Hendry can complete a third successive victory, but Jimmy White's search for the only major title that has eluded him will be a compelling issue. The Whirlwind has blown five world finals so far and it is getting no easier for him. Only a lack of experience will undermine Ronnie O'Sullivan's attempt to be the youngest champion ever.
Bookies' favourite Stephen Hendry 15-8. Sporting wager Ronnie O'Sullivan 10-1.
17 Motor racing Pacific Grand Prix (Aida, Japan)
17 Athletics London Marathon
26 Racing 1,000 Guineas (Newmarket)
30 Racing 2,000 Guineas (Newmarket)
27 Football Uefa Cup final first leg
30 Rugby league Silk Cut Challenge Cup final (Wembley)
1 Motor racing San Marino Grand Prix (Imola)
4 Football European Cup-Winners' Cup final
5-8 Equestrianism Badminton horse trials
7 Rugby union Pilkington Cup final (Twickenham)
11 Football Uefa Cup final second leg
14 Football FA Cup final (Wembley)
WHO can stop Manchester United achieving the double? Newcastle look well equipped for the Cup while Arsenal, grinding back to form, and Norwich are most likely to be the other semi-finalists. Bookies' favourite Manchester United 5-1. Sporting wager Wimbledon 25-1.
15 Motor racing Monaco Grand Prix
18 Football European Cup final
21 Football Scottish Cup final (Glasgow)
22 Rugby league Stones Bitter Premiership final (Old Trafford)
23 Tennis French Open championships (Paris, to 5 June)
29 Motor racing Indianapolis 500
29 Motor racing Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona)
30 Motorcycling Isle of Man TT races (to 10 June)
1 Racing The Derby (Epsom)
THE LAST winter Derby favourite to win was Reference Point in 1987. King's Theatre holds at least two of the same qualifications: he won the Racing Post Trophy and is trained by Henry Cecil. There will be a cluster of lightly raced (or even unraced) types ready to challenge him, including the Italian-owned Golden Nashwan and Sunshack, a Group One winner over 10 furlongs in France. Bookies' favourite King's Theatre 20-1. Sporting wager Sunshack 25-1.
2-6 Cricket First Test: England v New Zealand (Trent Bridge)
4 Racing The Oaks (Epsom)
11-12 Athletics AAA Championships (Sheffield)
12 Motor racing Canadian Grand Prix (Montreal)
14-17 Racing Royal Ascot
16-19 Golf US Open (Oakmont, Pennsylvania)
16-20 Cricket Second Test: England v New Zealand (Lord's)
17 Football World Cup (USA, to 17 July)
THESE finals should be a significant turning- point for the African countries, but Germany should reach the final yet again - and lose to Brazil. The Americans will be sunny-side up for longer than most people predict. Bookies' favourite Germany, Brazil 4-1. Sporting wager Mexico 66-1.
18-19 Motor racing Le Mans 24-hour race
20 Tennis All England Championships (Wimbledon, to 3 July)
TENNIS experienced a charisma by-pass for much of 1993. Pete Sampras is a worthy Wimbledon champion but more excitement was generated by the fleeting visit of Andre Agassi to the All England Club than the crashing serves and elegant ground-strokes of the world No 1. Wimbledon requires characters, and the one player who might fit the bill is the wildly unpredictable Andrei Medvedev.
Bookies' favourite Pete Sampras 3-1. Sporting wager Andrei Medvedev 33-1.
29 Rowing Henley Regatta (to 3 July)
30 Cricket Third Test: England v New Zealand (Old Trafford, to 5 July)
2-24 Cycling Tour de France (6-7 Dover- Portsmouth stages)
APART from paying its first visit to England for 20 years, the Tour could well produce another novelty: the first Swiss victory since 1951. Thanks to the Chunnel, the Tour has two days on the south coast. Although the laconic Spaniard Miguel Indurain will start favourite to take his fourth successive Tour, canny punters will follow Toni Rominger, born 32 years ago in Denmark but raised in Switzerland. With more hard climbs and only one of those rolling time- trials where Indurain has secured his leads in the past, Rominger could make him fight to the finish. Bookies' favourite Miguel Indurain 1-2. Sporting wager Toni Rominger 4-1.
3 Motor racing French Grand Prix (Magny- Cours)
9 Cricket Benson and Hedges Cup final (Lord's)
10 Motor racing British Grand Prix (Silverstone)
14-17 Golf The Open (Turnberry)
THE 123rd Open will be the third at Turnberry. In 1977, Tom Watson out-gunned Jack Nicklaus by a stroke and Norman won Turnberry's second Open, in 1986, by five shots in appalling weather. This year might bring us either the first German (Bernhard Langer) or the first Zimbabwean (Nick Price) champion. Bookies' favourite Nick Faldo 6-1. Sporting wager Nick Price 10-1.
21-25 Cricket First Test: England v South Africa (Lord's)
24 Motorcycling British Grand Prix (Donington Park)
30 Sailing Cowes Week (to 6 August)
31 Motor racing German Grand Prix (Hockenheim)
4-8 Cricket Second Test: England v South Africa (Headingley)
8-12 Cycling Kellogg's Tour of Britain
7-14 Athletics European championships (Helsinki)
WORLD champions Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson should continue to reign and some who were among the places in Stuttgart last year could take top spot this time. They include both men's relay squads, John Regis (200m) and Steve Smith (high jump), as well as younger talents Curtis Robb (800m) and David Grindley (400m). Golden chances in the women's events lie with the 400m relay squad, while Kelly Holmes and Diane Modahl could contest 800m medals. Bookies' favourite Linford Christie 1-6. Sporting wager Kelly Holmes 25-1.
13 Football Endsleigh League begins
14 Football FA Charity Shield (Wembley)
14 Motor racing Hungarian Grand Prix (Budapest)
18-22 Cricket Third Test: England v South Africa (The Oval)
19-28 Commonwealth Games (Victoria, Canada)
20 Football FA Premiership begins
28 Motor racing Belgian Grand Prix (Spa- Francorchamps)
29 Tennis US Open (New York, to 11 September)
1-11 Swimming World championships (Rome)
3 Athletics IAAF Grand Prix final (Paris)
3 Cricket NatWest Trophy final (Lord's)
8-10 Athletics IAAF World Cup (Crystal Palace)
11 Motor racing Italian Grand Prix (Monza)
15-18 Golf Dunhill British Masters (Woburn)
25 Motor racing Portuguese Grand Prix (Estoril)
2 Racing Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Longchamp)
4-9 Equestrianism Horse of the Year Show
16 Motor racing Argentine Grand Prix (provisional)
6 Motor racing Japanese Grand Prix (Suzuka)
13 Motor racing Australian Grand Prix (Adelaide)
19-23 Motor sport RAC Rally
25-29 Cricket First Test: Australia v England (Brisbane)
24-29 Cricket Second Test: Australia v England (Melbourne)
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