RONNIE O’Sullivan has used Sheffield as a pre-tournament training camp successfully twice in the past 12 months – for last year’s World Championship win, and also January’s Masters triumph.

And the Rocket was up in the Steel City again almost a week before he walks out as defending champion on Saturday at the Crucible.

The routine is relaxed and straightforward – practising at the Star Academy, running, and generally staying away from the prying eyes of the media and the greater spotlight at home.

There are a host of potential sparring partners passing through the academy at the Sheffield United Football Club training ground.

Last year O’Sullivan played against old foe Peter Ebdon, whose pre-tournament predictions that his rival would storm through the field proved completely accurate.

This time O’Sullivan started out his preparation with a different approach, taking on 16-year-old Latvian national champion and Academy resident Rodion Judin.

The teenager is one of the great hopes in the Baltic states, one of snooker’s new frontiers.

Ding Junhui, the man of the season with five ranking titles, was also around – but as a potential semi-final opponent it looked likely the pair would avoid practising with each other, and O’Sullivan arranged further preparation against Shanghai Masters finalist Xiao Guodong.