Ronnie O’Sullivan starts the defence of his Masters crown hoping some advice to opponent Liang Wenbo does not backfire on him on Sunday afternoon.

The Rocket is going for a record seventh title in the prestigious invitation tournament, staged at Alexandra Palace in north London.

And the two know each very well, having forged a close friendship following years as practice partners at the Grove facility in Romford.

Wenbo, 29, was challenging Ding Junhui for the China No1 tag some years ago and then lost his way in the game, badly underachieving given his unquestioned ability.

But he started to punch his weight by reaching the final of the UK Championship in 2015, and then finally claimed a first ranking title success at the English Open this season.

And five-time world champion O’Sullivan, 41, hopes some help contributed to Liang finding his way out of the wilderness.

O’Sullivan said: “I have known him for years, he used to practice eight hours a day in Romford and I told him he was overdoing it.

“I told him to go and have a life, do only two or three hours. He was doing all that time and still couldn’t pot a ball in tournaments.

“So I told him to go to Sheffield, see his Chinese mates, see his family – and not to do what I did at his age. And he has done it and never been happier.

“I have passed on a few mental skills and technique tips, and he is one of my close friends. I like to help people.

“And I have helped some of the younger Chinese players based here. I like to help people in my field, I know how tough it can be.

“They are nice kids, and have looked after me here, they are genuine. The bit I am giving them is the easy bit, the tough bit is going out and doing it.”

O’Sullivan also revealed that he is helping the young Chinese players passing through the Grove, that he still uses as an occasional base.

But worryingly he does not see many if any teenage talents in the UK equally worthy of the same kind of mentoring.

O’Sullivan added: “There is no one to pass it on to in the UK of the right age. If you look at what we have in England there is Kyren Wilson, but he is 25 I think.

“I don’t see no 15- or 16-year-olds out there, we used to know about people out there. That died really when the tobacco ban came in and clubs shut overnight

“The whole grass-roots of snooker was gone, and the amateur scene has almost disappeared. I used to play in amateur events every week, going round the country.

“When they opened up the pro game to anyone as they did, it killed the amateur game. You are seeing the repercussions of bad, quick knee-jerk decisions.

“The only players for me to pass what I know on to are in China. You spend a month out there, they want to use me.

“They are doing what we used to, there are academies with 20-30 tables with top players getting the best practice. The government subsidise it, and sort the families out.

“They invest in their youngsters with talent, in this country we bale out banks who rip the country off and bring it to its knees.”