Robin Scott-Elliot: Princess Anne goes missing ahead of duelling pundits
View From The Sofa: Six Nations Rugby/A League Of Their Own, BBC1/Sky 1
Monday 15 March 2010
As the National Anthem droned around Murrayfield on Saturday, Princess Anne appeared on screen, lips pressed tightly together. She was not singing. There's probably some sort of arcane convention that means one shouldn't sing the family song (or perhaps she had in mind the verse about doing nasty things to Scots and was making a statement in favour of the team she supports), but still, on the eve of Mother's Day, she could at least have whistled it, à la Daley Thompson. Disappointingly, the director failed to return to her when "Flower of Scotland" – which is about doing nasty things to the English – had its turn.
The Calcutta Cup is a fixture unmatched in international sport for its lasting rivalry and accompanying baggage, and while it has lost some of the bile of 20 years ago, Saturday showed that it remains an occasion of bruising intensity. Maybe it wasn't a very good game, but it was compelling, tense and gruelling; over-my-dead-body sport (as Mel Gibson said to Edward I, I believe). Since it was rebuilt, Murrayfield can be a passionless place, but every two years it comes alive – and what's wrong with a bit of pantomime booing when Jonny Wilkinson's about to kick?
Before settling on the sofa, I had a job that one day involved brandishing a large umbrella in an attempt to shield Jeremy Guscott from being pelted with chips as he did a live link on the pitch at Murrayfield. When Scots freely give up fried food, then you know this is serious.
Guscott is a good pundit and, like most of the BBC's rugby team, happy to speak his mind (does Alan Shearer sit on the fence even when he's creosoting it?). Guscott also gives the sense that he appreciates that chasing a ball around isn't the be-all and end-all – he sees a bigger picture.
The BBC's team is well stocked with former England internationals of a certain sort. Lawrence Dallaglio and Brian Moore aren't short of opinions, probably on anything from the dollarisation of Central America to the best way to sit on a fence while applying a coat of creosote. At one point during the game, Austin Healey, another verbose sort and a kind of Matt Dawson-lite (which is a good thing), popped up in his analysis booth to reveal that Dan Parks was outplaying Wilkinson. If anything says that time is up for the England No 10, then being overshadowed by the limited Parks has to come close.
It is better to remember Wilko for what he was rather than what he is becoming and much the same can be said for Andrew Flintoff, as well as James Corden and Jamie Redknapp, his fellow particpants in Sky's much-heralded A League of Their Own.
Remember Freddie doing nasty things to the Aussies, Smithy guiding Gavin through the peaks and troughs of cross-border loving; a roly-poly Brearley to his adored Botham. And Redknapp hitting golf balls on the beach or cheekily coaxing a grin out of Richard Keys. Anything but this.
When the time comes to judge that underappreciated broadcasting genre the sports quiz, this will rank below A Question of Sport and They Think It's All Over, and any other you can think off, which I can't (Sport Mastermind?). It was horrible.
It did, though, reveal that the Freddie Flintoff lookalike has had fewer bookings than Michael Schumacher's and Arsène Wenger's doppelgangers. The fake Frenchman had the most, but it is more than a year since Freddie's dead ringer opened a brewery. A look of anguish slipped across Flintoff's face.
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