Sport on TV: ITV wastes its World Cup bonanza with digital overload

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The Independent Culture

It was nice to see a programme in prime time last night setting up the weekend's two titanic confrontations in Paris, writes Chris Maume from a parallel universe in which ITV takes the Rugby World Cup seriously.

Some time in the 1980s, when gyms were all the rage, I paid 180 for a year's off-peak membership of a scarily upbeat place in Covent Garden. I ended up going twice. Closely following the Maume Business Plan, ITV paid 30m for the RWC rights then proceeded to chuck it away.

Where were the quarter-final previews and highlights? And could they not have mustered a midweek magazine between knock-out rounds to keep the pot simmering? Not even a programme next week ahead of the final?

Everything beyond the blindingly obvious - 21 of the 40 pool games, for a start - was shunted on to digital, which more than a quarter of the population can't receive. I realise that along with cricket, union plays joint-second fiddle to football in the national affections, but it is the World Cup, and they have paid through the nose for it. It's just a waste.

Which is not to complain unduly about the match coverage. The rock-solid Miles Harrison and consistently illuminating Stuart Barnes - either ripped from their beds in the dead of night and bundled into the back of an ITV van by the Rosenthal Gang, or secured from Sky in the loan deal of the year - knock oval-shaped spots off Eddie Butler and Brian Moore on the BBC.

Unfortunately, they also seriously overshadow ITV's dirt-tracker combo, commentator Jon Champion and the Kiwi summariser Murray Mexted - who makes Moore, King in the Land of the One-Eyed, seem like a lofty internationalist unswayed by the vein-bulging imperatives of mindless patriotism. And I especially liked his line on his defeated compatriots: "New Zealand go home with their tails between their ears..."

In the run-up to tonight's little bit of business in the Stade de France, it was left to ESPN Classic to provide some historical context with a week-long schedule of classic Frog-Rosbif encounters. And if Champion were in need of inspiration, he could find it in the person of the magnifique anonymous French commentator from a game in the Fifties in a delightful film, Great Sporting Duels.

As the ball flew from player to player, it was as if he was singing the keening climax to a magnificent torch song: "Lacroix, this is wonderful! Albadejo! Bouquet! Saux, et Domenech! Gentleman, that was an historic try! Crauste scores probably the most beautiful try that France have ever scored! Oh, I've no voice left! This is really very, very great rugby! Oh la la! After that we can die happy!"