Sport on TV : Will Greenwood: blinkered? Blinking brilliant? Or both?

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The Independent Culture

How objective should commentators and pundits be? Are patriotic blinkers acceptable on big national occasions or should we demand the view from Mt Olympus? Or to put it another way, in the context of the Rugby World Cup, should Will Greenwood be canned or canonised?

He was reporting from the touchline for England v France last Saturday, and at the end he was jigging about like Nobby Stiles in '66. "What's going on?" he marvelled. "Amazing! Mitterrand, Platini, your boys took one hell of a beating!"

For me he's been the best thing about ITV's coverage, but emails sent to the office and a trawl through rugby chatrooms suggest that a heated debate has been convulsing the nation. There's been intense outrage on the net, most of it sour, plenty of it foul-mouthed, some of it even funny - see bloodand mud.com's "How Will Greenwood are you?" for a "You the Pundit" quiz to see if your jingoism matches the former England international's.

The complaints were about his summarising during last Sunday's semi between South Africa and Argentina, long passages of which Greenwood admittedly devoted to revisiting the previous evening's great and glorious victory (now I'm at it). His first words were, "Let's sit down and make notes on who we're going to face in the World Cup final. How good does that sound?" and time and again his point of reference for an incident was something from Saturday. He compared a Juan Martin Hernandez drop-kick miss to Jonny Wilkinson's match-winning effort the night before.

"Jonny waited like a sniper," he said, "went left, went right, left foot, right foot, grassy knoll, book library - where's he going to take the shot from? - and then picked it off." The new Sid Waddell? "This is Paris, not Dallas," Jon Champion sighed.

I experienced diametrically opposed reactions to that moment, it has to be said. My partner, who happened to be passing by the TV at the time, couldn't quite believe her ears. "What was that? Did he really say that?" She thought about it. "It was rubbish, wasn't it?" A few seconds later I received a breathless text from a friend: "Did you just hear that from Will Greenwood? Brilliant. Best summariser by miles."

Personally, I think we have to live with the bias, even if the nation isn't entirely composed of rugger-bugger Englishmen. When the referee gave the Argies a ticking-off after Manuel Contepomi had arranged an intimate liaison between Bryan Habana and the advertising hoardings, their captain, Agustin Pichot, wasn't impressed.

"Don't tell us how to play," Greenwood laughed. "That's the way we play, mate. We're elbows, we're knees, we're niggly, we're 'orrible, we're nasty, we're Argentinian and we're proud of it!"

Will Greenwood: English, proud of it - and, whatever the chatroomers say, the off-the-pitch star of the Rugby World Cup.

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