If the Australians' motto in 1999 was "Bring Back Bill", in reference to the William Webb Ellis Cup, then every right-thinking viewer of ITV's coverage of the Rugby World Cup has their slogan for 2003: "Bring Gabby Home!" I yield to no one in my admiration for La Logan, the diaphanous yet thoroughly professional football presenter who won our hearts and minds trading banter with Barry Venison, and graduated to those unmissable celebrity versions of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Stars In Their Eyes. Gabby's reward from ITV? "Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be forced to behave like a grinning simpleton."
Busily traversing the great island continent, Gabby has been contributing scene-setters to camera alongside the likes of David Campese, Zinzan Brooke and, er, Gordon Ross. Her delivery has been nothing less than Churchillian - as in the nodding dog in the Churchill Insurance adverts. Eschewing the practice of looking at the person you are talking to, Gabbling Gabby is clearly under orders to rush out a couple of sentences, fix the viewer with a demented stare, and pay little attention to the equally manic reply from "Campo", "Zinny" or (let's hazard a guess) "Rossy". You can almost hear the director: "Two seconds of satellite time left, Gabby darling, get us a prediction!"
How bizarre, then, that when the matches kick off, the commentating tempo slows to a rate David Dimbleby at a royal funeral might regard as a touch sedate (unless we're in the hands of the Two Gregs, of whom more later). Here's an exchange from Ireland versus Namibia: "I'm not quite sure about the referee's shirt, David," said Nigel Starmer-Smith, the hyphenated byword among non-rugby lovers for all that is stuffy about the game. "They look more like waiters, don't you think?"
In response, silence from co-commentator David Sole. Principally, you suspected, because the referee did not look anything like a waiter. Starmer-Smith battled on: "Or maybe he looks like a photographer, wearing one of those orange bibs." Sole mumbled about the jersey needing to be distinguishable from those of the teams.
The point of all this pointlessness was that it occurred during the match. Rugby, however unengaging, was actually being played at the time. Starmer-Smith also got bogged down in the only thing worse than commentating on very little happening, which is commentating on replays of very little happening. The lengthy deliberations by the video referee have been the bête noire of François Pienaar, one of the heavyweight pundits stuck in London. No centre of operations has been as far from the action since Houston and the moon landings.
Pienaar had a moan about the two minutes, 22 seconds it took to award a score to Ireland's Marcus Horan. "I fell asleep during that," grumbled François, echoing fellow panel member Will Carling's words about an earlier analysis of forward play. If the experts are dozing off, what hope is there for us?
On the subject of the video referee, talk about having your cake... The second look at a try is entirely the product of the television age, utilising slow-motion replays. Having thus undermined the on-field referee's traditional role as sole arbiter of fact, the fellow in the replay booth is now the target. Mindful of the vitriol awaiting from Pienaar and friends if he gets it wrong, the video ref is bound to have one more look from another angle. And with upwards of 20 cameras at a top match, there are plenty to choose from.
As it happens, the mention of cake is, I feel, apt where ITV's rugby is concerned. The dawdling pace, combined with the spells of inactivity inherent in the game - not to mention some of the scorelines - is more suited to the style of Test Match Special. The only other solution is to adopt the Australian method of "one in, all in", as practised by the Two Gregs. Messrs Martin and Clark - I have no idea which is which, and it doesn't matter - toss the commentary between them like a hot potato. Sometimes they even shout over each other. It's not cricket, old chap, but that's the point.Reuse content