Robin Scott-Elliot: National monument in need of preservation order

View From The Sofa: England v Argentina, Sky Sports 2
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The Independent Online

In this country we have football, cricket and horse racing, in Austria they have the Vienna Opera Ball. When it comes to television's "Crown Jewels", an opera ball, especially one where women are commanded to dress up in ball gowns, fits the bill more than an entire nation coming together to have a punt on the 3.45 at Aintree.

A disappointingly under-reported side of David Davies' report into sports that should be on free-to-air television was his discovery that elsewhere in Europe it's the norm for cultural events to be listed. In Belgium it's the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, which, it says here, is prestigious. That seems like a good thing, like us listing our blue-riband equivalents, the Proms, or X Factor. But listing a ball? The let-them-eat-cake approach to governance as practised by Marie Antoinette clearly lives on in the land of her birth.

Davies' findings – and they are actually pretty reasonable – have been almost as well received here as the Antoinette dietary enquiry was by the French way back when Rupert Murdoch was still just a cub reporter on the Wollongong Echo and Sky was where the birds exercised.

Poor old Davies was giving a shoeing worthy of an Englishman at the bottom of a ruck in Cardiff. Which is where Martin Johnson would have probably preferred to have been for much of Saturday afternoon. Davies' appetite for watching sport on TV this weekend may have been as slight as Marie Antoinette's for a slice of Black Forest gateau after the revolution, and that is a shame as it would have given him the chance to see someone set for an even bigger kicking.

Poor old Johnson. After an hour at Twickenham a camera picked out the glowering giant. On the field England, dressed in a purple outfit that would not have looked out of place at a Viennese ball, were making an absolute balls-up of playing Argentina and, seemingly, Johnson's coaching career.

"We have to talk about this man," said Stuart Barnes menacingly. Although the clubbable Barnes, despite being one of the best pundits about, can never sound overly menacing. Earlier a shot of England's soft-toy bulldog mascot (who gets to take it home at half-term? Does James Haskell snuggle up with it each night in Paris to remind him of home?) lying marooned on its back had led Barnes to say to his co-commentator Miles Harrison: "That'll be you after the cricket dinner tonight."

A few minutes later, and after another England move had foundered on their own inadequacies, Johnson filled our screens again. He shook his head, then leant forward and buried it in his huge hands. "You can understand that," said Barnes as he wiped the froth from his next pint off his top lip.

At that stage it looked as if the end of the road had loomed alarmingly into view for Johnson. "England just want something," Harrison said. The crowd mumbled discontent. And then Harrison earned the big man his break, sacrificing himself to the commentator's curse for the good of the nation. "This has not been a great game," he said, which on Sky translates as, 'What you're watching is utter tosh, if I was you I'd turn over'. About 15 seconds later England scored the decisive try.

Up at Murrayfield, Andy Robinson, whose tenure as England coach was ended by defeat to Argentina, was making a winning start with Scotland. "A rose becoming a thistle," announced the commentator Andrew Cotter.

Back at Twickenham, Johnson looked like he had spent the afternoon chewing on thistles. And next up it's the All Blacks. Perhaps it's time to apply for listed building status before this national monument is brought tumbling down.

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