Matt Butler: Context is everything when the All Blacks come dancing your way

Autumn International highlights, BBC3

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The Independent Online

Somewhere on the internet lies a website featuring inspiring fitness quotes juxtaposed with pictures of people drinking heavily. Whoever did it was on to something. After all, the slogan “You never know your limits unless you push yourself to them” takes on a whole new meaning when superimposed on an image of a man struggling to neck a trio of frothy pints.

It is full-colour proof that context is key. Take the comments from Ben Cohen, the World Cup-winning former England rugby player, on Saturday night. He proclaimed himself to be “chuffed with what I have done” and to have “really worked on things and the results speak for themselves”.

If you closed your eyes, you’d think he was talking rugby. But his quotes were just after he had performed a Viennese (or as one of the judges pronounced it, “V and ease”) Waltz on Strictly Come Dancing.

Not that we were watching, of course. After all, the highlights of England’s match against New Zealand had just started on BBC3. And what highlights they were. Yes, before the match started Lewis Moody gave some technical analysis of what England should do – breakdowns, gain-lines and phases were all mentioned – while Jason Mohammad, the host, kept it simple, pressing the point home that New Zealand, or the All Blacks, as everyone including the England coach Stuart Lancaster called the opposition, were after revenge.

Alistair Bruce-Ball, in the commentary box with Brian Moore as his side man, kept the theme going. As the All Blacks did the Haka, which, no matter how many times you watch it, is still spine-tingling theatre, the commentator repeatedly claimed that the visiting side were out to avenge last year’s record loss.

While Bruce-Ball had his “they have their revenge” line used up by the second minute, when New Zealand bowled over for their first try, Moore called things more phlegmatically.

But when it came to England’s pack grunting over the line midway through the first half to have two try attempts passed to the video referee, the former hooker was indispensable.

He had been embroiled in many an incomprehensible forward drive as a player, and he did brilliantly to walk the viewer through what the hell was actually going on in the sea of limbs. And in the two instances in as many minutes of England having a try referred, he was spot-on in his analysis. Just what we wanted.

Moore was even more entertaining when Chris Ashton totally Ashley Young-ed his fall to the ground, having been shoulder-barged by the All Black prop Wyatt Crockett. “He did a bit of a Hollywood there,” Moore scoffed at the rugby league convert. “There was no need for that dive.” It could have been a quote straight from Match of the Day.

But the hands-down winner for ambiguous statement of the day also came from Moore: “Catch and cry, see what the options are from there.” If we’d had audio alone, he could have been describing Cohen’s strategy on Strictly. Thank heavens for context.