Robert Kabbas, the 1984 Olympic weightlifting silver medallist from Australia, used to train with Australian Rules players. Such as weightlifting was in his home town of Melbourne, it was more cost-effective to share resources.
And Kabbas and the other lifters would tell the egg-chasing contingent that he was training for a sport, as opposed to a game. "We don't 'play' weightlifting," he used to tell them. "You guys play footy – that is just a game, not a sport."
Those sentiments came to mind in the build-up to the Six Nations decider between England and Wales. Except that a parade of po-faced presenters and former players such as Lawrence Dallaglio and Brian Moore were not dismissing the match as only a game; rather, they were raising it up to be so much more.
The Marilyn Manson-style music, pyrotechnics and super-amplified crunches of bodies that served as the introduction to the BBC coverage was fair enough. After all, few of us want to go back to the days of buttoned-down presenters using received pronunciation telling us, ladies and gentlemen, to please take your seats, thank you very kindly.
But after Sonja McLaughlan's pre-match interviews with Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, and fly-half Owen Farrell, things began to get a little overblown. First, McLaughlan stood in the Millennium Stadium tunnel talking about Chris Robshaw and Gethin Jenkins "leading the troops into battle".
Then Dallaglio entered, a man who is no stranger to injecting a little drama into statements when he feels like it. "Francis Bacon," he said with faux gravitas, while standing stony-faced in front of one of the artist's paintings. "The Three Ages of Man. Is it about six, seven and eight? Or is it about eight, seven and six? The outcome of this battle will go a long, long way to determining the outcome of the match."
He was of course talking about the flankers on each side, Robshaw of England and Wales' Sam Warburton – a man who, according to Dallaglio, is "the spiritual leader of this side". Please. Give us strength.
Moore, standing pitchside, wasn't much more sensible, as he spoke as if he was leading a battalion for the big push, talking about concentrating on "what they have to do and nothing else".
Thankfully, the match was so breathless that the half and full-time pundits did not need to embellish the action with any more jingoistic references to war.
And equally welcome was Jonathan Davies, the only pundit who appeared to be enjoying himself – even before Wales posted their record win over England. Before the match he pooh-poohed the host John Inverdale's hyperbole-laden questions concerning "the occasion" with: "I am just fascinated about the game. I am hoping people talk about that, rather than the occasion."
And afterwards, with a justifiable grin like a Cheshire cat, Davies (pictured) refused to rub English noses in it. He was just overcome with the joy that his team had won.
"The occasion was wonderful, the game was fantastic," he said. And with those words, he summed up the match far better than Inverdale, Clive Woodward or Jeremy Guscott, the other pundits standing pitchside.
And quite right too. Because as Kabbas would tell everyone: It's only a game, boys. It's only a game.Reuse content