Sport on TV: Incandescent Pienaar combusts as last post drifts across valleys

By Andrew Tong
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The Independent Online

"If you take a player off his feet, it's your responsibility to bring him down with care," explained Nick Mullins after Wales's captain Sam Warburton had been sent off for a dumping tackle on the French in their World Cup semi-final (ITV1, Saturday). It was like being transported to the set of Strictly Come Dancing as Anton Du Beke hoists Nancy Dell'Olio into the ether after she's quaffed a couple of bottles of vintage champagne. Who knows where she will come down, if she ever does?

Back in the studio at half-time, it was a question of whether Francois Pienaar would come down off his high horse. "I've calmed down, I was absolutely livid," said South Africa's honorary Welshman, his massive fingers clawing the arms of his chair, and you wondered what he must have been like before the cameras were trained on him.

Even Steve Rider seemed a little ruffled; there was definitely a hair out of place on that blond plumage – for the first time in five weeks of the tournament. "The one bit of red Wales didn't want to see," he quipped – but without the cheesy grin, just the slightly bloodshot eyes – a bit of red that we have all been getting used to seeing in the mirror as well as on our screens.

They didn't go over to the hordes of fans watching at the Millennium Stadium. Shades of another World Cup – '66, perhaps? "There's 65,000 people on the pitch, they think it's all over... It is now!" It was far too early on a Saturday morning to show such intense collective despondency.

Mullins had already informed us that Huw Bennett's father Stephen, a postman, was taking twice as long as usual to do his round in Ebbw Vale. Well, the valleys won't be getting any post at all for a while because Mr Bennett will be far too busy delivering the hate mail to referee Alain Rolland in person. (By the way, doesn't anyone realise that Monsieur Rolland is not really Irish?)

Rarely can the television screens of Middle England have been so besplattered with the spittle of viewers yelling for Wales. Leigh Halfpenny was so awesome that one could only curse the recession and reflect on how good he would have been if he was the full penny.

Meanwhile summariser Michael Owen gushed of Jason Roberts: "I'm sure he can do anything. He plays guitar, he's a qualified doctor." In that order, Michael? You can just see him, perched on the end of his patients' beds in a decade's time, gently strumming along to a mournful dirge called 'The Ballad of Sam Warburton'.

It was "a match that will be spoken of as long as folk speak of rugby", said Mullins. As befitting a nation that has felt hard done by for centuries, the red mist has descended into the valleys for a while to come.



And talking of chips on shoulders... At least England's rugby fans had something to cheer this week, as Phil Vickery charged into the final of Celebrity Masterchef (BBC1, Friday). "I've given every ounce of the big man's efforts," he said wearily as all his fellow contestants went in for the big hug. Everyone wants a piece of him. He had served up a couple of breasts for the three restaurant critics in the semi-final – that's pigeon followed by duck, not the sort that Mike Tindall tried to scoff in that Queenstown bar. One can only assume that Vickery will prepare his pièce de resistance for the final this week: tossed dwarf salad.

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