It's not far-fetched to suggest that one of the staging posts in the decline of the team that won the rugby World Cup in 2003 came the following year when the man who delivered the pass for Saint Jonny's fabled drop goal pulled out of an England training camp to do A Question of Sport. After that, Matt Dawson's sporting career went pretty much downhill. His life as a media tart has been wildly successful, however, and tonight he'll be facing down the nation's Incredible Hunk, Mark Ramprakash, in the grand finale of Strictly Come Dancing.
It's not Dawson's first non-sporting final: in September, he beat Roger Black to win Celebrity Masterchef. And not short of confidence, he's put £1,000 on himself to win tonight at 11-8. It will, however, be a seismic turn-up if he vanquishes Ramps: the former England cricketer has been the most consistently exciting performer over the last 15 weeks, and there was almost the feeling in last Saturday's semi that victory was his already, following his genuinely thrilling Argentine tango (sorry, "Argy tango", copyright: Bruce Forsyth). He was brilliant in a discipline so difficult even the professionals had to have a bit of coaching, and he drew a massive ovation from the crowd - sorry, the audience.
"This was the prince of darkness and the queen of the night," said judge Bruno Tonioli, a man who's never knowingly understated. The marks given by Tonioli - who used to dance for Bananarama and George Michael - and the rest of the panel count for only 50 per cent of the final mark, so phone lines are likely to be raging tonight. For SCD is as close as we get these days to a communal TV experience, averaging more than 8.5 million viewers a week, consistently outgunning X-Factor and trouncing How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, with up to 10 million expected tonight. It's what Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC1, calls: "Three-generation TV - that's TV you can watch with your grandparents and children." I think he must mean your parents and your children, but you can see what he's getting at.
Ramprakash and Dawson saw off Baby Spice last week, despite the fact that she was technically the best dancer in the series - but that's probably because most of the voting is done by women. As well as that, though, sportspeople, who have filled five out of the eight final slots over four series, are clearly suited to the format: they're used to the hard slog of training, and focusing on victory is second nature to them.
Certainly, if hard work was the only criterion, the Stakhanovite Ramprakash would be out on his own. As it is, while Dawson looks like he's simply doing what he's told, Ramprakash seems to be actually feeling the moves. Ramps, your life as a media tart is only just beginning...
So who's hot to trot?
* MARK RAMPRAKASH Natural mover and radiates passion, but can trip up over his own inconsistency. Betting: 8-15.
* MATT DAWSON Started with two left feet but improved dramatically. Strong on ballroom but Latin is all Greek to him. Betting: 7-4.
* PREVIOUS SERIES Series 1: Natasha Kaplinsky bt Christopher Parker in the final (Martin Offiah was eliminated in week 6).
Series 2: Jill Halfpenny bt Denise Lewis (Roger Black eliminated in week 6).
Series 3: Darren Gough bt Colin Jackson (Dennis Taylor eliminated in week 5).
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