Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the Box: Nathan to declare but Jim’s a genius

It’s Friday, it’s five to seven, it’s sorry to disappoint, but it’s not Crackerjack, but as we waved goodbye to Eggheads on BBC2 it was time for the egg-chasers.

For Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart read Stephen ‘Live’ Watson as he burst into life with an opening salvo of ‘it’s Friday night at Ravenhill, it can mean only one thing. Ulster rugby is back and it’s time to bring it on.’

I wasn’t sure what the ‘it’ was but I thought Ulster were taking on the Glasgow Worriers and pictured some shy Caledonian types fretting by the side of the pitch while sheep across the country couldn’t have been more concerned had they all been sent on a day-trip to Ballymena.

Turns out it was the Warriors, thankfully Ulster having long since despatched with their daft nickname, meaning that the only stupid moniker around is the competition – the RaboDirect Pro 12 League. Catchy.

Strangely their tent at Ravers wasn’t half as busy as the one used by the league’s former sponsors, but I’m sure investors will soon be trotting up of a Friday to make a few lodgements.

They’ve got a few weeks yet as, and whisper it quietly, the really good players have gone away on a wee trip to New Zealand, but the Beeb were excited and who am I to lob a cabbage into their armful of goodies?

It may have B team on the pitch but off it we had A-listers in Andy Ward and Tony McWhirter. Andy, bedecked in jacket and jeans (he who thinks Kiwi, dresses like Jeremy Clarkson) while dapper Tony looked as if he’d just stepped out of Wilson McMichael’s (other suppliers of menswear in Ballymoney are available) window display.

And better still we had Jim Neilly, a man who could make a wet weekend in Dervock seem interesting, although political analysis may not be his thing as the camera panned in on the Sports Minister taking her seat.

“The newly appointed Minister of Culture, Arts, etc, etc” he said tailing off as he realised that he didn’t know how to say her name. It’s okay, Jim, I don’t know how to spell it either, just say ‘that woman who looks like she’s been made up from all the members of Slade’ and we’ll know who you mean.

And we did, some classic Neilly as Glasgow’s injured Jon Welsh sat on the sidelines with his foot wrapped in ice, or ‘He’d much rather be on scrimmaging his little socks off rather than sitting with them off’. His foot was probably just sleeping waiting for the scrum to bind.

Paul Marshall then scored a try and Jim couldn’t have been happier had Stu Francis just arrived and handed him a pencil.

“The cheeky little rascal has sneaked in,” he cried, but refrained from adding ‘ooh, I could crush a grape’ and the excitement had clearly got to Stephen back in the studio as he wrapped things up at the break.

“Nathan Jones got over for a Glasgow try,” he assured us. I checked, there was no one of that name playing. There was a Troy Nathan, but that may have been a joint Kiwi-Ballymoney translation serving as a critique of the defending.

But as big Tony will tell you, Stephen, in Cowtown sometimes you say it best when you say Nathan at all, but think yourself lucky, at least you didn’t have to watch Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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