Belfast Telegraph

Epic show hits small screen... with high expectations

By Billy Weir

I should have known that we were in for something special on Saturday lunchtime as the 'i' button on the Sky remote promised a lot more than we bargained for in the Champions Cup rugby.

"Dark comedy drama. James McAvoy stars as a debauched, misanthropic policeman whose life is in a grim tailspin. Adults only: very strong and offensive language/sex/violence/drug use," said the guide on the planner.

Immediately I was concerned what the good folk in the leafy environs of Ravenhill would think of this, although they were probably reassured somewhat with the arrival of the Clermont Auvergne fans bedecked in yellow and blue making it look more like a Minions convention.

Sky, clearly concerned by the promise of all sorts of debauchery in Belfast, had played it safe with their team ensconced back in Blighty, presenter Alex Payne kicking things off with talk of Saracens, but then again it wouldn't be the first time Saracens had been talked of in Northern Ireland.

"We start in Belfast where things are looking a little precarious for Ulster," he said, and no wonder with James McAvoy wreaking havoc, but for Les Kiss all the off-field shenanigans were nothing to the French threat as "Clermont put the fear of God into you".

Not as much as Dylan Hartley, a man named after two popular Seventies kids' TV characters, who had come out swinging like Windy Miller's windmill the previous night as the England skipper was dismissed for thwacking Leinster's Sean O'Brien in their defeat of Northampton.

The unsaintly one has a bit of previous, 54 weeks of bans to be precise, including a meeting with our own Stephen Ferris, who appropriately joined Payne at Saracens to chew over Zebedee Dougal's, sorry, Dylan Hartley's latest misdemeanour in front of the 100 Board, detailing Saracens players who have made a century of appearances for the club.

"It's 100 per cent a red card," said Ferris, who Hartley had attempted to eat previously, keeping the theme going while Will Greenwood slammed it as an "act of violence", which should keep James McAvoy happy, before putting it into an England context.

"Eddie Jones will say he's my leader, he's been my mouthpiece, my trade union leader with the shop floor of the players," he said, and there's certainly no arguing that he's good at striking. And gouging and biting.

After all the unsavoury goings on, Greenwood tried to create a happier place, one where wildlife could come out at Ravenhill without fear of very strong and offensive language/sex/violence/drug use, as talk turned to Ruan Pienaar.

"He's like a meerkat, always looking, snout up, looking for space," he said, although stopped short of saying he makes the game look 'simples'.

He wouldn't have been blamed for disappearing down a hole as Clermont came out with all guns blazing and took all of 64 seconds to score the first try of what was to become a classic.

Back came Ulster with two tries of their own, including an outrageous assist from the meerkat, and while Sky's presenters were miles away, their commentator Miles Harrison was delighted to be in Belfast but not fostering Anglo-French relations.

"It's one of those days when you have to keep checking the scoreboard to see who's got their nose in front," he said as the camera panned onto an unsuspecting Clermont supporter who wasn't behind the door when they were handing out 'les nez'.

At half-time Ulster led 22-18 and, as if things hadn't been fast enough, up popped double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea for a chat on the touchline with Graham Simmons.

But both teams came out like scalded Suzukis in the second half, Ulster racing into the distance and seemingly out of sight before we were shown a sad Frenchman in a beret and an Ulster flag with a string of onions and a chicken hanging off it.

Come Sunday I fully expect reprisals with a man in a balaclava holding a Tricolore adorned with a pound of vegetable roll and a Veda hanging off it, but before that, the French showed a bit of fight.

Referee Wayne Barnes was unimpressed with the scuffle, co-commentator Stuart Barnes delighted at his "utter dismissal of handbag rugby", and while we had the violence that had been promised, the only sex on show was the Clermont flanker's number, but there was, however, the threat of bad language.

"He couldn't give a, errr, damn about it," added Barnes, with Harrison breathing a sigh of relief.

"Good self-control by you as well, for a second there I did wonder what word you were going to pluck off the shelf," he said.

"I'm in too good a mood for that word," came the retort and by the end everyone was, even the losers, who went back to France with two bonus points on the end of a 39-32 defeat.

The sequel is this Sunday. I'm not sure if we'll have very strong and offensive language/sex/violence/drug use, but if the rugby's half as good, even James McAvoy might turn up.

The good, the bad and the ugly

THE GOOD: Nice to see the Women’s Big Bash cricket under way on BT Sport and even better that the man or woman who used to write the captions for the Page 3 girl has been appointed as team name chooser with the likes of the Perth Scorchers in action. They’ll probably be up against the Sydney Stunnas at some stage.

THE BAD: High drama on Sky’s Goals on Sunday at the weekend as Emile Heskey popped up for an appearance on the sofa. As Ben Shephard and Chris Kamara chatted, off screen there was a thud, a scream and Emile was writhing about on the floor in agony under the coffee table. Unbelievable.

THE UGLY: And so Anthony Joshua defended his World heavyweight crown against the less than impressive Eric Molina in an avoid at all costs Sky Box Office pay-per-view tussle on Saturday night. It may as well have been Eric Morecambe, as I’ve had tougher tussles with a dish of semolina.

Belfast Telegraph

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