Belfast Telegraph

Sky strikes rugby gold right away deep down in the Welsh valleys

By Billy Weir

Isn't it amazing the number of sporting events that were seemingly rubbish before Sky got their grubby paws on them?

Remember when F1 was hardly worth a mention, or when cycling was something done by lentil-wearing leather-sandal-munching do-gooders rather than gods in lycra?

It is something similar now for Pro12 Rugby, which began life in its new home at the weekend with Ulster's trip to Wales to take on Scarlets.

"Has a new season of the Pro12 ever offered so much potential and so many possibilities?" mused presenter Alex Payne as he dandered across the turf of a deserted stadium in Glasgow. Probably.

Not to worry, he had men on the ground in the vowel-friendly shape of Ieuan Evans and Will Greenwood, the only Englishman in the village, while back north of two borders, where Leinster were due to arrive later, Payne was no longer alone.

"I'm pleased to have on board Ulster legend Paddy Wallace and former Scarlets' starlet Scott Quinnell, but I don't think your toes twinkled enough for that, but the big man is back and you're always the king of possibility, so how excited are you?" enquired Payne.

"More excited than usual," began Quinnell, whose Postcode Lottery numbers had come up but probably wondered why he was standing in G14 rather than SA14.

"We're going so see a lot of tries," he added and we awaited an exciting 3-3 draw, but Wallace passed his Sky audition with flying colours by talking up this brand new and exciting league, that has been going for years, and his delight that 'Sky are giving it the treatment as well.'

Another Ulsterman who has seen better rugby days is Mark Robson and he had shipped his ageing commentating limbs to SA14, where he was in his usual lyrical waxing ways at the start.

"The definition often used to describe a Celt is a barbarian warrior – not a bad template for a rugby player really," he told us, but he wasn't finished.

"A barbarian with an added nuance of pace and skill, a warrior, no Celt would begrudge that moniker. Hopefully our first offering of Pro12 on Sky Sports will deliver these essential Celtic characteristics.'

And, in fairness, they did, brilliant at attacking with gusto and guts, but as effective defensively as a fort made out of custard, and for the next 80 minutes tries came almost as quickly as a mention that Sky Sports were now covering Pro12.

Even those with highly negligible Celtic connections were mentioned with Robbo widening the net even further.

"It's been a big week in Wales, the NATO summit taking place in Wales. I wonder if Barack Obama is staying for the game? To help our cameraman he'll be between two men talking into his sleeve," he said, although that could have been Les Kiss as no-one is really sure what the Ulster coach looks like.

By half-time, Quinnell was quaking, booming that 'we've been telling you about this competition for 12 years, finally we're getting the tries live on Sky'. You don't say.

And it was the same story in the second-half, a fantastic 32-32 draw ensued and ensured, in Robbo's words, a 'memorable opening for Sky Sports' Pro12 coverage.'

Indeed so awestruck was Greenwood that he called Ulster skipper, Roger Wilson, Rory.

"I'm thinking of Rory McIlroy, your biggest fan," he said trying to recover and Wilson had the good grace not to say, 'no bother, Ron' or even worse, Debbie.

Then again Debbie does Llanelli is not something you'd tune in for, unless, of course, it was being shown for the first time on Sky Sports.

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