Belfast Telegraph

Six Nations - a space oddity for the BBC and Tim Peake

By Billy Weir

A new season, new managers, a new channel, new presenters and even a new frontier, the Six Nations rugby is back but one old thing remains - no matter who is playing, you can guarantee England will be mentioned within seconds.

Of course this is no surprise as up first was the game that no-one really gives a monkeys or singes or scimmie about, depending on whether you're French or Italian, as the two other nations kicked things off in Paris on Saturday.

With that in mind, the BBC widened their horizons even further, as pictures crackled into vision and a man addressed the nations.

"Hi, my name is Tim Peake and welcome aboard the International Space Station," he said and, while ITV's imminent touchdown on planet rugby was just around the corner, the Beeb were clearly making one defiant leap in another direction. Up.

"I'm speaking to you from about 400km above the Earth while just below me the southern hemisphere is still basking in Rugby World Cup glory. As for Europe, after the darkness comes the light," as we all wondered just when the first mention of 'out of this world' was coming.

"As a new day dawns, good luck to all the teams and let this Six Nations be out of this world," he said and with that done, it was off to Edinburgh and John Inverdale and his amiable band of space cadets.

Read more: Six Nations France v Ireland: Noves is right Guy to give French the kiss of life

"We have our own new, brand, spanking, fantastic spaceship on the outskirts of the Murrayfield pitch to give us the most fantastic view and our three cosmonauts are Jeremy Guscott, Andy Nicol and Mike Tindall," said our mission leader.

Of the three, the strange, alien life-form that is Tindall was the only new raider on the starboard bow and so, with France v Italy and being in Edinburgh, it was only natural we start with an Aussie in charge of England - the Beeb's only frontier.

After 23 minutes, Ireland even got a mention before there was nothing else for it and they had to go to Paris and let Gabby Logan giggle like a schoolgirl who had been allowed into the cockpit of the Space Shuttle to find One Direction in there.

This was more to do with the French suaveness of Thomas Castaignade and the Aussie ruggedness of Matt Giteau than the ruddy Irishness of Keith Wood, who looked the double of Gru from The Minions in his lovely new scarf.

Anyhow, France won, just, although the phantom menace of a No.8 attempting a drop goal with the last kick of the game in ET (that's extra-time) sent us hurtling into a universe far, far away, but Sergio Parisse's effort was more out of control than over and out of this world.

To steady the ship and with the pesky foreign invaders dealt with, ground control regained contact with Major Tim who rejoined us, this time posing in an England shirt.

"Space is a hostile environment, but Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup, that's a whole different matter," he said, as a strange clunk was heard as an errant can of Irn Bru bounced off the side of the Space Station.

"England shirt? Check. And I'm sure somewhere around here there's a set of bagpipes, so may the best team win and come on England," he finished, as we wondered would he get much of a tune out of them when shoved up his cargo hold.

The best team did indeed win, ensuring success for the return of the Eddie (Jones) to rugby but there was a new awakening force from the south - and they were green and red.

But there was no Martian among the Gilberts, just a Mark, in the shape of Pougatch, our ITV guide, and they had assembled a stellar panel, Brian O'Driscoll for the Irish, Gareth Thomas for the Welsh and Jonny Wilkinson for the English and, just arrived from planet BT Sport, Martin Bayfield, with his wee table and something even more unusual - a woman.

Maggie Alphonsi, daughter of two of the characters from Happy Days, joined in on the fun, Bayfield treating her very much as an equal and not just a politically correct visitor from alien stock.

"France were unconvincing, but you get the feeling if there were points for the sexiest shirt in the Six Nations the French might get that," he said, not helping the cause but thankfully a message from Gabriel helped restore some order.

Mr Clarke's piece on the two No.10s, Jonny Sexton and Dan Biggar, was the highlight of the day and with Gordon D'Arcy and Shane Williams joining Nick Mullins in the commentary booth, our starting line-up was complete.

Mullins tried his best to reach out to the warring factions and an olive branch was offered by Williams.

"I just hope me and Gordon aren't at each other's throats halfway through, it's good to see Gordon, good to be working with you, pal, and may the best team win," he said.

"You clearly mean Ireland then," retorted Gordon, and we all knew the olive branch was destined for the same place as the bagpipes.

And with a Peake around, talk was bound to turn to caps, and so it proved as Wales had 364 of them on the bench and, as the game drew level at 13 points apiece, we cut to two Welsh folk going daft, one in a very fetching daffodil hat - not sure what the other 363 were.

Other names were being called, Welsh replacement Gethin Jenkins, Mullins reliably telling us that his nickname is 'The Watermelon'.

"It's because of the size of his head and he looks like a watermelon," Williams revealed, as we all wondered what size of a cap he wore, but at least it meant him and D'Arcy removing their respective red and green-tinted glasses for a moment.

At the end of it all, a draw, as Pougatch said 'the result that leaves everyone a bit flat' - a bit like a cap - while Welsh coach Warren Gatland wasn't exactly throwing his daffodil one into the air in delight.

"How do you come away from that, do you feel moderately happy?" asked Bayfield. Silence, a moment of contemplation and then the reply.

"No, I feel like I've been kissing my sister, I suppose," he said and from there it was time to draw a discreet veil, or cap, over proceedings.

Belfast Telegraph


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