Belfast Telegraph

Swing when you're winning

Billy on the Box

By Billy Weir

So often in sporting life, the much-hyped and voluminously-vaunted becomes nothing more than a squelchy squib - Man Utd's FA Cup final against Liverpool, Audley Harrison every time he set foot in a boxing ring, Rory McIlroy's meltdown at the Masters, Ballymena United's Irish Cup win over Larne in 1989 - the list could go on and on.

But on Saturday a faith in all that makes sport great returned, an 80 minutes of nail-biting, buttock-clenching, nerve-shredding torture and ecstasy that had us not so much on the edge of the sofa but half way across the living room floor and able to reach the Christmas tree bauble that had been stranded below the coffee table for some time.

So hats off to Italy for their epic victory over Canada in the Rugby World Cup.

What's that? There was another match later that evening? Well, someone should have mentioned it…

"As long as there has been rugby in Wales, the team to beat has always been England," boomed out Welsh warrior Colin Charvis in an opening montage of red and white legends, while Gareth Thomas vowed that "in 90 minutes it was the opportunity of making 3 million people happy". I think you'll find it was slightly more than that.

John Inverdale had just parked the chariot up in time to welcome us to the studio where he was joined by cohorts, Sir Clive Woodward and Lord Jonny Wilkinson, while there was no doubting Thomas was very much one of the hopeful 3 million-plus.

"It has been quite a second super Saturday already," began Inverdale. "The main bout of the evening is as big a rivalry as you can possibly get."

Woodward concurred, admitting he'd "never seen a game as big as this", clearly forgetting his time at Southampton, before introducing a note of surrealism by saying he had spotted "a lot of daffodils walking in".

It wasn't the most ridiculous thing he would utter, he quickly followed his floral musings with bold statements that "I'm quite confident that England can get home tonight" and "Stuart Lancaster has gone for players who play well under pressure". Expect the daffodils to be sitting in the studio this Saturday evening.

Down on the sidelines, former England player and now crime-fighter Martin Bayfield had tracked down the usual suspects for a brief interrogation, joined by Danny Cipriani and Shane Williams, but given the height differential they looked more like a nest of tables. No baubles to be seen.

"Danny, just a few days ago you were learning to surf in Malibu, now I'd imagine your emotions are on something of a rollercoaster," he said but nothing to those of Sir Tom Jones who had had the honour of presenting the Welsh team with their jerseys, something, as Inverdale pointed out, that was unusual.

What is more unusual is that Tom's real name is Woodward, but he was never Director of Football at Southampton.

Our voice for the evening was Nick Mullins, who did his best to turn the expectation knob up to 11.

"Whether you're about to be shouting for Wales or England, whether you're an interested onlooker or maybe you've tuned in expecting to see the X Factor, moments like this are why we fell in love with sport in the first place," he said, although it didn't look that way as England dominated the first-half.

Cue a very happy looking Prince Harry in his white top and a pretender to the groan in Prince William in his red one, with Mullins risking a trip to the Tower commenting that "it's a fixture that divides families, divides households". Expect Princess Anne to turn up at Scotland's next game dressed as a tin of shortbread.

At the break, all was well with the world as England led, even popping over a drop goal much to Wilkinson's delight.

"A quick word about that drop goal, they can win matches you know," quipped Inverdale, in no way referring to past glories, but it wasn't long until the wheels began to fall off the chariot.

With more bodies strewn across the ground than under-garments at a Woodward concert (Tom, not Clive), Wales kept in touch and then went and scored a try.

Despite Lawrence Dallaglio's pained plea, thankfully there wasn't to be a Russian TMO to rule out Gareth Davies' effort and against all odds and a daft decision by England, they held on for a famous win.

"Well, what an occasion, what a match and what a win for Wales and deservedly so in the end," said Inverdale choking on the words while off screen one brother was heard to threaten to crown another if he sang Delilah once more.

Back in the studio, Thomas was longing for the green, green grass of Bridgend.

"I thought I had the golden ticket here but right now I would give anything to be back in Wales, I can't stop smiling," he beamed, not a problem shared by many others close by.

He was still grinning several hours later, this time at Wembley, as he popped up at the start of Ireland's game with Romania, or at least that's what we thought we had tuned in for.

"Last week this special arena was All Black, this week it is all green, a field of Athenry below the London arch. Whether you're from Dublin, Limerick or Belfast, it means it's a home from home for Brian O'Driscoll," began Inverdale.

And that was that, the next few moments ignoring all things green to return to the red.

"Gareth, starting with you as history is written by the victors, when you woke up this morning, if indeed you went to bed last night, what were your immediate thoughts?" asked Inverdale.

"I'm still a little shell-shocked," he admitted, while back at Twickenham, Clive and Jonny were probably still sitting hopeful that the house of Lancaster could still do it for Harry and England.

"As an impartial observer (really?), what were you thinking?" enquired Inverdale of BOD.

"I thought daylight robbery has just happened," came the response, as Bayfield's ears pricked up and he hot-footed it towards Wembley, on the look-out for fleeing daffodils.

Still, don't worry if you are an English fan, there's another super Saturday just around the corner and the small matter of beating Australia. Sleep well, don't have nightmares.

Belfast Telegraph


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