Barnes still Sky box office gold as he prefers to go on the attack
INTERVIEW STUART BARNES:The popular pundit is delighted attacking teams are ruling the roost, to end the reign of the rugby league defence coaches, he tells GERRY THORNLEY
LIKE IT or loathe it, and one senses less people belong to the latter category in recent years, Sky is almost as synonymous with the Heineken Cup as the sponsor’s brew itself. They bought into it, and not just in a parochial English way, and then sold it in a very pan-European way.
Central to that has been Stuart Barnes, who is probably the best TV pundit or co-commentator. Knowledgeable and articulate, he gives his views passionately, without bias or egotism, and more or less agenda free.
As, first and foremost, a rugby fan, Barnes is thrilled by the supremacy of the All Blacks at the World Cup and the Rugby Championship, and thereby helping to end the reign of the rugby league-influenced defence coach, and ditto Leinster.
“I’ve called them the greatest Heineken Cup team of all time not because they won three in four years, but because of the nature of the way they have won so many of their games. Like New Zealand they know how to stop you, that’s part of the game, but what differentiates them is the pace they put in the game.”
With an attack-minded Harlequins now leading the way in England, “people now think that defence is not the only way to win things. Attack is no longer just a matter of prettiness.”
But even as a bon viveur, Barnes despairs of French rugby, with even Toulouse retaining last season’s French championship after tryless semi-finals and final.
“French rugby now has become an occasion, for the atmosphere, the Pastis, the red wine, but what you don’t want to be doing is actually watching the game because it’s going to come down to who gives away more drop goals or who gives away most penalties.”
“I find it disingenuous that the French and English angle is that the Rabo is so conducive to preparation (for Europe). Yes it’s more helpful but England and France have been losing for the last seven years because they don’t play a fast, attacking game.”
Mindful of their injury list and constant changing, Barnes senses a dent in confidence within Leinster, “but while Exeter are dangerous in Devon and if Leinster and Clermont are not on their game they could lose in Devon, there is no way Exeter are going to win here.”
With their Euro big-game experience, he also believes Leinster will be too strong for the Scarlets, giving them time to ready themselves for the crunch games against Clermont in December.
Noting Ulster’s steady development in personnel, performance and style, he also cites the Spence tragedy. “Rugby is a very physical game. It’s an emotional game and things like that knit people even more. I think we are all pretty aware that by the very essence of Ulster they are quite a tight knit group even when they’re not very good. So when they’ve got good players and they’re extremely tight knit they’re going to be hard to beat and I would see them and Harlequins as my two outsiders.”