Barnes still Sky box office gold as he prefers to go on the attack
No less than Leinster in latter years, he was quick to appreciate what Munster have brought to the European mix. “I’m always fascinated by Munster and they are in transition, but that doesn’t mean Munster don’t have this inherent belief they are capable of beating teams in Europe. They’re not going to win the Heineken Cup, let’s put it that way. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Munster put a run together and ended up in the semi-finals! It wouldn’t.”
He describes Harlequins’ defeat in the Sportsground last season as “a bit like a journey into Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for them,” adding Connacht’s presence in the cup “is good not just because it’s Connacht and it’s romantic, it’s good because the route to developing the game does come by extending the game.”
That said, as “precocious learners”, Harlequins won’t slip up there this season, he argues.
So who will win the Heineken Cup and why? “Clermont. Because they have the resources to win it and the revenge aspect. Leinster will focus them perfectly. It will give them a right target and whilst I think it will be one win each and both teams will come through, this time Clermont might just top the pool. They might just do that and even if they don’t I’ve seen something different in them. I think they’re ready.”
Excitedly, he reveals this weekend he is at Racing v Munster (“a bit of a mystery match”) and Toulouse v Leicester on Sunday, and next weekend at Exeter-Clermont (“anyone who loves the game would say I’d love to be in Devon for that”) and Leicester-Ospreys.
Having been a manager with building society Stroud and Swindon and writing a column with the Daily Telegraph in his later playing days, “out of the blue some bloke I had hardly met said Sky are having screen tests and I said what’s Sky? Because I hadn’t been watching football, it was only the first year of their football coverage and I didn’t know what Sky was.
“He said: ‘They’re broadcasting Premiership Rugby every Saturday’. I said, ‘No one is going to do that!’ So I did the screen test. I was absolutely shite but the executive producer thought he saw something so I became a presenter there and after two years they realised they wanted my opinions rather than my presentation skills.”
Having to “call it when it happens” as a co-commentator is, he says, the nearest thing to playing. “It’s strange for someone who’s very left in his politics but Sky Sports are fantastic employers so you can’t ask for more. I’m still in my 40s but still getting ready for a game like I was 21.”