Curmudgeon George's mood gets worse as pussycats are transformed


TV VIEW:All change on the pitch and studios as injured stars jump ship to the Beeb

In truth, the writing was on the wall from the time the opening sequence of BBC’s build-up to Ireland’s match with South Africa showed a collection of Brian O’Driscoll’s numerous hair styles as he plunged time after time over the try line. As an introduction to the Beeb’s newest studio analyst, it was spine-tingling stuff – the tries, not the hair; but only served to remind anyone sitting on the couch at home of what Ireland would be missing on the pitch.

BOD was sporting a black casing over his ankle injury, the reason why he had jumped ship from player to TV pundit, and, to rub more salt into the wounds – of RTÉ – the BBC then had the temerity to follow up O’Driscoll’s unveiling with another guy who should have been wearing the natty new black jerseys as Rob Kearney filled the role of pitchside analyst.

If the Beeb could feel mightily pleased with the acquisitions of O’Driscoll and Kearney to join the smooth-as-silk Keith Wood on their rugby panel, the old curmudgeon – as he styled himself – was busy stirring things up in the RTÉ perch high in the Aviva.

George Hook appeared to have got out of the wrong side of the bed as he responded to Tom McGurk’s opening questions about the state of Irish rugby. “Is there life after 60 points to nil last time out?” wondered McGurk of Ireland’s record defeat to the All Blacks.”Is there life after the golden generation of O’Driscoll, O’Connell and O’Gara?” he added.

All of which didn’t spur Hook into life until Shane Horgan – an impressive introduction to the panel – used the word “interesting” on a number of occasions to describe Declan Kidney’s selection.

If you ever want to lure Hook into action, just mumble interesting. It flicked a switch in his demeanour. “Solicitors, when they are about to make you bankrupt, say it’s very interesting. When a surgeon is about to remove your liver, he’ll say it’s an interesting operation. On those basis, it’s an interesting team,” said Hook, who then took out his ire on the selection of Michael Bent – fresh off the plane and qualified to play the new team in black because of an Irish grandmother – among the substitutes.

“Irish rugby is humiliated,” opined Hook of Bent’s selection, going on to describe it as “an absolute outrage.”

Next on George’s hit list was that Ireland were wearing black jerseys. “Why are we playing in black? (Because) some commercial enterprise said we can make a fortune,” said Hook, with Horgan – who quite liked the new colouring – hitting back with the observation that he hoped “they do make a fortune, and plough it back into Irish rugby”.

Hook was “at a loss” to understand how poor South Africa were as a team. “I first saw South Africa 61 years ago,” piped up Hook, raising the eyebrows of Brent Pope and Horgan, “and every single time they played until today, win or lose, you could be sure they were physically involved, that there was a big battle up front. These guys are pussy cats. These aren’t springboks, these are pussycats . . . I’m trying to puzzle it out.”

Gabby Logan wondered of O’Driscoll what went on in a dressingroom at half-time. The answer brought the unexpected. “You go in, have your drink, and three or four minutes to yourself. Then the defensive coach will come in and have a couple of minutes. The attack coach will come in. Declan (Kidney) might say something, then it’s left to the captain or a senior player to take the last few minutes of what they need to focus on in the second half. It’s (to) focus on the first five minutes of the second-half and try and take it in five minutes segments from there on,” explained O’Driscoll.

Hook’s pussycats were transformed in the second half. “Six defeats in a row for Ireland,” McGurk said. The optimism replaced by pessimism. A long winter ahead?

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