ROG gets a good first hit in and keeps Hook on the back foot

The former Ireland outhalf showed he is still just as spiky off the pitch

O'Gara appeared so downcast you’d half a notion that he’d pack up his flask and sandwiches and go home, before a ball was even mauled.

O'Gara appeared so downcast you’d half a notion that he’d pack up his flask and sandwiches and go home, before a ball was even mauled.


Not an encouraging start to the day. “The news has just broken,” said Tom McGurk, and you suspected from the gravity of his tone and the asheniness of his face that it wasn’t good.

Did we need another bailout?

Well, yeah:

“Paul O’Connell has withdrawn,” he announced.

Not good at all, and judging by Ronan O’Gara’s reaction to the news you sensed we were banjaxed, the fella so downcast you’d half a notion that he’d pack up his flask and sandwiches and go home. Before a ball was even mauled.

“He has psychotic eyes . . . he’s a freak, this fella is special,” he purred when speaking of POC, an iPad-wielding Shane Horgan nodding beside him pitchside, accepting ROG’s concern that we’d now get “25 per cent less from each forward” because they’d have no freaky psychotic eyes urging them to give 125 per cent.

You know, it was tempting to switch off the telly at that point. Worrisome.

Back upstairs in the warmth of the studio, the panel was forecasting that the news would put a jiggy reely spring in Scotland’s step, and with that we were shown the visitors jigging and reeling their way off their bus in the bowels of the stadium. It’s not often the RTÉ panel gets it right with its forecasts, but it was spot on this time.

ROG, by the way, had made his panel debut on Saturday, resplendent in his pink tie and stripey purpley shirt, looking like a young fella yet to celebrate his 21st, slotted between George Hook (awkward) and Conor O’Shea.

Stare at the ceiling
Upbeat ahead of the new Six Nations campaign? Most definitely, which had George aiming his stare at the ceiling.

“I’m interested in what you said in your first contribution, you said we could be playing England for the Triple Crown,” asked George, putting it to ROG that for such a fearsome competitor, settling for just the three wins seemed non-fearsome and uncompetitive. At which point ROG gave George a maths lesson: Triple Crown + Italy = four. And France? Sure, you’d never know.

George was speechless. Ah no, seriously.

Wales next week? That’d be tricky. “Rob Kearney’s going to be a busy man,” said ROG to George, “far busier than your make-up artist because he’ll feel the ball on more than 30 occasions.”


Come yesterday, though, ROG had been sent back down to the pitch, Brent Pope taking his place in the first Panel III, so he was absent when Tom said of Joe Schmidt’s chat with Clare McNamara, “what a great pleasure to have a coach who says something you want to listen to for a change”.

“You talking about Deccie, like,” ROG might have asked, but we’ll never know.

Any way, the main focus of the analysis of the RTÉ pre-match shindig yesterday was (a) “what the hell colour is that jacket Hook is wearing – God be with the black and white telly days” and (b) whether or we could beat Scotland – and by how much.

The gist: (a) Burgundy-ish and (b) if we can’t beat Scotland we should all take our flasks and sandwiches home.

Flasks and sandwiches still on their travels, 28-6.

“And you can’t carp if you beat a team 28-6,” said George, before he carped a little.

The spring, then, was gone from Scotland’s step, another defeat on the road. As John Inverdale reminded us at the start of the Beeb’s coverage, Scotland coach Scott Johnson had somewhat – and rather wonderfully – dismissed that record: “I treat statistics like a drunk treats a lamppost . . . there for support, but not for illumination”. But come half-time, Inverdale was being treated like a drunk treats a lamppost by the population of Scotland after he advertised Britain’s Davis Cup ding-dong coming up later on the BBC.

“If Andy Murray wins, England win a group match in the Davis Cup for the first time since 1986.”

England, like. Forty minutes later he apologised, an experience not entirely unfamiliar to the Inverdale man.

A Nation as one: “Tak’ yer flask ‘n’ sanwidges hame, Inverdale.”

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