Rugby World Cup TV View: Sparks fly in Heaslip and O’Sullivan ruck-off
Anyone would think there’s history between the RTÉ panellists after the opening skirmish
RTÉ rugby analyst team and presenters, Eddie O’Sullivan, Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip and Fiona Coughlan. Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
At last, we’re up and rucking after a build-up so interminable there were times it felt more likely that Godot would show up than the rugby World Cup. A build-up that was a bit gloomy doomy too, “the longest pre-mortem in Irish rugby history” as Daire O’Brien described it. But you can’t but be overcome with hope once a World Cup actually kicks off, to the point where you start dreaming of Rory Best and Shane Ross raising the Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama in seven weeks’ time.
Mind you, Daire didn’t exactly help keep the mood buoyant on RTÉ by showing us the lowlights of our boys’ 2015 quarter-final mullering by Argentina, lest we’d forgotten how dreams can end up in smithereens. But no matter, that was then, this, with any luck, will be now.
And as if our appetites needed any more whetting, the opening contest of this tournament was an absolute zinger, no quarter asked, divil a one given. There were those who glanced at the first clutch of fixtures and gave New Zealand v South Africa star billing, but if it comes close to matching Jamie Heaslip v Eddie O’Sullivan it’ll be doing mighty well.
While they both acknowledged that Scotland will be Ireland’s first World Cup opponents, that’s where the agreement ended. Indeed, anyone would think there’s some history between the pair, an at times exasperated looking Jamie staring piercingly hard at his desk – under which you’d wonder was he wearing white boots? – while Eddie talked.
And it only took Eddie 22.45 seconds (that’s an official timing too – as a public service a stopwatch was used) to strike a somewhat downbeat note about Ireland’s prospects, the gist of his concern being that because rugby “is moving more towards a power game” this tournament could be “a big struggle” for our lads. Jamie: “I think there’s a bit more finesse than just saying the game is all about power . . . if it was the case that big always wins, the French teams would be dominating at club level – they’re not.”
Eddie was worried about our form in the build-up.
Jamie: “Let’s call a spade a spade, they were warm-up games.”
Eddie was “shocked” by the selection of Jordan Larmour at fullback. “It’s a massive risk to take.”
Jamie was completely grand with it, trusting Joe Schmidt’s judgment.
Eddie was worried about our defence. Confidence wanes, he said, “when you take a pounding like we did in Twickenham”.
Jamie: “People are getting a little bit carried away with the England result.”
Eddie worried that Scotland would be so insulted by Ireland not picking their strongest XV, they’d use it in their team-talk.
Jamie: “If they’re using our selection as a motivating factor, there’s a lot wrong in the Scotland camp.”
Eddie reckoned that if Ireland lose to Scotland, they’d be in deep doo-doo. “There’d be no wriggle room” in the pool, he said.
Jamie: [Stares at ceiling]
Eddie: [Overall, highly pessimistic].
Jamie: “We’re number one in the world!”
All the while, Stephen Ferris, positioned between the pair, must have felt like a Wimbledon spectator following a rally.
Time for Game One and as some of us anticipated, Vladimir Ostroushko was named at centre for Russia, although, surprisingly, Vladislav Sozonov had to settle for a place on the bench. After a shaky start, Japan came good, bringing much relief to their staff in the stands, one of whom was not a Healy-Rae, Hugh Cahill told us, despite him wearing a cap.
Over on eir, where the studio looked like a matchbox compared to RTÉ’s, which was cavernous enough to stage a rugby match, Tommy Bowe was the day’s anti-Eddie.
“This Irish team are in a great place, but there has been a lot of negativity going in to this World Cup . . . it’s important now that we try to build positivity around this team – and it starts with us here, I suppose,” he beamed. Although he stopped just short of handing inflatable green, white and gold bananas to his guests, Peter Stringer, Eimear-nator Considine and Gordon D’Arcy.
Back on RTÉ Jamie and Eddie were disagreeing over what day of the week it was, or some such issue. At this rate, RTÉ will be replacing one of them with Stephen Rochford.