TV View: Barnes carried away by Moonlight’s shadow

TV3’s coverage of Ireland’s win also witnesses the birth of the ‘underlap’

Canada’s flanker John Moonlight: “Ill met by Moonlight,” Barnes cracked. The guffaws from Conor McNamara and Liam Toland in the commentary box told us it was funny. So did Google, once we’d established that Barnes was referencing a 1950s Dirk Bogarde war movie from a non-fiction book by W Stanley Moss. You get a different level of badinage with the rugby lads.

Canada’s flanker John Moonlight: “Ill met by Moonlight,” Barnes cracked. The guffaws from Conor McNamara and Liam Toland in the commentary box told us it was funny. So did Google, once we’d established that Barnes was referencing a 1950s Dirk Bogarde war movie from a non-fiction book by W Stanley Moss. You get a different level of badinage with the rugby lads.

 

Saturday lunchtime and the rugby World Cup is happening, people. Settle down at the back and start concentrating. And here’s news for you - if you find talk of gainlines and offloads and kill zones irritating, Matt Williams has a new one for you. Behold, the underlap.

He rolled it out during TV3’s build-up to Ireland v Canada, talking over some footage of the game against Wales a couple of weeks back. “The problem for Ireland is when they come short-side again here, Wales are waiting for them. It’s what we call an underlap, where there are more defenders than attackers.”

We, Matt? What we call an underlap? Not to quibble with a fellow Irish Times columnist, but speak for yourself there, old chum. Indeed, since we’ve taken credit for inventing rugby - at least I think that’s what the latest Irish Times TV ad says - if there’d been some underlapping going on in the game prior to this, we’d surely have mentioned it.

But a quick search of the archive reveals that this column will only be the second time in the history of the newspaper that the word underlap has been used. The only other time was in a Garret Fitzgerald column on education schemes back in 2003. And Garret, with the best will in the world, wasn’t a rugby man.

In fairness, it was a smart play from Williams. He still does the bit of coaching back in Australia and he’s spent enough time over here to know that if there’s one thing Paddy is good at, it’s playing for time and pretending to know what you’re talking about. Matt Cooper and Keith Wood were under pressure now. How to react? For all they knew, underlap could be the very cutting edge of rugby talk these days. So they proceeded with caution.

“When they had that underlap, as Matt called it,” Cooper said, “should Conor Murray have changed it?”

“There was nothing actually wrong,” said Wood. “Yes, there was an underlap, as Matt called it . . .”

And at the third mention, a cock crew in the distance, and lo, the underlap became man.

Time for the teams. With Iain Henderson in for Devin Toner, every fibre of Shane Jennings’ being made him want to stand up for his former Leinster teammate, pointing out that Ireland lose out at defensive line-outs when Toner isn’t around.

Cooper, pouncing on the chance to ask Wood a nerdy, technical hookery question, pondered what it’s like for an opposition number two to have to throw into a line-out past a 6-foot-10 second row. “Well, I’d projectile vomit,” said Keith. “I’d be very accurate at hitting the wrong man.”

As for Canada, Williams only had eyes for one player. “The one guy I’m looking forward to seeing is Johnny Moonlight, the seven. I don’t know if he’s playing but what a great name for a seven.” Hard to argue with that.

Indeed, Williams wasn’t the only one licking his lips at the idea of Johnny Moonlight being on the field. Stuart Barnes lined the Canada number seven up from a long way out and almost pulled a hamstring trying to be the first to use him for gag purposes.

When Seán O’Brien got nailed in a tackle around the halfway line, Barnes was on it. “Ill met by Moonlight,” he cracked. The guffaws from Conor McNamara and Liam Toland in the commentary box told us it was funny. So did Google, once we’d established that Barnes was referencing a 1950s Dirk Bogarde war movie from a non-fiction book by W Stanley Moss. You get a different level of badinage with the rugby lads.

Barnes is a welcome cog in the TV3 wheel for this tournament, all the better for not being Irish. That said, he may have got a little mixed up after Ireland’s first try. “Seán O’Brien, starting to look like a tractor on the field in Cardiff, mowing up the metres. That’s just so easy.” Easier, certainly, than trying to figure out exactly what farm machinery had to do with anything.

On went the game, over went the tries. Henderson was everyone’s Man of the Match, apart from whoever picked the Man of the Match. Canada hung in there and kept Ireland scoreless for 20 minutes after half-time before falling away in the end.

By the end, Barnes couldn’t help himself and went for another dip at the yoke of the Canada number seven. “And a fine game from Johnny Moonlight, even if he is a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

It’s going to be a long six weeks.

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