TV View: TV3’s lack of a shit-stirrer not helping them on gainline

Like a boyband, every Irish sporting TV panel needs the bolshy one

Rob Kearney scores Ireland’s fifth try during the Rugby World Cup match against Romania at Wembley Stadium in London. Photograph: David Davies/PA

Rob Kearney scores Ireland’s fifth try during the Rugby World Cup match against Romania at Wembley Stadium in London. Photograph: David Davies/PA

 

There’s no point pussy-footing around this, or pussy-footing around the language: TV3’s World Cup panel needs a shit-stirrer.

Don’t get me wrong. In many ways the panel works fine; informative, fluent, full of good sense. But God it’s polite. Sometimes it feels like listening to a bunch of bank managers comparing their golf scores. And that means there’s something missing.

A TV panel is like a boy band: there’s got to be a cute one, a little one, a butch one, the one you want to bring home to Mummy, the one who can actually sing: but for it to work properly there’s got to be a bolshy one too. And the problem here is there isn’t one.

Which is all very personally commendable, but Irish telly audiences have got used to be stirred, shaken and generally infuriated by cartoon bad-guys.

It’s the only thing that keeps many watching, those moments when moral outrage supersedes technical analysis and pens get hurled, snarling voices forget their ‘th’s’ and you-know-what gets flung at the walls with an abandon that only a true Grade A couldn’t-give-a-toss stir-monkey can muster.

Each sport has its great ones, not good – great: and it doesn’t really matter what they say anymore. It’s how they say it and the vehemence with which it’s said. And I’m afraid there’s no getting away from how Irish rugby’s most compulsive stirring utensil remains a Hook.

For casual viewers, rugby coverage without George is like a fart without a lighter.

Not because of any predictive or diagnostic capabilities but because he’s every rugger prejudice personified and quite clearly relishes stirring it.

You mightn’t like to sit next to him on the train to Cork but he can provide compulsive telly, and that chippy bellicosity is glaringly absent from this TV3 panel.

For Ireland-Romania, Keith Wood and Matt Williams reappeared after Saturday night’s England-Wales game and were joined by Peter Stringer. This is a trio you’d probably quite happily travel with on any train anywhere.

Williams is a smooth operator and possesses the southern hemisphere accent which is always a credibility boost in this part of the world. Wood is a beloved figure in Irish rugby. Stringer brings the present-day playing credibility that Shane Jennings did on Saturday.

So, tick, tick, tick on all that, Louis. Matt Cooper fed them with scrumhalf dexterity, so tick there too.

It was all so seamless it could have been one of those corporate ads for very polite, white-collar rugby decorum. If there was any sort of hiccup it was discreetly hidden behind a pristinely white cuff-link. Everyone was resolutely on-message, the vocabulary safe to the point of anodyne.

Just as Romania had to be respected, Ireland had to do their job properly, focus on the process and keep their patience. If they did that, then they would come into their own in the last quarter especially, everyone agreed.

“I agree with Peter,” Wood ventured. “I see you nodding in agreement, Matt,” Cooper perceptively pointed out.

A mother would be proud to see her sons playing so well together, head boys all. And of course they were proved absolutely correct.

But it still cried out for somebody to kick some grit into proceedings, maybe wonder why everyone was building a sweat over beating a bunch of Transylvanian amateurs anyway, or what it says about Ian Madigan that he clearly dares to care so much about the wonder of his hair.

Anything that might have enlivened the 75-minute build up to kick-off – yes 75 minutes – a bit more than the panel blitzing us with very expert, very detailed but very tedious jargon about rucks and gain-lines.

No doubt it was all supremely relevant but Irish telly panels at their best are about lobbing hopelessly sweeping, ridiculously subjective and wonderfully compelling statements into a prejudicial pot, watching it all go off so it becomes a bar-stool row rather than a boardroom brainstorm.

Maybe TV3’s bosses will take it as a compliment that a switch to ITV at half-time barely felt like a bump in the road but they shouldn’t. The sainted BOD still looks inscrutable, and Jason Robinson actually praised Simon Zebo as having that “X-factor.” It was all smoother than a Ken doll and about as exciting.

Slick production values are all well and good but when so much time is devoted to the lead-up, and then the post-match analysis, it does actually matter that the panel dynamic, and the language employed, engages with those who don’t know their box-kick from their Garryowen.

That doesn’t mean dumbing-down. There’s a real skill in combining entertainment with enlightenment and if you’re reduced to describing it as multi-tasking in a line-speed leadership environment then you probably haven’t got it.

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