Matt Williams in full flow on Virgin Media.
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TV Wrap - Matt Williams not quite on the same script as Ireland impress against Wales

Mattie took some flak for his comments on another stellar outing for Virgin Media’s rugby panel.

THUS ENDS ELECTION 2020, and its painful and clumsy sporting metaphors. Leo Varadkar kicked this off during the first week of the campaign, saying “we’re about 1-0 down.” 

Narrator: It was much worse than that. 

These comparisons ramped up as the weeks went by, with most parties at their most liberal (okay, low bar) in the use of the phrase “senior hurling.” 

In the final leaders’ debate, Varadkar himself zinged that returning Fianna Fáil to power would be like “asking John Delaney to take over the FAI again”, showing he also seems to have ruled himself out of entering into coalition with a joke writer. 

In fairness, the line might have worked a little better had Varadkar held that opinion of Delaney when he was Minister for Sport. 

But all of this paled into insignificance when Jim O’Callaghan polished off his Football Man credentials to close the week with a big finish. 

To listen to Leo Varadkar talk about the Fine Gael A-Team, you’d swear he was Jurgen Klopp managing Liverpool, and that Heather Humphreys, Eoghan Murphy and Simon Harris are like Mane, Salah and Firmino.” 

Virgin Media indulged in their own bit of politicspeak in the aftermath of Ireland’s bonus-point win over Wales, as Matt Williams started talking about mandatory minimums. 

Mattie: “That’s the minimum that’s acceptable from that group. What we’ve seen in the last 12 months was rubbish. That’s the minimum.”

Ronan O’Gara: “I disagree. I can certainly tell you that’s not the minimum, that’s a bonus-point win against Wales. You don’t have any idea how difficult that is.” 

Mattie: “I’ll give you the last bonus point [try], but I mean in terms of effort, commitment, and thought. There was a lot more thought and effort in that game than we’ve seen in the last 12 months.”

ROG: “Jesus, I don’t know…I wouldn’t say that’s a minimum standard. I think that’s exceptional.”

Mattie: “This is the problem. Everyone’s been making excuses for this group, they’ve blamed Joe they’ve blamed everyone else. The players are responsible.”

Among those unimpressed with Mattie was Stephen Ferris, who tweeted “Matt…please just stop talking”, having earlier responded to Mattie’s Irish Times column – in which Mattie called for the Irish players and coaches to “cop on” – by saying, “Matt is a good bloke, but he talks some amount of shite when it comes to rugby.” 


That’s a bit harsh on Mattie, who is quite good in the role of grenade-launcher-in-chief on Virgin’s panel. Virgin’s coverage is exhaustive but terrific, with Joe Molloy an adept alchemist. 

His rapport with Ronan O’Gara is particularly great, to whom he delivers most questions with an I’ve-just-heard-a-joke-I-really-want-to-tell-you smile. 

Even though he is approaching veteran status as a pundit on our screens, O’Gara remains utterly compelling.

The weekend’s highlight was his talking of the pressure of being the goal-kicker, and of how, at the start of his career, he would silently plead that his side wouldn’t score a late try when six points down.

“I wasn’t able for it”, said O’Gara at the prospect of having to kick a game-winning conversion. 

This took place in the context of a discussion of the role of captain, whom O’Gara believes needs to have the standing to rout the fly-half’s doubts and by telling him, “You’re kicking.” 

Given Johnny Sexton’s standing in the squad, it was a pretty solid case for his being captain.

Sexton’s in-game conversations with The Romain Poite Factor earned some criticism, mind, with Shane Horgan saying that Sexton needs to rein in his tetchy referee interactions a tad. 

Elsewhere, the trio made the case for the tradition of the Six Nations in discussing a newspaper report claiming that South Africa may migrate to a Seven Nations tournament from 2024, a move seemingly driven by the profiteering of private equity group CVC, reportedly close to acquiring a stake in the competition.

“I think it would be an absolute disaster for the game”, said Mattie, adding that it will kill the sport in Australia and “cause a train-smash” in New Zealand. 

ROG spoke of the need to respect the game’s traditions, that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

Another of the tournament’s great traditions was on show later on in the day, as Scotland showcased their latest creative interpretation of implosion. The Scots showed enough steel and commitment in games with Ireland and England to suggest they were only a sprinkling of craft away from victory, having found themselves in precisely the opposite scenario last year. 

What a pity, then, that Gregor Townsend has fallen out with Finn Russell. 

“This guy is a maverick”, said O’Gara of Russell.

“There’s a myth out there that there’s rules for everyone. That isn’t the way it is. You have to manage people differently.” 

Politics may not need sport, but sometimes, sport needs a bit of politics.  

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