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Dublin: 19 °C Thursday 18 July, 2019

TV Wrap: O'Gara rises above the bombast to show he's one of the best pundits around

ROG proved his brilliance again over his final weekend on Virgin Media’s Six Nations coverage.

Ronan O'Gara on Virgin Media's coverage of England against France.
Ronan O'Gara on Virgin Media's coverage of England against France.

Updated Feb 11th 2019, 3:02 PM

WHEN RUGBY’S CURRENT level of brutality is outlawed in the future, Virgin Media’s collected Six Nations montages will serve as a curious relic of the infirmities of a vanished age, like phrenology or the SSIA.

This week’s effort ahead of Scotland/Ireland was a classic of the genre: incongruous outdoor setting, foreboding drums, a series of on-field collisions made more crunching by super slow-mo, a crescendo fizzing with teeth-clenching optimism, and a clear-throated narrator reading an exaggerated script really…very…slowly..indeed.

All that was missing was a plug for Ireland’s Got Talent.

This one hung on the theme that Ireland had scaled new heights under Joe Schmidt but were now forced to start all over again having been rudely shoved down the slope by England last weekend.

It used what we presume to be stock footage of an ice climb (that, or there are a couple of interns in Ballymount deserving of a bit of time off this week) and peppered it with the disembodied voices of last week’s post-mortem, giving it all an ‘I’d-say-you’re-the-second-best-priest-in-the-country’ vibe.

Although TV Wrap is deeply committed to cynicism, he is a sucker for a dramatic pre-game montage: mainly because he likes the idea of his mediocre daily life being elevated through one.

No production company, however, has expressed an interest in making it, given that it is admittedly difficult to dramatise the central tension of how long is too long to sit in a coffee shop without actually buying anything.

He has considered producing his own, but couldn’t afford the spliced and interpolated Yeats poem that is the staple of a solid montage, so would have to choose something very old as to be safely out of copyright.

Even he is too humble to produce a video of sloppy typing soundtracked to a dramatic reading of one of St Paul’s Letters to the Romans.

“I am under obligation…clack, clack…both to the wise and to the foolish…clack, clack….so, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you…clack, clack…”

Heck, he can’t even afford to take up smoking to give the whole thing a bit of frantic energy, and distribution would be held up until The Sacred Heart Messenger pivot to video.

But if you like your rugby a little more understated, Virgin Media were happily obliging with the presence of Ronan O’Gara for all of their marathon broadcasts over the weekend.

O’Gara is completely brilliant and those moaning about his slow, measured drawl will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

The reason he occasionally speaks slowly is that he does something that is very rare on television: he thinks about what he says before he actually says it.

It’s quite a sight when O’Gara is asked a question: he pauses and furrows his brow intensely; kneading the matter as if it was one of extreme national importance.

In the final few minutes of the build-up to kick-off at Murrayfield, Joe Molloy batted him a straightforward question about whether last weekend was just a “bad day at the office” for Ireland.

O’Gara asked Molloy to explain what he meant, and then spent almost a full, precious minute deconstructing the entire phrase before arriving at the conclusion that he did, in fact, disagree.

Here is a man so rigorous in his thinking that even easy, accepted phrases are greeted as a nightclub bouncer would a 17-year-old with a dodgy ID.

This suspicion gives credibility to everything he does say, so when he said he was “worried” for Ireland at half-time, a nation learned to fret. Thankfully, all worked out so he could laud Joey Carbery and later joke that a reckless cross-field kick in Rome was the worst anyone has seen since his at Murrayfield in 2013.

O’Gara is at his best when explaining what is wrong with French rugby, and they obliged him by turning in a risible performance at Twickenham.

His coaching experience at Racing brings him into the rarified arena of insight that lies beyond ‘It depends on what France team turn up’, meaning he could criticise the process whereby they turn up.

They’ve picked club players and they’re trying to make them Test players, with no basis at all. It is staggering what is going on at the minute in terms of selection and the criteria for selection. If you don’t perform, you’re just thrown out; new batch in. It’s just a vicious cycle.

There were times O’Gara seemed genuinely affronted about the culture of French rugby.

“If a ball is dropped [at French training], they are saying ‘pfft’, and they are looking for the coach to throw in another one. There’s none of ‘let’s get this one back’, it’s ‘grand, it’s just a ball knocked down, we’ll get another one’. If you have that attitude…”

Sadly, O’Gara’s punditry stint is now over and he is now heading back to New Zealand ahead of the new season with Crusaders.

He left with innumerable good wishes…although without a farewell montage.

First published at 09.00 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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