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TV Wrap - French implosion a reliable theme on a deeply abnormal weekend

The biggest game in Europe was in an empty stadium, other events were cancelled and Roy Keane bantered with Micah Richards. Thank heavens for France.

THE ESTABLISHED RHYTHMS of our lives are interrupted and out of joint, so there was a fittingly strange piece of Channel 4 commentary to end the sporting weekend.

“Look, she’s got a poo bag!”

pjimage - 2020-03-09T010842.819 The disconsolate French; the bantering Roy; the unfunny Joe; the empty Turin.

This was less a Barry Davies-style“ Just look at his face!” than it was an oddly jaunty “Just look at his faeces!” (You had to: they weren’t cutting away.)

Forgive the scatological opening, but this was the soundtrack to the end of Crufts, as the winner of the Best in Show literally shat on its victory lap.

You might wonder why this column was tuned into the delicate prancing of the over-groomed given the Premier League had been on only hours earlier, but we went channel-hopping in search of a bit of atmosphere, as Juventus and Inter Milan were busy putting the eerie in Serie A.

“Just to remind you, in case the atmosphere didn’t sell it: this is Juventus versus Inter Milan, the biggest derby in years…yet it happens in total silence”, said commentator Dave Farrar on Premier Sports. As Italy wrestles with the coronavirus outbreak, the biggest game of their season ended up being played behind closed doors.

Cristiano Ronaldo decided to lighten the mood ahead of kick off, by holding out his hand as he stepped off the team bus to high-five the absent fans. Proof, if it was needed, that Ronaldo’s jokes are best delivered to nobody.

Juventus won 2-0 in a non-atmosphere, with goals met by the PA playing Blur’s Song 2 like canned laughter in a bad sitcom.

The Premier League continued as normal in the virus’ invisible face, bar the entirely pointless ending of the pre-match handshake.

Scott McTominay made a point of ignoring all medical advice by telling his Man City-supporting friends on Sky that “it’ll be good to rub that one in their faces” after United’s derby win.

Further evidence of the abnormality of these times was on display upstairs at Old Trafford, as Roy Keane continues to bathe contentedly in Sky Sports banter. He scoffed at Micah Richards’ assertion that he burst on the scene as a Man City defender and goalscoring England international – “very few defenders burst onto the scene” – and was filmed off-air laughing along with the general hilarity, telling Richards, “It’s like you scored against Brazil, It’s Israel in a friendly at 6-0, Jesus.”

He later traded gags with Richards about appearing in music videos – Gary Neville clarified that Keane appeared alongside him in one, wearing a baggy Diadora jumper – and it’s a remarkable sight to see Keane so tolerant in the face of whimsy and enthusiasm.

The Premier League may yet be ground to a halt, of course, and Liverpool fans may yet look with jealousy at that dog at Crufts: at least he got his victory lap.

So what of Rugby Country, denied the chance to talk about Ireland v Italy?

Neil Francis, presumably concerned by the slowing conveyor belt of talented locks in Venezuela, decided that the time was right to use his Sunday Indo column to warn that Sinn Féin are a threat to the future of schools rugby.

This is the sports page equivalent of lodging a planning complaint about the expansion of the Luas. 

Virgin Media Sport, meanwhile, at least had England/Wales and another deeply strange moment, as Joe Marler went all Vinnie Jones-on-Gazza with Alun Wyn-Jones.

“I said I was sure he was breaking some rule, I wasn’t quite sure what rule it was”, said Joe Molloy on Sunday. “It turns out it’s Law 9.27: a player must not grab, twist, or squeeze the genitals of another player.” The ban could run up to 24 weeks…which might not even rule Marler out of England’s final Six Nations game. These are uncertain days.

“Joe Marler’s attempt at humour has seriously backfired”, said Mattie Williams gravely.

“Bollocks. Complete bollocks”, tweeted Marler amid the reaction, either in defence or clarification.

But then: the French. Ronan O’Gara spied something familiar on the horizon: “ I think today they’ll come a cropper. I’m trying to apply a bit of French logic.”

One mindless red card and a Grand Slam-busting implosion against Scotland later, ROG was vindicated. “We saw the France we see every week in the Top 14, knock-ons, silly penalties…”

“There was definitely panic”, said Shane Horgan, although he was less fatalistic about the defeat and ascribed it to the red card. Still, that sending-off was an act of complete self-sabotage.

So in these turbid, turbulent times, at least one of the old verities remains stolidly, immovably with us. So wrap yourself in the comfort of inert tradition, and repeat after us:

You just don’t know which French side is going to turn up.

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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