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Dublin: 15 °C Tuesday 26 May, 2020

TV Wrap - Jamie Heaslip steps up to the plate as RTÉ's World Cup coverage gets off to a flyer

There has been some highly-watchable tension between the ex-Irish star and Eddie O’Sullivan.

IN THE RETURN to public life of people responsible for calling a poorly-thought through vote that was steadily hijacked by a host of bad actors on Twitter, Jamie Heaslip’s has proved more successful than David Cameron’s.

Unlike Cameron, Heaslip has made the supposed lingering tension with former colleagues seem authentic. 

Heaslip has joined Stephen Ferris and Eddie O’Sullivan on RTÉ’s main panel for this Rugby World Cup, and has a bit of previous with Eddie.

He revealed last year that Eddie had told him he was “too small and too weak” for international rugby, and also said he wouldn’t make it wearing white boots.

“That is the reason why I pretty much wear white boots most of the time”, zinged Heaslip.

Hence we have a bit of genuine theatre on RTÉ, so train your eyes on Heaslip every time Eddie opens his mouth. 

He spent Friday’s broadcast of the opening game generally disagreeing with most things Eddie had to say, all the while wearing the irked expression of a man forced to listen to someone they don’t know getting all of the basic details of their favourite movies wrong.

‘Ugh, no, the order was Lazenby/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan, not Lazenby/Moore/Brosnan/Dalton.’

Heaslip TV Wrap FT Feel free to caption this yourself.

Things came to a boil after Ireland’s win over Scotland.

Eddie had spent the build-up to fretting about Jordan Larmour’s reliability under high balls, citing a couple of clips from a fumbling performance against Argentina.

Heaslip, meanwhile, argued that this single bad performance was getting undue focus and was an outlier given Larmour’s good performances in that position for Leinster.

When the subject revisited after the game, Heaslip cut across Eddie saying, “You were calling him out saying he’s not good in the air and took all the high balls, absolutely no problem.”

Eddie clarified that he wasn’t calling him out, and that the question had to be asked ahead of the game. It was redolent of RTÉ’s glory days, specifically Liam Brady’s kvetching that he wouldn’t have gone on air had he known Eamon Dunphy would compare Arsene Wenger to Basil Fawlty.

Heaslip has always been eager to defend and praise his old team-mates, and has mingled his unstinting confidence with some occasional – but no less fabulous - grumpiness.

Pre-game, he told us that “Scotland’s pack will have to be at 100% and Ireland’s at 50%” if Scotland were to win.

“You’re unshakeable in your confidence”, replied host Daire O’Brien, briefly giving the rest of us onlookers an insight into what has made this land we now call Rugby Country.

Loyalty to old friends is rarely a virtue in punditry, but if it keeps the studio tension simmering across the long slog of the pool stages, it can be forgiven. Plus, Heaslip can point to the fact virtually everything he said ahead of the Scotland game came true.

He did, of course, veer into complex jargon at times – “We’re in an impressive groupflow” among the phrases that took the biscuit play through the middle.

Sitting amid the crossfire, Stephen Ferris trained his ammunition outward. “Scotland have been brutal” was his withering half-time verdict, which gave way to an exasperated – and very funny – “Where does that confidence come from?” dressing-down of the Scots’ baffling nature at full-time.

Eddie, meanwhile, called the Scots the “Kings of the Ambush”, a backhanded coronation describing a side subsisting on moral victories, the righteousness of the underdog and little else.

Ireland in the ‘90s, basically.

All in all, it’s just about the best panel RTÉ have put together in years.

Their commentary malfunctioned from the outset, unfortunately, with Hugh Cahill and Donal Lenihan cackling down a Mexico ‘86 phone line before it was abandoned altogether.

Everything was mended by the game’s 11th minute though, which allowed Cahill later deliver a sound “All that shampoo wasted!” when John Barclay knocked on from a promising position in front of the Irish line. 

(Scotland, it seems, have been knocking-on from five metres for the whole history of Rugby Union. Had William Webb Ellis been a Scotsman playing in that heralded soccer game of 1823, he might have invented Olympic Handball instead.)

Elsewhere, ITV have stuck to their shtick of hiring a retinue of analytical galacticos and then selling too many ads to allow them time to actually say anything. They are doing it all from a monstrously large studio, with an adjacent stage to allow analysts stand about and occasionally run through a rugby skill.

It’s pointless, and led to a legitimate debate about the referee’s performance in France/Argentina being relegated to Johnny Wilkinson talking about his drop-goal against Australia in 2003.

RTÉ have a massive studio of their own – a patch of Montrose land large enough to sell, if the accountants are watching – but have happily resisted the new demand that all TV analysis must feature a bit in which the analysts stand up.

They are keeping it simple behind their elevated desk… although TV Wrap would forgive them a stand-up scene if Heaslip does it in white boots.

There has been one other breakout star of RTÉ’s World Cup coverage thus far, of course, popping up last week on a news scene-setter in Tokyo. 

“My apartment is going to be stacked full of lads. I’ve got like 10 lads coming over for the whole thing, so it’s going to be absolute cornage.”

It might not stack up to what could happen in the RTÉ studios over the next few weeks, Breffni.

- Originally published at 06.00

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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