ITV and Jonny hit all the right notes

In­verdale proves a steady hand at the tiller, with 2003 he­roes to the fore

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Rob Bagchi

For the sev­enth Rugby World Cup in suc­ces­sion ITV be­gan its cov­er­age with a new ver­sion of World in Union and 24 years on from its de­but tour­na­ment, one doubts there are many peo­ple left who in­stinc­tively sing the words to I Vow to Thee My Coun­try along with the an­them. It would be al­most im­pos­si­ble in any case, given the perky, vo­cally ac­ro­batic re-work­ing by Paloma Faith, but the same old song in yet another guise em­pha­sises the risk­free sense of fa­mil­iar­ity the broad­caster strives to foster.

To ap­pease ad­ver­tis­ers and bat­tle the pre­con­cep­tions of BBC diehards, the qua­dren­nial re­ju­ve­na­tion of the for­mat is al­ways more spruce-up than rad­i­cal surgery. Per­haps it’s the very least ITV can do to make up for the in­tru­sion of pro­longed com­mer­cial breaks dur­ing one sport that gen­uinely ben­e­fits from sus­tained anal­y­sis.

It would be un­fair not to recog­nise a trio of pos­i­tive in­no­va­tions, though, from the re­cruit­ment of John In­verdale, an in­formed and ex­pe­ri­enced rugby an­chor, to suc­ceed Steve Rider and Jim Rosen­thal, to the Tackle Hunger To­gether ini­tia­tive and the de­ploy­ment of a three-man com­men­tary team, fol­low­ing the Aus­tralian model of sweat­ing your as­sets. Join­ing BT Sport’s Nick Mullins in the box, Ben Kay and Lawrence Dal­laglio avoided the ‘too many cooks’ pit­fall by con­tribut­ing only with dis­cre­tion mak­ing it sound like a co­her­ent con­ver­sa­tion, not a bat­tle to be heard.

Kay and Dal­laglio were merely two of Eng­land’s 2003 he­roes on show and the pres­ence of Sir Clive Wood­ward and Jonny Wilkin­son, typ­i­cally the only mem­ber of the panel to wear a tie, along­side In­verdale, Jason Robin­son man­ning the dreaded pitch­side podium and Martin John­son rep­re­sent­ing his coun­try at the open­ing cer­e­mony sug­gested a rather shal­low tal­ent pool as if noth­ing be­fore or af­ter re­ally counts.

Per­haps it’s a case of over­a­tone­ment af­ter the Boys of 66 were treated so dis­pas­sion­ately, and one ben­e­fit is they all feel at ease in each other’s com­pany.

The crowd singing along to Sweet Caro­line be­fore the for­mal­i­ties ac­cen­tu­ated why ITV had opted to hire them and also ac­counted for the show­ing of that magic mo­ment in Syd­ney for the umpteenth time: “Good times never seemed so good.” The yearn­ing for an encore was the driv­ing force of In­verdale’s line of ques­tion­ing.

The host had started with a mono­logue as he walked down a vir­tual re­al­ity cor­ri­dor of frankly ele­phan­tine, Al­bert Speer­type pro­por­tions. “Bal­let with bru­tal­ity brings the world to­gether,” he said, maybe strain­ing a lit­tle too hard for por­ten­tous res­o­nance. Yet he then set­tled into a dif­fi­cult job well, elic­it­ing enough for the novice viewer while not ne­glect­ing the knowl­edge­able au­di­ence that cringes when its in­tel­li­gence is in­sulted.

Wood­ward trot­ted out his usual mantra – ‘be smart and prag­matic’ – Dal­laglio his para­dox – ‘be emo­tional but with cool heads’ – so it was left to Wilkin­son to add some tac­ti­cal in­sight in his dis­sec­tion of Ge­orge Ford’s per­for­mance against Ire­land in the last of the warm-up games and his ad­mis­sion early in the sec­ond half that Eng­land’s pat­tern and strat­egy were too jum­bled. Mer­ci­fully, un­like four years ago, they did not make the stu­dio guest wres­tle with the giz­mos. Wilkin­son would have been prac­tis­ing on the telestra­tor all year had ITV gone down the Gary Neville route. The cer­e­mony it­self was com­pas­sion­ately brisk and Prince Harry’s ap­pear­ance fur­nished In­verdale with his best quip, that the hir­sute honorary pres­i­dent of Eng­land 2015 would fit right in with the beards and quiffs of the dress­ing room.

There was a lot of clichéd psy­chob­a­b­ble about ‘jour­neys’ in the pre-match in­ter­views. For all that, though, ITV set out on theirs with hardly a missed step.

‘It was left to Wilkin­son to pro­vide tac­ti­cal in­sight and ob­ser­va­tion’

Gold stan­dard: Jonny Wilkin­son was a must-see pres­ence

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