Sports broadcasting changed with the introduction of Sky and the Premiership in the early 90s. Sport was packaged as entertainment, with an array of pundits and experts. Personalities were focussed on and things changed.
Question of Sport became about prime time entertainment for the BBC with Liverpudlian everyman John Parrot playing straightman to cheeky Glaswegian rascal Ally McCoist, while Sue Barker guffawed artlessly. For the Mole, this was a bad thing. Question of Sport was about competition. David Coleman presented it, wearing a variety of jumpers that weren’t designed to attract a discerning audience, while Bill Beaumont and Ian Botham captained the teams. Beefy was tremendously competitive but he could never beat solid, affable Bill over the course of a series.
Before there was Jonno, there was Bill. Captain of the England Grand Slam team of 1980 and a Lions test starter in 1977 and again as captain in 1980, Beaumont spent his entire career at unfashionable Flyde. He captained the North to victory over the All Blacks, the English equivalent of Munster’s win, and is currently England representative to the IRB. Having been narrowly beaten for the Chairmanship of the IRB by Bernard Lapasset, Beaumont indicated that he would stand for the role of Chairman of the RFU. The winner of the English County Championship is awarded the Bill Beaumont Cup. If there is a Mr Rugby in England, it is Bill Beaumont.
Currently Paul Murphy is acting chairman of the RFU but the reality is that he is keeping the seat warm – and it’s a famously big seat – for Mr Rugby. Yesterday, 27th February, marked Ian Ritchie’s first day in his new role as CEO of the RFU. These appointments, their impact and their movement, are tectonic. England host the next World Cup in 2015 and know that it marks their best opportunity of winning since 2003, and before that 1991.
When the Mole thinks of headhunters in English rugby, the first thing that springs to mind is – oooooh! – London Samoa. Odgers Berndtson come a long way down the list. Who? Odgers Berndtson is a City recruitment firm hired by the RFU to advise them on the appointment of their new coach. The headhunters will work with a five-man recruitment panel that includes Ritchie and Rob Andrew who will recommend an appointment to the RFU board, which at that time may well be chaired by Bill Beaumont. Whoever is appointed coach will report directly to Ritchie as CEO.
Stuart Lancaster has done a good job solidifying England. Their wins have been unspectacular and they lost their first home game but the mood is on an upswing. Lancaster has so far picked the best players to start although his substitutions against Wales left something to be desired. English discipline has so far been reasonably good even though they conceded penalties to Italy that might have lost them the game as well as having a six point lead whittled away by Wales. The set piece has been solid in the absence of Sheridan, Lawes and Wood.
Lancaster may not get the position but he has laid out a path towards English success by concentrating on the more understated requirements of the game rather than the spectacular.The edifice created around Clive Woodward has been, slowly and painfully, grafted onto the governing body which in turn appears to be reaching a stable state.
The English attitude to its rugby team, like its football team, is bipolar but with the steady hand of Mr Rugby on the tiller it is possible that the warring factions will declare peace until 2015. The World Cup is coming to rugby’s homeland. The sweet chariot may be coming forth to carry the barboured masses with it. Be afraid.