He comes across exactly as you’d imagine him to. Simple, sensible, straightforward. No flights of fancy or rhetorical meanderings or tortuous metaphors. If George Hook was Dunphy, O’Connell is Giles. Perhaps it’s an existential thing. Perhaps doing it on the field of play relieves one of the inclination to play to the gallery. He who can, has.
Kick-off. Ireland dominate the first half, which proves to be less notable for scores than it is for a simmering undercurrent of malice. There’s more snideness than a general election campaign and it’s all coming from the hosts, clearly determined to compensate for their lack of talent with an overdose of low-level nastiness, most of it directed at Johnny Sexton. “Cheap shots,” the RTÉ panel rightly declare at half-time.
French flair? This is the worst vintage of the century. Flat, devoid of bubbles, leaves a bitter aftertaste. How the game could do with Jerry Buttimer and those Valentine’s bars of his to stir some sweetness and light.
The Wales game six days earlier was gruelling to watch but in a good way. This is gruelling to watch in a rancid way. “Attritional and turgid and tough,” says Gabby Logan at half-time. Now there’s a woman who’ll never get a job with Sky Sports.
Sean O’Brien and Dave Kearney have departed injured. Over on RTÉ, Daire O’Brien compares it to a crime scene. “Bodies everywhere.” With Ireland 9-3 up the next score will be crucial, his guests agree. Get it and stay ahead. Shane Horgan raises the spectre of the visitors running out of bodies first. Another enforced injury, he predicts, and they mightn’t have the depth to survive.
So it proves. With 14 minutes remaining France still trail 9-3 but are under the opposition’s posts. Their regular props are on and the scrum has been transformed into a bludgeon. Sensing blood, the crowd launch into a lusty rendition of La Marseillaise. Clearly they’ve seen. Or possibly
Ireland concede a penalty. Danger still lurks. They concede a second penalty and are warned by the referee. “Careful now,” he cautions. There is a particularly Irish joke screaming to be made here and Ryle, bless him, doesn’t eschew the opportunity. “He said that in a Father Ted kind of way,” he giggles.
Another penalty is conceded and the visitors are on a final warning. Eventually and inevitably Maxime Medard gets in for a try. Down with this sort of thing.
Poor Johnny Sexton, meanwhile, is making his way to the sideline after taking yet another knock. At this stage he’s probably had as many injuries over the years as Ruby Walsh. If any TV programmer is reading there’s surely the germ of a series in this. I hereby claim 10 per cent for slinging you the pass. Merci beaucoup.
Back in studio Daire is looking for someone to “put the sexiest spin” on the defeat. Nobody has the stomach for it. France are a poor team, they chorus, although Brent Pope can’t refrain from observing that “it doesn’t say much for Irish rugby when a poor team beats you”.
Ronan recalls afternoons in Paris where France played Ireland “up and down the park”. This, he hardly needs to add, is not one of those afternoons. He goes so far as to diagnose mental brittleness on the part of the losers, a strong accusation but an honest one rather than — in keeping with the afternoon — a cheap shot. Ronan is a definite discovery by RTÉ. A bit cranky, a bit stroppy but someone who, having been there himself, is entitled to expect and demand the highest standards. Like Paulie. Like Giles.
Paris in the springtime.