Did you hear the one about the Welsh, Scottish and Irish rugby players?
You probably didn’t if you tuned in to watch the BBC’s coverage of the third round of Six Nations matches.
With all three matches taking place on one day, the BBC was promising to serve up a treat for armchair fans by running the Wales v Italy and Ireland v Scotland encounters back-to-back and then giving everyone time to enjoy a fuel break before France played England.
The BBC’s main coverage ran nationally, so that viewers in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all received the same programmes rather than regionalised output.
A rare bit of balance then for the BBC’s sport coverage? Not quite.
The tone for the day’s coverage was set at the start of the Wales v Italy coverage, with the insufferably smug and painfully patronising John Inverdale informing viewers that the matches in Cardiff and Dublin were merely the “warm-up” for the main event in Paris involving England.
And so it continued. The hour’s schedule before kick-off in Cardiff was dominated by a discussion about England’s failings so far in the Six Nations and whether the team could emulate the surprise victory over France in Paris during last year’s Rugby World Cup.
The English bias continued throughout the day, with every opportunity taken to suggest that the teams from Wales, Italy, Ireland and Scotland were merely bit-part players in what was the main spectacle. Indeed, even the French were largely ignored as the pre-match attention focused squarely on England – the irony being, of course, that the matches in Cardiff and Dublin proved far more entertaining and attractive than the intense, dour struggle in Paris.
Obviously, once England secured another famous, hard-fought victory, the pundits and Mr Insufferable fell over themselves to eulogise about events in Paris.
I can accept patriotism in my rugby coverage. Eddie Butler and Brian Moore – former Welsh and English internationals respectively – provide some much-needed insight, passion and balance in their commentary.
The impassioned and venomous “For God’s sake!” uttered by Moore during England’s second-half implosion against Italy (they only just held out for a win) encapsulated the feelings of supporters everywhere and perfectly summed up the manner of the side’s performance. He was equally blunt during the victory over France, far more realistic, caustic and accurate than the gushing praise heaped on England by other pundits.
Of course, the BBC’s coverage remains far superior to the blatant England love-in that describes Sky’s dynamically deluded duo of Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes – if it doesn’t carry the red rose or swing low like a sweet chariot, then it doesn’t really matter.
Yet the BBC got dangerously close to that kind of myopic bias on Saturday.
Rugby fans deserve far more and the BBC should know better.