Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O’Driscoll have faced each other many times during their rugby careers, and the rivalry continues even after they’ve hung up their boots.
Both former internationals are just beginning their careers in front of the camera. Wilkinson was running out for Sky Sports during the opening weekend of the European Rugby Champions Cup, while O’Driscoll was sidestepping into the BT Sport studio.
After one week, there is only one winner.
Wilkinson was measured in the studio, crampingly meticulous in his study of the weekend’s action. He’s always been tentative in front of the media, and it will be a while before he’s relaxed enough to show you what he’s thinking behind those shifting eyes.
O’Driscoll, however, was a natural, carrying the conversation as deftly as he used to the ball for Ireland.
BT Sport’s open studio style certainly helps; like Scrum V on BBC Wales, the crowded audience creates a bar-room bravado that extroverts like O’Driscoll can feed off.
O’Driscoll’s in his element in the clip above: less of a broadcaster, more of a teacher, chucking balls, jokes and advice to the presenters hanging on his every word. Gary Neville has the same effect on Sky’s Monday Night Football: when he talks, everybody listens.
Rugby on TV needed a different feel from the leviathan of the Premier League. Having characters like O’Driscoll on board make coverage feel breezy, open – and not just because he’s working in a studio the size of an aircraft hangar.
As part of the deal with BT Sport O’Driscoll is helping promote the channel’s sport charity The Supporters Club, but in this case he’s not just paying lip service. This Monday a film called Brian O’Driscoll’s True Champions will air on BT Sport 1, which shows the former Ireland international exploring social problems in Belfast.
He drives through an area blighted by the Troubles, not afraid to get muddy when politics and sport collide. He then joins a touch rugby session with kids brought together from across Belfast: it’s the same natural style he showed in the studio, but without the safety net of other presenters to guide him through.
Jonny will improve – he’s too much of a perfectionist not to. But no matter how many hours he spends practising after-hours in the studio, Brian O’Driscoll has the beating of him in this post-retirement runaround.