Comment: Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – It
was almost as if nothing had happened … and perhaps that was SuperSport’s
whistles – yes, there wasn’t even so much as a “welcome back” – were delicately
avoided as Nick Mallett, almost certainly the most keenly-followed of their
television rugby pundits, returned to duty for Saturday’s two South
African-hosted Super Rugby games.
months on from the live walkout furore involving Springbok wing and co-analyst
Ashwin Willemse, the successful former national coach was among a beefily-staffed
panel for the studio presentation.
There was no
Naas Botha, who had earlier been restored to duty after being the other figure
involved in “Ashwin-gate” back on May 19, and central figure Willemse also remains
out of action – presumably until he has pursued his desired step of giving
testimony to the Human Rights Commission.
accused Mallett and Botha before sensationally leaving the studio of
“patronising” him during presentations, and spoke of their roles as players “in
the apartheid era”.
chose not to provide evidence to the independent review of the incident
undertaken by SuperSport and under the charge of Advocate Vincent Maleka; he
cleared the pair of racism.
Mallett was joined on set by Motshidisi Mohono, who had also anchored the
fateful presentation in May, with former Bok hooker Hanyani Shimange as his
punditry partner at the main table, and a little-and-large combination of other
luminary Test players Breyton Paulse and Victor Matfield as the joint-figures
manning the touchscreen.
broadcast began, an hour before the first match between the Lions and Bulls,
Mohono went first to Paulse for sound-bites and all the others followed before
Mallett, usually the most prolific talker, got his first opportunity.
trademark, gruff clearing of his throat, Mallett simply launched straight into
an appraisal of the regional situation in the competition, saying that the
South African conference had been generally disappointing and that some New
Zealand teams were going to be disappointed by their dubiously lowlier seedings
in the knockout phase despite ending with more log points.
as quickly as Mallett’s call back to rugby arms, Mohono broke away to some repeat
footage from SA tennis star Kevin Anderson’s rousing, epic semi-final triumph
at Wimbledon on Friday.
whose sporting passion extends well beyond rugby – he was a better cricketer
than some may realise, for example – wasn’t about to be marginalised by the
change of tack.
marathon semi-final against John Isner) was like watching two heavyweight
boxers right out on their feet in the 15th round,” he opined
then swung back to the afternoon’s looming rugby, and it seemed as if there was
a conscious effort to have the four experts all speak by turn, as Mohono
questioned them one by one and then more or less repeated the sequence.
comfortable bonhomie, however, which may have been a relief to SuperSport
bosses, who had variously been made aware in correspondence by Mallett –
brought to public light after the rumpus – that he and Willemse “irritate the
hell out of each other” and the working environment is “unpleasant and tense”.
He had also
notified them in emails that he was “very happy to work with Breyton, Shimmy or
Bobs (Gcobani Bobo) as, unlike with Ashwin, I respect their hard work and rugby
largely got his wish – whether by accident or design - for his comeback
appearance, with Bobo the only absentee of that trio in studio as he was on
pitch-side duties for the match at Emirates Airline Park.
As the day
wore on, the in-studio conversation gradually got less structured and
formulaic, with Mallett – and the others – progressively more relaxed and unafraid
to interrupt at times with earnest, spontaneous thoughts.
traditionally being one of his major hallmarks, Mallett said after the Sharks
had grafted their way to a late finals series ticket (in eighth spot, after
downing the Jaguares on a wet Durban pitch) that they would need to
significantly “up their intensity and passion” against formidable quarter-final
foes the Crusaders in Christchurch “or it will be a 30-pointer” in favour of
the defending champions next weekend.
seemed much more like business as usual by the time the roughly five-hour
broadcast stretch ended, all of the quartet joining Mohono either standing or
seated in a tight bunch at the main desk – as if a show of unity – as the
lights dimmed in the studio.
tantalising missing link, of course, remains how, or possibly even whether, Willemse
will be allied to panellists on SS1 a little further up the road ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: