AND now it's down to Sonia on the touchline, where our coverage of an absolutely riveting match will be interrupted as she puts a couple of pointless questions to a former player.

Well, of course, if Sonia has been pre-programmed she can't be kept waiting around doing nothing just because the game for once is more than justifying all the hype.

It's wonderful that live coverage of rugby's Six Nations Championship is back on the BBC, where it can properly inspire greater interest in the game. But I'd be quite happy to stay with Brian Moore's often witty and acerbic observations without having to suffer the modern need to involve a female.

Sonia could have more than justified her presence on Sunday by sticking purely to her secondary role as medical correspondent as England players kept going to the blood bin.

This was some indication of the ferocity of the battle, and the first half was as intense, gripping and competitive as anything I can remember.

The quality of England's replacements underlined the overall strength which eventually overpowered the Irish - except, that is, for the ten minutes Jonny Wilkinson spent getting patched up.

Jonny is irreplaceable. The abiding memory of that fierce first half is that whenever Ireland threatened Jonny knocked them back. His tackle count was immense.

Most of the England players sang the national anthem lustily, but not Jonny. With his eyes almost closed, he looked so deeply entrenched in his cocoon of concentration that he probably didn't even hear the anthem.

There are two dangers in such single-minded pursuit of perfection. One is that putting your body on the line in such a physical sport might inflict lasting damage; the other is that once all the goals have been attained the perfectionist might decide there is more to life.

After the previous near misses, there is no doubt the Grand Slam was a huge goal in Jonny's life. The next one is keeping Newcastle in the Premiership, then comes the big one - the World Cup.

After that, who knows? He might even take himself off to play American Football.

GIVEN the inspirational qualities of the Stadium of Light, it is tempting to say the FA should save themselves the farcical £750m earmarked for rebuilding Wembley and play all England's matches at Sunderland.

But no, let Wembley have the vermin who habitually crawl out from under their stones to wreak their havoc around England matches.

How incongruous it will look to have a palatial state-of-the-art stadium housing low life capable of scarring it through their utter disrespect for civilisation.

They also do the team a huge disservice by taking the gloss off the rare performances of skill and commitment such as they produced to beat Turkey.

If the latest child prodigy from the Rooney clan proves he has the temperament to build on his sensational start then there is cause for optimism, especially if sanity prevails and David Seaman is consigned to the retirement home for geriatric goalkeepers.

To keep Rooney's head out of the clouds someone should insist he sticks the recent pictures of Gazza on his bedroom wall. By stripping off his shirt to celebrate his first goal in China, Gazza revealed a torso which looked more wasted than muscular, which is a pretty fair reflection of the career of our last footballing prodigy.

PERSONALLY I would round up all the known football hooligans and feed them as bait to Audley Harrison. But perhaps that would be too kind.

As we breathlessly await news of the BBC's new deal with the man whose ten laughable bouts so far have cost them £1m, I was staggered to see in a bookshop copies of Audley's book, entitled Realising the Dream.

I hadn't heard of it, presumably because no-one thought it worth reviewing, and the least surprising aspect was that it had been reduced from £16.99 to £3.

I would have thought Audley had a heck of a long way to go yet before realising any dream. We were told, as usual, that last Saturday's fight would be his biggest test, but his Serbian opponent turned out to be another walking punch bag.

The ten fights have spanned almost two years and Audley was no youngster when he turned pro. If the BBC really want people to sit up and take notice they should arrange for him to fight Lennox Lewis before the champion retires through sheer lack of opposition.

He was supposed to fight Mike Tyson again in June, but that now looks unlikely to happen. So why not throw Audley in there instead? That way we'll find out if there's any real fight in the man or whether he's just an over-hyped tub of lard who is guilty of believing his own publicity.

And perhaps we could have Sonia at ringside asking George Foreman his considered opinion every minute - if it lasts that long.

Published: 04/04/2003