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'You could go a 1,000 years and never meet anyone as extraordinary'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

BT Sport struck the perfect chord on Saturday when they launched live TV coverage of the new 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership season a day later than originally planned following the death on Thursday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Negotiations resulted in the postponement of the season-opening matches at Bristol and Sale on Friday night.

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It meant attention instead switched to Sandy Park where the league’s main TV rights broadcast holders were in situ to deliver coverage of the Saturday afternoon meeting between Exeter Chiefs and title holders Leicester Tigers.

Presenter Craig Doyle kicked the new Premiership season footage off with a sombre introduction before former England internationals Lawrence Dallaglio and Ugo Monye joined in the tribute for Queen Elizabeth II. “We welcome you to the new term with heavy hearts,” began Doyle from the touchlines in Exeter. “We will bring you your rugby this weekend and we will do so respectfully.

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“Everybody at BT Sport and of course in the league are extremely saddened by the passing of Her Majesty The Queen. Her dedication to the role, giving a lifetime of public service leaves the nation with an enormous debt of gratitude. Our sympathies are with the Royal family and of course to all of you that are grieving in your own way.

“There were a lot of conversations whether the sport should go ahead this weekend. The Premiership starts a day late. A lot of fans here, both Exeter Chiefs and Leicester fans – and I have spoken to many of them on their way in, have all said that this was their opportunity to pay their respect to the Queen in her passing. So I think we are going to have a very emotional day, a sombre day but in a strange way, they will celebrate her life in their own way.”

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Dallaglio, a 2003 World Cup winner with England, would have met Queen Elizabeth II on numerous occasions over the years and what he had to say had a very personal touch. “It is a sad day, a sad time and I do feel, like the majority of the nation, a real sense of loss. This was an exceptional person, an exceptional human being who oversaw her country for 70 years. In most people’s lifetimes, she was a constant.

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“Throughout all the upheavals, all the chaos, she was there. She led with great distinction. For all of us, she is the benchmark for how to lead people. You could go a thousand years and never meet anyone as extraordinary as the Queen, so our thoughts are with all of her family and those closest to her.

“She loved her sport, not just horse racing,” he continued. “She loved all sport. She was patron of the Rugby Union (RFU) for 65 years and in that time we had a few high moments, none more so than in 2003 when we had the privilege of being in her company with the rest of the family and the team.

“Great sense of humour, a very inspiring lady and I’m sure everyone in the country really feels her loss. More than anything she represented unity and togetherness and today we will see that, not just here at Sandy Park but right across the country and even across the world.”

Next, it was the turn of Monye to chip in on the tribute. “Lawrence has just touched upon her personality, she is known for so many great personality traits but for me, the two distinctive things that stood out were her duty and her service and it feels like a privilege to be here to carry on with our duty under the banner of Premiership Rugby and have a full schedule of matches.

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“As Lawrence mentioned, she loved her sport and today and the rest of the weekend is an unbelievable opportunity for people to get together, united, connected to something we haven’t been able to say I don’t think we have been able to say too often over the last few years as a rugby community to support our teams but more so than anything show our respect.

“We will sing the national anthem today and I don’t think you will hear a more impassioned version of it than what we hear at Sandy Park and right across the Premiership this weekend. Massive respect to the person that she is, the legacy lives on and we hope today we can do it a little bit of justice.”

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