You only need to see our article which announced ITV’s coverage for the tournament, found here, to get the general idea of how their coverage of the Rugby World Cup has gone down so far. Despite that piece being published at the back end of July, we have received daily feedback from viewers on how the ITV crew have been performing. And it hasn’t exactly been positive…
First off let’s be clear, I’m not a huge fan of their coverage either. For big tournaments you need a star name commentator calling the shots, which was the reason why ITV loaned Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes out of their Sky contracts for the last tournament in 2007. Listeners appreciate a familiar voice calling the shots, be it Martin Tyler or Clive Tyldesley in Football, Martin Brundle for Formula 1, or Peter Alliss for Golf. Unfortunately for us, the main men are seemingly Martin Gillingham or Nick Mullins, who whilst perfectly capable and with a great knowledge of the game, do not offer that desired familiarity, and as a result the feedback towards them has been overwhelmingly negative.
Having said that, a commentating team is judged on the performances of both main commentator and pundit, and new to the punditry gig is former England captain Phil Vickery. Making his television debut, it’s a big ask for the Gloucester and Wasps stalwart to suddenly be broadcasting to a whole nation, particularly one that is easily frustrated by any of the Home Nations lack of attacking prowess. Many of you on here have highlighted his lack of impartiality when it comes to England playing, but this seems to be a problem for not just Vickery, but the commentators and particularly Steve Rider.
In fact, from a personal perspective, Rider’s presence is at the heart of ITV’s problem. A “utility presenter” much like John Inverdale, Rider has never presented rugby before on the channel, whilst Inverdale on the other hand can be found every year during the Six Nations, increasing his rapport with the television audience. It would have been better if ITV had put Craig Doyle in charge of the whole schedule, now that his transformation from the Holiday programme to Rugby presenter is complete following a couple of seasons of dedicated broadcasting of the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup.
Upon unveiling their team for the Rugby World Cup, the most impressive part of ITV’s team were the pundits in the studio, and Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Lynagh and Francois Pienaar have proved as insightful and engaging as expected. Watching Gareth Thomas sat between Lynagh and Pienaar last Sunday morning made me feel nervous for the Welshman, but he held his own. The disappointments have been Thom Evans and Lawrence Dallaglio, Evans not proving as confident in front of the camera as expected given his boyband past and celebrity girlfriend, whilst Dallaglio has the tendency to say a lot, but making unclear points. The natural hope is that as the tournament progresses and ITV start their coverage in New Zealand, that the whole level of analysis will rise.
Improving the whole production would be helped though by cutting out the millions of adverts. Persistently cutting to breaks between anthems and then seemingly every 120 seconds during the half time interval and post-match analysis leaves the show feeling disjointed and cold. The choice to not show the opening ceremony was also a major disappointment, as ITV attempted to bundle introducing the competition and asking the pundits for their expectations at the same time as the seemingly spectacular show took place in Eden Park. This wasn’t the case for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, so why should it be now?
Viewers don’t want to be bombarded with statistics and trivia, they want genuine, impartial analysis of the game unfolding in front of them. Put like that, it sounds simple. At least for ITV, there is time to improve.
If you have lost your faith however, then fear not, there are alternatives:
TalkSPORT – working with our very own Nick Heath (RugbyMedia), TalkSPORT’s coverage is based out in New Zealand for the first time after winning the radio rights from BBC Radio 5 Live. With a commentary team compromising of the BBC’s favourite Brian Moore and former Wallaby legend David Campese, the analysis is as well informed as the trio of Lynagh, Fitzpatrick and Pienaar. Less of the information about who went to school with whose cousin, more on what is actually going on. 1089/1053am Radio and at http://www.talksport.co.uk
ARC Rugby – hilarious, but littered with expletives, the Alternative Rugby Commentary is broadcasted by the excellent Kiwi Jed Thian, whose Commandments for Rugby are a set to live by. Thian is also the philosopher behind such theories as the one that “The Blackness” captain Richie McCaw does not have blood pumping through his veins, but molten lava instead. Not for the easily offended. Definitely for those with a sense of humour. http://www.arcrugby.co.nz
by Ben Coles