Our resident media mogul Nick Heath (@rugbymedia) continues his series that gives us an inside track on life in the rugby media and his journey to the top. Or even middle.
As 80,000 people rose from their seats at Twickenham on Saturday to head to the bars or train station, I was once again privileged enough as a member of the accredited reporting media to make my way down to the Good Health Bar and await England manager Martin Johnson for his post match press conference. Alongside me was our feature writer Benny Coles who was making his debut on ‘the inside’ and as we entered the bar, Ben was delighted and amused by how many of the faces he recognised as the men and women of the rugby media grabbed coffees and water ahead of the post-mortem.
After 18 months living in this world, I am far from universally ‘accepted’ into the fold. However, my recent nomination and acceptance into the Rugby Union Writers Club at their last committee meeting gives me some optimism that things might change over time. Like the new boy at school, some people are friendly and others what appears to be deliberately cold. Some are genuine where others would smile at you as soon as stab you in the back. The reasons? I can only postulate. Perhaps because I work online – not the favourite medium amongst many of the traditional print journos. Or perhaps because I am a tender 32 and I am lucky to look younger – an absolute abhorrence it appears.
We move towards some of the friendlier faces I know. One is a commentator who has been nothing but supportive and kind since I approached him for advice, another a national daily newspaper writer. I introduce Ben and we discuss the game. Asking the more experienced journalists their view and finding out what they saw that you didn’t has proved to be my strongest method of learning. Of course I know the game, but I am not arrogant enough to assume that their superior experience and knowledge is not worth investing some time in.
“Would you have picked anyone else in that side?” asks the commentator. The print man replies, “I’d have started with Hartley but other than that, I honestly don’t know which other fifteen you could consider. That’s the only team. The problem is, Johnno is a Leicester man and they only trained him to run into people. Of all the world’s ills, a higher concentration of individuals with agoraphobia you couldn’t find than at Welford Road.” I roared laughing.
What is most interesting is that the journalistic view is often markedly different from the atmosphere that you might pick up in the stands. As England knocked on the door in the last ten minutes, Twickenham roared as if every supporter was cheering their five year old at sports day. Their team was finally beginning to realise some of its potential and not go down without a fight. Had a second England try been scored it would have sounded like it was the winning score, such was the need to finally feel that the dark days are behind us. As it failed to materialise, a strange air descended that was akin to receiving an unwanted Christmas present – it’s nice but could have been so much better. The press room was more judgemental.
“Ashton needed that second half because he was turned inside out too many times in that first half,” from one corner. From the other, an observation that I am pained to say I had not really picked up on over the years, “Well, the most painful thing in our midfield is Tindall’s pass. At this level, some of those were frankly embarrassing. Hape would have scored had he not had to sit and have a cup of tea waiting for that pass to come down from the sky.” Another view, “Armitage has always been a bloody maniac. He was on the field less than a minute and he tried to take some bloke’s head off and gave away three points.”
Enter Johnno. “Frustration,” he began and for seven minutes answered the national media’s questions. As he left, I left the room to the holding area that overlooks the players’ gym where everyone waits for the players to be brought up. As they appear, you pounce on whoever you can knowing that at least half a dozen other gentlemen with mp3 recorders and dictaphones would also surround you.
If you happen to be the first one in, you will naturally lead the questioning until such time as you have all you need. Like subtly attracting a waiter, a brief eyebrow raise is the only cue the other hungry press bods need to know that you’re finished and they can leap in with their questions. At this stage I will often stay in the huddle to listen out for the questions that I didn’t think of – to continue learning. I did well on Saturday – first in with Ben Youngs, Lewis Moody, Tom Palmer and Ben Foden.
Before I leave I have one final chat with a couple of broadcasters. There is one view ahead of the Australia game. With reference to the game we have just watched, “Johnson’s been given two and a half years to get to that. To get to THAT! No one else has been given such a grace period of losses and not had their collar felt.” There was widespread nodding and chin stroking.
“If this England team under Johnson don’t pull off a win against Australia next Saturday then there’s zero chance of this team or his reign ever being viewed as as positive. A victory against Samoa will be irrelevant, we can’t consider a loss against a knackered South African team that will just want to be on the plane home, so next weekend is where it all hinges. They have to beat Australia.” Crikey. They really do.
If you would like to hear Nick’s commentary highlights recorded live during the game then click on the player below. Your comments and criticisms would be welcomed as he continues to hone his style and technique. It runs to approx 7 mins.[podcast]/Podcasts/Eng v NZ edit.mp3[/podcast]