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.
Final score, England 35 Australia 18. Could you say that again please Simon? The dulcit tones of stadium announcer Simon Ward rang out to every English fan around the land as the boys in white, well ‘anthracite’, finally gave their nation the performance on home soil that had been needed for a good few years.
I took my place in the commentary gantry at Twickenham last Saturday for about the sixth time and positioned my notes, programme and laptop accordingly. Moments before I had sated myself with soup, crisps and sandwiches from the pre-ordered platters that sit in the ‘commentators room’ on the middle tier of the West Stand and debated the potential outcome of the match with other broadcasters. A general consensus was that it would most likely be Australia but proportionally only on a basis of 55-45% in their favour.
As I walked onto the gantry, I was reminded by the atmosphere that was long overdue in its resurgence the previous weekend against New Zealand – Twickenham howled. For many years after the 2003 RWC win, as it’s South Stand was reconstructed and beyond, HQ has been somewhat lacking in atmosphere. There could be various reasons for this – the rugby, the faith in the team, the increasing price of the pints – £4.50 now? At least wear a mask when you charge me for that.
I do have a theory though. There was a huge interest in rugby the moment we lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Sydney. Ticket sales soared in subsequent years, merchandising went lunar and England was a hugely proud rugby nation. More and more families who may not have been traditional rugby supporters were now pouring through the gates and in terms of the future of the game and its wider appeal, this was tremendous news. But have the new converts been treated to great rugby in these intervening years? Certainly not in the last two or three. It dawns on me that perhaps the older, more experienced faithful have sat, quietly grumbling to each other through the darker days, consoling each other in the West car park or the Cabbage Patch, knowing that one day the good times would return. Perhaps while they have done so, the newer faces have faded away, back to the round ball, to gardening, to sleep… In Sydney in June, a one point margin might just have lit the touch paper for the faithful to be repaid. Hope had returned.
As England created their first try against Australia the atmosphere had already kicked into gear. When Courtney Lawes fed Chris Ashton for his second, it was quite unbelievable. Once again I was commentating, albeit into an unsuitable mic for the sound levels involved, and with the knowledge that I was not reporting live or under contract with anyone, my professional ability to stay sharp vocally soon flew out of the window. I squealed, squawked and broken voiced-ly screamed all the way through those last 40 yards. The try was epic – I couldnt help myself.
Now this would all be fine had the seat next to me not been filled by TalkSPORT’s Mike Bovill, a man with a keen eye on how things will pan out for the station when they provide full radio coverage of next year’s RWC in New Zealand. He had only recently listened to a sample of my calling a game for BBC Surrey and as the match was starting had mentioned that he had some critique for me but that he could tell me later. I would not be confident he has yet regained the hearing in his right ear, such was the force at which I was calling England home to victory against Australia. I never did hear that critique. Opportunity knocked. I fear I’ve drawn the curtains.
Here is a video clip of me providing my match day commentary from the media gantry in the West Stand.
In the meantime Twickenham was rocking. Yes ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ has been sung over the years but only in desperation not delectation. I have watched that second try back on BBC iPlayer with the unlikely Conor McNamara providing commentary. As Ashton skins Mitchell and moves into top gear, so does the noise of the crowd. I watched it on Sunday of slightly delicate disposition and the power of that crowd urging our man on brought me to tears. Of course I blame the hangover but it is something else. On Monday, I heard BBC Fivelive replaying Alistair Eykyn’s live commentary and I watched Sky’s Miles Harrison on the highlights on the RFU.com. Despite being a Harrison fan, Eykyn’s call is the best. No squealing, a ton of excitement, a rise in drama but a commitment to detailing every step, every jink and every line on the pitch crossed. Someone should tell Mike Bovill.
Here’s approx six minutes of my commentary highlights from Saturday. It has its ugly moments so dont say I didnt warn you…[podcast]/Podcasts/Eng v Aus edit.mp3[/podcast]