Saturday 13th February 2016: Aviva Premiership Round 12: Gloucester v Harlequins at Kingsholm: Gloucester 28 Harlequins 6.
Regular readers of my column will know that I have been enduring having a hard time of it recently.
Given Quins’ propensity to blow hot and cold – best expressed in their eternal ability to beat the great one week and succumb to the lowest of the low the next – and their traditional seasonal episode of ‘the wheels falling off’ and/or hitting a run of poor form at the most frustrating and surprising of moments [well, that is, unless you are a fan of more than three years’ standing and therefore all too aware how unsurprising it is for such dips to happen at surprising moments], I suppose the average impartial onlooker could argue that my depression is misconceived.
The trouble with sport (any sport) is, of course, that when it comes to following the fortunes of your club team through the regular season, you know that in every game disaster is just as likely to strike as triumph and that, even if by glorious happenchance you should find yourself trudging home one evening in the sumptuous after-glow of a particular and hard-fought victory, inside you have already begun the dark process of preparing to cope with you the inescapable fact that you have just become another week closer to the next inevitable derailment.
Yesterday’s surrender down in the West Country meant that, since the 17th January almost-too-close-for-comfort defeat of Cardiff Blues at the Stoop in the pool stage of the European Challenge Cup, the Harlequins have amassed a record in all competitions of played four, lost four.
For good or ill, I didn’t see it myself because BT Sport’s rugby union broadcasting editors had chosen to feature other Premiership games in their weekend offerings. Instead I was reduced to listening to the BBC Radio Gloucester ‘live’ commentary over the internet whilst the France v Ireland Six Nations match (a 10-9 victory for the home team) was playing out silently on the television at the opposite end of the room. Within a quarter of an hour even that had become too much for me – we were already shipping points at an alarming rate – and so I closed down my computer and went out for a walk in the drizzling rain and bracing cold.
There’s suffering for your team – and then there’s a devotion to extreme masochism.
As a boy I had ‘moderation in everything’ drummed into me and I’m comfortable with that degree of restraint. Not so on the fans’ website and chat-rooms since 5.00pm last evening, where hell, damnation and retribution are rife.
In the early evening I tuned in to the ‘live’ television broadcast of the Wales v Scotland clash at what I now understand is re-christened the ‘Principality Stadium’ in Cardiff, where the BBC’s Six Nations coverage continued to suffer from comparison with ITV’s impressive equivalent of the weekend before.
Just two things count when it comes to the quality of ‘live’ coverage of great sporting occasions – the technical standard of the production and the ‘front of camera’ participants.
Yesterday in Cardiff the BBC demonstrated its current weaknesses in both.
On the first, early in the first half the Welsh scrum-half Gareth Davies scored an exceptional try from the half-way line, collecting a ball from what video replays later showed was in fact an off-side position [which should have caused the score to be disallowed] by outsprinting and bamboozling three covering-back defenders.
We television viewers watched it unfold from a perfect wide-shot position.
Later – as first the television match official reviewed the action for signs of a possible knock-on and then, both in the aftermath and at half-time, the commentators and pundits discussed this epic incident – the action was replayed from every conceivable viewpoint [anchor John Inverdale having at one point trumpeted the fact that the BBC had 32 cameras at the match].
That is, every conceivable viewpoint and angle save the only one this viewer wanted to see it repeated from – i.e. from the perfect wide-shot referred to above, the only one from which it would have been possible to appreciate the try again in its entirety from every aspect.
The blame for this cock-up can be laid squarely in the laps of the director and (above him in rank) the producer on the day. I’d go so far as to suggest that had Bryan Cowgill – alongside Paul Fox in the ranks of the all-time greats of British sports broadcasting – been alive to witness it, both production executives would have received the mother-and-father of all bollockings if not the sack.
As for the presenters and pundits fielded by the BBC, greater media observers than I have already commented upon their lack of gravitas and nous in this Six Nations.
‘Auntie’ has always tended to show commendable loyalty to its hirelings that verges upon stilted conservatism. Sadly, yesterday the Welsh former great at both Rugby Union and League, Jonathan Davies – operating as the commentator’s sidekick – had a singularly bad day at the office. He burbled away nineteen-to-the-dozen in his irritating sing-song lilt, sounding more and more like a party clown on helium as events progressed.
Even shortly after kick-off, referring to the ‘Lazarus-like’ return of fly-half Dan Biggar to the Welsh starting line-up after suffering a suspected bad injury to an ankle the previous weekend [six weeks out had been the initial prediction from inside the Welsh camp after said game], Davies talked of how the Scottish players should target him by attacking his channel straight away, to “see if his left hand foot” could stand up to it.
Things didn’t really improve from there. For all his enthusiasm, Davies’ incessant dissection of what was unfolding – especially within the packs – became wider and wider of the mark as the game wore on, given the clear evidence of what viewers were seeing with their own eyes and indeed the restrained but contrary analysis of his fellows in the commentary box.
Back in the on-site studio hosted by John Inverdale, the BBC could only field former players Andy Nicholl (Scotland scrum-half and captain), Martyn Williams (great Welsh flanker) and the Jeremy Guscott (England and Lions centre).
Last week, for their campaign opening, ITV’s studio pundits were the surprisingly impressive Jonny Wilkinson, previously only known for his taciturn self-critical obsessive intensity; Brian O’Driscoll, who is fast making his name as a compelling BT rugby pundit; and Sir Clive Woodward, who is an acquired taste (not mine) but never short of an insight.
Well, we’ll see how those ITV boys go upon their second outing for the Italy v England game today … but, as far as I am concerned, otherwise (on paper) it’s a straightforward case of ‘’Nuff said’ don’t you think?