With the new broadcast deal with Nine and Stan Sports, our great game of rugby union has the opportunity to select an entirely new commentary crew.
We have been bereft of quality commentary from Fox Sports for a number of years. Indeed, while the current crop of commentators may have been the ‘young and upcoming’ five to ten (or more) years ago, there are serious questions (even objections) about how the game is called currently.
The crux of the concerns circle around exceptionally partisan commentary as well as plethora of negativity, ‘boy’s club’ and ‘back in my day’ comments of ‘how the game has gone soft’. A particular blight on the commentary, in my view as a local referee, is the distinct lack of contemporary law knowledge.
From a wider audience perspective, the lack of description of both what a team is trying to accomplish and how they are doing this is sorely missing, too.
I have been observing some of the chat coming around on the site recently. There have been some names suggested as well as rumours abounding from Nine. One such rumour is that Nine is considering Drew Mitchell for a key role.
Other names suggested are Nick McArdle, Sean Maloney (who, might I add, produced an outstanding call on the weekend in the New Zealand v Arg game), as well as Tony Lewis and Louise Ransome. Others even wish to return to the rugby hey day of Gordon Bray and Chris ‘Buddha’ Handy!
I’d like to hark back to possibly the greatest quartet of commentators in sporting television history: WWOS Cricket! What I mean by this is having the disparate ‘voices’ on the call.
The ‘Richie’: an elder statesman who lets the TV audience do the viewing and chimes in with an eloquent word. He provided exceptionally detailed knowledge that actually matters (i.e. not which private school a player went to or who his old man played with).
The ‘Griegy’: a passionate supporter of an alternate nation (like an Ian Smith) with the guts and gumption to ‘call a spade a spade’, even against his own side.
The ‘Bill’: outright enthusiasm with the ‘Got him! Yes, he’s gone!’ This infectious attitude, along with witty but relevant banter, is exactly what is needed.
Finally, the ‘Chappelli’: well, maybe not a Chapelli on second thoughts…
One match from the 2020 Super season (prior to Covid-19) was the Brumbies match (no bias!) against the Chiefs in Hamilton. Whilst the Ponies played a spectacular match and thoroughly deserved the win, what immediately struck me throughout the broadcast was the outstanding commentary of Mils Muliaina (who happened to be an ex-Chiefs player himself) and Riki Swannell.
What struck me the most was the shared attitude of a love of a good game of footy. Never mind that an Aussie team was working over the Kiwi side, the commentary was honest, unabashed and glowing for the positives of the game.
Compare and contrast to recent pickings in the Super AU competition with Kearns, Kafer, et al. which, at the very least, leaves much to be desired.
For me, I have thoroughly enjoyed Sean Maloney in commentary. He brings the Bill Lawry infectious enthusiasm to the match and provides audiences with a really interesting call. I hear that the efforts he put into the U20 Rugby World Cup in 2019 was immense.
A similar story goes for the rugby sevens World Series for which he has commentated for a number of years.
Furthermore, I do wonder if either a Nick McArdle or, if possible, a Tony Jones, could be brought over to be the ‘Richie’ figure.
A calm and composed commentator capable of letting the moment shine without projecting themselves where it is not necessary. Conversely, I’m not too keen on having Drew Mitchell or even Stephen Hoiles on the commentary. There is a sense of ‘jobs for the boys’ and, when listening, I was often left wanting more.
Furthermore, Hoiles let himself down with the Australia versuss Wales call in the Rugby World Cup with his blow up about the Welsh nine being offside (which he was not). One statement I think we can all agree that the current Super commentary crop can be thanked for their service and shown the door. If Nine and Stan had any sense, they’d be ‘gooooone’!
Overall, the commentary team needs both balance and flair. Australia is the only country where rugby is, at least (being generously optimistic), stagnating, if not going backwards. In the lead up to a Lions tour in 2025 and, in all likelihood, a Rugby World Cup in 2027, this is the desperately needed opportunity to refresh the part of the game that the ‘average Joe pundit’ will be listening to.
What could be better than tuning in on a Saturday night, watching the game played in heaven and hearing nothing but quality commentary?
My question for you all is who could be the alternative (dare I say, dream commentary crew) for the 2021 season (and beyond)?