Paul Lewis: What's in a name? The commentator's first tenet

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We are a tough little nation of commentator-haters, aren't we? Granted, TV3's Hamish McKay has a long way to go before he can be admitted to the top echelon of New Zealand's favoured commentators. But at least he's taken our minds off the awfulness of Murray Mexted, currently providing ITV in London with his 'colour'. We tend to use another word.

You see, most Kiwis have a pet hate when it comes to commentators and not even the best and most talented escape the clobbering. Keith Quinn once told a story that revealed this love-hate relationship.

The amiable 'Quinnie' has about the best recall and knowledge of rugby history, trivia and minutiae of anyone I have ever met.

I remember being soundly beaten by him in a rugby quiz to while away the hours once on a train trip from Tokyo to Osaka.

Anyway, Quinn said that he was once walking around the touchline of a Wellington club game - he wasn't working, just there out of interest - when a voice came from the crowd: "Hey, Quinn," it boomed. "You wouldn't know if a dog was up yer."

It says a lot for Quinnie that he tells this story against himself - and it says a lot of the great New Zealand rugby public.

Quinn always did his homework. He researched teams, games, tries, individuals and always made sure he did the absolute ground-zero basic of any TV commentator - he made sure he pronounced the names right.

That's why, even as I acknowledge that Hamish McKay and TV3 are new to this and will improve, I grated my teeth somewhat as Hamish chewed over the players' names like he'd got his tongue caught in a mincer.

The French halfback had a name apparently pronounced Migg-non, even though comments man Alan Whetton consistently pronounced it correctly: Min-yon.

And when France's substitute hooker, a bloke called Szarzewski, came on, most Kiwis wouldn't have known that his name was pronounced Zar-zevski, not Scar-zooski, as Hamish informed us.

Lots of Kiwis have concrete ears and lips when it comes to foreign languages and such mangles probably don't really matter in the greater scheme of things.

Maybe worse is McKay's tendency to demonstrate that he has a PhD in Stating The Bleedin' Obvious - but this too is a function of newness and nervousness and he'll settle into it in time.

It is, when all is said and done, not an easy job.

So, by the end of the World Cup, Hamish McKay will probably be able to say, with a bit of experience, that he does indeed know when a dog is up him.

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