TV1 wins the battle of the rugby freebies

By Paul Lewis

There has never been such a time of intense TV rugby commentary competition in this country as RWC 2011 gets under way. Commentary teams are vying to attract viewers. In this sometimes feature within the Herald on Sunday's RWC coverage, we air our views on who did the best job around the opening game.

Jeff Wilson. Photo / Supplied
Jeff Wilson. Photo / Supplied

Rugby followers watching on TV know what they are going to get with the Sky crew - but what about those who do not normally get a crack at live rugby broadcasts, given the usual monopoly of the pay TV people?

While free-to-air matches are scattered around (TV3 had to screen their offering at the graveyard of 11pm on Friday night), those without Sky in their homes will gravitate to those showing the action live. But they will still need to decide which commentary team they choose when there are options - as there were in the opening match on Friday.

To that end, TV1 took a clear lead in the first shots fired; largely due to the unearthing of a new broadcast force in former All Black Jeff Wilson. Coaching hasn't yet been all that kind to the former All Black wunderkind but he displayed an aptitude for television that must have pleased his broadcast employers.

His analysis was quick, clear and authoritative; with insight. In a game that can be confusing for the part-time viewer (not to mention the full-on fan) Wilson often explained what was going on and why that penalty had been awarded.

But his real strength was in not pussyfooting about. It was Wilson who most climbed into pedantic Irish referee George Clancy when Tonga set a large number of scrums on the All Black line, boring the pants off most of us with re-set after re-set; they were the only TV team to note the rarity of a Tongan side choosing to outscrum an All Black unit.

It was Wilson who advised the Tongans to tighten their game and to play more pick-and-go rugby for more profit against the All Blacks. They did, and he looked smart. When the endless scrummaging occurred, Wilson proved he wasn't a cheerleader by focusing on the difficulty that substitute prop Ben Franks was having in coping with the Tongans; not something the All Black coaches will have enjoyed watching.

All in all, a good debut and TV1's other advantage was that their team seemed to be better balanced. The amiable Andrew Saville's level commentary was a good foil for Wilson and comments man Taine Randell.

TV3 came second. Few will have seen their offering but they maybe need a little less of front man Hamish McKay and more of Andrew Mehrtens and Richard Loe.

McKay's was probably the best performance of the professional commentators but the team needs to bring up more of Loe's earthiness and Mehrtens' humour.

Maori TV will likely win the ratings battle, as they have all 48 matches on show. But the newest of the arrivals on the rugby commentary scene have perhaps the longest way to go. They will improve, certainly, but at times the team of front man Te Arihi Maipi and comments men Gavin Hastings and Inoke Afeaki struggled.

They were often still discussing issues when the play suddenly surged; leaving us with commentators discussing subject A when subject B was going off and deserved comment.

The cliche count was high (please lose the use of the term "fair play") and there was too much gum-flapping which added little or nothing to what was happening on-screen.

They used the talent of Keith Quinn only as an in-studio comments man with Glen Osborne - a shame as the opening match could have done with Quinn's rich tones and feel for the game.

Maybe some feel that the inimitable Quinny is yesterday's man.

The other Pakeha on show, Hastings, was the pick of the Maori TV bunch.

He offered some Wilson-like insight and, had it not been for him, the team would have enthused over one of Richard Kahui's tries in replay after replay without ever mentioning the try-creating factor of Sonny Bill Williams.

- Herald on Sunday

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