Thoughts on the RWC. You’ve got to care about the outcome to have a successful tournament

I know we’re all meant to be excited about the Rugby World Cup. There’s been some great rugby played by Japan, Georgia, and Scotland. I’ve liked having more rugby on TV. Good chat on the pod at work as well.

My favourite minutes haven’t been technical. They’ve been about belief and the ability of supposedly lesser teams to operate under massive physical and mental pressure. Japan getting over in the corner. Scotland scorning what I hoped would be a winning try. Massive Georgian hits. Some great Fijian offloads. Canadian guts and skill vs France. Romanian passion, and skill especially in the tight

Of course the big boys have provided some too rugby and entertainment. NZ look ominous. The Bokke coming back through direct play. Great Australian breakdown work and handling. Even the Argies showing a few years playing top rugby has taken their game to new heights.

The broadcasting has been good, without touching greatness. It’s been close to being a greatest hits of what the BBC, ITV, BT Sport have to offer. Inverdale is a smooth, professional host. He must have left his rose c&nted glasses at home. Ben Kay is a perceptive analyst of the game. There’s a few ex pros I’ve missed. Brian Moore and Jonathan Davies either weren’t invited or  turned it down. A personal highlight has been David Flatman’s commentary, which matches the knowledge of a pro, with a dry wit and sly humour of a malevolent imagination. I suspect a night out on the beer with Flats would be awesome but would necessitate a few days of recovery.


I missed the semi final because I didn’t really care. I might / not see the final, depending on what the family are doing on Sunday. This is coming from a man that got BT Sport so I could watch rugby every week.

The thing is, the (national) teams I care about, England and Ireland, were never at the races. It was apparent that neither side had what it took to beat the Southern Hemisphere Giants. This is why I took joy in the performances listed above. When those teams were beaten however, there was the empty realisation that the teams I follow, in a sport I love, simply don’t have what is necessary.

It’s worse because England have fallen a long way, and Ireland consistently don’t live up to their abilities at the RWC. This makes it hard to care, which in turn makes the RWC less important.

When it comes to it, I don’t watch sport to stroke my beard and admire the technicalities. Whether that’s a rolling maul, a topspin backhand, an uppercut or a forward defensive, I want to care about the people that make the shot / pass / tackle / combination.

I watch sport for the developing narrative that grips the soul. That’s why the Scottish loss was so devastating, because that most dangerous of emotions had entered the house. Hope. (One for Guardian cricket obo readers).

For me, the RWC was lacking a crucial ingredient to be a real success. There just wasn’t enough hope to realistically believe my teams stood a chance.

And what made it worse? The players looked like they knew it too.


Sport on the wireless – a timeless pleasure

Ok, so it’s not strictly a timeless pleasure, but listening to sport on the radio creates an historical connection to some of the great sporting events of the 20th century. Louis v Schmelling; Bradman and Miller; cricket tours on the other side of the world, Olympics and World Cups of multiple sports.

Boxing and cricket work very well on the radio because there’s only so much movement to describe. Boxing is two individuals in a small ring and cricket is essentially individual confrontation in a team context. Tennis is similar, as is golf. Tension and atmosphere can be built on radio that TV doesn’t quite manage because the commentators define what we understand. The roar of the crowd needs a commentator to provide context, as Mike Costello does so well with boxing and also athletics. I sat in the car listening to his mesmerising commentary on Mo Farrah’s 5k win in the London Olympics, smacking the steering wheel with excitement. Then there’s the silence before a put followed by a roar at the Ryder cup. It’s even better if its late at night, broadcast from America.

The rapid movement of 22 footballers can be impossible to accurately describe without pictures, although I’ve listened to great matches and often watch a game with radio commentary on. Rugby is the same; a game defined by the ref’s interpretation demands pictures, but Iain Robertson is one of my favourite sports commentators and his description of England’s World Cup win was vastly superior to ITVs.

Then there’s the monster. Test Match Special. It’s been the background to my summers for about 30 years. You realise you’re getting older when you’ve been through a number of generations of commentators. Johnners, Bearders and the Major are probably commentating on Larwood bowling to Bradman somewhere. The current crop do a great job, and for all the wider stuff about cake, its very much about cricket. It’s ball by ball commentary. Unlike a day at the test, you won’t miss anything. It also saved my sanity, trying to comfort my little son at 0400, listening to tms.

I’m looking forward to the game starting in 10 mins. I’m feeling shattered because I stayed up listening to the Froch v Kessler fight. Sport on the radio has been a constant all my life, a burble in the background that I occasionally get turn up and properly listen to. I inherited this from my dad and Kirsty from her mum. I see no reason Aidan won’t take it on as well.

As a one time history student, i find this historical progression pleasing. Not as joyful as the excitement of the Froch fight last night, more the quiet happiness of doing what I’ve just done; flicking the dial to BBC 5 Live Sports Extra and hearing a muted round of applause, with Jonathan Agnew’s Leicester inflected RP accent; “flicked away by Swann to fine leg, that’s his first run of the day”.