TV commentary is a big part of rugby’s revival

Dare rugby fans dream again? Before COVID, Rugby Australia was the dog with gangrene. There was a stink of negativity and pessimism that was pervasive. Even commentators of the game, Fox Sports especially, sounded like they were being paid to talk down the game, the skills, the intent and the purpose. That was before COVID […]

TV commentary is a big part of rugby’s revival

Dare rugby fans dream again?

Before COVID, Rugby Australia was the dog with gangrene. There was a stink of negativity and pessimism that was pervasive. Even commentators of the game, Fox Sports especially, sounded like they were being paid to talk down the game, the skills, the intent and the purpose.

That was before COVID and now it is after. They are two totally different beasts.

For the first time in a long time rugby games captured the imagination. I am talking about Super Rugby AU. Just a few law tweaks and we are frothing with Pone Fa’amausili steaming in off a long run-up. Who was Fa’amausili? Look at him now, a part of the extended Wallabies squad.

Check out Filipo Daugunu. Who is he? The man of the match in the first Bledisloe. What about Noah Lolesio, Harry Wilson, Angus Bell and Fraser McReight? Insert literally any rookie.

And then of course Taniela Tupou: stepping, passing left to right, running at pace, oh, and destroying scrums. There was pace, skill, huge amounts of ticker and swathes of passion. The five Australian teams fought like brothers and what a joy it was to have the family back together.

So has something changed?

And perhaps to a greater degree, what else needs to change?

For RA to have a successful reincarnation, it needs to appeal to the everyday Australian as much as it does the rugby tragic like you and I, who trawl The Roar for every last crumb of rugby content. This appeal and interest from the wider public is the most crucial (and the most difficult) aspect of a successful reincarnation.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

There are a number of factors that contribute to this. The first is the performance of the Wallabies. It’s only been one game, but Sunday is a hint and a foreshadowing of positive things to come. Another encouraging sign is the herd of exhilarating young talent that has burst onto the scene this year.

Alongside this sits Super Rugby, and its format. A local competition has been a much more approachable and watchable format than prior years. Games played in our own time zone, an Australian team winning every week, knowing every team and every player… there is so much to like!

From the viewpoint of a non-rugby tragic, these are all aspects that make it much more accessible and enticing to watch, and remember, this is the very thing we need to be encapsulating. It will be interesting to see Super Rugby AU next year, and whether it builds on this positive trend from 2020.

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Then, there is the media presence and its appeal to the public. This is the aspect that has the most potential for growth, and is the one most in need of reform. Social media presence has been a growing positive, and one that certainly appeals to the younger generation of potential rugby lovers. Instagram account managers of the Super Rugby teams, the Wallabies and rugby.com.au, you have my respect.

But the media that has the most effect on wider viewership? The actual coverage of the game itself. I am not a fan of the Fox Sports coverage of rugby in Australia. It is more harmful to the sport than it is beneficial.

The first issue is with Fox Sports itself. How on earth can you appeal to the masses if you can only watch your sport on pay TV? This has been one of the largest players in the decrease in rugby viewership.

It is also why the potential of a new broadcast deal with the Nine Network is so exciting. The short-term financial pitfall of a deal with Nine (reportedly being a few million less than Fox’s) is completely outweighed by the longer term exposure to the wider public that it provides.

The second issue is with the commentary team. Listening to Greg Clark, Rod Kafer and Phil Kearns on the weekend was totally disheartening. Without touching on the lack of technicality, their comments were lacklustre, and unnecessarily negative towards Wallabies players. The Wallabies’ performance was undervalued, while the All Blacks were lauded for their efforts.

Former Australian Rugby Union player Phil Kearns.

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

This embodies itself in choosing the critical comment of a Wallabies decision or play over the enthusiastic, energy-filled, positive comment waiting to be voiced. Across all major statistics except the scoreboard, the Wallabies outperformed their All Blacks opposition, however this performance was not reflected in the noise emanating from the commentary box.

The NRL does this so well. Commentators get hyped over every available piece of skill and teamwork, and this mindset is infectious for the people who view it.

When listening to Ray Warren, everything is brilliant including the interchange, water breaks and any controversy. In this manner, the NRL commentators narrate their own story of the game, and week in, week out with the same fable being told, it becomes a reality in the hearts and minds of the viewers.

We don’t need hype merchants to sell the game like a ground staff voice-over calling for the crowd to stir. For good or ill, commentators are a part of the viewer experience. All we need is for our commentators to lift their energy and give voice to the growing sense of belief, culture and exciting prospect in this new-era Wallabies.

To Kafer and Kearns, I say this: get onboard. We have to be our own best cheerleaders. We have to bring on board the people who aren’t rugby tragics with energy and enthusiasm about the game. This should have been the overwhelming sense listening to the commentary of the game last week, but instead the taste in the mouth was still sour, even after the most scintillating trans-Tasman battle in years.

We need to narrate a new story of RA and the Wallabies to reignite passion in the broader rugby viewership in Australia. Kafer and Kearns, you are too infatuated with the RA of the ’90s. Let go of the past, and your small and now decidedly unimportant role in it. The broader viewership doesn’t care about this. They care about what is happening now, because the now of RA is looking up.

Source : The Roar More   

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Australia’s kryptonite is back in All Black

Ian Foster’s starting XV spells disaster for Australia as the All Blacks coach made several changes that have bolstered the team and diminished the Wallabies’ chances of winning. It seems Australian chances were immediately snuffed with Foster announcing that Beauden Barrett is raring to go this week. A fully-fit Barrett doesn’t bode well for Australia […]

Australia’s kryptonite is back in All Black

Ian Foster’s starting XV spells disaster for Australia as the All Blacks coach made several changes that have bolstered the team and diminished the Wallabies’ chances of winning.

It seems Australian chances were immediately snuffed with Foster announcing that Beauden Barrett is raring to go this week. A fully-fit Barrett doesn’t bode well for Australia as his attacking abilities were sorely missed in the previous game and his involvement tomorrow will be crucial for a dominant All Blacks display.

Don’t forget, this is the same Barrett that scored four tries and 30 of New Zealand’s points in the 40-12 walloping at Eden Park in 2018. It is the same Barrett that played fullback in the All Blacks outfit that thumped the Wallabies 36-0 at Eden Park in 2019.

Of the 28 appearances, throughout a range of competitions, where the 29-year-old competed against Australia, New Zealand have only lost four games, giving him a colossal 86 per cent win rate.

Barrett has proven himself as Australia’s kryptonite and if there is anyone that has a knack for beating the Wallabies, it’s him.

In addition to this and to assist Barrett’s attacking prowess, Foster has surrounded his star talent with his finest back line.

(Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Rather than play people out of position as he did in the first match, the All Blacks coach has opted for a more cohesive and structured combination. So, Anton Lienert-Brown, who is a superb defender, comes into the line for Rieko Ioane, who claims bench duties following that error last week.

Foster’s choice to offer Ioane an opportunity to correct his mistake, albeit from the bench, is resourceful. The 23-year-old will strive to set the record straight and provide immense impact in the latter stages of the game.

Leinert-Brown’s selection guarantees the New Zealanders maintain their defensive strength and safeguard areas where Ioane previously failed.

Due to George Bridge’s training injury, young gun Caleb Clarke – who had an energetic performance in his debut stint off the bench – will join them in the All Blacks’ starting back line. The mammoth 21-year-old offers an alternate variation of game play to Bridge, who was often stretched by the Wallabies’ attack in Bledisloe 1.

His linking up with Barrett through his tough ball-running game will be a thing of beauty and the opportunity to perform in front of his home crowd will only excite him further.

Foster didn’t just stop there. The forwards have been injected with fresh blood through the inclusion of Tupou Vaa’i and Alex Hodgman.

Vaa’i, the youngest member of Foster’s squad, will assume the role of second-rower for injured Sam Whitelock and offers a strong physical presence on the field. His selection breathes even more life into an already invigorated forward pack and allows the opportunity for his further development.

Alex Hodgman, included for his mobility around the park, demonstrates Foster’s willingness to build on their strong scrums and mauls and infuse their pack with fierce ball carriers.

Foster’s selections for Bledisloe 2 have certainly constrained Australia’s chances of winning and a gargantuan effort is required by Dave Rennie’s men if they are to leave New Zealand needing only the one home win to finally lift the cup.

How fitting would it be if a New Zealander-led Wallabies team overcame a potent All Blacks side to finally break the dreaded history that is Eden Park?

For what a Rennie-led Wallabies team could achieve, there is always hope.

Source : The Roar More   

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