Even after 36 years as the BBC‘s Rugby Correspondent, for me the thrill of a major rugby tournament never wanes, and the opening weekend of the RBS Six Nations championship has been both exciting and upsetting. There was disappointment again for England with a surprise defeat by Wales, Scotland was humbled at the hands of a regenerated France, but Ireland was able to taste victory again in beating Italy, albeit narrowly.
Monday morning starts off hectic – the first job after a match weekend is to check up on the injured players in preparation for the Italy v England on Sunday – my commentator colleagues will take care of the other nations.
The England team took a heavy-injury toll with five key players being taken off, including Mike Tindall, Andrew Sheridan and Lewis Moody. I call Richard Prescott, press officer at the RFU and am informed that at this stage four of the five won’t be available for selection this week – a big blow for a team that is struggling from the start. This means the call-up of three new players to the training squad, two of which I know well: London Irish back Shane Geraghty and Sale Sharks flanker Magnus Lund, plus the uncapped Newcastle scrum-half Lee Dickson, who I’m not so familiar with, so I hit the books for some extra research into this exciting young player.
The bulk of my day is peppered with inserts in to Radio 5 Live news and daytime programmes, giving the latest on injuries, team changes and such like. I spend a fair amount of time talking to contacts within the rugby world – after so many years in the job I have a pretty good network of ‘informants’so I can be kept talking for hours.
Tonight I’m up on 5 Live Sport, the network’s daily sports programme, to reveal some insider information that I have regarding the appointment of the Lions coach for the tour to South Africa next year.
Tuesday is much quieter with the centre of attention revolving round my previews of what the likely England team will be to face Italy on Sunday, coupled with the question of whether Jonny Wilkinson will survive after a disappointing opening performance.
The team is announced Wednesday morning at 9.45am. I get the details over the phone and am then live to air on 5 Live into Victoria Derbyshire’s programme. This is followed by various straight news and sport pieces, before hopping on the 11.30am train to Bath for the England press conference to interview the coach Brian Ashton and the power-house player Lesley Vainikolo. There is always a lot of interest in players that cross codes, in other words switch from Rugby League to Rugby Union, and Lesley will be an interesting one to watch.
I set off for Rome on Friday – once I’m in my hotel room I prepare for my part in 5 Live’s Rugby Preview Show. I then join my co-commentator Alastair Hignell for dinner and we swap war stories of our heavily delayed journeys and discuss the weekend’s action ahead. Saturday’s focal point is a trip to the England team hotel to interview coach Brian Ashton again – this is a big interview and is used on 5 Live throughout the day.
The evening is rounded off with a Rugby Writers dinner thrown by the title sponsors The Royal Bank of Scotland – a chance for all the rugby stalwarts to get together and talk about, well, rugby of course. Once back at the hotel I prepare for the morning report for
Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live, and glance through all my notes for the big match the following day.
Match day starts with a hearty breakfast and some morning reports for the radio. Then I head to the ground to arrive by 1pm, and begin with a live 10-minute interview into 5 Live Sport at 1.15pm. The BBC learned earlier that the captain Phil Vickery had a stomach bug and was to be replaced by Matt Stevens with Steve Borthwick taking over the captaincy. A mole phones this information through to us two hours before the details were made public and so we had a little exclusive. After an excellent lunch, courtesy of the Italian rugby federation, we climbed up to our commentary box at 2.30pm to make our final preparations for the commentary. The match became riveting and exciting when Italy launched a dramatic recovery in the second half to leave England clinging on for dear life for the narrowest of victories.
The final whistle went and I scripted match reports for all the evening outlets on radio, and a reflective 40-second piece to be used on Monday morning on 5 live and Radio 4 – pointing out that for England at least a win is a win and they are mid-table with Ireland. Wales and France top the table with two wins each, while Scotland and Italy each look likely to spend the next month battling to avoid the wooden spoon.