Six Nations: A game of two halves for TV pundits

Chris Paterson: Incisive comments. Picture: Lesley Martin
Chris Paterson: Incisive comments. Picture: Lesley Martin
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GIVEN that they weren’t able to start on BBC1 Scotland until some Hearts players couldn’t do something as simple as put the round ball in the net from 12 yards, the Beeb’s Six Nations commentary team found their true status in life yesterday.

Football is king on telly, but in an age of almost demented football commentators it is good to know that rugby has a genuine broadcaster of knowledge and wit. Believe it or not, it is now ten years since Andrew Cotter took to our screens as a rugby commentator. He rarely appears on screen, but whether it’s rugby, golf, tennis or covering other sports at the Olympics, Cotter is always thoroughly professional behind the microphone and, like the great Bill McLaren, always well-researched.

No one could replace the Voice of Rugby, of course, but when Cotter moved from covering sport on radio to the BBC’s television coverage of rugby two years after McLaren retired in 2002, at least it was good to hear a Scottish accent again. The lad from Troon did yet another highly professional job yesterday when commentating from the Aviva Stadium, though it’s a pity the French and Philosophy graduate from Glasgow University seems to lack the confidence to voice his own opinion more often, because he does know the game backwards and often picks up on things that the pundits miss.

He did fail to highlight a glaring stamp by a Scottish player and glossed over the referee telling big Jim Hamilton “every time something happens you’re involved” but, overall, Cotter gave a rounded, scrupulously fair and informative view of the game.

He also had one or two couthy phrases, such as Cian Healy doing a “little scamper” – bet it didn’t look like that to the Scottish defenders waiting to tackle 17 stones on the hoof.

Yesterday Cotter was assisted by former internationalists Chris Paterson, of Scotland, and Phil Matthews of Ireland, and the Scot in particular chipped in some incisive comments replete with his experience of the game.

Mossy’s voice is not highly distinctive, but his analysis was spot on – he was the first to spot that referee Craig Joubert was being hard on players not rolling away – while Matthews went from worrying about Ireland all through the first half to not quite gloating at their second half tries.

Very few former players make natural broadcasters. Andy Nicol was no natural at first but, by dint of hard work, he is now a first-class analyst – arguably the only one on yesterday’s team, which overall did not have a good day in punditry terms. He was a bit short-changed by the BBC, because they had handed their graphics box of tricks to Jonathan Davies, and the Welshman used it to counter one of Andy’s arguments. Nicol at least had the temerity to stick to his guns, and he also had the best phrase to sum up Scotland’s contribution: “In the first half there was good build-up play but no cutting edge – in the second half there was not even good build-up play.”

Between Nicol and Davies sat Keith Wood, Ireland’s greatest-ever hooker. For someone who had just seen his team thump Scotland, old Uncle Fester seemed a bit subdued, and he sounded ominous in saying that England and France had both played better than Ireland in their match.

It was not a good day for the usually smooth and affable presenter John Inverdale who, when highlighting the BBC’s tennis coverage at half-time, referred to “England” possibly winning last night’s Davis Cup match against the United States. That’s the “England” team captained by Leon Smith, of Glasgow, and included Andy Murray, of Dunblane, and Colin Fleming, of Broxburn, not to mention Kyle Edmund, born in South Africa.

But the real puzzle about the BBC’s coverage of yesterday’s match was their use of Jill Douglas. This excellent broadcaster is wasted in the role of pitchside interviewer, for the Hawick lass knows more about rugby than most men in the job. Let’s have more Jill and Andy and less piffling punditry.