London Welsh woe cuts deep
April 17, 2013
London Welsh's Nick Scott reflects on his side's plight during their latest Premiership loss last weekend © Getty Images
Impartiality, I was taught from a very early stage in what can loosely be termed as my sports broadcasting career, is a pre-requisite to doing the job. (It was obviously also essential in my other incarnation when considering contestants on I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! but I don't think the Peter Andre versus Kerry Katona debate quite arouses the same passions as England versus Wales for painful instance.)
Granted, there are moments when you are covering a game weeping on the inside, as I did when the Lions lost the third and decisive Test in Melbourne in 2001. Summoning the expected "measured view" takes a herculean effort. All you actually want to do is let it all out, sob like an X-Factor reject, let the mascara run down your cheeks and have a scrum down with the nearest Aussie to purge the frustration. (Our Antipodean guest that day was the magnificent and mild mannered Michael Lynagh who for some reason declined the invitation to "Touch, Pause, Engage" with me.)
So I have had my moments when I have been teetering on the brink of breaking the Seventh sports presenter's commandment "Thou shalt not stray from impartiality." (The other six commandments involve hair gel and shades of blusher.) However, for the first two years of ESPN's coverage of the Aviva Premiership there wasn't even a nanosecond, which sounds extremely brief whatever it may mean, when the "I" principle came close to being compromised.
As a child my father was anything but tribal in his club rugby persuasions. We used to go to Leicester every year just after Christmas to watch the Tigers take on the Barbarians. Being a North London bovver boy (albeit sporting a bright pink school blazer) Wasps occasionally got our patronage, as did Quins and London Irish. Bath got a look in. In fact just about any club in the northern hemisphere was on our radar. We were fickle. Our only true and undiluted passions were for England, the Lions and Rugby Special on the BBC on a Sunday afternoon. So impartiality covering the Aviva Premiership, not a problem.
This season a dilemma arose. London Welsh were promoted to the top flight of English rugby. Now, I'm not Welsh, but I could have been. My best friend at my first school (the pink blazer crew) was called Huw Thomas. It may not surprise you to discover he is Welsh. His Dad, enterprisingly, is called Hywel (they like to stick to what they know these Thomases). They cunningly lured me into the cult of the London Welsh Mini Rugby scene and before I knew it I was playing in a side of Gareths, Bleddyns and Myfanwys. (In fact our hooker was and is called Dan Bronks but that doesn't aid the impression I am trying to create.)
Former Labour Party leader and beacon of Welshiness Neil Kinnock was coaching the year group above. (Surely he and the mighty boot Neil Jenkins must be related?). I blobbed and weaved around Dukes Meadows and Old Deer Park for much of my youth. I even went on an enlightening tour to France where I played my one and thankfully only game in the second row. So you get the idea - I was nearly Welsh. I lived in London. I have since married a Welsh maiden (she didn't sound Welsh and I'd fallen before I could consider the implications.)
I still live in London. So all this is giving you the background to why this season I had to work especially hard to conceal the "soft spot" I undoubtedly have for London Welsh. They've been dealt a pretty poor hand from the start of their Premiership dream to the bitter end last weekend at the Kassam Stadium. Instinctively, I want to cry "rough justice!!" from the roof tops, but then I wonder whether my impartiality has deserted me and all those years of pulling on a heavy cottoned red shirt have tainted my judgment. Whatever your view on that, I am sure you, like me, a London-almost-Welshman, would want to wish the departing Exiles all the luck in the world for their onward journey. They certainly deserve it…….don't they?
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Mark Durden-Smith is the lead presenter for live Aviva Premiership Rugby on ESPN
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter