Inverdale relishing Six Nations feast
January 30, 2008
"We're almost like an aged boy band, a decrepit Westlife, and the key thing is I don't think we're about to break up." Graham Jenkins talks to the BBC's John Inverdale
This year's eagerly-awaited Six Nations is almost upon us and many of you will be following the story of this year's Championship on the BBC.
Once again fronting the corporation's coverage of the northern hemisphere's showpiece event will be veteran broadcaster, and friend of Scrum, John Inverdale.
Scrum.com's Editor Graham Jenkins caught up with the BBC stalwart on the eve of the big kick off to get his views on the Championship and to find out just how well he gets on with Jiffy, Jerry, Mooro et al.
Scrum: John, you have many fans' ideal job fronting the BBC coverage of the Championship - you must love this time of year?
Invers: "It's one of those funny things. Every year you think 'oh here we go again', and you wonder whether you will have the same level of enthusiasm that you've had in days gone by. But I was at the official launch at the Hurlingham club and I got there and there are 300 journalists, film crews wherever you looked, and I thought yeah, this is great.
"Sometimes it just needs something to kick start you into thinking here we go again - and not think here we go again in a kind of complacent kind of way. And the great thing about this year's Championship, in day's gone by, or often after a World Cup, the Six Nations can be something of an anti-climax, but I think this year for various reasons, it is one of the most eagerly anticipated that I can ever remember."
Scrum: We get very excited at this time of year as the Six Nations officially signals the end of the post-festive season blues - I guess you would agree that the Six Nations Championship holds a special place in the sporting calendar?
Invers: "At this time of the year there is not an awful lot, to make you smile or get you out of bed in the morning, but I do find the Six Nations the most uplifting competition which is why I think so many sports are quite jealous of it.
"The great thing about it is that the matches takes place in the most fantastic places. Rome, Paris, Edinburgh, Dublin, the Millennium Stadium must still be my favourite stadium of all. If you were sitting there with a blank piece of paper and said 'let's plan out a perfect competition', involving international teams, you would struggle to come up with a better competition than this.
Scrum: Bringing things back to your 'job', you seem to have a great deal of fun with the likes of Jerry (Jeremy Guscott), Jiffy (Jonathan Davies) and Mooro (Brian Moore) - there is a real clubhouse banter feel to your analysis. Do you really get on that well?
Invers: "We do get on very well, which I think is important, we're almost like an aged boy band, a decrepit Westlife, and the key thing is I don't think we're about to break up!
"We all get on reasonably well, and everybody brings something different to the party and I think that is one of the key things about it. We have Keith Wood, Andy Nicol, Jerry and Jiffy as the 'Home Nations' but they are all very different characters.
"We have also got three commentators as well who are very different people, Eddie Butler, Nick Mullins and Andrew Cotter. If you throw it all in the mix and you've got a very eclectic mix of personalities which I genuinely think works on air.
"The Eddie Butler/Brian Moore commentary duo has attracted a lot of comment and criticism which I think as time goes one people will realise - I think that they are the best commentary duo there is, I really do, there's just that little edge the whole time. In the banter that goes one which I personally find compelling and enjoy listening to.
Scrum: And I guess it make your job easier when these guys are so happy share an opinion or two?
Invers: "The thing about it is that the guys know what they are talking about. Which is stating the obvious but it does matter. The key thing is to say it in an interesting an intelligent way that makes you the listener or the viewer more informed and entertained.
"I think the absolutely key thing for the BBC is anyway, that it is different to the remit that Sky have for example. Sky is dealing in much smaller numbers and a more defined audience. And you don't watch a Heineken Cup tie on Sky unless you are interested in rugby. Our audience is, I think we averaged 4.5m last year and up to 8m on occasions.
"The nature of the audience is that a huge percentage of that number does not normally watch rugby. So it is no good getting to intense or serious about it, you're there in an almost evangelical way to get people into the sports that are otherwise outside it."
Scrum: That said, you must be excited about having messrs Dallaglio and Ibanez joining the BBC team?
Invers: "Not bad signings I would say. And someone who I haven't mentioned who I think is extremely good is Austin Healey. Who again, he is somebody who will say something that will spark a debate or a comment that lifts it and lightens it so that you do not get to intense.
Lawrence gets on very well with Jerry so I'm sure he will fit in very well. And the thing about Ibanez is that he speaks such great English again, it does make a difference if he is never struggling for words like one or two people we have used in the past. The key with our group is that everyone is an equal partner. There's no weak link that you can't go to at any point.
Scrum: It's such a well-trodden path now from the field into the media sphere - but do you agree that some wrongly assume it is an easy one to make?
Invers: "It is one of those things these days that everyone assumes that, 'what are you going to do when you've finished playing? Oh, I think I'll get into the media'. Which must make us think that our job is for complete idiots? However, I think we're lucky in rugby that most people who do it are very good."
Scrum: You must have some treasured Championship memories as a fan and as a broadcaster - are there any that stick out?
Invers: "The first game I saw was when my Dad took me to see England v Ireland in 1970 and Bob Hiller kicked two drop goals from the halfway line.
"All the way though, I've always felt that's it's not just about the matches, and I know it can sound trite sometimes, but it isn't, it is the occasion, it is the city, it is the people, it is the drink, is the food, it is everything else that goes with it.
"That is the enduring appeal, what I also think is that how wonderful it is that Rome has been added to roster, because the Italian weekend is something else. When you think about great sporting days, watching a match at the Stadio Flaminio when the sun is beating down, short sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts and then walking back to the Piazza del Popolo for a pizza, that's a really bum day isn't it?! Just fantastic."
Scrum: "Everyone involved in this year's Six Nations, including the BBC as broadcasters, must be delighted at how open this year's Championship appears to be?
"That's the great thing about it but I've got a funny feeling that England might win it and win it quite well. If I was having a bet then I think Scotland might upset France in the opening weekend, which then throws the whole thing open.
"Lots of new coaches, lots of new players - the French have kicked out anyone over 20 and put in a load of teenagers, I'm exaggerating of course but you know what I mean. And then there's the Haskell's and the Cipriani's in the England set-up. Across the board, what is Gatland going to bring to Wales, what will Mallett give to the Italians, I think it is really, really, fascinating.
Scrum: So who is going to be stealing the headlines over the next eight weeks?
Invers: "I think one of them most interesting aspects of the whole Championship is Wilkinson.
"How is he going to react to all the talk about Cipriani and whoever, there's so many good players, who are knocking on the door - and some are ready to come crashing through. How is Wilkinson going to respond to that?
"And he's at the age, he's been around for so long that you think he must be n his 30s, but he's almost at the optimum age mentally of coping with the demands of international rugby. There's no reason why Jonny shouldn't be, couldn't be the outstanding player of this championship.
"Maybe this is the time where he steps out of his own shadow again and shows everyone how brilliant he is.
Scrum: You're lucky enough to take in the Championship at first hand - any particular matches already circled on your calendar?
Invers: "Wales v Scotland is always a good game. Scotland v England at Murrayfield too. France v England, 9pm on a Saturday night, a lot of unfinished business from the World Cup there.
"When you look back a few years ago when the powers that be that said we must have England v France as the final game, every year, because that will always be the decider - i.e. there is only two teams in this and the rest are making up the numbers - thank heavens nobody listened to those people.
"The last weekend we will present the programme from somewhere, but who's to say where. Most likely we'll be at Twickenham or Cardiff but last year but we could have been at any one of the three venues."
Scrum: The BBC will be breaking new ground on a technical front this year with their coverage John, and you must be delighted at the fact that you will be appearing in HD in many living rooms up and down the country?
Invers: "Not remotely. I'm told it makes you look so old and ragged that I do not know too many people who appear on TV that are fans of HD! We've also got 'Spidercam' that promises to add a new dimension to the coverage. But let's not get carried away. People want to see the match, they want to see the key moments analysed intelligently and then they want to go to the pub and discuss it with there mates - if they're not in the pub already!"
Scrum: Now, we've heard you tip England to take the glory but what about the Wooden Spoon - would you agree that Italy look most likely to prop up the table this year?
Invers: "I think yes because I've just got a feeling that the psychological blow of losing that (Rugby World Cup) match in St Etienne against Scotland is huge.
"It would have been a huge forward step for Italy in terms of the game as whole and they blew it and I think there may be some leftovers from that. Mallet may have knocked that out of them but my instinct is that it' Italy for the Wooden Spoon. I also think Warren Gatland may actually be a big influence during the course of the next six or seven weeks.
Scrum: Finally John, many of our readers will remember your links with Esher Rugby Club - how are things going down there?
"It's probably my main job in life actually! As director of rugby I spend so much time there and am involved in such a big way and it really eats up my time. We've had a very respectable first season in (National League) Division One so things are going well.
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