Thinking and talking about rugby every day for 50+ years
5 June 2014
The Manu Samoa rugby team burst into the world scene in 1991 with a stunning entry into the second Rugby World Cup.
The team from the South Pacific marked its first ever Cup game by emphatically beating the host country Wales on the new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff; the ground which backs onto the historic original Cardiff Arms Park. Writers at the time called the result the 'greatest upset in rugby test history.' Many still do.
In the years after that most epic of sporting days the Samoa captain Peter Fatialofa allowed some exaggeration to enter into his re-telling of the story of how his team had won.
When Peter died tragically in 2013, his death plunged his home country and his adopted country of New Zealand into deep mourning. But Peter's high humour could not be doused.
His lifelong friend, the All Black Bryan ('B.G.') Williams told one story about Peter at one of several memorial services held in 'Fats' honour in Auckland.
Said Bryan to the mourners; 'When Manu Samoa beat Wales that day in 1991 Fats told me the Queen of England rang him up and said 'Hey Fats, I want you to ride with me in a horse-drawn open carriage to Buckingham Palace.
' So I accepted, ' said Fats, 'and climbed up with her. Down The Mall we went, trotting along happily in front of the huge crowds. But as we went along, just then one of the horses let out a huge fart. The Queen looked hugely embarrassed and turned to me and said, "Oh I am so dreadfully sorry.'
To which Peter said, "Oh that's all right, Your Majesty, if you hadn't mentioned it I'd have sworn it was one of the horses!'
The wettest day ever saw NZ beat Scotland 24-0 at the Eden Park pool! Deep puddles everywhere. The ABs swam better than their opponents!
The famous Scottish rugby commentator, a man who set standards in the art of television commentary which, in the end, gained him worldwide acclaim.
Raised in the Scottish border town of Hawick, where he was a teacher all his working life, young McLaren was a good enough player to earn himself a Scottish trial in the years immediately after his service in World War II. However illness struck him down and during a lengthy stay in hospital he began broadcasting over the hospital radio system.
On his discharge and unable to play anymore he took to rugby commentary. From his beloved Mansfield Park in Hawick he started on a career at the microphone that was to last more than 50 years. His first international call was on radio for a Scottish Districts game v South Africa while during the 1951-52 tour.
His reputation grew quickly and by 1953-54 he was commentating Scottish test matches from Murrayfield. He recalls how that same winter the BBC sent him to Cardiff to observe the great New Zealand radio man Winston McCarthy in action. Bill tells the story of being amazed at how excited McCarthy got during a game. ‘At one stage he nearly fell forward out of the commentary box. I had to hold his coat to keep him in the box!’
The big change for McLaren came in 1959 when, though continuing to be a shcoolmaster, he changed to working part-time for BBC television. For the first time TV commentary of rugby was turned into the unique form it is today. No more endless verbiage as required in radio description, instead an attention came to identification of players by face and number; there was explanations given of refereeing decisions; plus identification of the placement of the game on the field. And most uniquely to McLaren, entertaining background and statistical information about the personalities in the game. The man himself filled large sheets of background notes on every player taking part in every fixture he worked on. The ‘sheets’ became sought after souvenirs and sometimes were auctioned for charity at rugby dinners.
McLaren lived by his attention to preparation; he often told budding broadcasters ‘the secret of good broadcasting is never to neglect your homework.’
He did all his work to perfection and became a huge personality in the game. It was all done with a gentle Scottish accent and cheerful attitude to life which was admired with affection all over the world. His influence over all things was perhaps summed up by one Scottish player, lamenting a narrow loss one time in the Five Nations Championship. Said the player, ‘aye, we’d have played much better if Bill McLaren had been commentatin’.’
Bill continued at the microphone until he was close to 80 years of age. He retired from BBC TV in 2002 after exactly 50 years of international broadcasting. The reaction to his departure was amazing, with much media coverage in press, radio and TV and, of course from his many fans around the world who had learned much more about rugby because of his lifetime’s commitment to it.
Which Irish rugby player of modern vintage has the nickname of '36?'