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Sky Sports throw everything they have at Pro12 coverage, and hit the mark

They had good source material, but the broadcaster nailed their first outing in the four-nation league.

ON THEIR OPENING weekend of Pro12 rugby coverage, Sky Sports came very close to having a curse to use to help furnish a legend in the coming season.

Unfortunately for Leinster fans, no such Sports Illustrated coincidence materialised.

In truth, it was one of the few things the new broadcaster was missing from its super Saturday. Llanelli v Ulster provided 64 points and eight tries shared evenly, while the repeat of last season’s final had late excitement brought about by Leinster’s delayed arrival into the new campaign.

In terms of entertainment value, they won’t always be so fortunate with their match selections, but they made damn well sure to live up to their end of the bargain.

The Sky team Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

If you’ve watched European rugby over the past decade most of the coverage will not have come as a surprise. Sky do rugby very well and for the big curtain-raise on a league they previously ignored – a point even Scott Quinnell alluded to in his ‘hoodje’ opening speech – they put all their know-how to good use.

Sure there was a little bit of schmaltz involved with their introductory montage as provinces and regions were deified, but once that was put aside the broadcaster was in full Heineken Cup mode.

Product

Before you think this is a love-in, we do have our gripes with Sky (their rights seem to have prompted the change from near-instant highlights on YouTube that we enjoyed in the RaboDirect years for one), but they are for another day.

The product they put out on Saturday was difficult to fault: There was no diddly-aye, no talking down to the competition and no half measures. All the bells and whistles were out: the camera angles and extra yards of cables that give viewers the feeling of being part of matchday rather than just a passive bystander.

For those of us desperate for kick-off to come, they give a revealing teaser trailer like when Will Greenwood and Ieuan Evans are orbiting a cameraman in the middle of the team warm-up. For those who might care less, the CCTV from the dressing room can only pique the interest of anyone who might fancy themselves as an amateur body language expert.

Personally, the Refcam will never be quite so loved, but when used sparingly the extra view can be the precise angle needed to spot something of interest at the point of contact in a scrum or in broken field (and, yeah, obviously when a referee gets knocked over by a man twice his size is good too).

None of these things are revolutionary in themselves, but together they amount to effort. And that goes a long, long way with rugby fans. And that brings us to the most simple, yet most effective innovation – Sky are talking to coaches while they’re actually coaching.

Les Kiss Roger Wilson chats with Les Kiss before Ulster left for Glasgow last week. Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Casual fans see head coaches in rugby as an odd breed. They don’t (Guy Noves accepted) prowl the touchline and become a moving piece of the puzzle as they do in football. Instead they’re usually nestled up in the stand behind a laptop and, if the producers time it just right, you’ll be lucky to see them growling orders into a walky-talky or headset.

From the moment Greenwood pulled Les Kiss to one side of the Parc Y Scarlets tunnel to get a last-minute assessment before kick-off, it was clear Sky were putting their superior pack weight to good effect. Wayne Pivac followed the path to the microphone before the first whistle and mid-game Ulster forwards coach Allen Clarke and Scarlets attack coach Mark Jones were interrupted during their busiest period of the week to give a view on the match as it progressed.

They will never divulge their deepest team secrets, but every sentence from a coach will usually contain at least one small snippet of interest. And even if you don’t enjoy meeting the characters who make the game happen or think there is no great value to their words, speaking to coaches is still a welcome change of pace from play-by-play commentary.

Saturday’s late game arguably matched the drama of Ulster v Scarlets, but it almost ruined the speaking-to-coaches-during-gameplay experiment for good.

Gregor Townsend with the team before the warm up Sky, if we can get a microphone in here that'd be great, thanks. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Glasgow 19 – 6 ahead after 65 minutes, the camera went to the stand where Gregor Townsend was mic’d up and asked to reflect on a job well done.

Only problem was, the task was far from complete. As the Leinster pack found a rhythm and Glasgow suddenly found the ball difficult to hang onto Townsend must have cursed Sky and that interview. But they all got off the hook with the final kick.

Things will not always run as smoothly for the broadcasting giant and they certainly won’t always have such dramatic contests as source material to entertain viewers. The important part is that they are putting their resources to work.

Carty’s cross-field kick for Connacht and the rest of the weekend’s Pro12 action

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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