EN ROUTE TO OSAKA, 30 Sep - Load up the bus, the travelling TV circus is on the move.
On we go, on to Osaka, for our third stop on this fascinating, ground-breaking Rugby World Cup odyssey. There are about 50 of us, all told, a rolling mass of televisual humanity - and we’re just one of the four teams covering the Rugby World Cup for the ‘World Feed’.
For non-industry types, that means we’re providing TV coverage of all the matches throughout Japan, for consumption across the planet via a plethora of different international broadcasters. We have producers, directors, sound and vision technicians, engineers, cameramen, graphics and logistics experts, you name it.
At some point we’ll have spread our collective tentacles to more than 200 countries around the globe, and with any luck we’ll have brought the drama and excitement of this extraordinary sporting spectacle to approximately a billion people.
I try not to think about that bit too much. The numbers tuning in are eye-watering. As the commentator, I’m just a small cog in this massive, complex wheel, but it’s my voice that’s heard as the tackles and tries fly in, alongside those who’ve been there and done it at the sharp (and bruising) end of our sport.
I’m spoiled to have legendary Welsh flanker Martyn Williams and New Zealand’s own Karl Te Nana with me on air, and on the bus. These boys, pictured with me on the left above, know their onions. Their analysis is second to none.
It was a genuine privilege to get the ball rolling on that emotional opening night in Tokyo. A fairytale hat-trick from Kotaro Matsushima helped a nervous host nation topple the Russians, and the Brave Blossoms were on their way.
Our mouths dropped as Camille Lopez kicked that late drop goal to give France victory over Argentina the following day, and then we headed north to Kumagaya. Thousands of schoolchildren packed the stands as Russia played Samoa, and Georgia took on Uruguay. Sheltering under their yellow sunhats, a new generation of rugby fans, new converts to the cause.
Once the pool stages are over, we’ll have been up close and personal with 13 of the 20 nations competing here. This is my sixth Rugby World Cup as a commentator, and on some of those trips I’ve been embedded with one country. It’s always illuminating to see their approach from close at hand but you can disappear into a narrow, cosseted bubble, and miss out on the wider experience of the tournament. There’s no danger of that here.
It goes without saying that this Rugby World Cup is quite unlike any other that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in. We’re all breaking new ground, to some degree or other. The tournament is spreading the rugby gospel to Asia for the first time, the players are galvanising previously untapped support, and we’re doing our best to play our part via the TV, too.
If we can draw new audiences to rugby, and help grow new sporting heroes over these six weeks, then we will have achieved our goal.
Along the way we’ll have wandered dazed and confused through the Tokyo subway, scratched our heads in wonder at the stunning array of local delicacies, soaked up both the beauty of the Japanese countryside and the dynamism and energy of their kaleidoscopic cities. We’ll also be enormously grateful to the thousands of locals who’ve guided us through it with a patience, politeness and grace that is hard to match.
Unload the bus. Standby Osaka, the circus has reached town.