Trying to squeeze two days and 45 matches of pulsating action into 26 minutes is a little like cracking 20 eggs into a half-pint glass. Most of the yolks will stay intact, but some of the gold might be lost along the way.
After the spectacle of two days’ live coverage from the Gold Coast Sevens, the IRB Sevens World producers have to do just that, and the first highlights show of the new season is due to head out to broadcasters today.
Throughout the tournament the commentators – in the Gold Coast they were Nigel Starmer-Smith, Greg Clark, Willie Lose, Greg Martin and Karl Tenana – called the action of every match between them and the highlights show becomes a celebration of the telling moments, the best tries and also the finest moments of commentary.
By the end of the matches the players are exhausted – I sometimes feel a small pang of guilt pointing a microphone their way and asking them to describe the last 14 lung-busting minutes – but with the pace of the Sevens game the commentators too need to draw breath and collect their thoughts, before getting back to work to prepare notes for their next game.
I imagine cricket’s Test Match Special to be something akin to the Sevens commentary box – an all-day team effort and one where there’s a lot more work going on behind the scenes than you’d ever imagine. Not all cakes and cups of tea.
And so the job of the highlights producers is to catch this ball of energy after 20 hours of action and run the story of the weekend, on and off the pitch, in 26 short minutes. It’s like sporting alchemy.
My lucky duty is to voice over the final product, link things together, but it’s really just the icing on a very big cake that’s taken a whole week to bake.
Obviously, the programmes have all the best of the action for rugby-lovers to feast on, but I think there’s also a universality to the show, which should make it appeal to most casual sports fan.
Newcomers and comeback kings
Firstly there are the 16 nations in action, which is rare in itself, from New Zealand and Australia the eventual finalists on the Gold Coast, to Fiji and Samoa in the Pacific; Scotland, France, and Portugal in Europe; Kenya and South Africa; Argentina, Canada. The list goes on..
This time there are the newcomers and the comeback kings. The first highlights show of a new season is always interesting because there are inevitably World Series debuts that unearth unknown, raw talent and also those players returning from injury after weeks, if not months, of rehab.
For anyone who’s ever experienced the heartbreak of injury and the sweat of rehab, there’s a piece with England’s giant forward Chris Cracknell, who ruptured his ACL and tore the meniscus in his knee on exactly the same pitch this time last year. It’s an injury that, in his own words, “a lot of people would have retired from, back in the day”, and it was remarkable to see him back and out there competing at the highest level.
If you’re interested in coaching, the USA’s new man in charge, Matt Hawkins, is quizzed on the intriguing dynamic of a player crossing the divide to become a coach, and then opting to pick himself as a player-coach.
In the category of newcomers the action reveals another New Zealander looking every inch to the manor born, Wellington’s Ambrose Curtis scoring tries for fun on debut, albeit on the end of a very good backline and as New Zealand scorched to the title. And this season fans are even being encouraged to nominate best performances by a ‘rookie’ at each round. Curtis must be right up there on the Gold Coast, alongside Samoa’s Misioka Timoteo and Australia’s Alex Gibbon. Tweet in your suggestions to @IRBSevens using #sevensrookie.
Most of all, though, it’s just great sporting action and the Australia-South Africa Cup semi, which needed nearly all 10 minutes of sudden death extra time, will go down as one of those matches, followed by a trans-Tasman final right out of the top drawer. It’s well worth a watch.