Rugby Europe's Andy Tounge goes behind
the scenes with the Sky team at a Heineken Cup match
Having signed a three year deal with ERC last year to broadcast the Heineken Cup, Parker Pen Challenge Cup and Parker Pen Shield, SKY are obviously keen to cover the games with their customary zeal. No less than 92 people are involved with the game between Wasps and the Celtic Warriors at Wycombe, which I went along to watch the team in action.
Many of them, including Production Manager Chrissie Scott and Executive Producer Martin Turner, were on duty at Gloucester the day before and having reported for work at 8.30am could be excused for battling fatigue. But the combination of adrenaline of live 'OB' ('outside broadcasts' to you and me) and consummate professionalism means the atmosphere is buzzing as I turn up.
Commentary duo Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes are chomping on double cheeseburgers and giving plaudits to the Wasps catering company, while at the same time watching with disbelief as Ulster take apart a Leicester side minus Martin Johnson in the firsthalf of SKY's live double-header from Belfast.
In the temporary studio, constructed at one end of the stadium, special guest Sir Clive Woodward appears somewhat shell-shocked by the result and equally baffled at his World-Cup winning skipper's demotion to the bench. In contrast, Ulsterman Jeremy Davidson,Woodward's fellow guest and Johnson's second -row partner on the victorious 1997 Lions Tour to South Africa, is practically bursting out of his not insignificant frame with pride.
As the wind gets up I muse out aloud about the safety of the cameraman up the crane bringing viewers the panoramic shots of the action and the surrounding Berkshire countryside. "It's okay," Chrissie assures me. "He's okay up there so long as the wind stays below 30 mph,"
Sky Sports' Martin Turner
A quick conversation on her radio. "It's about 25 at the moment," she says. ring the game Turner stares at his bank of 18 or so screens constantly calling up the shots he want to use.
Replays of key moments are dropped in during stoppages before the screen switches slickly back to the live action.
All passes relatively serenely but suddenly with the game in the balance at 9-9 it explodes into life as the underdogs, Celtic Warriors, score a try in the corner after a clever little chip through. But there is some doubt as to whether the attacking player touched the corner flag before touching down.
"Get it," Turner yells. "Get me the shot. Slow it down. Freeze it as his foot touches the flag."
It is the moment of destiny for the VT team and they do not let the team down. The chosen camera shows the reply, slowing down to super-mo and then is frozen showing that the Warriors man did indeed brush the flag with his boot before grounding the ball. The referee's decision to award the try stands and Wasps coach Warren Gatland has no complaints afterwards but the viewers have been well served by the production team's professionalism.
The final whistle goes signalling the end of the action on the pitch but in the gallery the show is far from over. Postmatch interviews with Man-of-the-match, coaches and players have to be carried out by the touchline reporter Graham Simmons and analysis and Pool tables all have to be squeezed in before the programme goes off air.
The end is finally signalled with a montage of shots from the day's coverage, which has been compiled byvthe edit team as the afternoon progressed - to the sound of Steve Harley's 'Cockney Rebel'.
When the credits have finally finished rolling their is satisfaction at a job well done. But the respite will only be shortlived. The following weekend another five games will be shown live.
That means another week of planning and preparation and three more days of coverage from the Friday night through to Sunday evening.
SKY's commitment to ERC rugby means that there are precious few days off in the month of January. â-