Tom Rees Column
Branching out
Tom Rees
January 28, 2010
BBC commentator Bill McLaren prepares for a game, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, January 30, 2002
Rees is following in the footsteps of the late, great Bill McLaren by venturing behind the mic © Getty Images

So far, most of my entries to this column have been about my continuing rehab and I am happy to report that things are still going well with my return to play creeping closer by the day. There has however been a lot of time in which I have had to fill in order to stay sane.

My guitar playing has progressed to the point where you can now tell which song it is that I am butchering, but my enjoyment for the hobby left my skill far behind. I now have four guitars and am sure I have contracted Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. I can't explain it, but they do provide a welcome distraction, even if my flatmate Rob Webber would be far happier if I could play just one of them well.

For another distraction, John Inverdale recently showed me round BBC Television Centre. John kindly offered me the tour if I had some time on my hands, and while unfortunate that I do, it was interesting to see the amount of work that goes into the programmes, as sometimes its very easy to take the level of quality for granted. I was also able to visit the Blue Peter studio, which the eight-year-old in me was over the moon about.

At Wasps this week, things have been odd with a number of players away with the England squads, but the emptiness was offset by Maximuscle, who brought down a number of their ambassadors for a series of challenges. There were endurance, speed, and strength competitions, all being hotly contested. The star performers for each team would have to have been Tom Varndell, who despite being put forward for the Wasps team for most of the challenges, blitzed the sprint and Sam Bond (the Gladiator Atlas) who did the best impression of Superman that I've seen in the vertical jump.

While it has been important for me to keep my state of mind in a good place with these distractions, there has always been a nagging at the back of my mind. Being appointed club captain, then having a long lay off recovering from surgery without playing a game has been difficult. There has been nothing but support from everyone at Wasps, but I find it difficult not to feel like I'm letting people down. With this firmly in my mind I have tried to help in as many of the off-field aspects of the club as I can, and whilst this is partly to ease my conscience, it does throw up some enjoyable events as well.

I recently helped with the club's Official Supporters Trip to Paris for our European Challenge Cup match against Racing Metro 92. We travelled on Thursday on Eurostar and when at the hotel I had my first Q&A hosting experience. It will also probably be the last as I might have suggested that Club chairman Mark Rigby was from the Old Testament, and completely forgot that the reason Paul Sackey wasn't playing was that he had fractured his cheek the week before.

After, we watched the game and despite the disappointment of the defeat, it was a very enjoyable match. The supporters then had until Sunday in the French capital, as when they booked the trip the date of the fixture had yet to be decided, but I had to return with the team. For some reason Wasps didn't fancy funding a weekend in Paris for me.

On a home match day, I have regularly been assisting (or hindering depending on your point of view) the BBC London radio commentary. My role is supposedly that of an expert, who can lend opinions on the game and back up the head commentator with recaps on any good passages of play. This has served partly to make me watch the game in a more analytical way rather than a spectator, but mainly it's just showed me how hard it is to describe a game of rugby without pictures.

I keep having to think about how to best describe what's happening without saying such useful things like 'over there' or 'like that', but so much happens so quickly that by the time I've gotten out what I wanted to say three more phases of play may have passed. So, if it's ever frustrated you that when listening to rugby on the radio - one second your team is carrying the ball into contact and the next the opposition are scoring under the posts without any clue as to why - please take pity on the commentator, its not as easy as it sounds.

Like all involved in the rugby world, it was with great sadness that I read of the death of Bill McLaren. Most of my early experiences of watching rugby were accompanied by Bill's commentary, and I'm not sure if there has or will ever be anyone whose words could be as enthusiastic, informative and fair, to the point where they became as much a part of the sport as the game itself.


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