Rugby on the radio can do surprising things to a bloke

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You never know when you might learn something, never mind what or where.

For your loyal correspondent the most recent epiphany arrived on the eastern reaches of Waiheke Island last Saturday afternoon, just hours before the first rugby international of the season, the All Blacks v Ireland test at New Plymouth.

It’s true, being trapped on an island with your wife and in-laws for three days and being forced to drive a people mover would be bad enough in some folks’ books.

But this situation was far more extreme – the discovery of a television signal so limited that only channels One to C4 could be detected. Certainly not Sky, but even worse, not even Prime – rugby’s free-to-air rights’ holders.

A scramble to re-tune the channels slowly descended into a static-laden panic, until there came a time when all involved had to sit back and examine the options. There was only one. Drive to the local sports bar and watch it on the big screen.

There, however, it was discovered that the entire evening had been devoted to a local karaoke contest. Sport was apparently taking a temporary back-seat for the night. Ours is not to ask why, but I mean, really…

Suffice to say the rugby was listened to, rather than watched. There was an attempt to introduce a 1940s theme and to imagine that everyone else was listening to the radio commentary too, but it was a rather strained pretence.

How bad was it? I think I started chatting to my wife during the game. Not only that, when she spoke to me I found myself actually listening to what she said.

For all that, the pain of the experience at least allowed us to revisit one pertinent issue – the free-to-air rights package shared by all the major broadcasters during next year’s Rugby World Cup tournament.

Previously panned as a government cop-out to deny Maori TV owning the exclusive free-to-air rights, the arrangement may have a bit more going for it if last weekend’s experience was any guide.

Perhaps there is a method to the madness, when you hear of so many Kiwis living in bach-like conditions in relatively undeveloped areas. If the signal can be so weak at Waiheke – virtually a suburb of Auckland – no small number stand to be affected.

At least now it can be claimed that, under the current proposals, anyone with a television set in New Zealand should be able to catch some RWC action next year.

Not that there’s any guarantees.

Sky lost their transmission for six minutes midway through their post-match interviews at New Plymouth last Saturday, and British broadcaster ITV were left red-faced when they missed England’s goal in the World Cup match against the United States, having inadvertently taken an ad-break.

All going well, however, the arrangement to allow everyone to share in next year’s televised world cup experience should be a healthy one and can only be good for the game, the tournament and the viewer.

Which all goes to show – it’s surprising what being forced to listen to a radio commentary can do to a bloke.