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Premiership Postcards

October 1, 2010

Tales from The Leaky Caravan

Posted on 10/01/2010

The ESPN team pictured in 'The Leaky Caravan' at Madejski Stadium © Getty Images

Ten live matches, 2,690 business miles, countless coffee stops at motorway services and a trip to Newcastle aboard the Flying Scotsman later, I think we’ll all be ready for a bit of a breather after the Premiership’s opening five-week block.

ESPN might have had to wait until the opening weekend in September to lose our Premiership virginity, but we’ve been going at it like Tim Payne and Brett Deacon ever since. Time now to take stock.

Nine out of ten cats who’ve expressed an opinion seem to like the slightly laid-back, occasionally perpendicular and very often chaotic approach we bring to our match day television coverage.

I dare say there are more than one or two of you who still have reservations - and even more who aren’t coughing up the (incredibly reasonable!) £9 a month yet to get us - but we’re working hard to win you and them over.

The tone was set in Twickenham’s West Car Park on day one. Barely-controlled mayhem enveloped the flashy contraption our bosses call the mobile studio and we’ve dubbed The Leaky Caravan (see Watford last Sunday).

It must have seemed like a bright idea in the production meeting weeks before, but the reality of plonking a live TV stage in the thick of a rugby crowd who’d been supping for a solid six hours was fabulously predictable. Think Sex Pistols at The Marquee Club in 1977 and you won’t be far off. I doubt Mike Catt’s ever experienced a post-match interview quite like it.

The caravan’s already become the star of the show. Players have quickly cottoned on to the idea that targeting Austin, perched in it pitch-side like a coconut, adds enormously to the fun of the pre-match kick around. Jim Mallinder’s triumphant walk towards it through an adoring Franklin’s Gardens public is a modern classic. Toby Booth thought he’d been drafted on to The Muppet Show and Gloucester Man (and Woman) proved whatever the West Car Park got up to after a match, Kingsholm could do better.

Away from the weekend, one of the joys of the job is getting to spend time with the teams as they go through their preparation. While it’s true one training session does tend to resemble another, every club has its own innovations and traditions that set them apart.

Exeter nearly pulled off mission impossible after spending the week on a pitch carefully marked out to the precise measurements of Welford Road. Saracens’ pack huddled around recordings of Dave Pearson”s “crouch, touch, pause...engage” to try to time their hit to perfection. Forensic planning that was almost scuppered when Dave nearly missed the match with Northampton after getting caught in a jam on the M4. And the final ten minutes of Leicester’s session on Tuesday went straight to the top of the list marked Most Brutal.

Early days for us all then, but if the opening five weeks suggest anything, they suggest it’s going to be worth staying on for the ride...

ESPN commentator Nick Mullins

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September 3, 2010

The long and winding road

Posted on 09/03/2010

ESPN's Ben Kay and Nick Mullins will be guiding you through this season's Aviva Premiership © Getty Images

ESPN's Nick Mullins brings us his first Premiership Postcard ahead of the season openers

The obvious - and occasionally not so obvious - signs that a new season’s almost with us have been steadily increasing as the summer’s drawn on. The first tremors began to appear in my laptop inbox as June turned to July. At the moment there are 408 saved messages, 407 of which have the word “rugby” somewhere in their title.

They include a vast swathe from Premiership Rugby and individual clubs, making sure we don’t miss announcements of new signings, sad farewells, press days and how much a season ticket in the Booth Street car park next to Edgeley Park will set you back. You can always rely on Dave Swanton - Sale’s press guru - to lighten the gloom. It’s £100 by the way. Good value.

And then there have been the ones from ESPN. Whilst everyone involved is as chuffed as an American with a lifetime’s supply of hot-dogs to be covering the Aviva Premiership, the enormity of the challenge - broadcasting 43 live matches from around the grounds when last season you didn’t do any - has been slowly sinking in.

I’ve had my own, personal, finely-tuned pre-season routine. It didn’t start too well. I fear suggesting the Blue Anchor beside Hammersmith Bridge for the first meeting with new producer David didn’t send a particularly business-like signal. I made sure when I shook hands with our new director Steve for the first time it was at least beside a rugby pitch. Much more professional.

We were watching Harlequins train at their impressive new base at the Surrey Sports Park. It’s nowhere near as convenient to get to as the ramshackle old place off the A3 in Roehampton, but at least there’s no danger of contracting woodworm anymore.

The highlight of a full-on session was Nick Easter being clobbered by Joe Marler. Poor old Nick was on licorice stick legs as he struggled to remember whether he was in Guildford or Godalming.

It helps to see the teams I’ll be commentating on in the week leading up to the match. It used to be a logistical problem when it was say Ireland and Italy in the Six Nations, but I’m already finding there aren’t enough days in the week when you’ve got four clubs to get around.

You often rely on the coach’s good nature to let you into sessions that are normally closed. Reveal any state secrets though and it’s the last session you’ll go to.

It’s worth the effort. This week I’ve learnt how quiet a Wasps photo-shoot is without Cipriani and Sackey, how the latter raced Tom Voyce in his new Ferrari down to Toulon and why Toby Booth dips old Irish training balls into buckets of water.

The big concern - what with all the extra miles criss-crossing the country over the next few weeks - is whether the lease car company will let me go over their 36,000 limit before I hand it back in November. I think the contract’s somewhere in my saved box. It’ll be the one without “rugby” at the top.

ESPN commentator Nick Mullins

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