At the start of a big year for rugby, David Hennessy talks to Craig Doyle, the face of BT Sport’s coverage of the sport
Presenting coverage of rugby on BT Sport since 2013, the novelty has not worn off for huge rugby fan Craig Doyle: “I’ve just been in the office for the last two hours collating information about the PRO 12 teams and sending it out to Lawrence Dallaglio, Austin Healy, Ugo Monye and Dave Flatman and all these guys. I love that side of it, I suppose the old journo in me enjoys the fact finding and I get a thrill in sending information to these guys I watched play rugby and I have to pinch myself still that that happens. Although some were always good friends, all have now become good friends. It’s a hobby more than anything else, I have to admit. It’s not a chore. The hours are long, I work a lot of days but I love it.”
Now part of his team is Brian O’Driscoll. What is it like to work with the Ireland legend who retired last year? “It’s great. I’ve known Brian a long time but I was the journalist and he was the sportsman and I would always be snooping and he would always be a little bit more guarded as I tried to get a taste of his world over the twelve years, now he’s come into ours and he’s an absolute natural. The desire to be brilliant at it and to exceed at it is much like I suppose his desire in sport. These guys are built, aren’t they, mentally just to want to be the best they can possibly be in everything they do and it’s really brilliant watching him grow into it.
“And he’s just a really nice guy. It’s great, I’m no longer a journalist to him so all that suspicion goes and I suppose we become work pals.
“To have a player fresh out as well to bring that level of insight, he sees the game four times, five times faster than I do. The things he sees are unbelievable and it’s great to watch. To sit beside him, watch a game and listen to his comments, it’s like: ‘Woah, how do you see that so quickly?’ That kind of vision stays with these guys forever.”
Interestingly, Brian O’Driscoll did not have good eyesight for much of his career and could only see shapes coming towards him on the pitch. This could contribute to his unique and sharp observations on the game: “I was a very poor rugby player so I was always like: ‘Is this guy going to run at me or am I going to run at him?’ It was very simple. These guys think differently: ‘Where are his hips pointing? What are his eyes saying? What’s his right shoulder doing? What’s his left shoulder doing?’
“The minutiae, the stuff they’re looking for, is incredible. Brian wouldn’t have had that option because he couldn’t see their eyes, he could barely see their heads so I think he was probably looking for different things and maybe it gave him a different kind of edge, I think.
“He kept that one quiet and rightly so, what a boost for the opposition if you know the guy you’re marking can’t see properly. I’m not surprised he kept that one quiet, it’s another testament to him: Arguably the best Irish player ever and he couldn’t even see properly. Wow.”
Does Craig expect some of Ireland’s big players, like Paul O’Connell and Gordon D’Arcy to, like Brian last year, wave goodbye after this world cup? “I loved Brian as a player. He’s a great bloke and I really like him but I do think some people will look back and go: ‘Actually, Paulie was one of our true legends. I think we shouldn’t think of Paul in Brian’s shadow. Paul is equal to Brian in rugby terms, a slightly less glamorous position. Big players take on big responsibility in big moments and Paul is another one of those. He’s been huge for Ireland and Munster, absolutely huge, this big marauding lunatic. You watch him play and think anything is possible with him on board. He’s phenomenal. I’m a big fan of Paul O’Connell. Can his body take much more? I don’t know. Mind you, I’m still watching Peter Stringer do it for Bath and he’s one of the fittest guys on the team.
“As for Gordon D’Arcy, I don’t think there’s been a centre partnership that has played together in world rugby more than Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll which is an incredible statistic but his body’s got to be hurting a little bit.
“Also, there comes a time when you’ve got to bring young guys through and we’re seeing that at the moment, we’re seeing Jared Payne, Henshaw and McCloskey of Ulster possibly coming through. There’s a lot of fellas coming through so Gordon will know when it’s time to hand over the shirt.”
Craig’s team have been London Irish dating back to his early days in London. On their recent form, he says: “It’s all pretty dismal at the moment. For me, the heyday of London Irish wasn’t necessarily when they reached the final and were beaten 10-9 by Leicester Tigers in 2009. For me it was way back in the late 90s when they had Niall Woods and Conor O’Shea and Justin Bishop and all these great players. Sunbury was really packed out and it was a real social occasion and for me the Madejski in Reading has never replicated that to any level so I think with the new owners in, I think they know that and I think they need to tap into the expats a little bit more.
“I would imagine, this is just me speculating, there will be some major changes at London Irish over the next few years be them geographical and in terms of players and management. Hang in there, London Irish fans. It will come good again but it will take time.”
For the full interview, see the January 17 Irish World.