Now’s not the time, Sonja

THE award for bravest person in sport this weekend goes to: BBC Six Nations pitchside reporter Sonja McLaughlan. Tackling Martin Johnson and asking him if he will drop Danny Care is no easy task.

Touchline reporting for TV at a live sporting event is no easy task. You have to grab managers, coaches and players within seconds of the finish, when they may not be in the best of moods, and you have to ask them the questions that the viewer wants answering – all with a director shouting away in your earphones.

Even if you get the interviewee you want, and even if you get out the right questions, things can still go wrong.

If you want an idea of just how wrong, ask a BBC Scotland reporter called John Barnes. In October 2000, Barnes cornered Dundee United chairman Jim McLean and asked him about a fans’ demonstration taking place outside Tannadice. McLean responded by punching the reporter in the face.

It’s a job fraught with danger. So full credit to McLaughlan for striding straight in when a furious Johnson emerged from the dressing room after England 14-13 defeat to Ireland at Croke Park this evening.

England could, perhaps should have won the match. But as they did against Wales in Cardiff last weekend, they fell short because of their indiscipline. Scrum-half Care was sin-binned at a critical point in the match for a needless shoulder charge on Marcus Horan. The resulting penalty allowed Ronan O’Gara to slot the points that ultimately won Ireland the match.

Johnson was so angry that he could barely bring himself to look at LcLaughlan. She wasn’t intimidated, though, asking him straight out if he would consider dropping Care.

“Now’s not the time to be answering questions like that, Sonja,” replied a seething Johnson, not only to that question, but also to several others she subsequently put to him. It was gripping television.

There is a school of thought that sportspeople shouldn’t be pressed for interviews in the immediate aftermath of a match, of a race, of their big moment. The argument goes that they are still too emotional, too prone to say things they might later regret.

The other side of the argument, of course, is that you are far more likely to get an honest, visceral response from a sportsperson in the moments after an event, and that while giving them a little breathing space might result in a more considered interview, it may also result in a less compelling, more anodyne one.

Generally, I tend towards the former view. (And I suspect Johnson does, too.) I remember some reporter trying to interview a runner seconds after a big race, and the poor athlete could barely string a sentence together amid gasps of exhaustion.

But TV companies want the immediate reaction, not least because they’ve got to get off the air in time for the next programme.

And sometimes, when a touchline reporter holds their nerve, and asks the right questions, it can make for an extraordinary interview. McLaughlan may not have had a definitive answer from Johnson over Care, but at least she held her nerve – which is more than can be said for England.


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