Rugby Union suffered a jolt yesterday the likes of which not even Jonah Lomu, the marauding New Zealand wing three-quarter, is equipped to administer. There will be weeping in the valleys and sobbing in the glens at the news that Bill McLaren, the veteran commentator,is to retire after the Wales v Scotland Six Nations match in Cardiff, on 6 April.
McLaren said: "It will not be the same watching it on television, but all good things come to an end." Actually, it has been pretty good watching on television, thanks largely to McLaren's matchless ability to convey the excitement.
Moist-eyed old men may one day recall for their grandchildren their memories of the 1984 Barbarians v Australia game or the 1990 Scotland v England match with the words: "Now that was an occasion those of us who weren't there will never forget."
Like John Arlott, Henry Longhurst, Dan Maskell, Peter O'Sullevan, Murray Walker, who all became the voice of an entire sport yet have either retired or departed for the celestial commentary box, McLaren owed his popularity to a wonderful broadcasting voice married to a remarkable instinct for silky phrase-making.
Invited to recall the Irish centre Mike Gibson, he said. "Ah, the most complete footballer I have ever seen, just a skinny fellow, but he tackled like the crack of doom, and could sniff a scoring chance like a forest animal." There are novelists who sit poised over their keyboards for days who cannot produce imagery like that.
Nor was McLaren any slouch as a player. He was a flank-forward, a regular both for his home town team Hawick and the South of Scotland, and in 1947 was on the verge of a full international call-up when he developed tuberculosis. He never played rugby again.
"I can think of nothing more uplifting than standing out there with your anthem being played, and you with your job to do," he said. "It is my one regret, that I didn't get just one cap." Would he have swapped his broadcasting career for a single cap? There was a long pause. "Aye, I would."Reuse content