- 10 Sep 07, 10:25 AM
Plus ca change- as the French would say.
In five World Cups since that first tentative venture in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, the All Blacks have always been expected to reach the final and BBC Radio has always been on hand to report the action.
So have I.
But we’ve all come a long way in the intervening 20 years. Way, way back in the days of amateur rugby, when 5 Live was not even a glint in a broadcaster’s eye, BBC Radio sent a team of precisely two to cover the fledgling tournament.
Gordon Turnbull - then a talented young producer, now the Head of BBC Radio Sport, spent the entire World Cup at the Broadcasting Centre in Wellington, while Ian Robertson - then, as now, the BBC’s Rugby Correspondent - flitted to and fro across the Tasman Sea to share commentary on all the big matches with local, indigenous broadcasters .
I got up in the middle of the night - no floodlights back then, all matches kicked off in the Antipodean afternoon - to present the coverage from a deserted Broadcasting House.
By 1991, I had gone into commercial television and- entirely coincidentally - ITV had snatched the TV rights to a tournament staged in the northern hemisphere.
As commentator, I commuted between the south of France, Murrayfield and Lansdowne Road. As observer, I saw England come up agonisingly short against Australia in the final at Twickenham.
As anchorman for ITV in 1995, I “fronted” all the big games live from the stadia in South Africa before returning to commentary and joining the newly formed 5 Live at the start of 1996.
Two World Cups later, I am still on the payroll, as the operation has gone from strength to strength.
From two bold travellers in 1987, BBC Radio now has a team of commentators with each of the four home unions, and our expert summarisers include three men who played in that first World Cup - Rob Jones, Hugo MacNeill and Gavin Hastings - and one who played in the last - Matt Dawson.
Between us, we’ve done it, seen it and got the T-shirt.
But we haven’t lost our sense of wonder at what rugby can bring, or our sense of joy at seeing it played by the best players on the biggest stage. C’est magnifique - as the French would say.
Alastair Hignell is a former England rugby international who commentates on rugby union for Radio 5 Live. He is covering England at the World Cup. 5 Live's full broadcast schedule is here.