Inside the game: SIS Live at the 6 Nations

This coming weekend should be a rest weekend in the 6 Nations rugby tournament, but the rescheduling of the France vs Ireland match – called off at the very last minute because of a frozen pitch a couple of weeks ago – means that once again the SIS Live team is heading over to Paris to look after the BBC’s coverage of the match.

“This year there will be 16 OBs and only the usual 15 matches,” says Alan Wright, Engineering Manager, SIS Live. “This weekend was already a big weekend for us, but we’ve managed to get everyone and everything together for it. It’s a busy tournament for us anyway. Quite a few of the production team will do a Saturday match and a Sunday one, with a fair bit of commuting between the two.

SIS Live looks after BBC Sport’s requirements for its domestic output and also its host broadcaster work for the three British national stadiums – Twickenham, Murrayfield and Cardiff. As such, it sends trucks to all six of the nations, including the Stadio Olympico in Rome this year for the first time. “We were bit worried about the snow the day before and various trucks sliding their way towards Rome, but everybody got there on time,” says Wright.

The company tends to send its flagship scanner, OB1 – ‘scanner’ is a uniquely British term for an OB truck that derives from old BBC usage – to the biggest match each weekend, meaning it was at Twickenham last weekend for the pulsating match between England and Wales. “It suits the BBC Sport operation in that the main production area we use for the host output and the second production area does the BBC Sport domestic part of the operation. That way they have everything in one truck and can share facilities easily between the two.”

It’s also useful for congested compounds. At Twickenham, for instance, S4C and BBC Wales were on-site, as was France Televisions and al-Jazeera. “All in all we had five or six uplink trucks in the compound, which is hidden behind the North Stand and not the ideal location for a sat park!” says Wright.

The Twickenham game saw the BBC use its maximum complement for the tournament of 20 match cameras. “We also had five Sony super-slos, we had an X-Mo from Inertia Unlimited, and we had a Spidercam,” says Wright. “We use the railcam in some places, like Murrayfield and Cardiff where we had a full 100m track, but it’s up to individual directors and some of them think they can get more out of handheld radio cameras. We have three around the pitch at Twickenham and Cardiff, one of them on a Steadicam for presentation stuff either side of the match.”

All in all, it’s a fairly standard sporting stadium-based operation, though where it does differ is in the way that rugby – like cricket – has embraced the concept of the video referee (dubbed the TMO, Television Match Official). And, of course, the TMO played a huge role at the end of the England vs Wales match, judging that David Strettle hadn’t grounded the ball properly, giving England at least a chance to level the scores (and you can make up your own mind about that here ).

“In rugby in general, and the 6 Nations in particular, the TMO actually works in the scanner with the match director so the director can show them the angles they need as quickly as possible,” says Wright. “We’ve had several attempts to get as many cameras as possible on the line for the TMO, as have Sky, but when it comes down to it if there are a mass of bodies around the ball there is only so much you can do. What we do try and do though whenever the budget will allow it is to make sure some of them are super slo-mos.”

The Welsh victory over England sees them very much at the top of the table, all of which has a direct bearing on whether OB1 will be heading to Cardiff for the match versus France on the last day of the tournament on 17 March or to Twickenham for the England vs Ireland game. On paper, that St Patrick’s Day match is the headline, but Wright had a sneaking suspicion before last weekend that OB1’s destination might well be Cardiff, and few would bet against that now.

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