Surely no one is more of a sports fanatic than the fast-talking fan who makes it their job. 

As the Rugby World Cup kicks offThe Detail talks to three sports commentators about what they do, how they got their starts and the perks and peaks of the job.

One thing they all agree on, is getting the names right. 

“It’s imperative,” says rugby commentator Scotty Stevenson. 

“This team is representing its country, but the players are representing their families. It’s really crucial that the historical document of that match – of that player’s career – is accurate. And to me, that’s the bottom line in the game.” 

Sky’s lead netball commentator Jenny Woods recalls commentators’ old attitudes, where “as long as we all say [names] the same, it doesn’t matter”.

“Now those days are well and truly gone. You’ve got to get it right,” says Woods.

It’s more of a challenge with tennis, where the action is so fast and the names are often so long – and likely to be tongue-twisting Polish, Thai, Czech, Swedish or another language unfamiliar to the Kiwi ear. 

It’s a challenge tennis’ Matt Brown has had to get used to over decades of calling the French Open for Radio Roland Garros. 

“You do have to sometimes simplify it a little bit … sometimes I can recall the odd player, going with the first name, which is not the norm, but it’s very easy on a long rally to get a little bit tongue-tied, and that’s happened on numerous occasions.

“Then there was the time Caroline Wozniaki faced Aleksandra Wozniak … on that occasion it was ‘the Canadian’ or ‘the Dane’.”

To add to the confusion, different countries often pronounce the same name differently – listen to the episode to find out how Grand Slam winner Stefan Edberg’s name is really pronounced in his native Sweden.  

Scotty Stevenson travelled to Japan for the last Rugby World Cup, but this year he’ll be calling the game for SENZ radio without leaving the country. It’s what’s known as “off-tube” commentary: watching a TV screen to describe the action. 

“It’s a different type of challenge to TV commentary,” he says. 

The term ‘off-tube’ shows the age of the phrase – we don’t have tube TVs anymore – but “it’s becoming more and more a part of commentary as costs are saved across the board and there’s a lot of hub production,” he says. 

And the difference with when it comes to commentating on the radio?

“More words!

“Explaining where on the field play is at, where the pass is going, what direction play is heading in, who’s making tackles, the player identification becomes much more important … and it just brings, I think, a different element creatively to to your commentary. You are trying to give the listener as much of a mental picture as you can about where the game is taking place, what the weather is doing,” he says.

Jenny Woods says she got into the job via luck: being in the right place at the right time, and knowing the right people. 

“I thought it might last a year or two – but I’m still there! I just keep waiting for the call not to come.”

As with Brown and Stevenson, she says you also have to have a passion for the game, and it certainly helps to have played it.

“I love it,” she says. “I just love it, I could talk about tennis and netball til the cows come home – and in fact that’s what I used to do, because I grew up on a dairy farm and I would be putting the cows away at night and I’d be doing mock commentaries and interviewing my two heroes.” 

Hear Stevenson, Woods and Brown share some of their favourite commentating stories by listening to the full episode.

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