BT Sport’s Lawrence Dallaglio talks Aviva Premiership, presenting and new players to watch out for
You could grow very old searching for somebody with more rugby know-how than England’s World Cup-winning star Lawrence Dallaglio. Find out what the iconic master of back row arts had to say when we caught up with him to discuss his new role as BT Sport’s leading rugby expert for its coverage of the Aviva Premiership, the JP Morgan Asset Management Sevens and live matches from the French Top 14.
So Lawrence, with 69 Aviva Premiership matches, rugby sevens and the French Top 14 on the menu, how tasty is BT Sport’s rugby coverage?
Quite simply, I think it will be the place to watch rugby. BT has made it clear they are in it for the long term and the games they have acquired give an incredible breadth of coverage across the sport.
Do you think a new approach to covering rugby can help take the game forward?
Yeah, without a doubt it can. BT has hugely impressive resources and they’re being used to make this the best possible experience for anyone watching rugby, putting the viewer right in the middle of the action. It’s a very exciting time in the game, with the Rugby World Cup coming to England in 2015, and I think BT are brilliantly placed to help take rugby to the next level. I really believe the coverage will set the bar at a new high, and that will help every aspect of rugby to up its game.
As a player you’ve been there, done that, and got the shirt with World Cup-winning mud on it, so what do you personally hope to bring to the coverage?
I think I can offer a level of honesty and insight, having played the game at every level. I want to help viewers get right inside rugby: the culture, the science of the game, what’s going through the minds of the players and coaches. If something’s a bit complicated, I’ll explain it. Some viewers will be hardcore rugby fans and some will be new to the sport, and I want everyone to feel they are getting all they want from the coverage. Rugby is a wonderfully competitive sport, but it’s also great fun and I want to convey that enjoyment.
Many people believe rugby has never been more exciting, do you think that’s true?
Definitely, it’s a genuinely thrilling sport and every season seems to take rugby to a new level. We’re seeing the result of rule changes that help make the game quicker and more expansive. Players are faster, fitter, stronger and more skilful than they’ve ever been. The passing and kicking is first rate and the tackles are phenomenal. What I love about the modern game is that it has huge physicality allied to its unbelievable levels of skill. It’s the sledgehammer and the rapier combined.
The Aviva Premiership is more competitive than ever. Who’s got what it takes to win the title?
It’s incredibly competitive in England and you’ll see some of the best and most closely-fought club rugby in the world. No result is a foregone conclusion and plenty of times, teams at the top get beaten by teams below them. Injuries to key players can throw things wide open. The drive for the play-offs is thrilling, while there’s a real battle going on to avoid relegation. You tend to get periods where certain sides dominate, but everyone’s aiming to bring them down and no club can sit back. Harlequins have been setting the benchmark recently and they are the side everyone wants to beat.
What about your old side, Wasps?
I had some great times at Wasps. We were often punching above our weight, winning everything and upsetting everybody’s party. It came to an abrupt end with a number of players moving on, but with Dai Young coming in as director of rugby and new ownership, Wasps are on the right track. There’s a great youth programme and they’re now in a position to attract quality players.
Talking of youth, who are the bright young players to watch out for in the Premiership?
The investment in rugby at grass roots level is producing some seriously exciting young talent. You have guys like Christian Wade and Elliot Daly at my old club, or Gloucester’s Freddie Burns. But to be honest, there are bright young stars everywhere. There are also plenty of bright older stars as well, the likes of Saracens’ Steve Borthwick, Nick Evans at Quins or Sale’s Mark Cueto, who are doing fantastic jobs for has-beans! What we have in the Premiership is a lovely balance between the rising stars, the right here, right now elite players, and the old hands keeping it all together.
Who has caught your eye in the Six Nations?
It’s been a stunning tournament, with big battles everywhere. Overall, England have been the outstanding performers and so you’ve got to look at someone like Chris Robshaw. He’s been massively impressive at maintaining a really high standard for his own game and dealing with captaincy the side. Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs have also been immense for England. Scotland’s back three of Tim Visser, Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland have posed a huge problem for every side they’ve faced. For Wales, I think Ryan Jones has looked very good in the back row.
There’s a mouth-watering British and Irish Lions tour of Australia this summer. Who do you think can have a big impact down under, and how do you think the Lions will fare?
I think the Six Nations has thrown a few more names into contention, and I’m sure some of the players I’ve already mentioned will be putting in some huge shifts in Australia. Chris Robshaw, Ben Youngs, Stuart Hogg and Ryan Jones are going to be right up there. I think Wales’ Sam Warburton is another guy we could be enthusing over, along with Wales’ back Leigh Halfpenny and Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray. What you need are the best players and the best tourists – the guys who can handle being away for so long and all the pressures of being on tour.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about the Lawrence Dallaglio Foundation?
We set it up in 2009 initially to raise funds for cancer research after I lost my mother to the disease, but we also wanted to support other causes such as Help for Heroes. Over time it’s shifted to focus more on youth development, supporting and mentoring children at risk, especially through our rugby programme. The programme aims to use all of the great values of rugby – such as controlled aggression, teamwork and respect – to help young people make better life choices. We have scholarships for talented, aspiring players and we‘re working with a number of Premiership sides. Not everybody will end up as an England rugby player, but rugby can still have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives.
Cheers, Lawrence, and best of luck.
It’s a pleasure and I just can’t wait to start.
Lawrence will feature both as a co-commentator for some live matches and a studio pundit for other live clashes on BT Sport.
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