Rugby commentary: The golden voices

Rugby Commentary

Rugby commentary has been blessed with golden voices over the years. There was one voice that most supporters we spoke to regarded as the best ever. Bill McLaren.

Rugby commentary’s golden voices

When it comes to the choice of a personal favourite, some commentators are like Marmite. You love it or you hate it, with no in-between.

Ryan Jordan asked a number of rugby fans who their favourite commentators where. Bill McLaren was the outright favourite with fans quizzed about their favourite commentator of all time. Delving a little deeper into the subject, fans from various countries were asked to nominate their favourite commentators. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but represents some of the best voices to ever call the game.

Bill McLaren: The golden voice of rugby

Aside from having a voice people like to listen to, McLaren had the ability to keep his commentary running smoothly. He played as a flank forward and played in a Scotland trial match, but quite the game after a severe case of tuberculosis.

McLaren was known to have great comments up his sleeve. Here are a few.

* My goodness, that wee ball’s gone so high there’ll be snow on it when it comes down.

* They’ll be dancing in the streets of Hawick/Selkirk tonight………

  • Those props are as cunning as a bag o’ weasels.

* Vleis Visagie – born when meat was cheap.

You can find more quotes to go with these here.

We will let the great Bill McLaren’s voice “speak” for him, albeit 10 years after his passing:


Eddie Butler

Butler played 16 Tests for Wales, captaining them in six. He started his career after rugby retirement as a journalist, soon moving on to television commentary. He is known for his habit of preparing meticulously before each game conducting a lot of research.

South Africa

South African fans came up with two commentators that stood out to them. Television anchor Hugh Bladen fondly known as Blades and Afrikaans radio commentator Gerhard Viviers.

Hugh Bladen

Bladen played as a flyhalf for Transvaal (Lions) and the Junior Springboks. He has been commentating for close to 44 years and has notched up around 200 international matches behind the microphone. Added to this, he has covered 27 Currie Cup finals. You can hear his distinctive voice and see the common thread of preparation for all the great commentators.

He will forgive us for adding a video when this consummate professional couldn’t get Junior Polu’s name off his tongue.

Gerhard Viviers

Viviers was an Afrikaans language radio commentator. He was a visual story-teller. His commentary was fast-paced, including a lot of detail. That pace and level of detail kept his radio audience in the game with the understanding of what was happening and where on the field.


Nigel Starmer-Smith

Starmer-Smith played seven Tests for England, but found his niche as a journalist and commentator. He is particularly well known as the “Voice of Sevens”.

Miles Harrison

Harrison is Sky Sports’ lead rugby commentator and has built up an impressive rugby commentary CV. He is a career journalist, with no significant rugby playing history recorded. Here, he gives some insight into the preparation required before game time.

New Zealand

All Blacks fans gave us three great names to remember.

Winston McCarthy

McCarthy was a veteran radio commentator, starting his career in 1937. His career ended after the 1959 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. During his heyday, he was known as the “Voice of New Zealand Rugby”.

Grant Nisbett

Nisbett is another commentator who has a career spanning 40 years. He played one first-class game as prop for the Wellington Colts. Like many of the very best commentators, it is his preparation that sets him apart from the run of the mill commentator. The video below is a tribute to Nisbo on the occasion of calling his 300th Test.

Keith Quinn

Like Hugh Bladen and Nisbett, Quinn also had a commentary career spanning four decades. His first live rugby game was the 1971 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, covering the fourth Test on radio.


Chris “Buddha” Handy

Handy brought excitement to the commentary booth. He is fondly remembered for his “Go you good thing!” and “OVER!” calls. As a player, he played six Tests at prop for Australia.

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Gordon Bray

Bray played at a decent level as a schoolboy but did not pursue a playing career. Instead, he became a full-time journalist. His notable achievement is that he has covered every single Rugby World Cup tournament.

The sting in the tail

Thank you if you have read to the end of this piece. As a parting shot, here is Hugh Bladen commentating on a herd of buffalo stampeding!

Please follow Ryan Jordan and Last Word on Rugby on Twitter for regular rugby updates.

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