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Bill McLaren: Rugby's Great Heroes and Entertainers

Release date: 01st September, 2003
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £13.29
You Save: £5.7 (30%)
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For many of us, Bill McLaren remains the voice of rugby - a rich, mellifluous tone which undulated gently according to the action he was describing. Such was the depth of his background knowledge that after commentating on a score for Scotland, he could invariably advise television viewers exactly where joy would be unbounded that evening: "They'll be celebrating in the Nags Head at Borthwickbrae after that tonight." No doubt they raised a glass to Bill, too.

Bill McLaren's voice is one which will be forever linked with his chosen subject, much like Alistair Cooke or Garrison Keillor. Each man is blessed with the type of voice you could listen to for hours.

It helps enormously then to have heard the great man commentate before reading this book as so many of its anecdotes contain the wonderful McLarenisms for which he became rightly famous. His homely style is appropriately portrayed on the book's cover as well as in its content. Who else could describe how tough it must be to be opposite Jason Robinson by suggesting that the flyer would be no fun to mark, "For he is as elusive as a demented ferret."

During the course of a 50 year broadcasting career, Bill McLaren has seen most of the great rugby players and provides portraits of them all here, an exercise which ends with his World XV, a wholly subjective affair which, he writes, drew criticism especially from Wales. That surely is the whole point of the book - to provoke the type of rugby debate best conducted over a few beers.

While the book can be used as a point of reference, it is not one which one sits down and reads cover to cover. Rather, it is better to dip into occasionally and enjoy the benefits of McLaren's expert rugby eye and the wide selection of humorous anecdotes.

My favourite is the one written about Tony O'Reilly, capped 29 times by Ireland and on 10 occasions by the British Lions. One of O'Reilly's Irish colleagues was the flanker Ronnie Kavanagh, a fitness fanatic who wanted the centre to toughen himself up by combat-style training in the mountains. "O'Reilly was having none of it. 'Kav,' he said, 'it's not guerrilla warfare, it's rugby we're playing. We're not going to be asked to ford a stream at Lansdowne Road.'"

Throughout this hugely entertaining book, McLaren maintains his neutrality, faltering only once when he describes his former pupil, Tony Stranger, going over for a try to clinch the 1990 Grand Slam for Scotland. Even the greatest of commentators are allowed to jettison neutrality on such occasions.

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