Former England wing John Bentley, who had a key role in making the 1997 British and Irish Lions video of the test winning tour to South Africa an international success, is concerned the Netflix fly-on-the-wall Six Nations series which has started filming could be a “ mistake” at a crucial time for the sport.
With rugby union attracting an avalanche of negative headlines, including the current crisis involving the Welsh Rugby Union and the Rugby Football Union’s row back on plans to change the height of the tackle in England, a successful Netflix platform for the Six Nations is hoped to replicate the impact “Drive to Survive” achieved in broadening the appeal of Formula One.
However, Wales head coach Warren Gatland has expressed his reservations saying: “The last thing we need is to be bland in the way it comes across but I’m also conscious that we need to protect ourselves, too. That’s pretty important.”
Bentley, who played rugby union and league, understands the desire to portray the sport in the right way to win new fans but has concerns stating: “The 97 film was ground breaking and I don’t think it will ever be repeated. It is a pretty raw environment in any sporting changing room and there has to be a lot of trust and that takes time to achieve. It could be brilliant and lets hope it is but it could also be a mistake if it doesn’t portray the right aspects of the Six Nations.
“You are going to need all six of the national coaches and their back room staff to buy into it and the editing will be crucial. The Six Nations is a massive tournament and I hope it is great story, but I think the coaches of the teams will be guarded.
“They are doing this to portray the game in a good light and they won’t want to have to edit a lot of stuff out of the finished product. We had an abundance of personalities on the 97 tour like Jason Leonard and Keith Wood and they were allowed to flourish because of the trust that was there. From this Six Nations series I want to learn about the current players and their personalities because it all seems a bit sterile at the moment.
“If we can recreate Andy Powell, the Welsh No8, going down the M4 in golf cart that would be fantastic. I have got know Andy and he is a great lead and I always say to him that what he needed then was me on his shoulder saying, “stop it, you can’t do that!” But it was great fun.”
The 1997 Lions tour video includes the now famous “Everest” speech by forwards coach Jim Telfer, the inside story of Will Greenwood’s life threatening head injury in Bloemfontein and a punch up involving two of the Lions hookers in training.
Bentley is understandably proud of the finished product which relied on filming done by some of the players and the project was massively helped by the fact the Lions won the series 2-1 against South Africa.
He added: “If I hadn’t seen the final 97 Lions film I wouldn’t have seen the “Everest” speech because it involved just the test forwards. The story behind the Lions 97 film was that at the time there was a question about the future of the Lions with the advent of professionalism and Ian McGeechan agreed to coach the team again in South Africa but was also told a film crew was coming and the company had paid a substantial fee to be on the tour.
“Geech said “no” at first and that the tour wasn’t a circus but was informed that they were coming. We initially decided to ignore the film crew and pretend they weren’t there and when we turned up for the first squad meeting they were there filming and no one introduced them. I just said to them in the pub the day before we flew out to South Africa “ you won’t get fly on the wall because only a player will be able to do that.” Unbeknown to me they had some hand held cameras and early in the tour there was a knock on my door and one of the guys handed me this camera.
“I had never seen anything like the piece of kit I was given and took it to the gym and started filming the lads. They were all relaxed because I don’t think they realised whose camera it was and I just handed all the tapes over to the guys with us. Quite a lot of what I filmed along with Doddie Weir and Rob Wainwright was used in the final film.
“There was a trust there and quite a few hilarious incidents that had to be left on the cutting floor which is probably a good thing. For the first game of the tour Jason Leonard was captain and he threw the cameras out of the changing rooms and went to tour manager Fran Cotton and Fran got them back in. From that moment, it came to a point where everything was natural and we didn’t play to the camera.”