Sara Orchard Exclusive: I don't think female commentary can be seen as unique anymore

Sara Orchard alongside Ugo Monye, Danny Care and Chris Jones on BBC's Rugby Union Weekly Podcast
©Sara Orchard Twitter

Sara Orchard has a non-negotiable. "It’s a thing I always try to do. I want you to feel this sport is for you and you can be a part of it."

It is a time of year that the BBC broadcaster describes as 'tiring' but quickly outweighs that by saying "I have no complaints!"

As we chat, Orchard is currently preparing for another TikTok Women's Six Nations campaign straight off the back of her work for the BBC during the men's championships which concluded last weekend.

She has been working for the BBC for 18 years and she has been a leading female voice in the world of rugby. In a sport where people may expect coverage to be accompanied by a male voice, Orchard doesn't see it that way.

"I love rugby and I just happen to be surrounded by other people who love rugby and for some reason, they’ve all tended to be men," she tells TRU.

"In the commentary world, there’s plenty of other women who work now in the women’s rugby space. I don’t think it’s that unique anymore. Just because I happened to be the first woman commentator, doesn’t mean I haven’t had plenty of other pioneers before me.

"I think it’s pretty normalised to have women in this space and I really hope that any woman that comes into this industry, that they find everyone is welcoming. It’s one of the things I always try to do. I want you to feel this sport is for you and you can be a part of it. It’s a brilliant game and it’s got good people."

Orchard was part of the BBC commentary team for the men's Six Nations and will once again lead the way over the next five weeks as the national broadcaster continues to promote and showcase the ever-growing women's game.

BBC Two and BBC iPlayer will be covering the tournament - including England's opener against Scotland on Saturday - and with the BBC at the forefront of the Six Nations coverage, as well as the Allianz Premier 15s, Orchard feels the only way is up: "It will continue in this window, it's not going to move away now," she says when asked about the popularity of the women's game.

"Nicky Ponsford [England women's former high-performance manager] just recognised that for England to become the potential world leader of women’s rugby, they needed a league to reflect that and she produced it. Everyone bought into that. It’s a really strong league and it’s going to take a long time for anyone else to produce something that matches it.

“I love the Women’s Six Nations too. I love the men’s Six Nations. It’s such a wonderful tournament that comes around every year. In the northern hemisphere, European rugby is very lucky that it has it.

"The fact that the Women's Six Nations has now found its own air space [starting at the end of March rather than being played at the same time as the men's competition] and its own oxygen, it’s just totally accelerated off the back of Covid.

"In a way, Covid was one of the best things that could have happened to women’s rugby because it allowed people to re-think and do things differently. It gave women’s rugby the opportunity to stand on its own two feet and it did it very well. It’s only going to grow."

And grow it has, especially where the Red Roses are concerned.

They head into the Six Nations targeting a 17th Gram Slam but England are also just a month away from possibly breaking a world record for attendance for a stand-alone women’s rugby game when they host France on April 29th at Twickenham.

"There's a big opportunity for having women's rugby in its own window and the fact they've sold 40,000 tickets and that's before the campaign has even started, that just proves there is a product there that you can make money out of," Orchards says.

If the RFU were able to break the record set by New Zealand in the 2021 World Cup final [42,579], it would be another positive statistic to add to the excitement surrounding a home Rugby World Cup in 2025.

“I think there’s going to be a big boost for women’s rugby because of that World Cup," Orchard adds. "I think it’s really lucky that England have that World Cup and the other home nations will feel that as well.

"Rugby is in a really difficult place right now with the financial issues that are going on, predominantly in the men’s game, but it’s impacting the women too. The women’s World Cup will be a bit of a saving grace for women’s rugby."

As the conversation draws to a close, it seems remiss not to ask Orchard about the influence England captain Sarah Hunter has had on the growth of the women's game.

On Saturday, the Red Roses skipper will retire on 140 caps. The 37-year-old, who is the world’s most-capped women’s player, has won one World Cup and 10 Six Nations titles, including nine Grand Slams.

"Sarah is a genuinely lovely person," says Orchard. “The biggest thing you’ll hear everyone say about her is she bleeds England. Everything she has done, every breath that she takes, every thought that she has is about England and what is right for the Red Roses.

"It’s almost to her detriment that she puts that above herself. That’s not to say she hasn’t looked after herself because she’s the most diligent player you’ll ever meet. Her rehab is incredible and how she has looked after her body to play in the position she has at 37 years old is just ridiculous.

"I would challenge anyone to find something bad about her. I don’t think there is anything. She’s as close to perfection I think in a human being and a personality as you can get.

"As to how she’s been as a leader, I think you could write books about how she has gone about her business because I do think male and female leaders are very different in what works and I think the fact that Sarah Hunter has captained England for as long as she has, I've never known anyone question her captaincy. She is a very unique person."

Orchard thinks Hunter and co will be challenged by France for their Six Nations crown but whatever narratives and storylines unfold over the next five weeks, the BBC broadcaster will make you feel part of a sport that is on an upward curve.