‘Mud, Sweat and Tears: Premiership Rugby’ is Amazon Prime’s latest effort at capturing the rugby market. Having obtained the rights for the Autumn Nations Series international test matches, as well as releasing previous documentaries, such as ‘Everybody’s Game’, ‘Oceans Apart’, ‘No Woman No Try’, and ‘Prep to Win’, it is obvious that Amazon sees rugby as a market worth investing in.
The two-part documentary focuses on last season’s Gallagher Premiership knockout stage, following the semi-finalists’ journey toward Twickenham. The first episode, entitled ‘Saints or Sinners?’ follows the semi-final between Saracens and Northampton Saints; whilst the second, ‘Do Fairytales Come True?’ covers Sale Sharks vs Leicester Tigers, before the Premiership final.
It is not clear who ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ was actually made for. Facets of the sport such as the role of the flyhalf are broken down into very basic guides for new followers, whilst a working knowledge of the Premiership is required to understand the stage of the season that the show starts from, merely stating that the 2022/23 season had been so-far unpredictable.
Each team is presented as near-carbon copies of each other, emphasising the unity felt among each squad and that each had faced a level of adversity before reaching the post-season. What uniqueness that is presented is boiled down into single factors. For Saracens this is their overcoming of their salary cap scandal, Leicester Tigers is their losing of much of their coaching staff to England, Sale Sharks is that they are Northern, whilst Northampton Saints are painted as the underdogs.
This oversimplification is the fault of its rushed run-time. ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ attempts to cover four teams and three rugby matches in just 90 minutes. The whole documentary just feels like a missed opportunity. It is too short to attract new fans, as it fails to build an interesting narrative, and is too basic for most rugby fans to find engaging.
By only following the knock-out stage, ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ glosses over the demise of Worcester Warriors, Wasps, and London Irish. The issue is briefly mentioned at the beginning, before stating “however, the remaining teams played on”, as though financial instability did not underpin the entire season.
The production team, Fulwell 73, would have been better off had they spread their resources across the season and created a proper docuseries. This would have allowed stories to have been properly told, instead of being briefly brought up, before changing subject.
Entire episodes could have been produced on issues such as Fin Smith’s move to Northampton Saints following the liquidation of Worcester Warriors, or Richard Wigglesworth’s transition mid-season from player to head coach at Leicester.
Credit must be given where it is due. Sale Sharks engaged well with the production team. Head coach Alex Sanderson offered a genuine rawness, explaining how much his side’s involvement in the final meant to him:
“My sister-in-law died two weeks ago; I’m going to the funeral tomorrow. My mum got cancer pre-Christmas, she’s in remission. My dad had a heart attack three weeks ago. So at any one of those points, it makes you reflect, it makes you look at your own time spent. Every weekend I’m away, and every hour I’m in here [Sale’s training ground], or on Zoom calls when I get home, is it worth it? Is it worth all that time away from the people that I love? “Everyone one of us who’s here believes it is worth it.”
The owners of Sale Sharks, Michelle and Simon Orange (the brother of Take That’s Jason) showed themselves as true supporters of their club. Their involvement was both refreshing and endearing.
The way in which the Premiership final was covered in-game was excellent. The high-octane thrills of the match were effectively portrayed. It is just a shame that this was not so much the case for the prior semi-finals.
Whilst the premise of a documentary on Premiership Rugby is promising, it is far too confined by its own tight structure. ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ is by no means a bad documentary, just uninspired and entirely forgettable.