Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Rugby Tonight: The BT Sport Experience

My experience as an audience guest on Monday night's Rugby Tonight Episode, with Brian O'Driscoll, Ben Kay, Austin Healey, Martin Bayfield, Sarra Elgan and Maggie Alphonsi.

A couple of months ago, my father went to a charity auction in aid of a wonderful cause called Sebastien’s Action Trust. Undoubtedly a couple of pints down; probably far more so, he later bid an extortionate sum of money for tickets to Rugby Tonight : BT Sport’s Live weekly Rugby Roundup.

So on Monday night, we found ourselves making the trip over to Stratford, obviously clad in Harlequins attire, to take our places in the audience. With Maggie Alphonsi as a special guest, Brian O’Driscoll appearing for only his second presenting stint this season, and the return to European rugby to be discussed, it was sure to be a great night.

A shuttle bus outside the Olympic Park took us over to the studio, and, once inside, we took our seats in one of the waiting rooms. As a lifelong rugby fan, I was already beside myself with excitement, and when I turned around to realise Martin Bayfield was typing away on a laptop behind me, my sense of composure started to rapidly dissipate.

We were then taken on a tour of the maze that comprises the BT Sport Studio, past numerous dressing rooms and a makeup room where Sarra’s newly dyed brunette locks were being styled. Visibly nervous, she was waiting for the joke the boys would inevitably make about her hair; they ended up bringing a hairdryer on set. On a side note, somehow she managed to strut around for the entire duration of the show in ankle breaking heels – potentially the most impressive part in itself.

The first thing to note is the sheer size of the space. Based in the former Broadcast Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the studios are 80,000 square feet in size. Inside, it boasts multiple presenting areas, and an open plan layout which sees the presenters walk around to host different features. The most impressive part, however, is the twenty square metre green glass floor underlined by LED strip lights, which on Monday night displayed the markings of a rugby pitch, but also has the ability to form other sports pitches.

The next thing I encountered was not quite so impressive in size. The Studio; huge, Martin Bayfield; huge, Sarra’s heels; huge, Austin? Quite literally, pint-sized. He does, however, live up to his Leicester Lip nickname, and within minutes of spotting our Quins shirts, the baiting had begun.

We were then treated to the demo rehearsals. First, led by Brain O’Driscoll, a demo of the decoy line ran by Frank Halai to allow for the Christian Wade try in the weekend’s Exeter vs Wasps fixture, where he emphasised the importance of running at space and the commitment to the line run by the decoy. Second, led by Austin Healey, the fantastic supporting line ran by Chris Ashton in Sarries’ defeat of Northampton, which led to the classic “Ash Splash” try – Brian’s Live demonstration on the crash mats in the Studio was a sight to behold. And finally, Ben Kay illustrating the matchups which led to Freddie Burns’ interception try against Stade, alongside a similar movement from Steenson against Wasps, analysing the impact their movements would have on the rest of their defensive line.

Soon after, it was onto the audience briefing, and before we knew it the Live show was upon us. With the Floor Director standing behind camera gesturing where we were supposed to go, we were moved all over the studio — at the beginning, with everyone pushing to the front to have their moment of fame, but by the end with everyone scurrying to the back to avoid the newly discovered embarrassment of said moment. The only way I can describe it; a mix of trying not to laugh, trying to work out which camera is the one filming, and trying desperately not to look like an idiot on Live TV.

My highlights of the show itself? As a Quins fan in the audience, watching this week’s Grass Roots to Greats special with our own Marland Yarde was something special. The feature documented his transition from his birthplace in the Caribbean, to a junior career with QPR at Loftus Road, to being scouted by the London Irish Academy. An education at specialist rugby school Whitgift soon followed, alongside England honours at both junior and senior level, which all made for a rather entertaining clip featuring a starring role from Marland’s mother.

Meeting World Cup Winner Maggie Alphonsi was also an honour. As part of her interview, she discussed her new career in punditry following a short break trying out Shotput as a sport, and spoke about Restart Rugby – the official charity of The Rugby Players Association – which provides emotional, financial and practical support for the players. This weekend (15th-17th April) is Restart Rugby Weekend in the Premiership, and many within our sport will be doing all they can to raise the profile of, and funds for, the worthy cause.

Maggie also took on the famous SmashOmeter – a tackle bag with an inbuilt sensor recording the force of the hit. Impressively, she posted a score of 94, putting her at seventeenth on the leaderboard, and top female. Despite not making it onto the first page of the leaderboard on his first attempt, with a score of 78, O’Driscoll also took on the SmashO to post a score of 102, and place him at joint ninth on the leaderboard.

What you didn’t see on camera, however, was that O’Driscoll chucked his phone to an unwitting member of the studio audience as he lined up to take his run-up, which happened to be my shocked sister. The only notification on the rugby legend’s handset? Take the Bins out. The temptation to leave him a selfie may have been just too great..

All in all, we had the most wonderful experience — one I would highly recommend to any rugby fan (having said that, I’m not sure how I’ll feel when I watch the full programme back..). You are really thrown into the midst of the action, come face to face with the stars – who were delightful, and happy to interact with the audience throughout, and are able to see first hand what goes on behind the scenes of such a large, live production. I must offer my thanks to Olly and Rebecca for making the whole experience happen.

To apply to be a member of the audience yourselves, email the BT Sport team at

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