Royal Navy Rugby Union Members Take Centre Stage

George , Ben and Burgess and Burgess (England 7s VC) on the sofa
Director of Rugby, Roger Readwin presents the Navy Shirt to Martin Bayfield (off camera)
Ronnie O’Sullivan, RNRU analyst, enjoys the evening with John Manners and Tom 'Spike' Hughes

Wednesday afternoon sport took the guise of a visit to the BT Sport studio at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for 25 members of the RNRU community. Invited to be involved as part of the live audience for the Rugby Tonight programme, the RN participants were asked to be a demo team for the opening shot. Choosing the most photogenic (!) they were kitted out in the Under Armour playing strip and under the direction of Martin Bayfield acted out a skit in the well-appointed studio weights and CV suite.

Meanwhile the rest of the squad were in the green room (well the pool and table tennis tables were green) waiting for the call to the set from the frantically busy floor managers. The team were coiled like springs when eventually invited on to set by the call of “places please”; they were then hurried into position, indicated by the many crosses on the set floor. Surrounded by numerous cameras the participants were made aware that any nervous twitch, smirk, reaction etc. could be aired live. Hands in or out of pocket; arms crossed or behind the back? Surprisingly difficult to work out!

The demo team dipped in as they were already mustered in the Ruck and Maul Bar. The camera regularly returned to this focal point where sofas provided comfort to the lucky few. Before the programme commenced live filming the floor managers introduced the hosts for the evening. Martin Bayfield’s enormity did not disappoint and it was clear why he was Robbie Coltrane’s (the giant Hagrid) stunt double in the Harry Potter films. Ugo Monye and World Cup winner Ben Kay were engaging and entertaining presenters.

The guests for the evening included Saracens and England lock, George Kruis who was side-lined due to a fractured cheek bone clearly indicated by his black eye. Along with George was a quartet of the England Sevens’ team including vice-captain Phil Burgess and James Rodwell (holder of the record for consecutive World 7s tournaments with 69 in a row). Sitting with RNRU players Nick Burgess and Ben Jeacock, the players talked about their experiences in the Dubai 7s to the delight of the audience.

During the interviews with the players there was a poignant conversation about the dismissal of Richard Cockerill. Ben Kay, a Leicester Tigers’ Board Member, was candid for the most part about the situation and diverted the interview away from mere sentiment. It resonated more as a eulogy than it did a man moving on from his job such was the emotion involved. A more light-hearted discussion followed between the presenters and the 7s players. They talked about the different physical requirements of the abbreviated game versus the traditional version. Surprising the live-audience and the players, the show introduced Marcus Watson (apparently from his living room in Newcastle). He talked about his successful time at the Rio Olympics and then the requirement to load the weight back on for the Aviva Premiership season with the Falcons. The chat quickly returned to fellow Olympian Rodwell whose extremely savaged bunch of fingers were displayed to the camera for all to see!

Never one to shy away from the limelight, Director of Rugby, Roger Readwin, found himself in front of the camera for a quick interview with Martin Bayfield. Asked prior to the event to provide a piece of memorabilia the RNRU presented a framed shirt from the successful 2015/16 season. Enjoying his 3 minutes of fame Roger seized on the opportunity and displayed his media skills, thanked Martin for the invitation and explained the importance of the shirt worn during the Inter-Services championship and then promoted this year's centennial Army v Navy match on the 29th April 2017.

Following the RNRU presentation, the Metropolitan Police produced two tour shirts and rather touchingly these were presented by Bayfield’s former captain from his playing days. Incidentally, the RNRU President’s XV will play the British Police XV during the season (fixture 08/03/2017 – East London RFC, West Ham) and based on the characters met the third half should prove a raucous affair.

The final segment of the show was of importance to all involved in rugby as Monye and Kay discussed the new laws regarding the tackle area. Having witnessed numerous players escorted from the pitch for a HIA (Head Injury Analysis) it was reasoned that the rules needed to be tightened to stop further injury. The laws are not watertight as we saw recently following the citing of two Saracens’ players who only two weeks ago would have had a warning from the referee and that would have been enough.

The evening was over all too soon.  It was a highly enjoyable event and the RNRU attendance enabled us to showcase the Royal Navy and its rugby players to the wider rugby family.

Words by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images © Royal Navy Rugby Union