04 March 2024

From Petty Officer to Chiefs: A Chock Head’s Story

Written by Archie Carter-Humphries

The Royal Navy and RNRU experienced a bittersweet moment, when sailor, player, coach, mentor, and member of the RNRU family, Andrew 'Jan' Laity left the Navy ranks. Too good to turn down, he took up the incredible opportunity as Kit Manager for, 2020 Premiership Rugby Champions, Exeter Chiefs. His appointment is more than deserved with his journey to this point shaped by rugby, the Navy and his West Country roots.

Jan's love of rugby grew from a young age, at Penryn Rugby Club. He found early rugby success, made evident in the Cornwall u16s southwest trials and by earning a spot in an England u16s squad. At the height of Jan's playing career, he competed semi-professionally at Penzance Newlyn under former Welsh international Kevin Moseley. A talented player with an analytical interest in the game, he arrived at Burnaby Road having already acquired a high standard of technical know-how. Jan earned his first Navy Rugby cap in 1997, and helped the Navy achieve an outstanding win at Twickenham in 2010. His achievements for the military rugby don’t stop there, as he also earned a Combined Services cap and was selected to face a mighty Barbarians outfit, a rare accomplishment for any service person.

Such a stellar career was built on humility allowing him to build many relationships, both friend and foe, all of whom had their own special impact on his career. Jan recalled years of being in the mix with players like Martin Woolington and Colin Milkins, who motivated him to push himself to perform.

Jan said, "I played Wooley when I played for Penzance, and he played for Bridgewater Albion, and I absolutely destroyed him with the RN coaches watching! Then my run started in the [Navy Rugby] setup."

(Wooley and Milky were not available for comment!)

Players like Graham Dawe, Jan's “mentor”, and George Kemble, found themselves playing the Cornishman on a concerningly high number of occasions. Asked amongst all his Navy teammates who was most memorable he said the 'legend of a man' Ben Priddey. Prids supported Jan all through the build-up to the Army Navy allowing him to play his best at Twickenham in 2010 having been selected by Geraint Ashton-Jones ahead of Ben. The relationships Jan built within rugby shaped his career and pushed him to achieve bigger and better things.

However, the players facing Jan week in week out weren’t the only challenges and obstacles standing in his way. Playing twice a week certainly takes its toll, and as Jan puts it, at times he was in bits! But the thought of wearing that Navy Blue and being around the boys and the relationships he’d built, drove Jan to keep going and win the Inter Services Championship.

After hanging up the boots, Jan didn’t keep his rugby knowledge to himself, and took every opportunity to impart what he has learned to inspire the next generation. From leading Sunday sessions at his old club Penryn, to a season coaching Navy u23s, the ex-chock head did all he could to inspire up and coming rugby players, especially those joining the military, who he encourages to join their ship's or station's teams, to start their own road to Twickenham. Along the way he even had time to look after the Canadian Women’s team having been invited to personally by the RFU after a successful stint as kit manager and then logistics manager for the Senior Men.

Jan brought passion to every game he played, playing with a massive grin on his face, particularly when playing for the RNRU. He continues to inspire and bring the passion he experienced on the field into his endeavours off it. The RNRU wishes the best of luck to Jan as he continues with his role within the Exeter Chiefs' set up and congratulate the Chiefs on gaining such an exceptional and infectious individual.

The RNRU plays an Exeter Outreach XV at Sandy Park on the 6 March, when there will be plenty of time to catch up with him after he has squared away the needs of his charges!