A big thank you and farewell to DoR Cdr Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts meets the RAF Under 23 team at the Inter Service encounter Nov 19. Image credit © John Walton
Commander Chris Roberts leaves the Royal Navy after 34 years 307 days of exemplary service. Image credit © Keith Woodland
Chris Roberts joined by Rear Admiral Beckett at the International Defence Rugby Cup. Image credit © Royal Navy Rugby Union

The Royal Navy Rugby Union family would like to wish outgoing Director of Rugby Commander Chris Roberts a big thank you and fond farewell. 

Chris joined the Royal Navy on the 3rd June 1985, and it was at HMS Daedalus in 1986 when he played his first game of Ship rugby after which he was swiftly selected for the Fleet Air Arm Colts XV, playing in the Wildfire Trophy.

Chris playing fullback and in his rugby prime was also selected for the Royal Navy Colts side who’s season highlight was a 6-0 victory over the Army at Aldershot stadium (rumours have it that Scotland Selectors came to watch him in action); Chris also experienced the roller coaster of the sport, losing heavily to the RAF Colts at the Lensbury.

In May 1986, Chris joined HMS HERON 707 Naval Air Squadron where he completed his part 4 training on Sea King HC Mk4 Helicopters and embarked on his career as an engineer moving through the ranks from Able Rate to Chief Petty Officer, serving in 707, 845, 846 and 848 Naval Air Squadrons and contributing to HMS Heron’s successes in the Navy cup (as well as several Fleet Air Arm Bambara’s).  Chris’s early rugby achievements also include skippering the Fleet Air Arm’s Colts squad, winning the Wildfire trophy (under FAA legend Steve Creighton) in Devonport, the first time in 25 years that the Fleet Air Arm Colts had won this prestigious trophy.

Chris was invited to captain the Royal Navy Colts in 1987 (under the leadership of Navy Rugby legend Paul Dunn); unfortunately, a serious ankle injury against Yeovil Police cut his season short, and he missed out on that year’s inter-services.  

Chris played his first game of senior Fleet Air Arm rugby against Weymouth in 1989, playing alongside other RN Rugby legends Chris Alcock, Mark Deller, Mark Gibson and Skinny Jones to name but a few.  He continued to play Ships rugby throughout the remainder of his playing career.  Chris returned to field for the Fleet Air Arm Senior XV during the mid 90s and finally hung his playing boots up in 1999, playing his final Fleet Air Arm game against Scotland Command and was replaced by a young scrum half, AEM Dave Pascoe. (Many might suggest Chris taught Dave everything he knew)…

Chris remained a servant to the sport through the 2000s, supporting the Fleet Air Arm as treasurer and “bag-man”.  He also ran the HMS Heron 2nd XV and shared the successes of two Inverdale Trophy wins. After a short period “helping out” the RN Veterans team in 2007, he quickly stepped into the role as acting Team Manager (covering for WO1 Jimmy Green who joined Type 42 Destroyer HMS Gloucester at short notice on deployment), supporting the squad through to their Inter-services fixtures; Chris was awarded the RFU Value the Volunteer award for his sterling contributions.

After a few years away from rugby due to deployments on HMS Kent in his role as Executive Warrant Officer, Chris swiftly returned to support the RN Vets teams as the Assistant Team Manager.

Chris’s ability to motivate and lead teams contributed to his successful selection to attend Britannia Royal Naval College, commissioning as a Lieutenant.  He quickly stepped up to be the RN Veterans Team manager for two seasons, seeing their transition to become the “RN Mariners”, overseeing some good victories against the RAF.

In 2011 Chris was invited to take on the role as Senior XV Team Manager for the inaugural International Defence Force Rugby World Cup in Australia under the leadership of Cdr Alan Church.  Although only making the quarter finals, beaten by a ferocious Samoan Defence Force, it paved the way for Chris’s invitation to join the Senior XV as the assistant Team Manager for the following season, where he took the side back to Australia for the Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup CNRC, where they maintained their unbeaten run.  He also took the squad to New Zealand in 2014 unfortunately losing the CNRC title for the first time, but regaining it on home soil in Portsmouth in 2018.

In 2012 Chris advanced to become the permanent Senior Team Manager and joined the RNRU Executive committee also taking on the Director of Community Rugby, through which he established the legacy Royal Navy involvement in Beach Rugby festivals, growing the community game and bringing in two full time Community Rugby Coaches to help grow the sport across all levels in the service.

In May 2019, Chris was appointed as Director of Rugby for his final season with the RNRU.  Unfortunately, current circumstances mean that Chris will not get to see the fruits of his labour: he has been working tirelessly towards the playing of the first ever Women’s fixture at Twickenham stadium as well as the first overseas tour to South Africa for the Women.  This year’s Army v Navy matches in May were going to be his swan-song!  It also deprived the wider Royal Navy Rugby Union team, and especially the Executive Committee, their opportunity to say thank you for what has been an outstanding contribution to Navy Rugby for the past 34 years.

Commander Chris Roberts left the Naval Service on 5th April 2020 having served for 34 years and 307 days.  He has inspired and engaged with many throughout his exemplary career and service to Navy Rugby.  The RNRU family would like to wish Chris and his ever supportive wife Carol all the best.

By line: Hugo Mitchell-Heggs