Mariner Matt receives award during season debut

Showing his pace against the Army Masters at Kneller Hall
Matt Smith in the thick of the action against the RAF
Matt Smith receiving the Mike Connolly award from RNRU President, Admiral Sir Philip Jone

Mariner Matt receives award during season debut

The weekend of the Army v Navy match is always an occasion for celebration, whatever the final scores. On Friday the Royal Navy Rugby Union family gathered to present their annual awards, to recognise the outstanding contribution of players and team management. The Mike Connolly award is one of these awards.

The Mike Connolly Award could read the ‘Mike Connolly Award for Back Row Forwards’ as previous recipients included Rees and Pallet with the blip of Halofaki in 2014 and Sayer receiving the trophy last year from Kelly Brown. On trend this season’s worthy beneficiary is Matt Smith on the back of a barnstorming debut season.

Capable of playing across the Back Row, Matt has impressed with performances at Number 8 both in the loose as a dynamic ball carrier or at the breakdown and tackle area, capable of disrupting opposition patterns and turning possession over. Equally comfortable in the boiler house of the Second Row, he has been a constant source of quality ball from the lineout both at the front and from the tail.

Often found in the wide channels, his deceptive speed and incredible work ethic make him the stand out player in the pack. His defence this season has often resulted in turnover ball typified against Havant where he put in a try saving tackle, catching up with and putting down the opposition winger, releasing the tackled player and then recycling the ball for an up-field clearance kick. Not averse to scoring tries; his name appeared regularly on the score sheet.

Matt immediately integrated into the squad, delighting in combining with Andy Vance and Chris Thompson again, who he went to school with in Ipswich, playing rugby together through the age groups and then more recently when they played together for the Fleet Air Arm. His obvious talent for the game and his quietly assured personality stood him in good stead while playing for HMS Collingwood and the RN Eastern Region this season and with standout performances for both the Training Support Group were keen to recruit him. A regular man of the match winner, he excelled in each match and provided the impetus required to take the Mariners over the line.

Matt Smith is a worthy fifth winner of the Mike Connolly Award.

Words by J Campbell-Baldwin
Images by RNRU © John Walton, Keith Woodland and Mark Andrews