Navy Blue and Marine Green combine to make Sapphire at RNRU Annual Dinner

Outgoing Chairman, Brigadier Ewen Murchison, enjoying the attention.
Sapphire Seven's Toni Ashmore and Jo May received the Chris Alcock Award for outstanding contribution to the Royal Navy Rugby Union
Admiral Key presenting the Women’s Players’ Player award to Kirsty Marlor
Sherlock Holmes being presented with the Soapy Watson Trophy
Members of the RNRU Women’s XV enjoying themselves

The Royal Navy Rugby Union family was treated to a wonderful evening of dinner and dancing at Fort Blockhouse. The sun was shining, the suits dashing and the dresses stunning: the perfect way to celebrate the 2018 rugby season.

The Officers’ Mess at Fort Blockhouse was the venue for the Royal Navy Rugby Union third Annual Dinner and Ball on 29 June 2018. Looked after in style by the wardroom staff from HMS Collingwood, the representatives from across the extensive Royal Navy Rugby Union family were hosted by the outgoing Chairman Brigadier Ewen Murchison, who welcomed the guests, with RNRU President, Vice Admiral Ben Key, sharing his thoughts on another successful year across the broad spectrum of events and matches; describing the highlights of the past year and recognising the success of individuals and the efforts they had gone to and their outstanding commitment to the RNRU.

The opportunity to celebrate a fantastic year on and off the field was too great to miss.  Managers, coaches, players, referees, medical support, committee members, executive and of course the RNRU’s generous sponsors, took the time to reflect and consider the President’s words.  He started “…the team matters more than the individual” while highlighting that “probity” in all its meanings clearly resonates as an ethos within the RNRU and the desire to strive for improvement using the “top 6 inches” was keenly felt by those who pulled on the navy blue shirts and those who supported them all the way up to the whitewash.  The Admiral’s final thought was to thank the outgoing Chairman, highlighting his successes and wishing him continuing good fortune as the Royal Navy’s RFU Council Member.  Ewen hands over to a familiar RNRU face, Commander Andy Kellett RN, who formally took over this week at the RNRU Executive Committee Meeting.

The RNRU dinner presents an excellent opportunity to formally recognise player and non-player success.  Three RNRU awards were presented after dinner.  First Lt Cdr Kirsty Marlor received the RNRU’s Women’s Players’ Player award.  As coaches up and down the breadth of the country say to their chargers, this is the best one to get as recognition from your peers as the individual who exudes the team ethos the most, who puts body and soul into training, delivers on the pitch and immediately after the whistle is typically seen cleaning up the clubhouse on completion. Since winning her first cap in 2014 against the Marine Nationale Kirsty has regularly appeared in the match day programme with one of her most enduring attributes being her versatility on the pitch.  She may have said she is considering retiring from playing rugby but if the ladies were to set up a vets side…well you never know.  

The second award was the Soapy Watson Award, for the Training Support Group member who has contributed the most during the season.  Instrumental as the Mariners’ team manager for two years having made the difficult step off the pitch, WO1 Andrew ‘Sherlock’ Holmes was presented with the trophy.  Having knocked around for 15 years on the RNRU scene, he ends his Navy rugby career having completed perhaps the hardest job – managing a group of ageing players who think they know better and also think they still have the bodies of 25 year olds!  He has committed himself to the cause without complaint and is fully deserving of recognition for his selfless, unrelenting service to the RNRU Mariners.

The final award of the night was the much-coveted Chris Alcock Award for outstanding contribution to the Royal Navy Rugby Union.  In Chris’s absence, the award was announced by the Chairman and the deserving winners of the award are very much part of the RNRU family: Sapphire Seven.  Once, those not in blue or green but working with the RNRU were described as contractors.  Over time this generalization of the relationship was recognised as well wide of the mark and the word partner was introduced.  Even this term is inaccurate as all the guests at the dinner (and those unable to attend) should rightly consider themselves part of the family.  Receiving the award, Jo May and Toni Ashmore were initially speechless.  Once fully recovered they were quick not to take all the plaudits themselves, thanking the other members of the Sapphire Seven team and the RNRU Executives highlighting Alan Church and Mike Burningham with whom they work most closely.

After the speeches and toasts the dance floor quickly filled as the guests tried to make amends for the delicious food consumed, but as with all good things the evening had to come to an end and as the last guests boarded the passenger boats to cross to Portsmouth and as the taxis sped north to Fareham and beyond, the guests had the opportunity to ponder the previous season and consider what 2018/19 will bring.

Words: Jamie Campbell-Baldwin
Images: Royal Navy Rugby Union © Mark Giles