Navy’s Cossack Sword Returns to its Spiritual Home

When Capt Leigh Merrick presented the Cossack Sword to the Royal Navy Rugby Union with the guidance that the trophy was for ‘Ground Gained and Held’ and for the player that displays the battling qualities of the famed Cossacks, he no doubt envisaged that the Sword would regularly go to the backrow.  As an uncompromising Number 8 himself, he will be no doubt be delighted to see Dave Fairbrother’s name engraved on the trophy as the third number 8 recipient.  For Fairbrother the previous Number 8 winners were Andy Perry, who later became an established player with Newcastle Falcons, and a certain Bob Armstrong, who presented Dave with his playing jersey prior to the RAF match.  Not bad company for the man from the North West.

Since his Senior XV debut last season, it was always a matter of when, not if, Dave Fairbrother was going to win the award.  He first came to prominence in the 2013 Navy Cup final where he stood out for 45 Cdo RM in a losing cause.  Selected for the Senior XV he quickly established himself as a rival to incumbent Number 8, Gaz Evans and it was no surprise to Navy Rugby followers that by the capped games both were accommodated in the Royal Navy’s backrow, with Fairbrother moving to the blindside flank.

This year, with Gaz unavailable for most of the season, Dave Fairbrother has stepped up to the mark, taking on far more responsibility to lead the backrow.  Whilst his runs, either from the base of the scrum or in the loose, continue to make him eye catching during the game.  Although this season his lineout work, in particular, has stepped up significantly and his work rate in defence has been of the highest order.

With last season’s Cossack Sword winner, Matt Harvey, and this years Proud Heritage, Exciting Future winner, Edd Pascoe, having plenty of years still in them, it looks as if the Royal Navy Rugby Union is about to enter another era where it’s backrow will become famed for its abrasive, direct play and preparedness to take the fight to the opposition.  Exactly the qualities that Leigh Merrick so admired when he was both captain and Selector to the Royal Navy team. 

Selected by his peers, Dave Fairbrother is a deserving 2015 winner of the Cossack Sword.  A previous winner of Navy Rugby League’s Man of Steel his ability have been acknowledged by his peers in both codes and his performances this season rightly earn him the right to have his name engraved alongside the fourteen names that have gone before.  Congratulations Dave Fairbrother.

Images Alligin Photography / © Geraint Ashton Jones  & © Lee Crabb