Royal Navy Rugby Union welcomes new Director of Rugby Commander Rob O’Kane

Playing at fly-half for the Defence Academy in 2017. Image © Crown Copyright.
Rob showing his on-field skills are still sharp. Image © Crown Copyright.
Rob, as ADoR Under 23s, presenting Gareth Rees with the Brian Weeks Memorial Trophy in 2016. Image © Alligin Photography.

The Royal Navy Rugby Union is delighted to announce that Commander Rob O’Kane has been selected as the new Director of Rugby succeeding Commander Chris Roberts.  Rob takes up his new position and joins the Royal Navy Rugby Union Executive Committee with immediate effect.

Rob is no stranger to Navy Rugby, having previously represented the Royal Navy Rugby Union at Senior XV level, and also, more recently, having led the RNRU Under 23 team to victory as Assistant Director of Rugby in the Inter Service competition.

Born in the northern town of Wigan, Rob was unsurprisingly influenced by rugby throughout his early life. Having been a regular on the terraces of the famous rugby league club and watching players such as Shaun Edwards, Andy Farrell and Jason Robinson, Rob chose to begin his own playing career in the 15 a-side code at Orrell RUFC. Here he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Dewi Morris, Nigel Heslop and, in the latter stages, Austin Healey, who all played a part in shaping his passion for rugby.

Rob continued to play rugby when he joined the Royal Navy in 1998 as a trainee helicopter observer at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.  His talent was quickly spotted and he was selected to join the ranks of the Royal Navy Senior XV, winning his first Royal Navy Rugby Union cap in 2000, playing fly-half. 

“I had played a decent standard of rugby for club, university and county but I never imagined that I would be playing at Twickenham in front of 40,000 people just 18 months after joining the Navy” explains Rob. “It was a really special occasion and one that I was grateful to share with my parents and family members, all of whom had helped me on the way”.

Rob continued with his flying training and deployments overseas in the following years and, despite playing as an active squad member for a number of seasons, he did not add to his 2 Senior caps.

“Playing for the Navy in any capacity is a real honour, but I am a little gutted that I never got the privilege of running out at Twickenham again; I feel there is some unfinished business that I need to attend to and, having scratched the itch through my involvement with the Royal Navy Under 23 team a few years ago, I’m ready and raring to get involved again”.

His involvement with the Under 23 team as Assistant Director of Rugby saw the team win their first ever back-to-back Inter-Service titles. During his time with the team the Training Support Group also discovered notable young players, including Jarrad Hayler and Gareth Rees, who went on to play at the Senior level.  Seeing their development in the Senior team has been something Rob has watched with pride.

“I truly believe that rugby offers many positive benefits to Service life and it is no surprise that the core values of the Royal Navy are very similar to those of the RFU. Seeing the impact that rugby has on young servicemen and women and the positive effect the sport has on their career and life is quite special. But rugby is not just about the players on the pitch, there are those who coach, referee, support and enable the players and it is vital that we create an atmosphere that inspires and is enjoyable for the whole of the RNRU family”.

While he was studying at the Defence Academy in 2017, Rob took the opportunity to play rugby competitively again, and he represented the Defence Academy in their annual encounter with the French Military Staff College, competing for the Lerwill Cup.  However, this was the last time he actively took to the pitch as recurrent hamstring injuries have led him to the conclusion that his playing days are now firmly in the past. 

Rob currently works at the Ministry of Defence in London in the Security Policy and Operations team, with responsibility for Defence Future Commitments.  A strong believer in the power of rugby to help develop confidence and team work at all levels, Rob also manages to find time to coach within the youth section at Penryn RFC in Cornwall.

Everyone in the Royal Navy Rugby Union wishes Rob every success during his tenure as Director of Rugby.

By line: Hugo Mitchell-Heggs