Royal Navy Rugby Union welcomes new Life Member – John Cunningham

Commander John Cunningham RN (Rtd)

The Royal Navy Rugby Union is delighted to welcome Commander John Cunningham RN (retired) as their newest Life Member.  John started his Navy Rugby career while under training at Britannia Royal Naval College and has been involved across the wide-range of Navy Rugby activities over his 37 years of service.

John has most recently been known for his outstanding work as part of the RNRU Executive Committee as the RNRU’s RFU Council Member, a role he has held since 2012.  He served faithfully for 6 years, representing the RNRU within the heart of the RFU, participating in a number of RFU committees, influencing RFU activity at the highest levels.  Most notably his work in support of the 1914-1918 World War commemorative events included the recognition of Arthur Harrison VC, the playing of memorial matches in France and the Netherlands, and the installation of the Rose and Poppy memorial gates at Twickenham. 

John first joined the committee in 2010 as a Trustee and Director of Operations and Governance.  During this time, he wrote and developed the road map for a new governance structure for the Union, which included the requirement for incorporation, the establishment of an independent board of trustees and the development of a relationship with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity. 

Before he took on these management roles, John had an active career in the grass roots of Navy Rugby, playing in ship and establishment teams both in the UK and overseas.  While serving in the Hong Kong Squadron he managed to combine his naval duties with playing rugby for HMS Swallow ship’s team, Kowloon Tigers RFC, the Combined Services Hong Kong team and for Hong Kong itself including 2 caps awarded on a tour to Singapore and Thailand.  His performance on the tour secured an invitation to join the Hong Kong squad for the Hong Kong 7s in March 1986.  However, to his immense frustration, he was deployed at sea and could not be released to play.

After he returned from Hong Kong, John’s career in the Fleet Air Arm was taking off but he still made time to play rugby running out for HMS Seahawk and HMS Osprey and playing civilian rugby for Camborne RFC.  He first represented the RN against Bath United and Kent in 1990 in a commemorative match following the IRA bomb attack at Deal Barracks.  He also joined the RNRU tour of Kenya in the same year and his representative career looked extremely promising.  Sadly, an injury in 1991 curtailed his aspirations and instead he turned his attention to coaching.

After coaching HMS Chatham’s rugby team during an Armilla deployment and leading the London University Royal Naval Unit to victory in the Inter-URNU 7s competition, he took up coaching in one of the RNRU’s voting club members as a Level 1 and 2 Juniors coach.  He spent the next 7 years fulfilling key positions in the United Services Portsmouth committee.  During this period US Portsmouth saw unprecedented levels of growth in the number of Juniors playing rugby, many of who remain within the set up of the club at Burnaby Road to this day.

After his long and rewarding involvement with the RNRU the Executive Committee swiftly approved his nomination as a Life Member and look forward to his continued involvement in the activities of the Royal Navy Rugby Union for many years to come.  He joins Captain Chris Alcock, Chief Petty Officer Ash Coates and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti as the most recently elected Life Members.

Image: Royal Navy Rugby Union © Keith Woodland