The RNRU welcome Admiral Sir Philip Jones as new Life Member

Admiral Jones presenting Billi Staite with her RNRU cap March 2017. Image © John Walton
Admiral Jones presiding at the RNRU Annual Dinner in 2016. Image © Mark Giles
Presenting Sam Sims with his Value the Volunteer award March 2017. Image © John Walton

The Royal Navy Rugby Union is delighted to welcome former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones GCB DL, as their newest Life Member.

Admiral Jones became President of the RNRU in 2012 having taken over from Admiral Sir Trevor Soar. A highly committed president, he handed over to Vice Admiral Ben Key CBE in June 2017 after five years in the role and immediately after presiding over the extraordinary celebrations organised to mark the 100th Army v Navy match.

Admiral Jones’ close involvement with the Royal Navy Rugby Union began in the 2007/08 season, when the incumbent President, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, welcomed both Rear Admiral Richard Ibbotson and Rear Admiral Phil Jones to the fold as new Vice Presidents of the Union.  That marked the start of his significant contribution to the Royal Navy Rugby Union.

There have been many memorable and poignant moments throughout his tenure, none more so than the unveiling of the Rose and Poppy Memorial Gates at Twickenham in May 2016.  Together with England legend and RFU President Jason Leonard they officially unveiled the 1914 - 1918 World War tribute as part of a series of special events to mark the centenary of the war.  Subsequent events included the recognition of Lt Cdr Arthur Harrison VC, the officer in immediate command of the Naval Storming Parties at Zeebrugge on the night of 22nd April 1918 as well as the much enjoyed historically linked commemorative rugby matches in France and in the Netherlands, where an Inverdale Challenge match was played in Leeuwarden in November 2016. 

He represented and supported the Royal Navy Rugby Union across the UK and overseas, including memorable trips to Australia and New Zealand as part of the Commonwealth Navies Rugby Cup competition in 2012 and 2014.  Then, in 2015 the UK Armed Forces hosted the International Rugby Defence Cup (IRDC), where the RNRU won the plate competition, as well as hosting the US Rugby World Cup squad, ‘the Eagles’ in Portsmouth, including visits to the Historic Dockyard and HMS Temeraire, during their preparations for the Rugby World Cup. 

Under his presidency there was a significant focus on the development of Women’s rugby. The Royal Navy Rugby Union started awarding caps to female players in 2011 for those who had played in six Inter Service matches since 2008; subsequently presenting the first female caps on 19 Jan 2012 to 6 players.  In 2010, the first female life member, Paula Rowe, was elected, and in 2017 Captain (now Commodore) Ellie Ablett RN became the first RNRU female Vice President. 

Across the breadth of the world the Royal Navy has been playing rugby; wholeheartedly encouraged by Admiral Jones.  Whether from deployed Ships, on tours, in competitions (CNRC and IDRC), across the Middle East and Europe, in the Sharks’ 7s competitions or, from 2015, at the Weymouth RNRU Beach Rugby Festival, sailors have laced up their boots and represented the Royal Navy with pride. 

On the less glamourous but no less important administrative front, he guided the transformation of the RNRU organisation, which saw the establishment of the Board of Trustees, the establishment of the Trading Company and the transfer of administration of finance and accounts to the RNRMC.  The organisation has routinely reported an annual turnover in excess of a million pounds (due in the most part to sell out ticket sales for the annual Army v Navy match at Twickenham).  In the community rugby environment he saw the establishment of the role of the Rugby Development Officer (RDO), supported by the Community Rugby Coaches (CRC), which saw grassroots rugby and coaching brought to all areas of the Naval Service and to local communities through our affiliated clubs, United Services Portsmouth and Devonport Services RFC. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, on the field he had the pleasure of witnessing the Senior XV end a run of Army domination when they were crowned Inter Service champions in 2016.  He saw the U23 side win back-to-back Inter Service titles in 2015 and 2016, and he watched the Mariners win their Inter Service competition in 2015. He also saw the Senior Women’s ability to compete continue to grow, and the number of women playing rugby increase three-fold.

Graciously accepting his life membership of the Royal Navy Rugby Union, Admiral Jones said “I am delighted to have been nominated as a life member of the Royal Navy Rugby Union.  I was always aware that the core values of the Royal Navy and the RFU were closely aligned and saw first-hand the benefits of team sport to the discipline, cohesiveness and operational effectiveness of our Service.  I look forward to continuing to be an ambassador for the RNRU alongside our other distinguished life members.”

By line: Jamie Campbell-Baldwin