Navy Rugby’s No8 is Navy Sport’s No1
Paula Bennett-Smith an ever present player in the Navy Rugby’s Women’s team since their inception, had her 15 years of top quality contribution to rugby union recognised by the Royal Navy Sports Control Board, who made her their Sportswoman of the Year. Like Dave Pascoe, who was made Sportsman of the Year in 2013, Paula has captained the Royal Navy side and won the respect of her teammates and also that of her opponents.
During her first stint as captain, Paula delivered the Royal Navy Women’s first Inter Service victory, with an away win against the Royal Air Force at Newbury. Two years later the Royal Navy Rugby Union recognised her contribution to the promotion of the women’s game throughout the Fleet by awarding her their Valuing the Volunteer Award, unusual for a player still fully active in the game.
Her second stint as captain coincided with an expansion in the women’s game; much of this due to her infectious passion and drive to promote the women’s rugby. Though operational commitments took her away from the team, as a player, for a couple of season’s she continued to stay involved taking on the fixtures secretary role and also assisting with some coaching. She made a memorable return in 2013, a season when she finally qualified for her Royal Navy Rugby Union cap in the match against the Royal Air Force played at Halton. This despite it being her fourteenth Inter Service match. Again deployment prevented her from playing in any of the early matches in the 2014 campaign before, with a powerful performance from the bench, against the RAF at Portsmouth, she forced herself back into the starting XV for the final match against the Army.
Due to injury to others she played an unexpected 80 minutes including taking over as captain when Sarah Jenkins had to leave the field injured. Until the final whistle she led the side from the front and ensured that the Army could never relax. Her Inter Services’ performances were rewarded with the Roger Sherratt Memorial Trophy, the most prestigious award in the Women’s game.
In making Paula Bennett-Smith their Sportswoman of the Year, the Royal Navy Sports Control Board have recognised a player, a coach and an administrator that has time and time again demonstrated the values that are held in such high esteem by both the Service and rugby union. She has selflessly given to others and encouraged them with their own sporting ambitions whilst delivering season after season of playing excellence. A most deserving recipient on the Royal Navy’s highest sporting award.
Images Alligin Photography © Geraint Ashton Jones & © Lee Crabb