CHAIRMAN’S NOTES 28TH SEPTEMBER 2019
Can I welcome you all to Presidents lunch and the 1st home league match of the season? We thank the club’s main sponsors Hire4Lower for their sponsorship of today’s programme and the continuing support of Colin and Yvonne Tall.
Today we host HSBC RFC, for whom our fundraising champion David Robson used to play. We also welcome Steven Randall as our referee and can I remind everyone of the need to respect our match officials throughout the game? Without long-standing servants of the game like Steven, we would not be able to play our matches.
Today you will see the unveiling of the Mike McMinnies Memorial shirt, which harks back to a shirt that we used to wear in the good old days. This is a mark of respect for the service to the club not only by Mike but also by his late brother David and of course his mother; all 3 were in fact the force behind the founding of the club in 1957. Tricia McMinnies cannot be with us today but she will be attending the remainder of the lunches this season.
The club has had a fair amount of publicity over the summer because of the success of Ruaridh McConnochie in his selection for the England World Cup squad; let us hope that a former Cranbrook player can bring home the World Cup. We are showing the matches at weekends in the club and will be advertising breakfasts as appropriate.
Our new president Mark Scott is in the chair today and will be looking after proceedings. On Tuesday Mark flies out for the wedding of his son Jonathan in Brisbane; Jonathan is marrying Andrew Slack’s daughter and I’m sure that there are many of us who remember what a great player for Australia Andrew was. We wish Jonathan and Hannah all the best in their married life.
The club has been very active over the summer. We started with touch rugby before moving on to very focused and enjoyable training sessions from July. Several new players have joined us and we do look forward to a successful season for all our teams, Senior, Ladies, Juniors and Minis. The ladies have already won both their league games against Jersey in Jersey and Hove. They are currently in Barcelona on a tour and I have no doubt that they will fly the flag for the club.
The Firsts won 3 out of their 4 preseason games and last Saturday away at Cliffe Crusaders in our 1st league game of the season the result was a resounding 44-7 win against the spirited newly promoted side.
The Firsts have a threefold aim this season- promotion, success in the national cup and winning the Kent Vase. Even at this early stage of the season we would like to express our thanks to Chris Catt, James Green and Phil Catt for the work that they have done over the summer.
The Nomads look like having a successful season, which has been delayed because of the marriage of their captain Higgins last Saturday; again we wish the happy couple a long and successful marriage.
The Junior and Mini sections have started the season well; on September 8 we had a very successful bring a friend day. This not only resulted in new members but also new coaches and volunteers. We are looking at new or refurbished gazebos for both sections not only as a focal point during festivals but also as somewhere to shelter should the weather ever turn inclement; we are looking for sponsors for these gazebos; some of the year groups have found a sponsor for their particular gazebo but if you would like to assist the minis and juniors by sponsoring a gazebo please do not hesitate to contact the committee.
As regards the club development, we have our application for grants lodged with Sport England and the Co-op. A meeting has been arranged with Sport England to look at the costings and the value of what we are trying to achieve. We are revamping the fundraising team so that there will be champions at every level of the club. We do look forward to receiving help from all our members in our efforts to raise the necessary funds.
There have been changes in the kitchen. After many years of fantastic service Christine has retired and we cannot thank her enough for all that she has done. Today Alan Kings has taken on the cooking and we have arrangements in place for all the club lunches this season. The Christmas lunch is on December 14 and no doubt you will all be booking your places through Chris Hambridge sooner rather than later.
Today is the official start of the 2019/20 season for Cranbrook sports club; this season will end next August at the conclusion of the cricket club fixtures. The cricket club have had a very successful time over the summer both in the leagues and cups. There are now 130 junior players registered and there were 4 matches involving the seniors; all these were won by Cranbrook but we are always on the lookout for more players and also more matches at that level.
Congratulations to the Ladies on their winning start to the new season. They firstly travelled to Jersey and squeaked past them 7-5 in a very tight match which saw them battle out the last few minutes defending their try line. They then travelled to Hove and came away more emphatic winners 25-5.
ON THE UP TO THE RWC!
Read the following excerpt from a piece in the Digital Times on Ruaridh's rise to the RWC 2019...
Owen Farrell was in his third season as a professional when Ruaridh McConnochie, his team-mate for England on Friday, was considering a move to Nuneaton RFC in the fifth tier of English rugby.
McConnochie had been with Cranbrook since under-9s without coming close to playing representative rugby. He was never looked at by a Premiership club and ignored by county coaches. At 15, when McConnochie had to decide between playing for Cranbrook School on a Saturday or the club on a Sunday, he chose both.
Other than a gap year spent in New Zealand, working at Tauranga Boys College and turning out for Rangataua, Cranbrook had been McConnochie’s club, so when he went to the University of Gloucestershire and was offered a chance to play for Nuneaton, it prompted pause for thought.
“His loyalty was such that he asked permission to leave the club,” Peter Jovanovic, who coached him from eight to 18, says, “I said he didn’t need to. It is one of those things that you appreciate. It adds to your character.”
Farrell, who is a month older than McConnochie, 27, had been playing for Saracens since November 2010, which perhaps makes McConnochie’s move to Nuneaton in 2012, then in National Three Midlands, seem an unlikely step in the same direction — towards professional rugby with Bath, St James’ Park on Friday to face Italy, and then, injury permitting, the World Cup in Japan.
Yet, that is where he will be, having come through the national leagues, earned an Olympic sevens silver medal and been touched by death and by illness. He is a beacon for the unconventional, meandering and sometimes painful route to the fulfilment of unspoken childhood ambition.
Jovanovic remembers a gangly and gifted schoolboy. “He had an instinct for space,” he says, “I can’t believe that he wasn’t picked up by county sides. Volunteers at county sides tend to lean towards their own club players. He was mature beyond his years and intent on understanding a situation. He went away to New Zealand to enjoy some rugby and then came back and played for us for a year. He then went on to Gloucester and things started to happen.”
At the University of Gloucestershire, where he studied sport and exercise science, McConnochie met Phil Llewellyn, a mature student who had been named director of rugby at Nuneaton. “He was 19 then,” Llewellyn, 35, says, “Had that social awkwardness about him that people do at that age. And he had talent. He was that perfect balance of wanting to know more, but would offer an opinion to challenge you.”
The pair became friends and Llewellyn was perhaps the first to identify in McConnochie the capacity to adapt that defined his progress to England’s 31-man World Cup squad. “When he got selected for England students he looked comfortable,” Llewellyn says, “He went with GB student sevens to Brazil and was probably the standout player. He went to England and was the same.
“Anyone who knows him wasn’t surprised about his success at Bath. I would bet my mortgage that if he gets a run of games in an England shirt, injury aside, he will make that shirt his.”
Ask Stuart Hooper, the director of rugby at Bath, for whom McConnochie made his professional 15-a-side debut last season, where this comes from and he will tell you that it is all in the striving. “It is the journey that he has had to the point where he is at now, which has given him perspective and drive,” he says. “He will grasp everything he can when he can.”
For McConnochie, chance and trauma have an unhappy habit of coinciding. A month before he flew to Brazil with Great Britain student sevens in 2014, his close friend Arthur Mason, then 21, died in a farming accident. “It was horrendous,” Llewellyn says. “But that has played a part in his desire — it can spur you on. Whenever he has played sevens he has had ‘4Rthur’ on him, he has always carried it with him. In those moments, he is thinking about something other than himself.”
Rather than the usual scars of professional rugby, McConnochie bears the mark of this on his wrist, penned onto his tape, the name of his friend and the tagline for the charity set up in his honour. Great Britain won that World University Sevens Championship and McConnochie caught the eye of Simon Amor, the England Sevens coach. “He was not hugely fit,” Amor says, “but he had competitive spirit, he never gave up. There was something quite gifted in the way that he moved.
“He came in for a few months off his own back, he wasn’t paid, and he was the most incredible person. He was humble, he got on with everyone. I am not at all surprised to see Eddie [Jones] pick him. He was prepared to give it everything for no guarantee.
“He will always put himself before others. He is driven but he understands the importance of the team. He is also a phenomenal athlete — first and foremost, you select people because you know they will deliver on the pitch and that is what he does.”
McConnochie only made his professional 15-a-side debut last season at Bath
McConnochie supported Scotland as a youngster, encouraged to do so by his Scottish father, Rennie. If there was any ambition to represent them, however, it was thwarted when he made his sevens debut for England in 2015, which made him ineligible. After a year, Amor picked him as a travelling reserve for Rio 2016. He got his chance to play when Alex Davis was injured the week before the tournament and he left with a silver medal, to which he added a Commonwealth bronze for England two years later.
Hooper says that Bath had been watching him for a while, partly through the influence of Dan Cooper, an analyst for the club who had previously been with the sevens programme, but the rest of the XVs market was cold on McConnochie, unsure of the prospect of recruiting a sevens proponent.
“Firstly,” Hooper says, “It was him as a bloke; he had the determination to develop and grow and get better. As a player, he is very dominant in the air and his capacity to work is exceptional.
“He is a fantastic human being. He has a very good perspective on what it means to be a professional sportsman. He is absolutely committed, but he is refreshing because it is not all-consuming.”
In his final season with the sevens side, McConnochie’s path turned again. His girlfriend Vicki, whom he had been with since university and is now a police officer, had cancer diagnosed. “The bravery and strength they show is something you want to share,” Llewellyn says. “It can be an inspiration to others. They were in a really tough place.”
In April, he shared the news of her recovery on Twitter. A month before, he had charmed Jones for the first time, against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park. Playing with his socks slung low about the base of his calves, there was something of the wiry and liberated schoolboy about McConnochie on that day. Next to the heft and heavy strapping of Exeter’s gigantic forward pack, he looked almost innocuous. Yet Jones left with a hunch. “He is basically just a kid in and among guys who he has idolised for years,” Llewellyn says.
Something of the long-limbed and underappreciated schoolboy remains then, pockmarked by the unexpected kindness and cruelty of life, but wiser, more perspicacious. For that, McConnochie will make England all the better.