The Whānau Cup is back and this year we're off to Bristol to take on Rugby For Hero's in another fantastic charity game! Watch here and our social media for updates and how to get tickets when they come out!
In the meantime, check out previous Whānau Cups below:
On 28th August, the Foundation staged the inaugural Whānau Cup at London Irish’s Hazelwood ground. The event aspired to be a celebration, through rugby, of the values Matt held dear. Its name was carefully and deliberately chosen: the Māori concept of Whānau... how we are bonded with our family and with the wider community, our links both to our ancestors and to our descendants, and our responsibility to be worthy of these historical traditions through our contribution to the collective.
Fitting then, that, after Joanna Forest’s moving rendition of “The world in union”, everyone was treated to a stunning ceremonial haka, performed by Bruce Simpson. This served as a vibrant and poignant reminder of Matt’s proud heritage, and the beliefs central to his, and now the Foundation’s, vision: community, inclusivity, respect, teamwork and discipline.
The impressive turn-out, some 2000, including Met. Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick and RFU CEO Bill Sweeney, was further tribute to the man we had lost eleven months earlier, and had come to honour.
In the showpiece match, the MRRF Marauders, comprising players from all those clubs with which Matt had links, alongside several well-respected guests, took on the England Police. It was a compelling opening, with the invitation side taking the game boldly to their youthful opposition, securing an early lead, before the superior fitness and organisation of an impressive Police outfit eventually proved decisive. An increasingly open second half, with both benches put to full use, raised the volume on the packed touchlines, and as both defences tired it became a free-scoring spectacle, the final score a conclusive 79-29.
The presentation of trophies was followed by tributes and speeches. Central to these was a passionate introduction by MRRF Director Sean Morgan to the Foundation’s plans to build a worthy legacy for Matt, through its core aim of “creating transformational change and opportunity for young people through rugby”. Insights followed into actual projects, both in the pipeline and already underway, all with the fundamental goal of inspiring and mentoring youngsters from challenging backgrounds, as far afield as New Zealand, and as close to home as South London. Matt’s partner Su Bushby then spoke warmly of what the event meant to her personally, and how moved she felt at seeing the Foundation already so well supported, honouring Matt’s memory. Proceedings were wrapped up by Tim Stimpson expertly banging the fundraising drum, which led naturally into what was always destined to be a long and lively night.
Alongside fellow organisers Peter Mitchell and Anna Young, Rob Lynch found the turn-out truly inspiring: “The reaction from the rugby community, professional and amateur, to get behind what we are trying to achieve with the Foundation has been simply staggering. We could not have asked for more”, a sentiment echoed by Police captain Cormac Healy: “It’s about how rugby can bring people together. I think it really did that today”.
Throughout the day, everywhere you looked, on the field, on the touchline and in the bar, there were constant reminders of the man himself. The wholehearted commitment, the competitive edge, the warm camaraderie. The arm thrown around opponent as readily as teammate, the stranger greeted as warmly as the old friend. The stories, songs and laughter. The overwhelming mood was of a collective desire to remember Matt by pushing on from here to realise the ambitions and initiatives that he cherished and planned to see happen.
The Foundation would like to thank everyone who supported the event, in any capacity, playing a part in what was a wonderfully successful first staging of the Whānau Cup, and such an encouraging launchpad for the future. The build-up to next year’s renewal, 20th August 2022, starts now.
The curtain-raiser saw London Irish Wild Geese prevail 33-10 over East Grinstead, the club to which Matt was so much more than just Head Coach. Next up, a Police Women’s XV had the better of a thoroughly entertaining encounter with the spirited MRRF Vixens, who remained resilient in the face of a huge defensive workload. A lively contest which fully engaged the growing crowd finished 49-19.
On 20th August we gathered for the first renewal of our annual showcase fixture. The late summer conditions at Hazelwood were distinctly bright and breezy, much like the Kiwi prop forward we had come together to honour and remember.
The wonderful Vikki Webb Medhurst opened proceedings in soulful fashion, setting the tone neatly for the curtain-raiser, London Irish Emeralds hosting a strong MRRF Vixens selection.
Whilst it was never one-way traffic, the invitation side were in the ascendancy throughout. Despite being the makeshift team, the Vixens looked the more fluent, offloading effectively and always asking questions of an often stretched Irish defence. To their great credit the home side stuck to their task and never let their heads go down. However the wealth of possession and pressure eventually told, the final scoreline of an entertaining open contest being an emphatic 39-0.
For those in attendance last year, early exchanges in the men’s match had a distinct sense of déjà-vu, the Marauders throwing everything at a disciplined England Police side, but with little to show for it on the scoreboard. On the touchline there prevaled a nervous wariness that once again the superior fitness and organisation of the holders would eventually tell as the game progressed.
However to widespread relief this was not to be the case. Although the invitation side’s set piece and restarts wobbled understandably at times, they gained a healthy share of possession, and threatened out wide on several occasions. In both camps the final pass often didn’t quite go to hand, and a very even first half ended with the Police leading 12-7.
The third quarter saw momentum swing back and forth, with both sides having opportunities to take the initiative. Scrambling defence saved certain scores at both ends on more than one occasion. Around Hazelwood one could sense that this period would surely decide the contest, and likewise on the field, where emotions were running high. Ultimately, as defences tired and mistakes crept in, the holders just had the edge in terms of composure and execution.
It was only on 70 minutes, when the Police openside carried brilliantly from near halfway to go in untouched under the posts, that the engrossed spectators felt the inevitable gap in stamina was finally starting to show. Despite their rapidly emptying tanks, the game finished with the Marauders camped on the opposition line, desperately banging on the door for a consolation try, but full-blooded defence meant it was not to be.
A final score of 32-12 saw England Police deservedly retain their title. Worthy and gracious winners, it was plainly evident how much this fixture means to them, even moreso in light of the fact that several players had to hit the road straight after the game to fulfil night shift duties in all corners of the country.
Marauders’ inspirational captain Perry-John Parker remained in defiant mood: “I’m massively proud of the effort and commitment throughout our squad today. To come together only this morning, hastily throw together a game plan, and then get so close to such a superbly drilled outfit, is a mighty achievement. We were right in that match for an hour, and rattled a decent Police side. To a man, the players bought wholeheartedly into our reason for being here, to pay tribute to Matt. It’s only a matter of time ‘til we get hold of that trophy.”
Presentations followed, Rob Lynch, Anna Young and Pete Mitchell representing the Foundation. Su Bushby, whom we were once again proud to have with us for Whānau Cup Day, echoed her previous sentiments that the teamwork and warm inclusive spirit on show was truly a fitting accolade to Matt. Another essential tradition was then observed as Jason Darling led us in singing, dancing and celebrating long into the evening.
The last word goes, appropriately, to Marauders’ Head Coach Dean Richards: “It’s been an honour to be involved in this event. I’m right behind the work of the Foundation in reaching out to youngsters who might otherwise be heading in an unhealthy direction. The enduring message is that something so positive can emerge from such a terrible tragedy. It’s a message we can all treasure and take forward.”