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.
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.
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.