On 25th September 2020 the worst thing happened to Police Sergeant Matt Ratana, he was shot dead inside a police custody facility in London. The New Zealand born officer had served 30 years in the force and was nearing retirement. Matt was born in the Hawke’s Bay Region and was of Maori descent. But he was so much more than his professional role, I’ve taken words from the Foundation set up in his name’s website to describe his role in the world of rugby.

“Aside from his work in the police, Matt worked tirelessly as rugby coach for all ages and mentor to young people. He spoke often to his various teams of the importance of ‘ Whānau’, which in Maori means, your community, your family. He was an inspirational leader, friend and teacher. 

He was wholly inclusive and ran teams from the very young through the men’s and women’s senior teams, as well as encouraging all ages to engage with the sport. 

He inspired so many, and The Matt Ratana Rugby Foundation will work to build a legacy that he would have been proud of.” 

https://mattratanarugby.foundation/about-matt

A bit more about the foundation – the overarching aim is all about

“Improving Life’s Experiences Through Rugby”

Creating transformational change and opportunity for young people

The Foundation has 5 Pillars –

  • Well Being and Inclusion
  • Respect For People And Culture
  • Team Sport to Be Enjoyed
  • Discipline And Fairness
  • Sportsmanship

I’ve taken a particular interest in projects aimed at changing lives through rugby and its’ values in the last few years and have seen some truly transformational things happening. From conversations I’ve had about Matt as well as articles I’ve read it’s clear that he was already doing great work at East Grinstead where he was Head Coach. He was a great believer in Whānau – explained below – And had already changed lives through his involvement with the game.

“Whānau is often translated as ‘family’, but its meaning is more complex. It includes physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions and is based on whakapapa. Whānau can be multi-layered, flexible and dynamic. Whānau is based on a Māori and a tribal world view.”

A few months ago a friend of mine, rugby writer James While posted on his Facebook page about a match that was due to take place in Matt’s memory. It was to be a fairly low key event to be held at Croydon Rugby Club, I offered to go and write an article and take some photos.

Most sporting communities are hugely supportive and the Rugby Union one is no exception, Peter Mitchell (a Trustee) mentioned the plan for a local team to play against a local police team to Chief Inspector Darren Cox of the Metropolitan Police and Perry John Parker a pro player and friend of Peter’s, things then started to take a different shape. Darren got the England Police Team onboard and Perry got some of his old team mates and friends involved. That was all adding up to a much bigger event, Matt was involved with the London Irish Vets, playing at Prop, and was very highly regarded. What better venue than London Irish’s wonderful training ground, Hazelwood.

I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Hazelwood in 2014, a 63 acre complex built on the site of a 9 hole golf course, there are literally rugby pitches as far as the eye can see, it’s an impressive facility.

The day planned was an impressive one too – 2 matches – with both a Women’s and Men’s game. With the MRRF Vixens playing a Women’s Police team and the MRRF Marauders playing the England Police Rugby team. I travelled over to West London the night before the match and arrived to find a good crowd building. That crowd included some very recognisable faces, including Peter Winterbottom and Tim Stimpson there in support, alongside several notable names lining up for the Marauders.

The Women’s gamed was up first and we were treated to some entertaining rugby, it was a great advert for the Women’s game, the police team was victorious with the final score standing at MRRF Vixens 19 Police Women XV 43. The Police Team included some players who play or have played at the highest level –

Neither game was a ‘friendly’ and the second match most definitely wasn’t, with several ex-internationals turning out for the Foundation team there was a lot of determination shown by both sides. The one very clear advantage the police side had over their opponents was speed and that speed was used to great effect. The final result was MRRF XV 29 EPRUFC 79.

Match photos from the Men’s game –

The day was a great success, I’m now the proud owner of a MRRF shirt as are many others. The full range of items can be found here https://mattratanarugby.foundation/gifts-for-supporters The Foundation is already carrying out work in both England and Scotland and also in New Zealand, I hope to find out more about that later in the year.

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