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The end of another memorable season has seen a number of changes of personnel within the Army Rugby Union’s management structure.

Brig James Cook OBE, Director Programme CASTLE, is the ARU’s new Chair. He has stepped up into the position following a successful and challenging three years as Vice-Chair which included the resumption of rugby at all levels within the Army following the pandemic lockdowns, and the return of the Inter Service Championship.

Brig James – a qualified referee and coach is also the ARU’s representative on the RFU Council, as well as a member of the RFU Board – replaces Maj Gen Jez Bennett CBE, who departs from the ARU Board with the thanks of the entire management team.

Col Gary McDade, Comd HQ Southwest, is the ARU’s new Vice-Chair. Chair of the ARU Referees’ Society since May 2018, Col McDade first qualified as a referee in 2003 before taking the whistle up more seriously in 2011 across both civilian and military rugby. He reached Level 6 in 2018, and in addition to his commitments within the ARU and UKAF rugby is a member of Dorset and Wilts Referees’ Society.

The end of the 2022/23 season also saw the departures of Col Sandy Fitzpatrick MBE and Lt Col Charlie Maxwell (AGC (SPS)) from their positions as Directors of Rugby for Senior Men and Senior Women respectively.

Col Fitzpatrick and Lt Col Maxwell were instrumental in ensuring that the red shirt teams hit the ground running coming out of the pandemic, work which was rewarded by the Inter Service Championship titles in 2022, with the Women following that up in 2023 by retaining their crown.

Joining the red shirt set-up are Col Graham Taylor CBE, Comd 7th Air Defence Group, and Lt Col Ann O’Flynn (RAVC) to head up the Men’s and Women’s programmes.

Col Taylor has extensive management experience within the Army structure, firstly as Director of Gunner Rugby between 2016 and 2019 and then Director of Corps Rugby between 2019 and 2023, a position in which he led the restructure of the Men’s Corps Championships into three leagues and the expansion of the Women’s Corps Championship.

As a player Col Taylor played for both the Royal Artillery and Army, as well as England Schools, Swansea University and Worcester Warriors.

Lt Col O’Flynn is one of the Army’s most decorated players. With 23 England caps to her name having progressed through the national representative pathway, Lt Col O’Flynn played in the 2001 Rugby World Cup final and was in the first England Women’s team to have played a Six Nations match at Twickenham.

A qualified referee and Level 2 coach, Lt Col O’Flynn has more recently been Director of AMS Rugby.

Coming to fill Col Taylor’s previous role of Director of Corps Rugby is Maj Jase Lowe (RLC). A former player and team manager within the Royal Logistics Corps, Maj Lowe is current Director of RLC Rugby and ARU Championship Secretary. He is also still playing for the RLC Masters, aged 51!

Brig Cook says that the changes will refresh the ARU’s approach going into the new season.

“It is always exciting to have changes within management, especially when those people who are coming in will bring a wealth of experience and new ideas,” he commented.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has stepped down after making significant contributions in their respective positions, from Jez’s inspiring leadership as Chair to Sandy and Charlie’s sterling efforts as Directors of Rugby of our senior red shirt teams.

“Gary will be excellent support to me as Vice-Chair, while Graham and Ann are superb appointments as Directors of Rugby. Jase is also a strong person to lead the next chapter of Corps rugby.

“We have had two promising years coming out of the pandemic lockdowns, winning the Inter Service Championship across every team at least once, and the Army Sevens programme growing, too.

“The Corps Championship’s new format has been received well, and it has been fantastic to see more women play rugby across all levels of the Army structure.

“However, we still have some significant challenges, not least balancing trying to grow our sport at a time when the Army is busier than ever and the pressures which accompany that. I am nevertheless confident that we have the right people in place to be able to meet those challenges head on in an innovative way, so that rugby remains as the Army’s leading sport.”

Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks

All images – Alligin Photography © Army v Navy Match