M.H. Connolly

Born 16 Feb 1950, Newbridge, Gwent

 

426th player to be capped by the Royal Navy Rugby Union.  50th Captain of the Royal Navy Rugby Union.
12 caps
Mike Connolly’s Navy Cap awarded in 1974. Image courtesy of Mike Connolly

 

Played against the Army in 1974, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983
Played against the Royal Air Force in 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983

 

Inter Service Record

Played 12 Won 5 Drew 0 Lost 7
Inter Service Titles 2 plus 2 triple ties

1974 Royal Navy 25 Army 3
1974 Royal Navy 23 Royal Air Force 13
1975 Royal Navy 7 Royal Air Force 20
1977 Royal Navy 16 Army 0
1977 Royal Navy 15 Royal Air Force 9
1978 Royal Navy 17 Army 16
1978 Royal Navy 15 Royal Air Force 8
1979 Royal Navy 6 Royal Air Force 23
1982 Royal Navy 7 Army 11
1982 Royal Navy 14 Royal Air Force 16
1983 Royal Navy 9 Army 10
1983 Royal Navy 4 Royal Air Force 6

 

Clubs

Devonport Services RFC

 

Representative

Mike Connolly’s Crawshay’s Welsh XV cap. Image courtesy of Mike Connolly

Crawshay’s Welsh XV
Devon

 

Leigh Merrick, Mike Connolly and Glynn Thomas on the 2 Match 1974 All three are members of a select group who have been both Selector and Captain of the Royal Navy Rugby Union. Life Member, Glynn, had selected Mike for the first of his twelve Royal Navy caps.

Throughout the history of the Royal Navy Rugby Union only four men have been a Selector, a captain and played in a Navy team that retained an Inter Service championship.  They are the great WJA Davies (described by many as England’s greatest flyhalf), William Eyres, Leigh Merrick and Mike Connolly.  Of these four only Mike has been part of an unbeaten Navy season when he coached the side of 1986-1987 to their Played 10 Won 10 record.

The 1986/87 season’s success brought with it a royal appointment when Mike, along with team captain Chris Alcock, attended the Combined Services Sports Control Board’s Awards ceremony to receive the ‘Team of the Year’ award on behalf of the Royal Navy Rugby Union from the Duke of Gloucester.

Mike Connolly, alongside Chris Alcock, receives the poignard for CS Team of the Year from the Duke of Gloucester.  Image courtesy of Mike Connolly
The Royal Navy Team of 1986-87 – Played 10 Won 10.  Mike as coach, Binge Gatehouse Team Secretary, Tony Hallett Selector, Chris Alcock Captain and next to him Steve Hughes (5 of the 15 men who have both captained the Union and been the Selector)

Mike made his debut in the Navy shirt in October 1971 when he was selected to play Hampshire at Burnaby Road, however he already had representative Navy honours, as a colt, from 1968.  Two years later won his first cap as part of the 1974 Inter Service winning side.  He quickly became established in the Navy back row either as a blindside flanker or Number 8.  In 1974 he also played in the Devon side against Gloucester in the County Championship.  THis was the first year that replacements were allowed in the Championship and it seems strange to read an explanation of what a ‘replacement’ is in the match programme.  However of greater interest is the composition of the Devon pack.

Devon v Gloucester 22 Nov 74, Rectory – Mike Connolly at 6 with future Wales and British Lions International Jeff Squires at 8, Grand Slam winning flanker for England Mike Rafter at 7 and though playing in the second row there is also John Scott who played 8 in the 1980 England GS side alongside Rafter and was also selected for the 1980 World XV. Not bad company. Match programme courtesy of Mike Connolly.
Navy President Sir Terry Lewin (Lord Lewin) presenting ‘Slinger’ Wood his Navy cap (1983) with team captain Mike Connolly in the middle. Image courtesy of Mike Connolly

He would have captained the side in 1980 but for a serious shoulder injury that forced him out of the Inter Services (though he managed a return to his over great passion – Field Gun – with his fourth season for Devonport) and he had to wait until 1982 before he could lead the team out in an Inter Service match.  His influence as captain may well have had more of an effect on Navy Rugby than could be imagined as he led on to the pitch three players who were to become future Chairman of the Union (Blackett, Thompson & Alcock)

Mike Connolly in his second year as captain in March 1983. Image Crown Copyright Fleet Photographic Unit HMS Excellent Portsmouth 21 Mar 1983, courtesy of Mike Connolly

In the same year that he won his first Navy cap Mike was also selected for the Combined Services to play the French Armed Forces at Twickenham.  This traditional fixture had been dominated by the French team, with CS only had recorded one previous victory.  It was to be a happy debut for Mike as under the captaincy of Binge Gatehouse the Combined Services recorded a second victory.  Mike represented CS on a number of further occasions but narrowly missed out playing against New Zealand in 1978 when he was a replacement but not used (injury only in those days). Two years earlier he had also missed out on playing the touring Japan side in 1976.  Mike was part of the original selection and was cleared to play by HMS Fearless until a ships programme change necessitated Fearless signalling Connolly’s withdrawal.  Paragraph 2 of the signal stated:

“Knowing Connolly’s value on the field and during training decision taken with great reluctance.”

Though nothing could compensate for missing out on playing the two touring sides as a proud Welsh man Mike would have enjoyed being able to play at Cardiff Arms Park when it hosted the Combined Services v French Forces match in 1975.

Mike’s debut for CS, front row, third from right alongside Paul Dunn. Binge Gatehouse is captain. Image Courtesy of Trevor Gatehouse Crown Copyright

Mike also coached and selected the Combined Services side and in 2002 was the first ‘home Selector’ to win the annual Remembrance Day match against the Barbarians.  The narrow 27-26 victory ended the Barbarians four match winning run in the fixture first played in 1997.

The following season Mike became selector of the Senior XV a position he was to hold for three years.  The role was due to start with him taking the side to New  Zealand for the 2003 Commonwealth Cup.  However Mike was unable to travel although he was in South Africa three years later when he coached the Commonwealth Navies Barbarians in the end of tournament match.

Having achieved so much with the Senior XV Mike was invited to become Head Coach of the Mariners, where he set about putting in place many of the structures required in the modern game and also increasing the depth of the playing resource.  His impact was such that the season after he stepped down the Mariners introduced a trophy in Mike’s name for their player of the year – The Mike Connolly Trophy.  Mike was on hand to make the inaugural presentation.

Mike’s final act (currently) was a return to coaching the Senior XV.  He answered a call to assist with the 2012 Commonwealth Cup defence in Sydney where he coached an inexperienced pack of forwards in the successful defence.  So thirty eight years after his first cap Mike’s active involvement with the Union finished on a high with another trophy safely tucked away.  Few can claim such longevity in the support of Navy Rugby and his achievement seems only to be matched by Lord Lewin as player and President.  Very different men but both driven by a passion for Navy Rugby and both try scorers at Twickenham.

Mike Connolly scores a try against the Army in 1977. A planned move where Paul Dunn took the long ball thrown over the top of the line out and provided Mike with the short pass for him to race to the line from 60metres (well greater than 20). Image courtesy of Mike Connolly