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Terminally ill veteran's dream comes true at England rugby

14 March 2024
Terminally ill Royal Navy veteran Toby Brann had his dying wish come true when he watched England beat Ireland 23-22 in the Six Nations at Twickenham.

The 23-year-old, who has a rare form of cancer, met match-winner Marcus Smith and came away with a unique souvenir, the fly half’s England shorts.

Toby and his dad, Royal Navy Commander Rob Brann, were gifted tickets for the game by Rugby4Heroes after an appeal on social media by Rob and his wife Helen, which was shared by former SAS soldier and best-selling author Chris Ryan.

“The match was superb, England were awesome and the whole stadium was jumping - the atmosphere was terrific,” said Toby, who is now wheelchair bound.

“I could not have wished for a better day and then to meet Marcus after the match and his amazing drop goal was just the icing on the cake.”

Smith whose drop goal won the match said: “It was great to share that moment pitch side with Toby and his dad and to celebrate the win with them.”

Toby served five years in the Navy including a memorable spell aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth during exercises in the United States.

Rugby4Heroes is a rugby and music festival run by Old Leamingtonians RFC to support Armed Forces charities. 

Volunteer and member Mike Vallance donated his own tickets to the pair. He said: “It was the least I could do for a young man who has served his country and is showing such courage in such difficult circumstances.

“I am just so grateful for everyone who made this possible especially Rugby4Heroes and the brilliant staff at Twickenham. Thank you for a very special day.”

The young sailor, who has Stage Four of a rare form of cancer called adrenal cortisol carcinoma, had always wanted to watch England play rugby at Twickenham with his father Rob.

At the end of the game fly half Smith, who had come on as a substitute in the 60th minute and won the match with a last-gasp drop goal raced from the West Stand tunnel area right across the pitch to the East Stand to meet up with his family and his girlfriend, where Toby and his father were sitting.

Rob said: “At the end of the match, with England players finishing their lap of honour to rapturous applause, Marcus Smith came over to the area we were in to celebrate with his family members.
 
“I approached his girlfriend and explained Toby’s situation and his terminal illness and that he would love to have a photo with Marcus. She duly asked Marcus, who came over to chat with Toby.  
 
“What a fantastic day. The amazing reaction to Chris Ryan sharing our story, the generous donation of tickets, the accommodating helpfulness of staff at Twickenham and the great atmosphere created by the fans.
 
“Everyone helped make way for Toby’s wheelchair and laughed and joked with us - and, of course, two fantastic rugby teams treated us to an amazing game of rugby – an experience which has touched our hearts and created a lasting memory for all of us.” 

Afterwards Chris Ryan said on social media: “We all know RN veteran Toby and let’s be proud of the tiny part we played in putting that smile on his face.

“For his dreadful condition, he was in really high spirits and I spoke with Toby as soon as the game finished. He was actually next to Marcus Smith, who came over to say hello to him. He was just overwhelmed and overjoyed.

"He's such a strong character for the position that he's been placed in, he's just steadfast in his spirit. He is worrying about his family. He's more concerned about them than himself. He's just a great man. He sent me the picture of him with Marcus and it was actually overwhelming, to tell you the truth.

"This will be his last winter and last summer," Chris added. "Now having met the young man, what surprised me was his love for his family, his concern for his family. The reason he asked to go to the rugby match was for memories for his father. He's a selfless young man who is thinking about other people rather than himself. It's moving. I've been around a lot of people in situations where death occurs, and this actually had a profound effect on me.”

The Rugby Football Union and the Royal Navy Rugby Union had earlier contacted Toby’s father with an invitation to Twickenham to watch England’s Guinness Six Nations match against Wales.

The England team had also invited them to squad training at Pennyhill Park but, while being very grateful for the offer, it was decided that making the journey from Plymouth was not manageable at that time. Father and son were, however, able to be guests at the Wales Test before going back to watch England’s dramatic victory over Ireland.

Royal Navy Rugby Union Council member, Kirsty Marlor, said: “It was a real privilege to have Toby and Rob at Twickenham as our guests for the Wales match, to recognise their service and help them make memories.  The rugby family has wrapped their arms around them and I’m so glad that they were at the stadium to enjoy the England victory at the weekend.”

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