THE murder of Police Sergeant Matt Ratana was truly shocking and upsetting, but it was only when I saw those pictures of his male and female fellow members of East Grinstead rugby club in tears that I cried at the sheer bloody awfulness of what took place at the weekend.

Only with those images did we realise the horrendous nature of what had happened, and as a fellow member of the rugby family, I genuinely felt his loss. Here was a genuine “lovely bloke” as his clubmates described him, gone in the moments of madness perpetrated by the killer for an as yet unknown reason, if there was any reason at all.

That is the senselessness of the whole thing. Ratana was a custody sergeant, for goodness sake, and he should have been perfectly safe inside the police station, perhaps using his spare time to plan coaching routines for the East Grinstead players and his assistant coaches. To have his life taken away in such a fashion at the comparatively young age of 54 is an utter tragedy for his partner, his family, his club and all who knew him. All I can say is that having watched and read so much of the coverage about Matt Ratana, I just wish I had known the big New Zealander. His partner Su Bushby summed him up when she said: “There aren’t really any words for how I am feeling right now about the loss of Matt; about losing someone I loved and was so close to in such a tragic manner.

“I know Matt touched many, many people’s lives with his friendliness, patience, kindness, enthusiasm and caring ways.

“I had the pleasure of sharing five years of my life with this lovely man – my gentle giant, with his infectious smile and big heart. I think of him with tenderness and love.”

East Grinstead RFC have conducted themselves superbly since the killing, and I see from their website that they are already raising funds to develop initiatives that were close to Matt’s heart – please go to the Just Giving page and make a donation if you can. And while you’re at it, why not join the club in nominating Matt for the BBC Children in Need “unsung hero” category.

In my life playing and writing about rugby, I have indeed known many people like Matt Ratana. They have professional lives as police officers, teachers, medical staff, civil servants and local government officers and so many more roles in society. They hold responsible positions in their working life but then devote almost every minute of their spare time to rugby, whether as a player, coach or administrator for their local community clubs – nobody ever wanted to be fixtures secretary but invariably some volunteer would step up for the task.

People like Matt who give so much to rugby are worth so much more than those who preen around the place because they have gotten themselves a blazer at Murrayfield or Twickenham. And yes I know there are plenty people who work for the various unions who are well worth their salt, but I prefer the troops who do the hard voluntary work week in and week out at their local club and never get acknowledged or thanked other than the usual recognition at an AGM or annual dinner – and this year, of course, most of those have been or will be cancelled as a result of Covid-19.

The damned virus is really affecting our community-based clubs now. Anecdotal and social media evidence is piling up that some clubs might not survive and that we really are in danger of losing a generation unless we can get young men and women back to playing the game soon. Of course no risks should be taken, but a Government that allows pubs to open before it sorts out gyms and swimming pools and sports clubs can go raffle itself the next time they are looking for my support for Minimum Alcohol Pricing or other such no doubt worthy causes.

RUGBY, like so many other sports, has been devastated by the virus, but at least we can look forward to internationals starting again, albeit behind closed doors or with a token crowd.

Which brings me to the Autumn 8 Nations tournament that starts in a few weeks’ time. It is a one off tournament featuring the Six Nations and Fiji and Georgia and the way I view it, Scotland have an outstanding chance of making it to the Grand Final on December 6 where we could play England, Ireland or Wales.

The organisers no doubt have already commissioned a trophy for the winners, so here’s my idea. Why not name it after Matt Ratana, a great rugby man? It would be a one-off trophy for a one-off man, and the winners could then donate it to East Grinstead rugby club where their “lovely bloke” will be missed forever. The Ratana Trophy – now that would be worth winning.