Exeter tag rugby festival will support FORCE cancer charity

PUBLISHED: 16:41 29 June 2015 | UPDATED: 16:41 29 June 2015

Tag Feztival Captains (left to right): Back row - Sam Pascoe (Topsham), Simon Farmer (standing in for Wessex captain James Morgan), Russell Bess (Sidmouth); Front Row - Ian Stewart (Exeter Chiefs), Andy Matchett (Plymouth Albion), Darren Harries, Shane Bayley (Crediton), Dave Turner (Exeter Saracens). Missing -  Paul Webb (Bali Legends Barbarians).

Tag Feztival Captains (left to right): Back row - Sam Pascoe (Topsham), Simon Farmer (standing in for Wessex captain James Morgan), Russell Bess (Sidmouth); Front Row - Ian Stewart (Exeter Chiefs), Andy Matchett (Plymouth Albion), Darren Harries, Shane Bayley (Crediton), Dave Turner (Exeter Saracens). Missing - Paul Webb (Bali Legends Barbarians).

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Two former Exeter rugby players who have been touched by cancer are teaming up to stage a charity tag festival in the city this summer.

Getting in some practice for the Tag Feztival at Exeter SaracensGetting in some practice for the Tag Feztival at Exeter Saracens

Retired utility back Darren Harries and current Withycombe winger Andy Matchett are organising the Devon Rugby Legends Tag Feztival at Exeter Saracens on Saturday, 25 July 25.

It will feature eight teams of veterans (over 35s) including Premiership players and full internationals with links to Exeter Chiefs, Exeter Saracens, Wessex, Crediton, Sidmouth, Topsham, Plymouth Albion and the Bali Legends Barbarians. Each team of eight must also include two ladies aged 16 or over.

The event is raising money for Exeter cancer charity FORCE where Darren and his family have received significant support during his treatment for kidney cancer.

He and Andy, a skin cancer survivor, have been inspired by former team-mate Martin Lynn. Martin, who played in the same Exeter Colts team as Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter, is battling a rare form of lymphoma.

He credits FORCE with turning his life around and has raised nearly £16,000 in the last year for the charity with a campaign based on a fez – the red flat topped conical hat made famous by comedian Tommy Cooper.

“We’ve been motivated by Lynny’s work,” said Andy, the former Exeter, Plymouth Albion, Launceston, Sidmouth and Devon star.

“Darren came up with the idea of a tag festival and as I’m still involved in rugby I agreed to put the word out to see if we could get eight teams of like-minded idiots together for a run around.

“It seems like we’ve created a monster. I posted it on Facebook and suddenly we had 500 likes. At least 100 rugby players from all over Devon and further afield want to be involved. It’s really snowballed.”

The tournament will kick off at 1pm with the teams battling in two pools to qualify for one of four finals. Matches of two 10-minute halves will be played on half a pitch.

As well as the rugby there will be live music from The Gadge Band, food, refreshments, entertainment and a charity auction to make it a family fun day. Entry is free and everyone is welcome to go along and watch.

“We are relying on donations and we are begging and borrowing everything to put this event on so any and all donations will be gratefully received. It doesn’t matter if it’s 50p or £50 – everything will go to FORCE,” said Andy.

ANDY’S STORY

“I will never forget that day in 2012 when the doctor sat me down and confirmed that I had cancer. The world seemed to stop spinning for a moment. You say thank you and walk out of the room. Then slowly your world starts to fall apart. My son was two years old and suddenly you realise how much you love life. I was diagnosed with melanoma – skin cancer - discovered on a business trip to Iceland. God bless those curved mirrors in hotel bathrooms and a slight case of vanity. Fortunately for me, it was caught early and a couple of surgeries later I was on the way to being clear. However, melanoma is a killer and I will NEVER forget the words: ‘Well Mr Matchett the prognosis is good, it was caught early and all being well there should be every chance it has not spread. If we were having this conversation in six months’ time it would be a very different situation.’ I have been affected by this disease and although I did not turn to FORCE, I knew they were there for support. Instead I turned to my mates. After a couple of pints down the pub, the subject cropped up every now and again. I’d let go and explain the effect it had had on me. Although I was not ill with cancer, it affected me psychologically.”

DARREN’S STORY

“I had been to the doctor, complaining of a pain in my abdomen. The diagnosis was a hernia but there wasn’t much they could do until I lost a bit of weight. I started a new fitness regime, cycling and even joining a Friday night tag rugby team with Andy. It was just like old times but without the contact. We are getting old you know. I went back to the doc to get my hernia sorted out. Weight lost, open me up, stuff it back in, sew me up again, easy. Or so I thought. Then came the unthinkable. ‘I’m sorry Mr Harries but you have cancer, kidney cancer.’ I decided to delay my surgery until my second son, Aidan, was born. The surgeons removed a 22cm tumour the size of a rugby ball and, my kidney and most of my lymph glands for good measure. I’m undergoing chemotherapy. Mine is the very fetching renal cell carcinoma or RCC, also known as hypernephroma or just good old kidney cancer! It’s the eighth most common cancer. The body is remarkably good at hiding the symptoms and as a result people with RCC often have advanced disease which is what happened with me. FORCE has helped in dealing with the situation.”

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