TRIBUTES have been paid to popular Plymouth rugby coach and school teacher Howell Phillips who sadly passed away on Thursday.
Welshman Phillips, who taught at St Boniface School for 37 years, had been battling cancer for nearly four years.
When he was diagnosed with a tumour on his pelvis in November 2016 he was told he would probably only have between nine and 18 months to live.
But Phillips defied those predictions and could still be seen watching rugby games until last season.
Recently his son, Rhys, who is also a teacher and plays for OPMs, took part in a ‘Triple H’ challenge from Plymouth to Snowdon on bike and foot and raised more than £10,000 for Bone Cancer Research Trust to honour his dad.
During his years as a teacher at St Boniface, Phillips helped introduce thousands of youngsters to rugby. Many of the players he taught went on to enjoy success at a professional level, like Luke and Tom Arscott, Jack Arnott, Chris Lowrie, Jack Gilding and Jake Murphy.
He also inspired players at club level, with spells at Plymouth Argaum, OPMs and Plympton Victoria.
Phillips played for Argaum in the 1970s and 80s and was their captain and later became their coach.
Argaum chairman Nick Hancock led the tributes from his club. He said: “RIP Howell, a massive influence on me becoming a rugby player and making me a prop from the word go even though I never really wanted to play! You had a massive impact on the lives of all you met and you will surely be missed by all. Gorffwys Mewn Heddwch.”
Lots more tributes have flown in since from pupils he taught, players he coach and just people he met.
Keaton Hepworth said: “Anyone who knows this man knows that he is an inspiration and a hero.
“Helped many students in St Boniface and in the community in general. It was an honour to have been taught by him and to get to spend some time with him recently before the end.
“Will always remember trips to Snowdon, him teaching us basketball and rugby. Just a genuine top bloke. Will always be a hero of mine. RIP Mr Phillips.”
Another former St Bonifice pupil George Morris said: “Such sad news to hear that Howell Phillips has passed away.
“It was an honour to have you as my PE teacher/coach for basketball and rugby through school and then rugby once again for Argaum after leaving school.
“Howell had some sweet basketball moves and drills straight out of the 1950s – ‘lock and load and wave the ball goodbye’.
“All Bonnies boys will remember ‘KISS – keep it simple stupid’ and all Argaum boys will remember ‘Symo you bloody donkey’. RIP Sir.”
Commonwealth Games medallist James Arnott said: “Mr Phillips, not just a PE teacher but an inspiration. A key part in helping me become the man I am.
“He got my phone number from my mum and after every big race I ran he’d ring me to talk about it and how I think I can improve on it. A perfectionist. Thank you, sir.”
Howell moved to Plymouth when The College of St Mark & St John relocated to Devon from Chelsea in London in 1973. He had just completed his first year when the college swapped the bright lights of the capital for Plymouth.
With Marjons not having a pitch at the time they formed a relationship with nearby Argaum and Phillips and a number of other students at the time ended up playing at Bickleigh Down.
Argaum’s secretary Richard Belli said it a tribute on their club website: “Befitting someone brought up in the Rhondda Valley, Howell was a rugged, no-nonsense prop forward who could also be found in the second-row. However his handling skills honed on a background in basketball meant that he was equally comfortable when operating outside the ‘boiler room’ in loose play. These attributes, combined with a larger than life character saw him elected as Argaum 1st XV skipper in 1978-79.”
Belli added: “On a bitter November night almost 30 years ago, when I ventured on to a windswept Bickleigh Down for my first training session at the club, Howell’s mellifluous Porth tones were barking out rugby common sense and I knew I’d come to the right place!
“I and many others across the regional rugby community owe a huge debt of gratitude to Howell. Diolch yn Fawr and as they say in the valleys ‘Howell, tara butt!’.”
OPMs held a video tribute on Friday evening.
The club said: “This evening at 1926 OPM RFC raised a glass to the legend that was Howell Phillips. A man known by many and an absolute legend to the rugby community.
“Thoughts go out to Howell’s family and friends at this sad time. Although he may be gone he will never be forgotten.”
Away from rugby he was a regular strummer with The Queens Dock Ukulele Players.