The Dallas Jackals signed Chris Pennell for the 2022 Major League Rugby season. the 34-year-old fullback, who has played wing and center (35 in April), is 6’1″ and 210 lbs.
Chris was born in Worcester, England, and began playing rugby at 8 years old with the Bredon Buzzards. He has an athletic family pedigree being the son of England cricket legend Graham Dilley, so sports was introduced at a young age. After his parent’s marriage ended, he moved to Portadown, Northern Ireland with his mother and step-father, who was in the military. There he attended Millington Primary School and was a member of the Gilpin Cup-winning side in 1999.
Chris returned to England and attended Old Swinford Hospital School, a school rich in rugby tradition. He also played cricket but turned down being captain due to A-levels. He represented England in U19s and then went into the Warriors Academy program. By 2007 he made his Premiership debut at the age of 19.
“The full-back made his 200th appearance for the Club against the Harlequins during the 2017/18 season and became the first Warriors player to make 150 Premiership appearances when he led out the side for his Testimonial Match in March 2019. Pennell scored his 400th point (all for the Warriors) and made his 250th appearance for the club in February 2021.”
In 2007 he began his Premiership career, but it also marked his diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes. Chris has been a tremendous advocate for those living with an incurable, genetic disease, and went on to make unique records for the community, i.e., founding the Chris Pennell Diabetes Rugby Academy in 2018.
The former Warriors captain was named vice-captain for the 2013/14 season and played every minute of every Aviva Premiership game during the Warriors’ campaign. He was honored with an Aviva Premiership Player of the Season nomination and a call-up to the England squad for the 2014 New Zealand tour. He made his England debut against the All Blacks and later against the Crusaders became the first Type 1 Diabetic to score a try for England.
Chirs suffered an injury at the beginning of the 2014/15 season but came back to play 17 times for the Warriors’ Championship-winning side, scoring 10 tries, including two in a man-of-the-match performance against Bristol Rugby, and helped to secure promotion back to the Premiership. He was also named man-of-the-match for England Saxons in January 2015.
During the 2015/16 season, he also played in every Aviva Premiership game and scored two tries. “The full-back was solid under the highball and recorded the most meters made (1796) in a single season since Opta began recording stats.”
“The number 15 kept his consistency throughout 2016/17 and 2017/18, the latter where he made 22 appearances and kicked 86 points.”
“The 2018/19 season marked Pennell’s Testimonial Year, as Sixways Stadium recognized a true legend. The Testimonial Year raised funds for Diabetes UK, The Grace Kelly Childhood Cancer Trust, and Acorns Children’s Hospice.”
“Pennell’s glittering career with the Warriors came to an end when he left Sixways for one final time at the end of the 2020/21 season.”
Chris also continued his education while with the Warriors. He attended the University of Hertfordshire from 2016-2019, studying Sports Business Management. He also has been employed as a surveyor.
Dallas Jackals Comments
The Dallas Jackals are excited to announce long-time and record-setting Worcester Warrior Chris Pennell is coming to Dallas! Along with his many elite years of rugby experience, Pennell brings a strong desire to connect with the community and help grow the sport of rugby in Dallas and beyond.
When asked why he pursued the MLR Pennell says, “I’ve had an eye on the MLR since its launch. It’s only a matter of time until the USA becomes a powerhouse in the international game and a strong domestic league will be the supportive backbone to years of success on the World stage. The thought of contributing to that in the formative years captivates me and I truly believe there are some incredible times ahead for the game, especially for the Jackals and rugby in Dallas.
He continued, “The whole opportunity with the Jackals is very compelling. The drive to make a connection in the community, truly engage with the fanbase, look after the Jackals family, be a part of building something new, and inspire the next generation of players, is time very well spent. I instantly felt a connection with Elaine and how she sees the culture developing.”
Pennell also brings years of leadership skills to Dallas, “I want to bring my experience and leadership to help the talent around me play with the freedom, expression, and confidence needed to create a winning team.” As a trustee of the Worcester Warriors Community Foundation, Pennell has seen firsthand the importance of inclusivity within the rugby community and wants to share this with my new teammates in Dallas.
Elaine Vassie, Jackals GM, said, “Chris comes with a fantastic record – 253 professional games is no easy achievement, much less so when it’s all been at one club. The leading component of our search though is in looking for the right people in both their on-field and off-field attributes to help us accelerate the development of young domestic players here in the US.” Vassie continued, “Chris’s values as a person, his passion for exactly this kind of project, and alignment with our desire to play an exciting brand of rugby shone through in our conversations and I’m very much looking forward to welcoming him, his wife Jo, and children Harla & Tristan to the pack.”
With training starting, Pennell will travel to the US with his wife Joanna and children Harla (7) and Tristan (5) making multiple visits during the season. Back home, Pennell also has a Border Collie named Nala and an “overweight cat named Zeus, who is the boss.”
Pennell notes that his family loves adventures, so “getting to experience this with my family will be amazing.” He says he’s a big foodie, loves to cook, and is excited to try some of what Dallas has to offer. He continued, “I love to play golf although I don’t play as much as I would like, which is my excuse for not being all that good.”
Welcome to the Pack Chris, Joanna, Harla, and Tristan!