|Full name||Bristol Rugby Football Club|
|Union||Rugby Football Union|
|Ground(s)||Ashton Gate Stadium (Capacity: 21,497)|
|Coach(es)||Andy Robinson & Sean Holley|
|League(s)||Greene King IPA Championship|
|2013–14||1st (lost the playoff)|
Bristol Rugby is a rugby union club based in Bristol, England. The club currently plays in the RFU Championship and competes in the British and Irish Cup. It relies in large part on the many junior rugby clubs in the region, particularly those from 'the Combination'.
Notable players to have played for the club include Tom Richards, who played for both the British Isles and Australia, Sam Tucker, John Blake, John Pullin and Alan Morley. In the professional era several international stars have played for Bristol, including Argentina's Agustín Pichot and Felipe Contepomi, Jason Little, double World Cup winner with Australia, Springbok Henry Honiball and Gareth Llewellyn, who until 2007 was the most-capped player for Wales. In the 2014/15 season, former Wales & British and Irish Lions Internationals Ryan Jones, Dwayne Peel and Gavin Henson joined the club.
Formation and early history
Bristol Football Club was formed in 1888 when the Carlton club merged with rival club Redland Park to create a united Bristol team. Westbury Park having refused to merge then folded and many of its players subsequently joined Bristol. The County Cricket Ground at Nevil Road was leased for home matches.
The first match was a heavy away defeat to Cardiff and although the first season was relatively successful the second was not with only three games won. The club went from strength to strength over the next few years under the captaincy of W. Tommy Thomson. It turned the corner and in 1891–92, now wearing the more familiar navy and white hooped shirts, the Bristol team won twenty games out of twenty four.
Over the ensuing seasons the fixture list went from strength to strength, consisting of most of the top English and Welsh sides. In 1900 J. W. Jarman became Bristol's first England cap. Two major touring sides played Bristol during this period. The first New Zealand All Blacks defeated the club 41 – 0 in 1905 and in 1909 a combined Bristol and Clifton RFC team, captained by Percy Down, lost to Australia 11 – 3.
The club was beginning to bring on a new generation of players when the First World War halted all rugby. After the war a Bristol United side was formed to provide rugby for returning servicemen and this led to the rebirth of Bristol in 1919. The County Ground was no longer available for home games so the club rented a field at Radnor Road, Horfield although occasional matches were staged at the Bristol City and Bristol Rovers grounds. The Radnor Road seasons were good ones for the club and a new crop of stars appeared.
The Memorial Ground stadium was built on an area of land called Buffalo Bill's Field which was previously occupied by allotments in 1921. Bristol defeated Cardiff 19 – 3 in the opening match in front of a large crowd.
The fiftieth anniversary was celebrated in 1938 but the next few years saw a fall in performances and the final inter-war season was a poor one. During World War II a Bristol Supporters team kept rugby union going in the city. Thus Bristol had readily available players when peacetime rugby union resumed in 1945.
The playing record in the early fifties was mixed, but there was a huge improvement under the captaincy of first Bert MacDonald, and then Dick Hawkes. Records were broken in 1956–57 and even better was to follow in what has been called 'The Blake Era'.
Fly half John Blake became captain in 1957 and under his leadership the club developed an entertaining running style of rugby involving backs and forwards, which was years ahead of its time. The Bristol club set and broke new records for wins in a season and points scored and goal kicking forward Gordon Cripps rewrote the individual points scoring records.
1960s to 1980s
The 75th anniversary was celebrated in 1962–63 and floodlights were installed in the following season. Club form peaked in 1965–66 under Derek Neate's captaincy when 39 games were won, and again in 1971–72 under Tony Nicholls. This was the club's best ever season with a thousand points being scored for the first time and the team being crowned unofficial English and Anglo-Welsh champions.
Under Mike Rafter's captaincy, the club won the John Player Cup in 1983, defeating Leicester 28–22. During this period Alan Morley established a world record of 479 tries in senior rugby. The centenary season with Nigel Pomphrey as captain was celebrated in style with a game against the Barbarians and a narrow defeat in the cup final, but thereafter there was a gradual decline in playing standards. The team did not really adapt well to the demands of league rugby and the club's administrators struggled to cope with the professional set up.
1998/99 (Allied Dunbar Premership Two)
Relegation to Premiership Two in 1998 was not the worst of Bristol's problems. Only an eleventh hour rescue by Malcolm Pearce saved the club from potential oblivion. Bristol also lost control of the Memorial Stadium Company to Bristol Rovers and were tenants thereafter until their eventual departure from the stadium at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Bristol's first season outside the top flight brought with it a number of first-time visits to clubs. Bristol went on to win the Premiership Two title and promotion back to Premiership One, sealing the win with a 22–11 victory over Worcester.
The World Cup disrupted the early part of the 1999–2000 season, with a number of players missing the first few games. Under the captaincy of Dean Ryan the team finished sixth, just missing out on European Cup qualification. At the end of the season Dean Ryan took over as Head Coach from Bob Dwyer. After an opening day victory over newly promoted Rotherham, Bristol had a disappointing 2000–01 season finishing ninth. Off the field, Jack Rowell became managing director, and successful community initiatives saw the attendance figures rise.
The 2001–02 season brought a new name, Bristol Shoguns, following a five-year £2 million sponsorship deal with Mitsubishi Motors. The Shoguns finishing the season with the most bonus points in the Zurich Premiership, three players in the top try scorers chart, a place at Twickenham in the final of the Championship, and also a place in the Heineken Cup for the 2002–03 season. In the close season Head Coach Dean Ryan moved to Gloucester, Jack Rowell resigned as Director of Rugby whilst skipper Jason Little retired. Peter Thorburn took over as coach. League results were mixed, but there were more wins than defeats including a first ever league win away at Bath. At Christmas 2002 owner Malcolm Pearce announced that he would quit at the end of the season. Rumours circulated that Bristol could be sold to Firoz Kassam and play out of Oxford, and a merger with rivals Bath had been mooted. Neither event came to pass, but Bristol were relegated at the end of the season as off-field distractions took their toll.
Before the start of the 2003–04 season Martin Haag and a week later Richard Hill joined as first team coach and head coach respectively. While the board were raising money to stabilise the club Haag and Hill implemented a '3-year plan' to rebuild Bristol and put them back in the Premiership. They won National League One the following year and were promoted.
The club's deal with Mitsubishi expired in July 2005, and the club started 2005–06 in the Premiership as Bristol RFC. Bristol elected to play two 2006–07 games at Ashton Gate, home of football side Bristol City. The local derby against Bath and the game against Leicester were moved from the 11,750 capacity Memorial Stadium to Ashton Gate's 21,500 capacity to allow more fans the chance to watch the team. The precedent for this was established for a crucial relegation fixture against Bath in May 2003. Bristol finished third in the league, securing a Heineken Cup place for only the second time, and then reached the semi-finals of the play-offs, losing 26–14 at Leicester. Martin Haag was released as Bristol's forwards coach in June 2007 and replaced by John Brain.
Bristol could not replicate the success of the previous season and ended the 2007–08 season in 9th place. They also failed to progress from their Heineken Cup group, despite a home win against Stade Français. The following season Bristol struggled, winning only two games, and were relegated from the premiership. Richard Hill stepped down as coach in February 2009, with two months and eight games of the season remaining. Paul Hull took over as Bristol's head coach.
Following a failed attempt to immediately return to the Premiership, losing to Exeter Chiefs in the final of the play-offs, a number of first team players quit the club and financial pressures caused significant worries at the club once more. With a more modest squad of players, Bristol struggled to find winning form in the 2010-11 season finishing eighth in the championship and failing to reach the playoff finals. In 2011, following a lack of success Paul Hull in mutual agreement with club left Bristol Rugby and was replaced by academy coach Liam Middleton. In Middleton's first full season in charge Bristol finished top of the championship table but failed to progress to the play-off finals, losing to Cornish Pirates in the semi-finals. From the 2008-09 season businessman Stephen Lansdown financed Bristol Rugby, this only became public knowledge when Lansdown formalised his ownership of the club in 2012.
Andy Robinson joined Bristol Rugby as director of rugby in March 2013, at first working with head coach Liam Middleton but following a poor run of results Middleton was sacked by the club following an internal review later in March 2013. In the 2012-13 season Bristol missed out on the play-off finals, finishing fifth in the championship. At the end of the 2012-13 season it was announced that former Ospreys head coach Sean Holley would join Bristol Rugby as the first team coach. The 2013-14 season brought a return to form with Bristol Rugby finishing top of the championship table. However, Bristol failed to secure promotion to the premiership, losing both legs of the play-off finals to London Welsh. In the close season a number of players were signed to the club in expectation of promotion for the 2014/15 season, including Samoan Internationals Anthony Perenise Jack Lam & David Lemi, Welsh internationals Matthew Morgan, Ian Evans, Ryan Jones  and Dwayne Peel and Wing George Watkins return from Cardiff Blues mid season. Further signings for the 2014/15 season would feature Gareth Maule, Jack O'Connell, Darren Hudson & Gavin Henson.
Bristol Rugby moved from the Memorial Stadium to Ashton Gate Stadium, the home of Bristol City FC. Ashton Gate Stadium has a capacity of 21,497 and has building plans to extend the amount of seating to 27,000. In the run-in to the end of season play-off's the club move to sign high profile players in Hooker Ross McMillan, Italian Centre Tommaso Benvenuti and Welsh international Gavin Henson.
Summary of league positions
Summary of Bristol's league positions since league rugby was introduced in 1987.
|Club||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Points For||Points Against||Points Difference||Try Bonus||Loss Bonus||Points|
|3||London Scottish (SF)||22||12||2||8||534||498||36||10||2||64|
|4||Rotherham Titans (SF)||22||13||1||8||505||488||17||5||2||61|
|12||Plymouth Albion (R)||22||3||2||17||314||630||–316||1||5||21|
|Green background are promotion play-off places. Pink background is the relegation place.
Updated: 19 April 2015
Source: "Greene King IPA Championship". NCA Rugby.
2014-15 Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.
Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.
- Director of Rugby – Andy Robinson
- First Team Coach – Sean Holley
- Forwards Coach – Danny Wilson
- Backs & Skills Coach – Matthew Sherratt
- Senior Performance Analyst - Stuart Powell
- Performance Analyst - Kristian James
- Head of Performance – Mark Bennett
- First Team Strength & Conditioning Coach – Tom Hargroves
- Team Manager – John Harrison
- Academy Manager – Mike Hall
- Academy Coach & Player Development Mananger – Gary Townsend
- Academy Strength & Conditioning Coach – Johnny Harris-Wright
- John Player Cup Champions 1983
- John Player/Pilkington Cup Runners-up 1973, 1984, 1988
- Allied Dunbar Premiership Two Champions 1998–99
- Powergen Shield Champions 2004
- National Division One Champions 2004–05
- British and Irish Cup Champions 2011
Notable former players
- For all Bristol players with a Wikipedia article see Category:Bristol Rugby players
- "Bristol boss quits club". BBC News. 14 May 2003.
- "Bristol and Bath hold merger talks". The Guardian. 2 May 2003.
- "Former players could save Shoguns". The Telegraph. 16 May 2003.
- "Martin Haag departs as Bristol Rugby Forwards Coach". bristolrugby.co.uk. 15 June 2007.
- "John Brain Joins Bristol Rugby Coaching Staff". bristolrugby.co.uk. 15 June 2007.
- "London Irish 38–21 Bristol". The BBC. 4 April 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2009.
- "Richard Hill leaves Bristol Rugby". bristolrugby.co.uk. 27 February 2009.
- "Bristol Rugby to cut players and staff after Exeter defeat". The Guardian. 1 June 2010.
- "Head coach Paul Hull to leave Bristol in the summer". BBC News. 4 March 2011.
- "Newcastle breathe easier after Pirates scupper Bristol in play-off". The Guardian. 7 May 2012.
- "Steve Lansdown adds Bristol Rugby to ownership of Bristol City". The Guardian. 7 February 2012.
- "Andy Robinson: Bristol name ex-Scotland boss as director of rugby". BBC News. 18 February 2013.
- "Liam Middleton: Bristol sack head coach after internal review". BBC News. 18 March 2013.
- "Sean Holley named as first team coach". Bristol Rugby. 23 April 2013.
- "Ryan Jones: Bristol sign Wales forward from Ospreys". BBC News. 24 March 2014.
- "Bristol hail signing of Dwayne Peel from Sale as 'a major coup'". The Guardian. 7 January 2014.
- "English league results". ipernews.com.
- Official site
- Bristol Rugby Independent Supporters' Trust
- Independent Bristol Rugby Online
- Bristol Combination
- Bristol Rugby Web Site Directory
- Bristol Rugby Flickr group