Bristol Rugby

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Bristol Rugby
Bristol rugby.PNG
Full name Bristol Football Club
Union Rugby Football Union
Founded 1888; 129 years ago (1888)
Location Bristol, England
Ground(s) Ashton Gate Stadium (Capacity: 27,000)
CEO Steve Gorvett
Coach(es) Mark Tainton
Captain(s) Jack Lam
League(s) English Premiership
2016–17 12th (relegated)
1st kit
2nd kit
Official website

Bristol Rugby is a rugby union club based in Bristol, England. The club currently play in the Aviva Premiership but will be relegated into the Greene King IPA Championship next season. Bristol Rugby club dates back to 1888.


Formation and early history[edit]

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 20 games out of 24.

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.

World Wars[edit]

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.


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.


In 1996, Bristol Rovers moved into the Memorial Stadium as tenants of Bristol Rugby, and later took over ownership of the stadium through the Memorial Stadium Company.

1998–99 (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.


Bristol playing Northampton during the 2007–08 Premiership.

The World Cup disrupted the early part of the 1999–00 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.[1] Rumours circulated that Bristol could be sold to Firoz Kassam and play out of Oxford, and a merger with rivals Bath had been mooted.[2] Neither event came to pass, but Bristol were relegated at the end of the season as off-field distractions took their toll.[3]

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 'three-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[4] and replaced by John Brain.[5]

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.[6] Richard Hill stepped down as coach in February 2009, with two months and eight games of the season remaining.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] Andy Robinson joined Bristol Rugby as director of rugby in March 2013,[13] 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.[14]

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[15] and Dwayne Peel[16] 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 and Gavin Henson.

Bristol Rugby moved from the Memorial Stadium to Ashton Gate Stadium, the home of Bristol City Football Club. Ashton Gate Stadium had a capacity of 21,497. In the run-in to the end of season play-off's the club signed high-profile players in Hooker Ross McMillan, Italian Centre Tommaso Benvenuti and Welsh international Gavin Henson. End of the season saw the departure of Forwards Coach Danny Wilson to Cardiff Blues. The Club again failed to earn promotion to the Premiership for the 2015–16 season losing by one point to Worcester Warriors in the Play-off Finals. At the end of the season Wales international fly half Nicky Robinson leaves the club to take up a fresh challenge in France with Oyonnax.


Much of the squad from the previous season remained with Andy Robinson bolstering his options for the new campaign by signing Ex England winger Tom Varndell. On 4 February it was announced that New Zealander Mark Bakewell would replace Borthwick. The New year saw the announcement that Matthew Morgan to further his international chances was to be leaving the club at the end of the season and joining Danny Wilson at Cardiff Blues. However, Bristol were able to clinch promotion to Aviva Premiership with a 60–47 aggregate win over Doncaster.

February 2016 saw the signing of Wales International scrum half Rhodri Williams from Scarlets for the 2016–17 season. Tusi Pisi signed for the club from Japan's Sunwolves Super Rugby franchise in March. Head Coach Sean Holley resigned from his position at the club.[17] Former Welsh Internationals Jonathan Thomas appointed first team Defence Coach & Dwayne Peel Backs and Skills Coach. Further signings include USA International Centre Thretton Palamo from Saracens and Tongan International Prop Forward Soane Tonga'uiha from French side Oyonnax.

November 2016 saw the sacking of Director of Rugby Andy Robinson due to poor results and 'lost confidence' from the board. Club stalwart and top points scorer Mark Tainton was appointed interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Further signings announced by club included Siale Piatau from Sunwolves, Irish international lock forward Dan Tuohy, All Black international scrum half Alby Matthewson and Shane Geraghty from London Irish.

On New Year's Day, 2017, Varndell equalled Mark Cueto's premiership tries record of 90 tries by scoring against Sale Sharks. This followed a hat-trick in the previous week against Worcester Warriors. On 10 February Varndell became the leading try scorer in the Aviva Premiership when he scored against Harlequins at Ashton Gate.

On 5 December 2016, it was announced that Pat Lam would become the new Head Coach for Bristol Rugby after leaving the Irish region Connacht ahead of the 2017-18 season.[18]

Summary of league positions[edit]

Summary of Bristol's league positions since league rugby was introduced in 1987.[19]

Season League League position End of season
1987–88 Courage League 9th n/a
1988–89 Courage League 7th n/a
1989–90 Courage League 9th n/a
1990–91 Courage League 11th (of 13) n/a
1991–92 Courage League 10th (of 13) n/a
1992–93 Courage League 6th (of 13) n/a
1993–94 Courage League 4th (of 10) n/a
1994–95 Courage League 6th (of 10) n/a
1995–96 Courage League 6th (of 10) n/a
1996–97 Courage League 9th n/a
1997–98 Premiership 12th Relegated
1998–99 Division One 1st Promoted
1999–00 Premiership 6th n/a
2000–01 Premiership 9th n/a
2001–02 Premiership 8th n/a
2002–03 Premiership 12th Relegated
2003–04 Division One 9th n/a
2004–05 Division One 1st Promoted
2005–06 Premiership 11th n/a
2006–07 Premiership 3rd n/a
2007–08 Premiership 9th n/a
2008–09 Premiership 12th Relegated
2009–10 Championship 1st Lost the playoff final to Exeter
2010–11 Championship 8th Finished bottom of promotion play-off group.
2011–12 Championship 1st Lost the playoff semi-final to Cornish Pirates
2012–13 Championship 5th n/a
2013–14 Championship 1st Lost the playoff final to London Welsh
2014–15 Championship 1st Lost the playoff final to Worcester
2015–16 Championship 1st Won the playoff final in aggregate against Doncaster Knights
2016–17 Premiership 12th (of 12) Relegated


Records relating to Bristol Rugby Club are held at Bristol Archives (Ref. 41582) (online catalogue) and (Ref. 44624) (online catalogue).

Current standings[edit]

2016–17 Aviva Premiership Table watch · edit · discuss
Club Played Won Drawn Lost Points for Points against Points diff Tries for Tries against Try bonus Losing bonus Points
1 Wasps (Q) 20 16 1 3 645 455 +190 83 57 12 1 79
2 Exeter Chiefs (Q) 20 13 3 4 597 420 +177 76 50 13 3 74
3 Saracens (Q) 20 15 1 4 537 301 +236 60 23 7 3 72
4 Leicester Tigers 20 12 0 8 498 404 +94 52 43 5 4 57
5 Bath 20 11 0 9 418 393 +25 43 43 4 5 53
6 Northampton Saints 20 9 0 11 442 434 +8 47 42 5 7 48
7 Harlequins 20 10 0 10 480 491 −11 53 55 5 2 47
8 Gloucester 20 7 2 11 493 459 +34 55 54 6 8 46
9 Newcastle Falcons 20 8 0 12 375 540 −165 45 67 4 4 40
10 Sale Sharks 20 6 1 13 426 530 −104 50 62 6 4 36
11 Worcester Warriors 20 5 2 13 429 618 −189 51 72 5 2 31
12 Bristol (R) 20 3 0 17 346 641 −295 38 85 1 6 19

If teams are level at any stage, tiebreakers are applied in the following order:

  1. Number of matches won
  2. Difference between points for and against
  3. Total number of points for
  4. Aggregate number of points scored in matches between tied teams
  5. Number of matches won excluding the first match, then the second and so on until the tie is settled
Green background (rows 1 to 4) are play-off places and earns a berth in the 2017–18 European Rugby Champions Cup.
Blue background (rows 5 & 6) indicates teams outside the play-off places, that earns a berth in the 2017–18 European Rugby Champions Cup.
Yellow background indicates the team that advances to a play-off for a chance to compete in the 2017–18 European Rugby Champions Cup.
Plain background indicates teams that earn a place in the 2017–18 European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Red background (row 12) will be relegated, if the Greene King IPA Championship play-off finalists meet the promotion criteria.
Starting table — source: [1]

Current squad[edit]

2016-17 Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.

Player Position Union
Chris Brooker Hooker England England
Max Crumpton Hooker England England
Rob Hawkins Hooker England England
Marc Jones Hooker Wales Wales
Ross McMillan Hooker England England
Ryan Bevington Prop Wales Wales
Gaston Cortes Prop Argentina Argentina
Jamal Ford-Robinson Prop England England
James Hall Prop England England
Jack O'Connell Prop Ireland Ireland
Anthony Perenise Prop Samoa Samoa
Soane Tonga'uiha Prop Tonga Tonga
Kyle Traynor Prop Scotland Scotland
Ian Evans Lock Wales Wales
Ben Glynn Lock England England
Giorgi Nemsadze Lock Georgia (country) Georgia
Joe Joyce Lock England England
Mark Sorenson Lock New Zealand New Zealand
Dan Tuohy Lock Ireland Ireland
Mitch Eadie Flanker Scotland Scotland
Nick Fenton-Wells Flanker South Africa South Africa
Jon Fisher Flanker England England
Jack Lam Flanker Samoa Samoa
James Phillips Flanker England England
Olly Robinson Flanker England England
Jordan Crane Number 8 England England
Nick Köster Number 8 South Africa South Africa
Player Position Union
Will Cliff Scrum-half England England
Alby Mathewson Scrum-half New Zealand New Zealand
Martin Roberts Scrum-half Wales Wales
Rhodri Williams Scrum-half Wales Wales
Shane Geraghty Fly-half England England
Adrian Jarvis Fly-half England England
Tusi Pisi Fly-half Samoa Samoa
Billy Searle Fly-half England England
Gavin Henson Centre Wales Wales
Siale Piutau Centre Tonga Tonga
Will Hurrell Centre England England
Ben Mosses Centre England England
Thretton Palamo Centre United States United States
Jack Tovey Centre England England
Nick Carpenter Centre England England
Charlie Amesbury Wing England England
Ryan Edwards Wing Wales Wales
David Lemi Wing Samoa Samoa
Tom Varndell Wing England England
Jack Wallace Wing England England
Luke Arscott Fullback England England
Jordan Williams Fullback Wales Wales
Jason Woodward Fullback New Zealand New Zealand

Academy squad[edit]

Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.

Player Position Union
Alec Clarey Prop England England
Ollie Dawe Prop England England
John Hawkins Lock England England
BJ Edwards Lock Australia Australia
Sam Jeffries Lock England England
Jack Capon Flanker England England
Andy Uren Scrum-half England England
Callum Sheedy Fly-half Wales Wales
James Newey Centre England England
Elias Caven Wing England England



  • Owner – Stephen Lansdown
  • Chief Executive – Steve Gorvett
  • Chairman – Chris Booy
  • Financial Controller – Alec Bellamy
  • Rugby Administrator – Sarah Gorvett
  • Head of Communications – Tom Tainton
  • Director of Rugby –
  • Team Manager – John Harrison

First Team Coaching

  • Head Coach – Mark Tainton (interim)
  • Forwards Coach – Mark Bakewell
  • Defense Coach – Jonathan Thomas
  • Backs & Skills Coach – Dwayne Peel
  • Senior Performance Analyst – Stuart Powell
  • Performance Analyst – Kristian James
  • Head of Performance – Mark Bennett
  • First Team Strength & Conditioning Coach – Tom Hargroves
  • Head of Recruitment & Talent Identification - Alan Martinovic


  • Academy Manager – Mike Hall
  • Academy Forwards Coach – Mark Irish
  • Academy Backs Coach – Sean Marsden
  • Academy Coach & Player Development Manager – Gary Townsend
  • Academy Strength & Conditioning Coach – Johnny Harris-Wright

Previous Head Coaches/Director of Rugby[edit]

Years Name Achievements
1980 - 1984 Dave Tyler RFU South West Merit Table Winners 1980, 1981, 1982

John Player Cup Winners 1983

John Player Cup Finalists 1984

1984 - 1986 Mike Rafter
1986 - 1988 Bob Hesford John Player Cup Finalists 1988
1988 - 1990 Rob Cunningham
1990 - 1992 Colin Mcfadyean
1992 - 1995 Brian Hanlon
1995 - 1996 Alan Davies
1996 -1998 Darryl Jones
1998 - 2000 Bob Dwer Allied Dunbar Premiership Two Champions - Promoted to Allied Dunbar Premiership One 1998-99
2000 - 2002 Dean Ryan
2002 - 2003 Peter Thorburn
2003 - 2008 Richard Hill National Division One Champions - Promoted to Guinness Premiership 2004-05

Powergen Shield Champions 2004

2008 - 2011 Paul Hull Brirish and Irish Cup Champions 2011
2011 - 2013 Liam Middleton
2013 - 2016 Andy Robinson Greene King IPA Championship Champions - Promoted to Aviva Premiership 2015-1016
2016 - 2017 Mark Tainton
2017 - Pat Lam

Club honours[edit]

Notable and former players[edit]

For all Bristol players with a Wikipedia article see Category:Bristol Rugby players

Notable players to have played for the club include:

There are several former Bristol Rugby players currently playing at other top flight clubs:


  1. ^ "Bristol boss quits club". BBC News. 14 May 2003. 
  2. ^ "Bristol and Bath hold merger talks". The Guardian. 2 May 2003. 
  3. ^ "Former players could save Shoguns". The Telegraph. 16 May 2003. 
  4. ^ "Martin Haag departs as Bristol Rugby Forwards Coach". 15 June 2007. 
  5. ^ "John Brain Joins Bristol Rugby Coaching Staff". 15 June 2007. 
  6. ^ "London Irish 38–21 Bristol". The BBC. 4 April 2009. Retrieved 5 April 2009. 
  7. ^ "Richard Hill leaves Bristol Rugby". 27 February 2009. 
  8. ^ "Bristol Rugby to cut players and staff after Exeter defeat". The Guardian. 1 June 2010. 
  9. ^ "Head coach Paul Hull to leave Bristol in the summer". BBC News. 4 March 2011. 
  10. ^ "Newcastle breathe easier after Pirates scupper Bristol in play-off". The Guardian. 7 May 2012. 
  11. ^ "Steve Lansdown adds Bristol Rugby to ownership of Bristol City". The Guardian. 7 February 2012. 
  12. ^ "Sean Holley named as first team coach". Bristol Rugby. 23 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Andy Robinson: Bristol name ex-Scotland boss as director of rugby". BBC News. 18 February 2013. 
  14. ^ "Liam Middleton: Bristol sack head coach after internal review". BBC News. 18 March 2013. 
  15. ^ "Ryan Jones: Bristol sign Wales forward from Ospreys". BBC News. 24 March 2014. 
  16. ^ "Bristol hail signing of Dwayne Peel from Sale as 'a major coup'". The Guardian. 7 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "Sean Holley: Bristol first-team coach leaves promoted club". BBC News. 24 May 2016. 
  18. ^ "Pat Lam announced as Bristol Rugby Head Coach". Telegraph. 5 December 2016. Retrieved 25 March 2017. 
  19. ^ "English league results". 

External links[edit]