I was a scrum-half in my schooldays at St Brendan’s College, Bristol, all the way through to the sixth form until Elwyn Price, our coaching guru, told me that he’d found someone better than me and that I’d be better deployed elsewhere.
He suggested wing forward and that’s how it all started for me, and I played 466 games for Bristol in the back-row.
My early days as a scrum-half did come in handy on the few occasions when I was needed as injury cover.
I remember filling in for Richard Harding in a John Player Cup tie at West Hartlepool. We‘d never played up north before and this was the quarter-final draw that no-one wanted.
They were on a good cup run and had a formidable pack. Thankfully we won by a couple of points after hanging on for grim death. After beating Coventry, having been drawn away for the fourth time in the competition in the semis, we played Leicester at Twickenham. We won 28-22 on a great day for Bristol Rugby.
The next year promised much, with another cup final appearance at Twickenham, but Stuart Barnes’ miss meant it was Bath who held the trophy aloft instead of us. Stuart was renting a room in my house in Bristol at the time and I had no inkling he was about to leave us for Bath.
I remember getting home and seeing he’d cleared his room. He still owes me rent! Stuart was a great player and we missed him badly. Sadly we never really recovered as a club from losing that cup final and while our fortunes went downhill, Bath enjoyed their golden decade of success.
Being born in Bristol to a Welsh father and Italian mum I was qualified to play for three countries but I went down the England path. I played for the U18s and U19s and captained the U23s but never got capped. People said I was perhaps a bit on the small side but I always felt I could give as good as I got.
We had loads of good players at Bristol. John Doubleday, Nigel Pomphrey and Mike Fry to name but a few were unfortunate not to get capped, while Richard Harding probably never played as much as he should have done, Dave Rollitt only got a few caps here and there, and Alan Morley definitely deserved more than seven caps; what a great player he was.
I did get to play against Japan three times: for England Students, England U23s and Gloucestershire. By the end of it I was name-perfect with all of their players!
An opportunity to go down the Italian route arose in my mid-20s when I toured there with the Public Schoolboy Wanderers. For some reason I ended up playing for the opposition, an Italian Select XV, and had a good game. Knowing my family background, they tried to persuade me to play over there but I’d only just bought a house in town and started a new business so I decided against it.
However, one of my three sons, Jake, plays for Italy U20s.
I finally packed in playing in 1990. Rob Cunningham had taken over as Bristol coach and upset quite a few people so I went to Clifton as assistant to Alan Morley. I spent ten enjoyable years there, then ten at St Mary’s and another three at another local club called Whitehall, but nowadays my role as ‘dad/taxi driver’ means I don’t have the time to coach.
I’ve been down to Ashton Gate to watch Bristol and it was a weird feeling after so many years at the ‘Mem’.
I admit I was sceptical whether everyone would take to it at first but, in a funny sort of way, it has worked. It’s a lovely surface and it’ll be a lovely stadium when all the work is finished.
I don’t tend to dwell on the past too much but I am proud to have played so many games for Bristol. It was all down to Elwyn, really, without him I would have probably still been playing Combination rugby somewhere at scrum-half.
*As told to Jon Newcombe
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