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My Life in Rugby: Paul Hull – former England and Bristol full-back

Paul HullThroughout any playing career you have ups and downs and when I played for Bristol that was most definitely the case.

I played 289 first team games for the club and then served as academy manager, assistant coach, head coach and most recently chief scout, so you could say that the club has a special place in my heart.

My Bristol break came after they saw me play as a guest for Cheltenham Colts against Bristol Colts at the Mem and invited me to play for the United at Nottingham.

There was a party-like atmosphere with it being the last game of the season and the fact that we won well, meant everyone was in good spirits. For me it just felt like a better fit than Bath, who I’d previously trained with.

I made my first team debut for Bristol as a replacement against Newport at Christmas time the following season. We reached the last John Player Cup final that season, against Harlequins at Twickenham, but unfortunately, I was injured and missed out.

Well before the Heineken Cup came into existence, I remember a brutal home game against Begles.

Fights kicked off time and time again and they had two players sent off for foul play. It didn’t finish there; in those days my place in the changing rooms was next to the door and at the end of the match, the Begles players forced their way in looking to fight us all over again!

That was in 1989/90, the year I’d first got involved with the England squad. It wasn’t until 1994 though that I got capped, on tour to South Africa.

The fact Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for 26 years really resonated with me because I’d only just turned 26 on tour and meeting him is ingrained in my memory.

Apartheid had just been abolished so, as a black man, I did encounter a bit of racism but I was never one to worry about stuff like that; it only made me play better on the pitch.

We played brilliantly and won in Pretoria before they levelled the series in the second Test. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

The last of my four caps came later that year against Canada at Twickenham. I’d been struggling with an Achilles injury and was stretchered off during the first half.  Mike Catt came on and played full-back for the first time and scored twice as England carved it up in the second 40.

That obviously reflected well on him and it was Mike, not me, who was chosen at 15 thereafter.

Back with Bristol, one of the standout games ironically came in the relegation season of 1997/98. We’d had no luck at all and were bottom of the league.

All looked lost on New Year’s Eve as we trailed 21-3 away to Harlequins inside the first 13 minutes. However, our confidence grew as we got back into the game and we eventually won a thriller 40-38, although we had to wait until Rob Liley missed a match-equalling conversion before our New Year’s celebrations could begin.

I officially hung up my boots in the winter of 1999 as a proud ‘one club man’.

I remember many moments in my career where I had clubs wanting me to join them. There was the initial interest from Bath and then Leicester, Wasps and Cardiff.

The most tempting offer ironically was from two Rugby League clubs, Warrington and Castleford, but each time it was the players and the fabulous supporters who stopped me from leaving Bristol.

*As told to Jon Newcombe

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