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Academy Structure

Bristol Bears Academy has a unique and bespoke structure which takes into consideration the broad range and stages of maturation in young players.

With that in mind the Academy is divided into Junior Academy and Senior Academy, with a manager for each, both having experience and expertise in their particular age ranges and responsibilities. However, both share a common ultimate aim:

'To provide a regular flow of quality academy developed players for the Bristol Bears to dominate the Premiership and Champions Cup.'


Junior Academy

Manager: Gary Townsend

Gary has been with the Academy since August 2014. Born, educated and brought up in Bristol. His background is in the development of young people. A former physical education teacher and head of year. Gary joined the Academy from England Rugby, in which he held the position of National Player Development Manager.

The Junior Academy programme has its roots firmly embedded in talent development research and best practice:

  • very broad based
  • recognition that rugby is a late specialisation sport
  • understanding that young player’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development varies enormously
  • awareness of the potential impact of relative age effect.

Whilst the Academy as a whole has an ultimate aim, the Junior Academy also has other key objectives:

  • provide an environment & culture that promotes whole player development for success on and off the field
  • unlock the potential of young players and provide opportunity for them to be the best they can be on and off the pitch.
  • strengthen club and school rugby in the Bears catchment through the development of coaches and young players
  • provide a pathway to the Senior Academy
  • establish the ‘Bears Way” throughout the Junior Academy

The Junior Academy pathway is set out in two clear sections: Bears Aspire (Formerly ‘Developing Player Programme’) and Bears Excel (formerly ‘Player Development Group’).

Bears Aspire identifies and develops players between the ages of 13-16 (year 8 to Year 11). This is a process of continual monitoring and assessment, with character, attitude and work ethic given equal status to skill and game understanding.

Many players in this programme will be involved in county rugby (Bristol Schools and Somerset), which is an important part of the Bears Pathway.

Based across eight centres of the Academy catchment area - stretching from Minehead to Thornbury - the programme runs once a week in term time and ensures players are suitably equipped with the necessary foundations to progress in the game of rugby and if appropriate, through the Bears pathway. Boys are expected to learn and work hard in all aspects of their lives to put into action the words of the Bears mantra.

“The Bear represents supreme strength, fearlessness and discipline. It stands up to adversity. It respects the land and community in which it lives”

Bears Excel is designed to further prepare players for a high- performance rugby environment. Players in this programme are aged Under 15 & 16 and are usually identified through Aspire sessions and inter-centre festivals. Players are selected through the demonstration of consistently good work ethic, attitude (on and off the field), tactical awareness and technical ability. Bears Excel have regular coaching sessions, conditioning and physiotherapy at centres in Bristol and Bridgwater College.

Any queries regarding the Junior Academy programme for Under 15 and 16 can be directed to Gary Townsend gtownsend@bristolbearsrugby.com.


Senior Academy

Manager: Gethin Watts

Gethin joined the Bristol Bears Academy in September 2019, having been a former national performance manager at the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). He has been accredited with leading the strategy of WRU elite pathway between 2011 and 2017, having previously led the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues academies and overseeing the development of some of Wales’ most prominent international talent.

Following an Academy restructure in the summer of 2019, the Senior Academy work closely with Pat Lam, providing clarity to the direction of travel. This has resulted in alignment between the first team and the Academy – both at junior and senior levels.

The Senior Academy can be separated into three different stages.

Under 17 and 18

Whilst both the Junior and Senior Academy share a common purpose, and there is a different focus from U17 upwards.  The U17 and 18s programme begin the process of providing a pathway to professional rugby and a high-performance environment.

The Under 18s will play in the Academy League, whilst the Under 17s will have a series of games culminating in a week long National England Rugby Academy Camp at Wellington College, Berkshire.

Gethin Watts, Senior Academy Manager

Scholars Programme

New from season 2020/21, this initiative has been introduced to ensure that the best homegrown talent remains in the Bears system and runs alongside the existing integrated Academy pathway.

The scholarship programme will see an additional group of players receive an opportunity to work with the club’s professional staff in order to maximise their potential to become full time professional rugby players. In addition to a daily training environment, the scholars will work with local employers and colleges to ensure that they are gaining applied experience in their chosen field of study and interest whilst also playing for their club teams on the weekend.

Full time Academy

The Integrated Academy squad offers first time professional contracts, with the group training and playing alongside the first team squad. It is the final step in development of players who have been identified as having the potential to progress to first team level. Senior Academy players train on a full-time basis alongside the first team and typically feature in the A-League as well as for the first team across all three competitions.

Ioan Lloyd
Will Capon
Charlie Powell