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Author

Will Carpenter

writes

Posted Saturday, March 28th 2020

Bris Legends interviews: Dan Ward-Smith

Dan Ward-Smith barely hesitates when asked of his fondest memory in a Bristol shirt.

The dynamic and superbly athletic number eight played 92 times for the club from 2005-2009, but there’s one game that stands head and shoulders above all others.

“Like so many people who supported or played during my time at Bristol, it has to be the drop goal,” he says, of course referring to Jason Strange’s last-gasp heroics against Gloucester in November 2006.

“It’s been spoken about many times, but it was just a magic moment. The fighting spirit and refusal to be beaten was there, the crowd was pumping, the stadium was shaking. It was the greatest post-match changing room feeling ever.

“I played one of my best games in a Bristol jersey and I remember at the end Paul Hull came up to me, looked me in the eye and said: ‘that’s how you play rugby’. It’s one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Ward-Smith signed for Bristol from Plymouth Albion in 2005 on the club’s return to the Premiership under Richard Hill, quickly becoming a key cog in a side determined to make their city proud.

“When I arrived at the club, Hilly (Richard Hill) made it clear we weren’t a Saracens or a Harlequins – you cannot move the team ‘Bristol’. We were representing the city,” he said.

“Bristol is a rugby city and if you give people something to cheer about, they will come out and cheer louder than any crowd in the world. The people of Bristol work hard all week and they want to see you work hard on the pitch and show passion for the jersey.

“We knew we couldn’t let the supporters down - even though at times we did. When we did, we were ashamed and knew it was unacceptable.

“When I joined, I remember a really great environment with an extremely tight-knit group of boys. The age spread in the side was huge, but we all spent time together off of the field.

“Around the city there was a real buzz and it just built over the seasons as we became a top four side.

“There were so many players out to prove a point. We had players who were at the tail end of their careers but raging against the ‘dying of the light’. There were players cast aside by other clubs, a bunch of ‘Welshies’ who were experienced and great fun on and off the pitch. Then there were hungry players who had never had an opportunity at the highest level - I was in that group and we were desperate to show the rugby world who we were.

“We had never played on Sky TV, had our surnames on our shirts or had 10,000 plus people turn up watch us play. There was a sense of hunger - we definitely wanted it more than some of the teams we played, especially on a rainy night at The Mem. We loved it when it rained.”

“Bristol is a rugby city and if you give people something to cheer about, they will come out and cheer louder than any crowd in the world. The people of Bristol work hard all week and they want to see you work hard on the pitch and show passion for the jersey."

Dan Ward-Smith

Ward-Smith scored 12 tries during his Bristol tenure, but saw his career cruelly hampered by injury setbacks. After suffering a serious knee injury during the 2006/07 season, the New Zealand-born back row eventually battled back to fitness and was selected for England’s 2010 tour of the southern hemisphere, by which time he was with Wasps following Bristol’s relegation from the Premiership.

When he retired in 2011, Ward-Smith moved back to New Zealand where he coached at and managed a rugby academy. He now lives on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, working for Boehringer-Ingelheim, a pharmaceutical company, while also running a gym with his wife, Jamie.

Even on the other side of the world, the 42-year-old is still a keen follower of the club’s fortunes and believes there’s an exciting future at Ashton Gate.

“The current team seems to have gone through the acclimatisation phase in the Premiership and now they are looking like a top side.

“It was only going to be a matter of time - Pat is a highly rated coach, his team has a great ethos and you can see from the outside they are building momentum all the time now.

“The squad has a good mix of local players and international superstars. Bristol does a great job of adopting overseas players and making them feel at home. They will never want to leave.”