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Will Carpenter

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Posted Friday, March 20th 2020

Bris Legends interviews: Joe El-Abd

It’s just over 10 years since Joe El-Abd departed Bristol, and in that time, the 40-year-old has already carved out a reputation as one of the game’s most exciting young coaches.

But it was during his seven-year stint in the West Country that the industrious back row established himself as a firm fan favourite at Bristol, with 138 first team appearances and 18 tries in the blue and white hoops.

In a coaching capacity, El-Abd’s Castres side fought their way to a prestigious Top 14 title in 2017/18, with the former Bristol captain at the helm as Forwards and Defence coach.

But reflecting on his playing days, El-Abd says team camaraderie and his relationship with the supporters were key contributors to a memorable spell at the club.

“I look back at my time at the club with such fond memories,” he said.

“It was such a fantastic period with a great group of players and coaches. I’m still in touch with a lot of the boys who I played with, which shows the great camaraderie we had.

“I remember joining the club in 2003 when we had just been relegated from the Premiership. Richard Hill was appointed as coach and he was looking to rebuild the squad with young players playing in the area. I think Hilts (David Hilton) was the oldest in the squad by about 10 years at the time.

“Bristol is such a special club, and one of the main reasons is the fans. It’s great that we had, and the club still has, such a great proximity with the supporters.

“There is also such a huge number of clubs in the Bristol Combination, so it really is a rugby city. It’s great to play for a club that represents so many people.”

Born in Brighton of an Egyptian father and English mother, El-Abd played his early rugby for Hove RFC and had then studied at Bath University.

Originally a Bath player, and on loan at Caerphilly, El-Abd joined Bristol but was struck down with a knee injury early in the season and missed much of it as a result. After working his way back to fitness in time for the Powergen Shield semi-final at Penzance, El-Abd scored a try in Bristol's 40-15 win, before starring in a 53-24 victory over Waterloo in the Twickenham final.

The following season, El-Abd was a key member of the promotion winning outfit, and one of seven Bristol players named in the Rugby Times National One Team of the Season, priding himself on work rate and commitment.

“I would have done anything to help the team, even if that did mean bending the rules at times. I knew there were other more talented players than me, so I always thought my job was to try and get the most out of the team so we could win.”

Joe El-Abd

“I would describe myself as a grafter,” he said. “I would have done anything to help the team, even if that did mean bending the rules at times. I knew there were other more talented players than me, so I always thought my job was to try and get the most out of the team so we could win.”

El-Abd stayed with Bristol during some successful years in the top-flight, succeeding Matt Salter as captain in the 2008-09 season. Unfortunately, Bristol were relegated at the end of that season and El-Abd began his relationship with French rugby when he subsequently joined Toulon.

But with a century of caps, silverware and a bundle of memories in Bristol colours, El-Abd remains one of the club’s most cherished players.

“It was a great honour to play for Bristol, and to have done so 100 times is very special.”