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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Tuesday, March 22nd 2022

Obituary: Gordon Cripps

Bristol Bears regret to announce the death at the age of 93 of Gordon Cripps.

Gordon, who spent the latter part of his life in New Zealand, was without question one of the greatest players in the club’s history. A mobile No.8 forward, though his generation often called the position lock, he scored what was then easily the club record of 1,310 points In a Bristol first team career of 291 matches.

Gordon Fred Cripps was educated at St George Grammar School and played his early club rugby for Imperial. He did his national service in the RAF and first played for Bristol United in the 1949-50 season. He made his first team debut at Wasps in November 1951, and became a first team regular in 1952-53, heading the list of point scorers. In 1953-54 he was awarded both his first team cap and his blazer, and a season later he set a new club record of 152 points in a season, beating Archie Hore’s total of 131 which had been set in 1927-28. It was also in the 1954-55 season that he appeared in his only England trial. He was a reserve for the Whites v Colours game at Falmouth, and he joined the Whites’ pack in the first half when Peter Young suffered a cut eye. The Lions toured South Africa at the end of this season, and Gordon was officially sounded out about his availability to tour, but sadly he was not selected.

In 1955-56 Gordon improved his season’s tally to 163, but he reached his zenith as a kicker in the 1958-59 season, when he scored what was, in the context of the times, an incredible 230 points. The following season, 1959-60, saw Bristol at their peak under skipper John Blake, playing a revolutionary style of rugby in which forwards and back alike indulged in thrilling handling moves. Gordon was set to break his own record yet again when his season ended prematurely due to a knee ligament injury. He was on 224 points at the time. Although he was never again called up for an England trial, Gordon enjoyed a lengthy career with Gloucestershire. He played 22 times for the county, and captained the team which reached the County Championship final in 1959, losing narrowly to a very good Warwickshire side at the Memorial Ground.

As well as being an outstanding kicker, Gordon Cripps was a speedy and talented ball-handler who was perfectly suited to the style of rugby Bristol were playing at the time. At this period in the game’s history it was by no means unusual for a forward to take the goal kicks, and Gordon was partly inspired by watching South African goalkicking forward Okey Geffin. His other role model was New Zealand full back Bob Scott. Gordon used to kick with the toe and preferred to wear boots with a square toecap. He called his kicking technique “toe-plonking,” and he regularly landed goals from within his own half.      

From the 1960-61 season onwards, Gordon gradually wound down his senior rugby career. He captained  Bristol United in 1961-62 and made his final first team appearance at Weston-super-Mare towards the end of this season, appropriately scoring the winning try. He then played a further season of rugby back at Imperial before retiring. His first team points were made up of 26 tries, 334 conversions and 188 penalties. At the time it was generally assumed that his records would stand forever, but eventually Alan Pearn eclipsed his season’s total with 429 in 1971-72, the first season of the four-point try.

Gordon Cripps worked in Bristol as an estimator for Mardon’s. He later became the factory’s assistant manager before emigrating to New Zealand. When he retired as a Bristol player, the following tribute was paid to him in the club’s Annual Report: “Gordon has been a wonderful servant to the club and his goalkicking has proved astronomical. Nowhere in the club’s records can be found such figures as he set up, and those of us who had the great pleasure of watching his amazingly accurate kicking will realise that we had been watching a master.”

All at Bristol Bears send their sincere sympathy to Gordon’s family at this sad time. 


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