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Mark Hoskins

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Posted Thursday, March 26th 2020

Past Encounters: Bubbling Hull leads the rout

Club Historian, Mark Hoskins takes a look back at a famous Bristol victory in our latest Past Encounters feature.

Bristol 44-22 Sale | Saturday, September 17th, 1994 | Memorial Ground

The 1994-95 season, the last before rugby union became a professional sport, started promisingly for Bristol. Under the captaincy of flanker Derek Eves, who was leading the side for a record-equalling fifth season, the team made in bright start in what was then called National Division One. An early and fairly respectable defeat at Bath was followed by four consecutive victories, and all seemed set fair for a successful league campaign. Sadly though, Bristol’s form slumped after this, and with a number of key players suffering injuries the rest of the season was generally disappointing. The club even flirted with relegation at one stage, but eventually Bristol finished sixth out of ten clubs in the league with seven wins and eleven defeats.

The game with Sale on September 17th was the first home league match of the season and took place just a week after the loss at the Rec. Bristol had failed to score a try in the Bath game, losing 18-9, but an unchanged side was fielded in the hope that a more positive performance would ensue. One of the most impressive performers against Bath had been second row Andy Blackmore, who had dominated the lineouts all afternoon, and he continued his partnership with future England lock Simon Shaw. Blackmore himself was undoubtedly of international quality and was most unfortunate never to win full international honours with England. Another future England star in the Bristol pack was hooker Mark Regan, while one of the props, Alan Sharp, had won his first Scottish cap a few months earlier.

Behind the scrum Bristol had England scrum half Kyran Bracken partnering current Bristol Bears CEO Mark Tainton, and at full back was Paul Hull. Hull was in the form of his life, following a hugely successful England debut in his country’s two tests on the summer tour to South Africa. He was to win a further two caps in the forthcoming autumn internationals, and was desperately unlucky to lose his place to Bath’s Mike Catt when he was injured in the second of these games. He was destined never to be capped again, and he most certainly deserved more than the four caps which came his way. The other standout name in the Bristol backs for the Sale match was winger David John, an unorthodox and speedy crowd-pleaser who scored some memorable tries during his time with the club.

Sale, who would eventually finish fourth in the table, were captained by future England international Jim Mallinder. He would subsequently coach both Sale and Northampton. Their side featured future England centre Jos Baxendell, as well as three future Ireland internationals in scrum half Chris Saverimutto and forwards Dylan O’Grady and Dave Erskine. Their only current cap was Welshman Paul Turner, an outstanding outside half and a talented kicker. Their hooker was Steve Diamond, the club’s current Director of Rugby.

The game took place in fine weather on a pitch perfectly suited to running rugby, and Paul Hull spent the afternoon reminding everyone why he was England’s number one full back. Chris Hewett informed the readers of his Evening Post match report that Hull “was put on this earth to play free spirit rugby,” and the full back scored one of his side’s five tries and set up two of the others. A Tainton penalty gave Bristol a first minute lead, but despite some bright play from both sides there was no more scoring in the opening quarter. Turner’s 24th minute penalty levelled the scores, but four minutes later a second Tainton penalty restored Bristol’s lead. The Memorial Ground crowd had to wait a full half hour for the first league try of the season, and the scorer was Regan. Chris Hewett wrote of the hooker “lurking on the short side,” and he crashed over close to the corner flag “in classic front row style” following a good build-up from Bracken and Shaw. Tainton could not convert but Bristol now led 11-3.  

With the first half almost over, Paul Hull treated the home supporters to a memorable score. He received from Bracken following a scrum, and with what Chris Hewett called “a shimmy of the hips and the blink of an eye,” he ran clear to score a try which was “a masterpiece of individual trickery.” Tainton’s conversion stretched Bristol’s lead even further, but there was just time for Turner to find the target with a second penalty. This left Bristol leading by 18-6 at the break. 

Turner and Tainton traded penalties in the early stages of the second half, and then, in the 57th minute, “the daintiest of runs” from Alan Sharp launched a great team try. Inevitably, Hull was involved in the move, and it was his cut out pass to Gavin Sharp that sent the RAF winger on his way to the line. Tainton’s conversion, together with a fourth penalty, took Bristol to 31-9 with less than 20 minutes left, but at this point the visitors mounted a mini recovery. Turner kicked a penalty on 65 minutes, and two minutes later Mallinder scored a try following a storming run from No.8 Charlie Vyvyan. Turner’s conversion made the score 31-19, and when his 30 metre drop goal went over via a post it was 31-22 with ten minutes remaining.

Tainton calmed Bristol’s nerves with his fifth penalty, and in the final minutes the home side added two further tries. The first of these saw Eves roll off a maul to score, and the second was again down to the inventiveness of Hull. Sensing an air of desperation in a Sale attack near his own line, he gambled correctly on an interception. Once he was in the clear he handed on to David John, and the crowd witnessed a “grand galloping finale” as the winger sprinted the length of the field to seal the victory.

“Bubbling Hull leads the rout,” was the very appropriate Evening Post headline after what Chris Hewett described as “a thoroughly entertaining match – a cheerful, adventurous 80 minutes full of wit and invention.” Bristol had proved that they were more than capable of scoring tries – and entertaining ones at that – and there was much to admire throughout the team. Blackmore had dominated the lineouts to such an extent that Shaw had barely been required to jump, while Regan’s throwing in had been exemplary. Behind the scrum Bracken was “full of beans,” and Mark Tainton had kicked a new Bristol record of 19 points in a league game – a record he was to improve upon in the not too distant future. But Paul Hull was the real star of this memorable match, excelling both in attack and defence.  At this stage in his playing career a lengthy England career appeared a certainty, and it was such cruel luck that this gifted player should be injured when at the peak of his powers.   

Bristol: Tries: Regan, Hull, Sharpe, Eves, John. Con: Tainton (2). Pen: Tainton (5)

Sale: Try: Mallinder. Con: Turner. Pen: Turner (4). DG: Turner

Bristol: P A Hull, D L John, D Wring, M C A Denney, G Sharp, M A Tainton, K P P Bracken, A V Sharp, M P Regan, D J Hinkins, S D Shaw, A G Blackmore, R Armstrong, D J Eves (captain), I Patten

Sale: D J Mallinder (captain), S Verbickas, J J N Baxendell, G Stocks, K Young, P Turner, C L Saverimutto, M A Whitcombe, S Diamond, A G Smith, D N Baldwin, D O’Grady, D J Erskine, N E Ashurst, C B Vyvyan

Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire)