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Mark Hoskins

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Posted Monday, March 30th 2020

Past Encounters: Chidgey's maiden try stings Wasps

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

Bristol 31-3 Wasps | Saturday, October 9th, 1982 | Memorial Stadium

Longstanding Bristol supporters will recall a time when certain Saturdays in the season were known as County Days. These were the days on which Gloucestershire and Somerset played County Championship fixtures, and on such occasions the Bristol first team was decimated by the demands of both counties. This did not, however, stop Bristol playing and quite often defeating their scheduled opposition, and the game I have chosen is a good example of this.

By this time in the history of the County Championship virtually all matches were played on Saturdays – in previous seasons Wasps would have had a clear advantage as Middlesex and Surrey often played on Wednesday afternoons – so Bristol’s visitors too were missing key players. This potentially made for a well-matched contest, but Bristol were so strong at this time that even without their county stars they fielded a more than impressive side. In fact, six of the side – Simon Hogg, Huw Duggan, Dave Palmer, Austin Sheppard, Alf Troughton and Peter Polledri – would be part of Bristol’s John Player Cup winning team the following April, with all but Palmer starting the match.

The 1982-83 season was without question a memorable and successful one for Bristol.  The club’s Annual Report called it “a magnificent season,” and few could argue with this title. The winning of the John Player Cup, for so long the desired aim of the club, was of course the crowning glory. Every tie in Bristol’s cup run was played away from home, and the final itself, played on a glorious late April afternoon, was unanimously considered to be the best so far in the competition’s history. Outside the cup campaign, Bristol enjoyed success aplenty. Only Swansea and Coventry beat Bristol at the Memorial Ground, Cardiff were beaten early in the season and there were fine victories at Moseley and Pontypridd. At the end of the season the readers of the Sunday Telegraph nominated Bristol as Sunday Telegraph/Victoria Wine Team of the Season. The entire campaign was a triumph for new captain Mike Rafter and his vice-captain Alan Morley – but both were on county duty when Wasps arrived on October 9th.

The Bristol side featured various players in slightly unusual positions. Simon Hogg, more normally an outside half or centre, played at full back, while Huw Duggan, who would eventually be full back in the cup final, played on the wing. At outside half was veteran Chris Williams, who was far more frequently seen as a centre and who could not remember the last time he had worn the club’s letter F shirt. Meanwhile Dave Chidgey, who was to play at No.8 in the 1984 cup final defeat to Bath, featured in the second row. Chidgey had made his debut in the 1977-78 season, but had not up to this time scored a try for the first team. To his subsequent delight, all this was about to change.

Bristol’s supporters had hoped to see Wasps back row forward Andy Dun (father of current Bristol Bears player James) back at the Memorial Ground.  He had previously played for Bristol before going to London for his medical training, and he would return to the club in future as captain, but he missed this game due to a shoulder injury. At hooker the visitors had Alan Simmons, who had appeared for England in an uncapped international, but far and away their most well-known player was centre and captain Mark Taylor. Taylor had stayed on in England after the 1978 All Black tour, and his presence was greatly valued at Wasps. He eventually stayed for five seasons, captaining the club in the last three of these, and he won a total of nine New Zealand caps. He was the only international in the visitors’ side for this game, while Bristol’s only capped player was Sheppard. In Mike Rafter’s absence the Bristol side was led by prop Mark Tomlin.

Bristol started the game well, and it was soon apparent that they were intent on running Wasps off their feet. In no time they were 13-3 up. Chris Williams set up the first try from the opening attack, cutting through and providing a scoring pass for winger Nigel Harris. Harris, a former Exeter player, had only played once previously for the first team and was to enjoy a memorable afternoon in this game. Hogg converted the try and added a penalty, and soon after this flanker Malcolm Baker finished off an excellent bout of handling to cross for try number two. In reply, Wasps outside half Mark Boyd scored what were to be his side’s only points with a penalty kick. After this, the home supporters were nearly treated to a magnificent try from Duggan. The winger chipped over the Wasps attackers close to his own line and hacked the ball for 75 metres, only to have his score ruled out because he failed to ground the ball properly. Ten minutes later Duggan suffered more bad luck when he dropped the ball as he dived for the line, having dribbled it from the Wasps 22.   

The score remained at 13-3 at half time, and despite Bristol receiving superb lineout service from Troughton, there was no further scoring until the final quarter. After this however, Bristol cut loose with four more tries. The first of these went to Chidgey, who thus broke his duck at first team level. Harris made the score for him, sprinting 40 metres before putting Chidgey clear, and after he had touched down he was instantly reminded by his skipper that he would be paying for a jug of beer after the game. Then Chris Williams, “shaking off the years and several would-be tacklers” according to the Evening Post match report, set up a second try for Harris. Two minutes of normal time remained when Harris completed a memorable hat trick, this time courtesy of Hogg, who cleverly created an opening.

By this time Bristol’s backline had been disrupted with both centres, John Watson and Gareth Williams, suffering injuries. Watson eventually had to depart with a hamstring pull in the final ten minutes with Andy Thomas taking his place, but Williams battled on despite straining his knee ligaments. Wasps too had encountered problems, with the iconic Taylor departing at half time suffering from sciatica and second row John Bonner going off in the second half with a twisted knee.

Injury time had now arrived, but there was time for one more try, and it raised the biggest cheer of the afternoon. The reason for this was that Duggan put his previous misfortunes behind him to sprint clear to score. Hogg converted one of the second half tries, and an enjoyable afternoon ended with Bristol having chalked up an impressive victory.

The Evening Post not surprisingly went for Nigel Harris as Man of the Match, praising his “forceful display.” Harris himself was delighted with his performance, telling Gerry Thomas of the Western Daily Press that it was the first time he had scored a hat trick at senior level. “I never had such scoring opportunities when I was at Exeter,” he added. “But before the game today we decided that as Bristol’s reputation was built on running rugby we would give it a go and cut out the kicking except in the direst defensive situations.”     

Bristol’s attacking intent had certainly worked, and it was appreciated to the extent that a voice from the terraces shouted: “weren’t we lucky the first team wasn’t playing!” One final quote from Nigel Harris tells us how a club’s fortunes can change down the years. He had made a rather quiet debut against London Irish the Saturday before, but had been more than happy with Bristol’s distinctly unmemorable 12-6 victory. “This is the first time for at least two years I have been in a team that has beaten a senior club,” he told the press. Modern supporters might need to be reminded that Harris’s old club Exeter were by no means the force in rugby that they are today.

Bristol: Tries: Harris (3), Baker, Chidgey, Duggan. Con: Hogg (2). Pen: Hogg

Wasps: Pen: Boyd

Bristol: S T Hogg, N Harris, J Watson (A C Thomas 72), G Williams, I H Duggan, C J Williams, L D Yandell, M G Tomlin (captain), D J Palmer, A Sheppard, A H Troughton, D L Chidgey, M L Baker, P J J Polledri, S J Gorvett

Wasps: K Titcombe, C Leckenby, N M Taylor (captain, P Johnson 40), P Harrison, C Lambert, M Boyd, G Paige, M Brooks, A Simmons, R Cairns, J Bonner (R Tempest 56), N Roberts, P Christy, K Bonner, R Smith

Referee: A Church (Cornwall)