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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Monday, June 8th 2020

Past Encounters: Leahy's Radnor Road hat-trick

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

Bristol 26-0 Weston-super-Mare | Saturday, November 22nd, 1919 | Radnor Road

Mark Hoskins looks back to a Bristol game played almost exactly 100 years ago

With Bristol’s games with Zebre being of such recent vintage, I have decided today to go back 100 years and look at a game from the club’s first official season after the Great War. Students of Bristol’s history will know that an interim side known as Bristol United operated during the curtailed 1918-19 season, providing rugby for returning servicemen, and the players from this team formed the basis of the Bristol club when it was relaunched the following season. Bristol United had played its home games on a field at Radnor Road, and since the County Ground, Bristol’s pre-war home, was no longer available for rugby, Bristol themselves followed suit in 1919.

Under new captain Reg Pickles, a fine centre three-quarter who would eventually win England caps as a full back, Bristol enjoyed a promising season in which victories outnumbered defeats by four. This was a vast improvement on some of the seasons in the run up to the First World War, and there was ample evidence during that first post-war campaign that some golden seasons lay ahead. Pickles was joined in the back line by the likes of Len Corbett, destined to become the club’s first England captain, and Somerset’s Reg Quick, who was a prolific try scorer. In the pack Sam Tucker, another future England captain, was beginning to make his mark, and there were plenty more talented players both in the forwards and behind the scrum.

When Bristol ran out to face Weston-super-Mare on Saturday November 22nd they had already played nine games, of which six had been won. Only Gloucester had beaten the side at home, and the most notable victory had been a more than impressive 21-3 win over Cardiff. Later in the season Harlequins would be defeated for the first time in Bristol’s history, and there were also good victories over Swansea and Leicester. There were also four games with Bath in 1919-20, and Bristol won three of them.

The Weston match clashed with a Somerset trial at Bridgwater, thus depriving the team of Reg Quick, along with first choice outside half Stanley Budd. This meant that Tom Spoors, the youngest of five brothers to play for the club and normally a threequarter, featured as scrum half Billy Wring’s halfback partner. Meanwhile, Quick’s place was taken by H Scott, an Avonmouth winger who had played just once for Bristol before the war. In the pack, Tucker was supported by regulars such as Mervyn Shaw, Frank Feltham and Charlie Allen, and they were joined for the first time that season by Jim Leahy, the captain of St Mary’s Old Boys. He, like Scott, had played briefly pre-war. Harold Feltham, Bristol’s other winger in this game, was Frank Feltham’s younger brother. He was destined to finish the season as leading try scorer with 23 in just 27 games.

Weston were not expected to provide too great a threat to Bristol, and so it proved. The home side scored eight tries in all, and but for some wayward goalkicking the final score would have been higher. The Western Daily Press report of the game tells us that the wind was a problem, but apparently the various kickers tried by Bristol were guilty of “not allowing sufficiently for the vagaries” of the elements. Pickles, Shaw, Wring and Leahy all failed to hit the target, with only Harold Feltham, with the final conversion of the day, landing the extra two points. In fairness to Pickles though, it should be noted that one of his attempts went over, only to be disallowed as it was touched in flight by a Weston player.

The Press described Weston as “a bustling side forward,” but “weak behind.” They kicked for touch too much, but they did treat the crowd to “the well-known Weston rushes.” This was a time in rugby’s history when it was still common to see forward packs indulging in foot rushes as the ball was worked downfield, and Weston were apparently good at this. Be that as it may, Bristol were superior in all departments, with Tucker playing “the game of his life.” The Press goes on to say that “he was the best man on the field, and his display was easily the best forward play seen for the Bristol club this season. Always in the thick of it, he played brainy football, and the way he opened out the game was very clever.”

Tucker crowned his day with an excellent individual try. Corbett scored twice, displaying his “inimitable method of running,” while Harold Feltham and Pickles also touched down for scores. Sadly, H Scott was not among the scorers – indeed he never played for Bristol’s first team again, and the Press stated that “he is not likely to get his place without improvement.” In contrast, the hero as far as try scoring was concerned was Leahy, who marked his return to first class rugby with a hat trick. His dribbling was a feature of the game, and he scored his three tries in quick succession.

All told, this was an enjoyable afternoon of rugby at Radnor Road, although the ground itself was never that pleasant either for players or spectators. There was a pronounced dip in one corner, and the pitch itself was small. The spectators had to brave the elements, and a rudimentary stand was only added the following season. As for changing facilities, they were non-existent, and an agreement had been reached with George’s Brewery, allowing teams to change at the nearby Old Fox inn on Gloucester Road. It was small wonder that Bristol would occasionally move their more prestigious home fixtures to the local football grounds at Ashton Gate and Eastville. Fortunately though, it was already known that much better facilities would belong to the club soon enough, as the site for the Memorial Ground had recently been secured. Within a few years of the new ground being completed the pitch at Radnor Road had vanished forever beneath a new housing development.

Funnily enough, when Bristol and Weston played the return fixture later in the season, the score was again 26-0. Once again eight tries were scored, and once again only one was converted. Jim Leahy did not score on this occasion, although he was still in the side. Sadly, this potential star was soon lost to rugby union, and before the end of the season he had switched to rugby league.    

Bristol:

Tries: Leahy (3), Corbett (2), H Feltham, Pickles, Tucker

Con: H Feltham

Bristol: T J Bateman, H Scott, L J Corbett, R C W Pickles (captain), H L Feltham, T G Spoors, W J Wring, F V Feltham, O M V Shaw, J S Tucker, H Pyrke, J H Leahy, H J Willis, T J O’Connor,  W C Allen  

Weston-super-Mare: H Dommett, E Sparkes, P Bewley, A E Newsome, J Coffin, R Amesbury, A Banwell, S Bateman, C Perkins, J Poulson, J Webb, D Stocker, D Evans, C C Gibbs, B Trapnell

Referee: Mr R A Roberts (Gloucestershire) 


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