Bristol Ruby logo The Fans

2003-2009

Richard HillHaving recovered from the brink of extinction for the second time in their professional history, Bristol began the 2003-04 season in National League Division One under the guidance of a new Head Coach, former Bath and England scrum half Richard Hill. It would not be unreasonable for posterity to regard the ensuing seasons as the Richard Hill Era. Hill worked wonders at the club, both on and off the pitch, after starting his first season with a squad composed mainly of the previous season's Under 21 players. The pre-season fixtures included a bizarre 118-0 drubbing of a hastily assembled UK Fijians XV, but initially life was tough on the field when league games began. The club eventually achieved a respectable 9th position. In addition, Bristol reached the final of the Powergen Shield, in which they defeated Waterloo 53-24 at Twickenham. Off the field, Hill soon established a great rapport with the supporters, ensuring that both he and his players mixed freely with fans. A happy atmosphere was quickly restored to the club, with Hill cooperating fully with the BRIS Trust in his regular appearances at public meetings.

Hill had more resources at his disposal in 2004-05, and back came former players such as Darren Crompton and Matt Salter. The Head Coach had predicted that Bristol would achieve promotion in his third season in charge, but the team exceed expectations, winning the league in 2004-05. The crucial victories, over nearest rivals Plymouth Albion and Exeter, were achieved in consecutive matches in March. A stirring away win at Plymouth was followed by an astonishing 68-15 demolition of Exeter in front of the Sky Television cameras. Bristol were also involved in a remarkable set of circumstances in the Powergen Cup. Beaten after extra time in a 43-33 thriller against Wasps, the club suddenly found itself reinstated in the competition because their opponents had fielded an ineligible player. Bristol's reward was a quarter final trip to Kingsholm where Gloucester beat them 21-0.

Bristol were widely tipped for relegation on their return to the Premiership in 2005-06, but early victories over Bath and Newcastle gave them an ideal start. There were difficulties along the way, but Bristol eventually finished in eleventh place, with Premiership safety secured. Mark Regan returned to the club at the start of this season, while other significant arrivals included Shaun Perry, Gareth Llewellyn, Dan Ward-Smith, David Lemi and Brian Lima. Perhaps the most satisfying win of the season was at Gloucester, the club's first victory there for twelve years.

2006-07 was an astonishing season, proving to be the high-water mark of Hill's period in charge. Tipped for relegation yet again, the team got off to a cracking start, not losing in the Premiership until November and only faltering badly when injuries took their toll in late February. Bristol lost only once at home, while there was a Premiership double over Bath to enjoy. However, the season will perhaps be most fondly remembered for Jason Strange's last-ditch drop-goal to defeat Gloucester on a rainy Friday night. The team eventually finished in third place, securing a Heineken Cup place for only the second time and losing respectably in the play-off semi final to eventual champions Leicester.

The 2007-08 season turned out to be much tougher. The team got off to a mixed start in the Premiership, but performed creditably in the earlier Heineken Cup games, achieving a particularly memorable home win over Stade Francais. Unfortunately, injuries affected the team badly as the season wore on. Bristol finished in 9th position in the Premiership, while failing to progress beyond their Heineken Cup group. As the season neared its end, with relegation out of the question, Richard Hill gave some of the club's promising youngsters a taste of first team rugby. There was an emotional end to the home season. Bristol Rovers had received the go-ahead for a major redevelopment of the Memorial Stadium, and the decision was taken that Bristol should play their home games at Newport's Rodney Parade ground for the next two seasons. In the event, the proposed redevelopment remained on ice, but as they faced up to the expected exile, many supporters were in tears following a narrow defeat to Worcester in the final home game.

2008-09 was a difficult season, beset with financial difficulties off the field and culminating in Bristol's third relegation from English rugby's top flight. With the club having budgeted for a two year sojourn in Newport, there was an absence of major new signings and Bristol simply weren't strong enough to compete with success in the Premiership. Defeat followed defeat, with a sole home success over Northampton and a draw at Worcester providing the only league success in the first half of the season. There was however an evening of rugby history to savour when Bristol found themselves facing Llanelli Scarlets in the EDF Energy Cup at Stradey Park. The game was the last at this famous old stadium, and while Bristol failed to trouble the scorers in a 27-0 defeat, at least a former Bristol player, Rob Higgitt, had the honour of scoring the last try at the ground. Sadly, Bristol's poor form continued into the new year. Perhaps too much emphasis was placed on the February home meeting with fellow strugglers Newcastle. Bristol suffered a shock 35-3 defeat, a sad ending to Richard Hill's time at the club. His departure was officially announced at the end of the month, with Paul Hull taking over as Head Coach.

 Paul Hull