HOW DO you turn darkness into light? Old Bristolians found a way. Five years ago, Robbie Stuart, their second-team captain and Brizzley Bear mascot at Bristol, complained of feeling tired. On the day that England beat Australia in RWC 2007, he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Undeterred by the gruelling chemo that lay ahead, he set about organising events – from dodgeball to a fancy-dress workout – to raise money for cancer-care charity CLIC Sargent.
“He was a tour de force,” Old Bristolians captain Mike Barton says, “and when he died in November 2008 the club got behind the charity even more. From just ticking over as a club we’ve since twice won promotion, we’ve won cups, we’ve formed a fourth team. And in a way Robbie’s death was the catalyst for it all.”
The club’s fund-raising activity has been phenomenal, with golf days, canoe treks, tough-guy competitions, even a carol crawl across Bristol raking in nearly £140,000 for CLIC Sargent in the past four years. The club has become an official partner for the charity.
On the field a double in 2010 was followed by Gloucester Premier consolidation. There was no revolution by head coach Shane Claridge’s side last summer, even if they did revamp their lineout on the advice of new player-coach Wayne Cockram and employ a physio, Emma Davies, for the first time. Yet winning has become contagious: they romped to a league title, won the Bristol Combination Vase, and saw the seconds reach the Somerset Vase final and the thirds promoted.
Player of the Year was centre Tom Westray, whose outside breaks were a feature of the campaign. Prop Jimmy Adams played every minute of every game and Jack Price proved a reliable kicker, scoring a full house in a crucial win at Southmead.
What’s the secret? In a nutshell, excellent fitness, a clear game plan and a willingness to move holidays or birthday parties to fit around the rugby.
“We just enjoy each other’s company and pull together on and off the field,” says lock Barton, a sales manager in the aviation industry.
Old Bristolians are our 2011-12 Team of the Year and win 22 kitbags and baselayers from Canterbury. Loughborough Students, Jersey, Llanelli Wanderers and Helensburgh all challenged strongly.
This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Rugby World.
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