When I took over the UBH at the start of the season, the club was in a difficult place. The potential was vast, but without facilities or a coach it was looking tricky. After consulting with Mike Armiger, he agreed to become head coach along with Matt Welch as forwards coach, a moment that would change UBH history forever. With a permanent ground sourced at Portway Development Centre and access to the 4G pitch at Coombe Dingle for home games, this season promised much with a new league and the National Association of Medical Schools (NAMS) cup in our sights, as well as winning back the trophy from Nantes Medical School.
Over the past few seasons, NAMS has proved to be a frustrating affair, the last time winning any silverware being 2012 with the NAMS plate and the last final being the 2014 plate against Nottingham Medics. This year would be different.
Our first match was against Peninsula and Exeter Medics in October, away in Plymouth. Traditionally strong at home, the result could go either way with neither team gaining the advantage in years gone by. A difficult game for many reasons, one being the sad passing of Ottie Uden that week, a friend to many in the club. After a minute’s silence, an intense match of rugby followed, with The Squirrels just gaining the victory 25-22.
An agonising loss, we then took on Birmingham Medics in a double header and friendly in November as a warm up for Cardiff. The 2s started the day in their first ever match against another Medical School, winning resoundingly 57-17. The 1s then took to the field under lights in horrible conditions, with over 100 spectators braving the weather. A difficult match, we managed to scrape a 25-8 win in our first ever victory against Birmingham. A fantastic joint social followed, not only learning how to ‘Lizard’, but also showing why medical school rugby is the best in the world.
Next up was Swansea Medics, new to the South West group and replacing Southampton. Last year we managed a 33-13 win at home in the plate quarter final and we hoped for more of the same this year. An important game in order to stay in contention for the cup, we pulled off an impressive 31-5 win.
Our final match of 2017 was varsity against Cardiff, a difficult opponent especially away at Llanrumney in very wet conditions. Having not scored a point against Cardiff in three years, this was a huge test of strength to show just how far we had come this season. Unfortunately, we shipped 28 unanswered points to Cardiff in the first half, it looked like a repeat of all of the previous seasons. Yet, the players rallied and managed to win the second half 14-5, showing just how far we’d come. The final score of 33-14 really showed it was a game of two halves, but it was a huge improvement on the past years and we look forward to welcoming them to Bristol next season.
Having lost to Peninsula and Cardiff meant we had a home draw in the plate quarter finals. However both Nottingham Graduates and Sheffield Medics folded due to not being able to muster up teams, putting us straight into the final against Keele, fortunately at Clifton RFC in Bristol. Keele’s first year in the competition, the game was close at 7-5 when the first half ended. With only 10% possession in the first three quarters of the game, it was looking difficult. But three consecutive tries in the last 20 minutes allowed us to win our first NAMS final since 2012 as we won the Plate.
At the end of the season, we faced Southampton Medics in a Double header at Clifton RFC in order to reignite the old club rivalry. The 2s managed to sneak a 27-26 victory in the last play of the game, setting the tone for the first team. Despite the beautiful conditions, it was an intensely abrasive and low-scoring game, managing to scrape the win 12-5, the first time since 2014 we have slain the Moose and topping off an amazing season.
After playing in the reserve leagues for over a decade, it was time to come out of the shadows and enter a local league like many fellow Medical School clubs. We got off to a flying start, beating Gloucester All Blues and Kingswood 74-3 and 82-0 respectively. Next up was Norton, in difficult conditions due to Storm Brian. Their huge pack suited their pitch nicely, proving to be incredibly difficult opponents but we managed to win 26-14.
Painswick at home was next and with one centre out injured in the warmup, the other concussed within five minutes and the other seeing red for the first time in the club’s history, a 12-3 victory was an incredible achievement. After seeing off Tetbury 55-5 and Westbury 85-12 at home, we welcomed Fairford under lights in our final league match of 2017. An incredible match that could have gone either way, we came away 23-17 victors after the visitors pushed us right until the end.
After the Christmas break we headed firstly to Kingswood where we recorded a 17-7 victory in a difficult game, with most players still on holiday and truly awful conditions. We then travelled to Painswick who were extremely tough opponents in possibly the muddiest match ever to be played, but a bonus point 29-17 win continued our unbeaten run. 41-3 and 22-7 victories against Tetbury and Cainscross extended our unbeaten run as we looked towards Norton for a top of the table clash. Unfortunately, due to weather, our match had been postponed and rescheduled on the same day as the NAMS plate final, thus our 2s valiantly took up the reigns. Not having access to the 4G proved our downfall and having moved pitches due to one of our players becoming injured (thankfully not seriously), our unbeaten run ended as the 2s lost our only league match 28-12.
A postponement of our match against Westbury due to snow meant our next match was against Cainscross which we won comfortably 57-7. Our final match before Easter saw us travel to Fairford where a huge crowd gathered to celebrate their VPs day and the life of one of their VPs who sadly passed the preceding week. A game where no-one had the upper hand, in an unbelievable show of commitment we won 33-24
After Easter proved tricky with many boys still on holiday, but we managed to put together a bare bone 16 to travel to Westbury, winning 91-12. This was followed by a record 100-17 win versus Gloucester All Blues to finish off the season.
A big thanks goes to all of the local clubs for welcoming us into the leagues this season and for hosting us so brilliantly. We look forward to playing in Gloucester 2 South next season!
Nantes and Old Boys
Old Boys this year was extremely special, with a brutal game preceding the dinner with the Old Boys (and fifth years) winning 30-27. Over 40 players past and present played in the game which showed just how big the club has become. Speeches by Club President Jonathan Webb and Vice President John Henderson followed by a sprinkle of self-deprecation by myself led for a wonderful evening hosted by The Bristol Hotel. Over 80 clubmen, some dating back to 1999, proved why this club is the best Bristol Uni has to offer.
Nantes this year was important, having lost 9-0 to the French away last year. It took on even more significance this year when we named the cup after Ottie Uden, with her parents coming down to watch the game and present the trophy. Uncharacteristically in March, the snowfall made the game tricky, but we eventually came back 29-3 victors. The social in the evening was special, proving that not only were we dominant on the pitch but off it as well. We look forward to heading to Nantes next year and retaining the trophy for years to come.
For the first time ever, the UBH has put out a regular second team showing the new-found depth within the club. Entering the Tri counties league has allowed Wednesday afternoon rugby for our younger players against other University sides. A Fresher’s tournament at North Bristol RFC kicked off the start of the season allowing our boys to gain some valuable game time. A charity fixture against St Brendan’s RFC was the first true second’s match, winning 10-7 in an intense fixture. Four matches and three wins in the Tri-Counties league as well as wins against both Southampton and Birmingham showed that this venture was hugely successful, and we are aiming to expand this for next season.
It has been a huge honour to captain this amazing club this season. To oversee our most successful season ever as a club has been a true privilege and I cannot wait to continue in my role as Club Captain next season. This is a very special club and the work we have done on normalising mental health in young men should be applauded. The opening and accepting culture has created a rugby family unrivalled by any other club and it is this legacy that I hope continues for many years to come.
Now for some thanks. Firstly Mike, it has been a privilege to captain alongside you this season. The success we have achieved is because of the dedication and commitment you show each one of your players. The care you show in their lives and in the mental health of us all really shows what kind of a man you are, and we are the luckiest team to have you in charge of our club. We look forward to an even more successful run under you next season.
Also Welchy, what a season you’ve had. Your first ever season coaching and you couldn’t have been more successful. Despite being the grumpiest man alive, you’ve got a natural aptitude for coaching and you will go far. Your knowledge of the game is unparalleled and we wish you success in all that you do in the future.
To our sponsors, Irwin Mitchell, Circle Healthcare, Wickwar Brewery, BrisDoc and The Lounge, your financial commitment has paid off and made this club what it is today. To Irwin Mitchell in particular, your continued support at Home Games has allowed this relationship to blossom and become something special. We love having you a part of our rugby family and look forward to working with you for many years to come.
Finally, I must thank all the players. It is your dedication and commitment on horrible rainy nights that has brought us this success. 67 members have pulled on a UBH shirt this season, triple what we had last season. Some of you are new to the club, some of you have played your last games, but all of you have been unbelievably important and it was a privilege to play on the pitch with you all. I cannot wait for next season as I know it will be our best yet.
And with that I sign off as First XV Captain and pass over the reigns to Will van Klaveren, who I know will lead this club valiantly.
Old King Cole was a Merry Old Soul,
United Bristol Hospitals RFC 1st XV Captain 2017-2018
Clubman of the Year: Harry Searle
Players’ Player of the Year: Archie Watts
Coaches’ Player of the Year: Hamish Hamilton
Gloucester 3 Champions
NAMS Plate Champions
Ottie Uden Cup Champions
1st XV – 24 games played, 20 won, 4 lost
2nd XV – 7 games played with 1 tournament, 5 won, 2 lost
One Unbelievable Season.