All our yesterdays: Bristol special

Wednesday 14 April 2021 Written by: Adam

As in the case of their West Country neighbours Bath and Gloucester, Bristol and Newcastle, in their previous guise as Gosforth, had to await the introduction of a national cup competition before they were to meet on the field of play.

Since then the clubs have met 30 times, with Bristol winning 18 and Newcastle 12.

Of those 12 Gosforth/Newcastle victories, perhaps the three most significant were on the road at the Memorial Ground, Bristol’s home before moving to Ashton Gate in 2014.

The clubs first met in the second round of the National Knockout Cup on February 8, 1975.

Bristol were already established as a major national club having reached the cup-final in 1973, and had produced a number of international players since the turn of the century. Gosforth were building nicely as a major force in the game, but were still a year away from their first national cup success.

The match at Bristol was a fractious affair. In a sign of the more lenient approach to on-field discipline which then prevailed, Gosforth wing David Carr was ‘spoken to’ in the first half for kicking his opposite number, England wing Alan Morley, whilst everal Gosforth players required stitching during the game, prompting a second-half studs inspection.

Bristol had plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the visitors’ early indiscipline with scrum-half Alan Pearn missing with four penalty attempts, before putting his side ahead after 15 minutes with his one successful attempt.

Gosforth equalised on the stroke of half-time with a penalty from Malcolm Young, but the decisive score came early in the second half when Roger Uttley fed Carr, who scored the first try following a line-out drive.

The victory was sealed in the dying minutes with a try from Richard Breakey, converted by Young.

Despite the discipline issues the victory was built on a dominant forward performance, with prop Colin White and the back row of Dixon, Robinson and Uttley especially prominent.

**The Gosforth side that day was:** B.Patrick; D.Carr; H.Patrick; D.Simpson; S.Gustard; R.Breakey; M.Young; C.White; D.Madsen; A.Newton; T.Roberts; D.Shaw; P.Dixon; R.Uttley; D.Robinson.

Of that side, Madsen, Dixon and Uttley were already established internationals – Breakey, Young and White were later to be capped, and Dave Robinson certainly should have been.

Remarkably, Terry Roberts was still packing down against Bristol in the second row 18 years later when Newcastle Gosforth had their single season in the old pre-professional Division 1. Terry was somewhat cagey about his true age but according to his league registration form he would have been 44, and was partnered in the second row in that match at Bristol in December 1993 by an 18-year-old Garath Archer.

At least Terry saw out the match, unlike Garath, who received a first-half red card for stamping.

In another indication of life in the pre-professional era, Gosforth had participated in the Northumberland Senior Cup final at the old County Ground just three days before the 1975 cup-tie.

For the record, they won the cup for the eighth successive year, beating Alnwick 38-3 with wing Steve Gustard running in five tries to demonstrate that the Gosforth’s growing achievements were not entirely down to a dominant pack of forwards.

Gosforth were drawn away to Bristol in Round 2 again in February, 1980.

The core of the dual cup-winning side had moved on, with players of the likes of Madsen, Dixon, Uttley, Robinson, Ken Britton and Andy Cutter no longer involved. The emergence of future club record points scorer David Johnson had freed up Breakey to move from fly-half to centre, and another formidable pack of forwards was being constructed.

On this occasion Gosforth triumphed 14-3, although Bristol enjoyed plenty of possession.

The victory was built on a superb defensive effort and a dominant front five supplemented by two superb tries, one in each half.

The first came from a break down the left by full-back Brian Patrick who, when confronted by his Bristol opposite number, Alistair Hignell, attempted to chip him but miscued off the side of his boot which enabled him to regather and hoist a left footed cross kick almost the width of the field, which was caught by centre Alan McMillan, who ran in to score.

The second came as Gosforth were defending in the face of late Bristol pressure. Breakey picked off a Bristol pass and almost ran the length of the field before feeding Neil McDowell the scoring pass.

**The Gosforth team was:** B.Patrick; N.McDowell; A.McMillan; R.Breakey; S.Gustard; D.Johnson; M.Young; C.White; R.Cunningham; J.Bell; J.Short; T.Roberts; P.Smith; J.Butler; S.Smith

Bristol had managed a visit to the North East in late April 1978 for an end-of-season friendly which they won 7-6 against a Gosforth side severely denuded as a result of having accepted an invitation to the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham.

For a club with no Sevens pedigree Gosforth had made their first appearance at the event the previous year, when they reached the final. If that had raised expectations for the following year they were quickly scotched with the team exiting in the first round, defeated by St Lukes College.

In more recent times, the Falcons’ most significant victory over Bristol came on Friday February 13, 2009 (pictured), when Newcastle were ‘enjoying’ one of their increasingly frequent flirtations with relegation from the Premiership.

Although they had made a promising start to the season with three victories in the first four games they had won just once in the league since September, and sat second-bottom of the table just seven points above bottom-placed Bristol.

The long run without a league win had made the Falcons the bookies’ favourite for the drop, and had they lost at the Memorial Ground their position would indeed have been perilous.

The sense of crisis was heightened by selection problems at fly-half. Jonny Wilkinson was once again injured and his stand-in Rory Clegg had suffered a worrying dip in form, so centre/wing Tom May was pressed into service in the number 10 shirt.

In the event the form book was thrown out of the window in an astonishing bonus point 35-3 victory.

Although all of the tries were scored by forwards, this was very much a 15-man effort.

The Falcons looked to have scored early when wing Danny Williams crossed after just three minutes, but the score was ruled out for a forward pass from Tane Tu’ipulotu. They only had to wait another minute to take the lead with makeshift kicker May knocking over a 45-metre penalty.

The first try came when full-back Alex Tait, one of only two survivors from that side, hoisted a bomb which Bristol full-back and current Falcon Tom Arscott could not hold, to set up a series of rucks in the Bristol 22 from which lock Geoff Parling eventually crossed wide on the left, with May nailing the touchline conversion.

May added a second, more straightforward penalty, and the Falcons led 13-0 after just 12 minutes.

Bristol scored their only points of the night from the restart from an Ed Barnes penalty. A third May penalty on the stroke of half-time extended the visitors’ lead to 16-3.

After Bristol missed a chance to close the gap when Barnes shanked a simple penalty attempt, the Falcons relieved the pressure, and having drawn in defenders through a series of blindside drives number 8 Adam Balding fed Ed Williamson, who ran in from 25 metres to score the second try. Balding was replaced shortly after by Brent Wilson, whose first meaningful act was to take a scoring pass from May following the latter’s Wilkinson-esque chip and chase.

May banged over another touchline conversion, and the lead was 28-3.

Following a brief period of Bristol pressure the visitors regained the ascendancy, and replacement lock Andy Perry crashed over from five metres for the crucial bonus-point score, again converted by May.

Buoyed by this performance and victory, the previously misfiring Falcons went on a five-match winning run, beating Saracens (13-9) at home, Northampton (19-13) away, Sale (32-25) away and Harlequins (24-16) at home to comfortably secure their Premiership status for another year.

**The Falcons team that days was:** A.Tait; D.Williams; J.Noon (rep. S.Davey 75); T.Tu]ipulotu; J.Rudd; T.May (rep. R.Clegg 75); M.Young; D.Wilson (rep. J.Golding 65); R.Vickers (rep. M.Thompson 65); C.Hayman; T.Swinson; G.Parling (rep. A.Perry 70); P.Dowson; E.Williamson; A.Balding (rep.B.Wilson 57).