Bristol Combination Vase: Nailsea & Backwell RFC looking to create history says Hill

All smiles for Nailsea & Backwell RFC as they pose for the camera.

Nailsea & Backwell back row from left to right: Tony Hill, (head coach), Jack McCormick, Luke Sharp (captain), Ciaran Askew, Leo Dellazari, Luke Caswell, Harvey Flower, Ryan Love, Harry O’Regan, Tom Crossman and Phil Love (team manager). Front row from left to right: Charlie Bircham-Davis, Joe Reed, Sam Cook, Alex Jones (vice captain), Richard Palmer, Harry Marshall, Cory Love, goalkicker Jamie Elswood and Ben Morris - Credit: Nailsea & Backwell RFC

Nailsea & Backwell are looking to create history when they take on Bristol Imperial in the Bristol Combination Vase final this afternoon says head coach Tony Hill.

Lockleaze Sports Complex will host the Bristol & District Rugby League final this afternoon along with with the Bowl final, contested between Old Colstonians and Ashley Down, at 2:30 before the Vase final at 4:30pm.

The Ravens beat St Mary’s Old Boys in the semi-final to secure a place in the rearranged final which was scheduled to play in April 2020 but was delayed due to Covid.

And Hill and his side will look to pick up the club’s first ever silverware in the club's 49-year history. 

“It’s the first time in Nailsea & Backwell’s senior rugby history that we have reached any cup final,” he said. 

“We have had some close calls before and perhaps we haven’t focused on cups potentially before. We haven’t experienced a cup final at Nailsea & Backwell’s senior selection. It’s a first and we are really looking forward to it.”

Nailsea & Backwell RFC head coach Tony Hill poses for the camera.

Nailsea & Backwell RFC's Tony Hill has been involved with the Ravens, apart from a four-year spell with Yatton, first as a player and now head coach between 2000 and 2021. - Credit: Phil Love

Hill is in his second spell at the club after playing for the club first between 2000 and 2008 before signing for Yatton and played with the North End Park side for four years before re-joining the Nailsea & Backwell in 2012.

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After three years of playing, Hill was moved onto the coaching staff in 2016, a role he has held ever since.

“We are playing well it’s not happened by accident it’s been a long process, five years that I have been involved with the club,” he added.

“We had to start again and start from scratch. We just got a situation where everybody is pulling in the right direction whether it be the committee, coaching staff, players, people on and off the pitch.

“We have got a clear vision about what we want to do. It’s not a surprise that things were going to start to happen. It’s perhaps is a little bit earlier than we were expecting but the guys are playing well and they deserve to be there. They have worked incredibly hard.

Imperial currently sit in fourth place in Tribute Somerset Premier with four wins from their six matches including defeat in their last match, 20-17, at Bristol Harlequins.

However, Hill expects nothing but a “really, really tough contest” against the Imps.

“They are a great club and they have a rich history in terms of people playing for them,” he said.

“They have a great squad and a good coach in Ross Hickery and we know exactly what they bring which is a physicality, intensity and a desire and will to beat us.

“We prepared quite a lot going into it. It’s not been just this week. We looked a bit tactically about how they play and put a few things in place that may be slightly different.

“For the most part the work has been done throughout some parts of Covid when we were allowed to play and train.

“Then during pre-season and the first six weeks of the season we are undefeated currently.”

The Ravens are a good run of form at the moment with six wins from six in the league this season, as well having picked up a bonus point in each of them, and following their adapted laws games in May will come into the final 10 games unbeaten.

“I don’t think form counts much in finals,” Hill says.

“I don’t think it means much. You can go in with confidence but it is on the day. We are going in with a clear idea we’ve earned nothing so far and none of this counts for anything if we don’t turn up and perform.

“The plan for us is to go out and really do and show everybody how hard we have worked over the past year, year and a half,  and try to get the rewards for how much effort they have put in. They have put in an enormous amount of effort the players have.”

Hill has made three changes from last Saturday’s 32-22 victory at Minehead.

Forwards Jack McCormick, Harvey Flower and Tom Crossman have all come in.

George Sterling and Sam Cook drop to the bench while there is no place in the squad for Michael Frohlich. 

Luke Sharp will captain the side and 17 of the 22 travelling squad have all come though the club’s junior section.

“Interesting some of these players they have won the Combination Junior Cup before,” he said.

“Some of these players that I’m fortunate enough to coach now were quite a successful junior team. The core of that team has come up together.

“That squad has won the under-18 Somerset Cup and under-14 junior Combination Cup many years ago. They have got experience in this so for them it’s something that will really round of things for them. They have done it before and they have got they knowledge they can do it again.

“If you start developing your junior system and a pathway with your own club you can sort of sustain your performance and success if you have it.

“I think it’s a massive credit to all the coaches in junior section who have had a hand in their development all the way to this point that 17 of the players will be part of the squad have come through that set up.

“As a club that we are we will continue to do that that’s our ammo to develop our juniors into seniors and have a pathway and become a club that tries to retain as many players as possible.

“If players are good enough to move on to higher clubs we will encourage them and try to support that process. They are - very tight bunch of friends, they are all mates and it’s been showing in their performances that they are close.”

Nailsea & Backwell RFC have never played in a Cup final in their 49-year history

Nailsea & Backwell RFC have never played in a Cup final in their 49-year history as they take on Bristol Imperial in the Bristol Combination Vase final. - Credit: Steve Whitwham

Nailsea & Backwell’s last real success came back in 2003 when they secured promotion to Western Counties.

And despite reaching the National Cup’s quarter-finals and semi-finals in two years, it’s been a case of so near so far until today as they aim to get their name in the record books.

“Since then we haven’t had much to speak of and that’s down to us. That’s not down to anybody else,” Hill said.

“It’s important for us now to create our local bit of history and give Nailsea & Backwell as a town something to be proud of with their rugby team.

“For me it will be amazing, quite honestly. I am not going to pretend otherwise. I will be beaming from ear to ear if we were able to have something to show for all our efforts so far.”