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The Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol in front of the iconic Clifton Bridge.

Rugby in Bristol: A Look at the City’s Top Rugby Clubs

Bristol has a long and storied history of rugby and is widely considered one of the hotspots for the sport in the UK with a whopping 53 rugby clubs in Bristol and its surrounding area, which includes North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

From its early roots in the city’s schools and universities to its thriving professional scene, rugby has played a central role in Bristol’s sporting culture for generations.

Schools such as Bristol Grammar School, Clifton College, and Colston’s School offer fantastic rugby environments to identify and develop great talents for the sport. Within university sports, Bristol Uni and UWE are magnificent institutions with a long and proud rugby tradition.

However, in this article, we will take a closer look at the city’s top rugby clubs and teams, exploring their history, size, league, biggest successes, and famous players from the past.

Let’s start with one of the most traditional rugby clubs, known far beyond the borders of the UK.

Bristol Bears

Max Malins from the Bristol Bears on the attack

Founded in 1888, Bristol Bears (formerly known as Bristol Rugby) is one of the oldest rugby clubs in Bristol and has a proud history of success, including winning the European Challenge Cup in 2020, the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 1983, and the British and Irish Cup in 2011.

The controversial re-branding and change of name (from Bristol Rugby to Bristol Bears) happened in June 2018, following their return to the Premiership. This wasn’t the first time that the club changed its name. Bristol Rugby was once called Bristol Shoguns due to a sponsorship deal with Mitsubishi between 2001 and 2005.

Before the club moved to Ashton Gate Stadium in 2014, they played at Bristol Rover’s home ground Memorial Stadium in the North of the city. The Bears currently compete in the Rugby Premiership, the top-flight professional rugby union league in England.

With the backing of Bristol Sport and its generous owner Stephen Lansdown, the Bristol Bears have emerged as one of the strongest teams in the league, with a squad packed full of international talent.

The team contains many talented players, but some of their biggest stars include Charles Piutau, Semi Radradra, and Kyle Sinckler.

These players have been instrumental in the team’s success and have helped them achieve many victories over the years.

One of the club’s most successful periods came in the late 1970s and early 1980s when they won two RFU Knockout Cups (now known as the Premiership Rugby Cup) and reached the final of the John Player Cup (now known as the Premiership Rugby Cup) twice.

The Samoan David Lemi is considered one of the club legends of the Bristol Bears rugby team. He played for the club between 2005 and 2009 as well as in 2014 and 2018, scoring a total of 353 points in 353 matches.

Did you know? The bear is emblematic of leadership, strength, and confidence, of standing against adversity and taking action. This animal is feared and admired for its power. Its presence inspires respect2.

Clifton Rugby

A player from Clifton Rugby on the attack
Source: Clifton Rugby Website

Founded in 1872, Clifton Rugby is another of Bristol’s oldest and most prestigious rugby clubs in the world.

The club is based at Station Road in the suburb of Cribbs Causeway, and currently competes in National League 2 South, the fourth tier of the English rugby union system.

Despite its relatively low league status, Clifton Rugby has a proud history of producing talented players, with several former Clifton players going on to play for England.

England, Lions and Leicester Prop Mako Vunipola

One of the club’s most famous former players is England prop Mako Vunipola, who played for Clifton in 2009 and has 71 caps for England.

Vunipola also represented the British and Irish Lions in 2013, 2017, and 2021.

Did you know? Over the years, Clifton Rugby Football Club’s home games have been played in a variety of locations in northern Bristol, though never in Clifton itself; since 1976 they have been based at the southern end of Cribbs Causeway.

Dings Crusaders

Shaftesbury Park, the home of Dings Crusaders
Source: Dings Crusaders Website

Dings Crusaders Rugby Club is based in the Frenchay area of Bristol playing their home games at Shaftesbury Park where they moved in 2018.

The club which used to play in Lockleaze has a proud history of success at both amateur and semi-professional levels.

The club was founded in 1897 and since 2018. Currently competing in National League 2 South, Dings Crusaders has a strong youth set-up and has produced several talented players who have gone on to play at higher levels.

In 2023, Dings finished their season in a strong second position.

Former Bath, Bristol and Exeter Full-Back Luke Ascott

One of the club’s most famous players is former Bristol, Bath and Exeter Fullback Luke Arscott. Born in 1984 Arscott has 120 Premiership appearances and has recently taken over a player/coaching role for Dings helping the club to consolidate a strong position in the top end of the league table.

Did you know? The name Dings Crusaders comes from the area where the club was founded/ The Dings was a slum area of Bristol located between Barton Hill and Temple Meads

Old Redcliffians

The Old Reds Shirt
Source: Old Redcliffians Website

Old Redcliffians Rugby Club was founded in 1918 and has a rich history of success in both amateur and semi-professional games.

The club is based at Scotland Lane in the suburb of Brislington, and currently competes in the National League 2 West, the fourth tier of the English rugby union system.

The club runs four senior sides and a sevens team as well as a lady’s side and the full range of junior teams.

England and Bristol Bears Prop Ellis Genge

One of the club’s most famous former players is the current England and Bristol Bears captain Ellis Genge, who started his playing career for Old Reds. Before he re-signed for the Bears, he had a 6 years spell and 111 caps for Leicester Tigers.

Between 2013 and 2016 he already played for Bristol.

Did you know? The club was formed by former pupils of Redcliffe Boys School (founded in 1571), who on returning from serving in World War One, helped set up the club

Old Bristolians

Two Women's Players representing Old Bristolians RFC
Source: Old Bristolians RFC Website

Old Bristolians Rugby Football Club was founded in 1915 and has a proud history of success in the amateur game.

The club is based in Failand, North Somerset and currently competes in Tribute Western Counties North, the seventh tier of the English rugby union system.

The club’s name comes from the association with the private school Bristol Grammar School. However, most players today have no connection with the prestigious school.

Old Bristolian RFC runs 3 men’s teams, as well as a women’s and a large youth section.

Did you know? In 2012 the club was honored with the Rugby World Team of the Year, an annual award by the UK’s biggest rugby magazine.


Bristol is a city with a long and proud history of rugby and is home to some of the most successful and prestigious rugby clubs in the UK.

From Bristol Bears in the Premiership Rugby to Old Bristolians in the Western Counties North League, there is a wealth of rugby talent and tradition in Bristol.

Whether you are a lifelong rugby fan or just starting to discover the sport, Bristol is a fantastic place to explore the world of rugby and immerse yourself in its rich history and culture.

Want to play 7s in Bristol? Join us this summer.

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