Obituary: Peter James Colston | Bristol Bears
Playing as a center and most recently as a full-back, he pioneered coaching at a time when such activity was viewed with suspicion by many in rugby union. Such was his success as Bristol manager that he went on to coach England.
Peter James Colston was educated at St Brendan’s College before training to become a teacher at St Mary’s College, Twickenham. While there he captained a very successful Rugby XV before returning to Bristol. He taught at St Thomas More School and St Brendan’s, played for St Brendan’s Old Boys and made his Bristol first-team debut in November 1957 against Devonport Services. At the end of the 1959/60 season he received his cap for Bristol United first team cap 1960-61 and his club blazer a year later. Peter was a key member of skipper John Blake’s amazing team during this period as the club played a revolutionary 15-man style of rugby that became known as ‘Bristol Fashion’. A classic game of the period was the 25-13 loss to a very good Northampton side on Easter Monday 1960 and Peter, playing down the middle, was a try scorer in that game.
Peter was a fine player, known for his excellent positioning, handling and tackling, not to mention his all-around reading of a game. He was Derek Neate’s vice-captain during Bristol’s 75thth Jubilee season 1962/63, before taking over the captaincy himself for the next two seasons. Whilst captaining Bristol he played at Memorial Ground at full-back for Western Counties against New Zealand in December 1963, a thrilling game which the Tourists won 22-14. That same season he was a member of the Gloucestershire side that reached the semi-finals of the County Championship, losing to Lancashire in Bristol.
Peter played in all but ten Bristol games in his first season as captain, but was less fortunate in 1964/65, missing numerous games through injury. Derek Neate became Bristol captain again in 1965/66 and Peter, who had to sit external tests, informed club selection that he was only available in emergencies. With Neate ill and vice-captain Jim Glover on vacation, Peter was asked to captain the team in the opening game. He ended up leading the season’s appearances, missing just five of Bristol’s 47 games. This was a brilliant season with Bristol winning the Sunday Telegraph English Merit Table.
Peter Colston won twelve caps for Gloucestershire but switched allegiances in 1965-66 and played for Somerset. This was his last major season as a player, although he still appeared in games after that. His last first team game was in April 1967 at Camborne. Overall, he played 252 first-team games, scoring 21 tries, one conversion and two drop goals. That alone would have been enough to cement his status as one of Bristol’s greats, but even greater success awaited him as a coach. It was tradition at the time for Bristol’s captain, whoever he might be, to oversee training sessions, but when Dave Rollitt was appointed captain in 1969/70 he wanted to focus on developing his own game. Seeing Peter’s qualities he invited him to become Bristol’s first official manager and together they formed a brilliant side playing exciting attacking rugby. The team scored a club record 908 points in Peter’s first season in charge and two seasons later, under the guidance of Tony Nicholls, Bristol won both the Sunday Telegraph English and the English/Welsh Merit Tables, scoring over 1,000 points. Another English Merit Table title followed two years later.
Peter was soon in demand as more and more clubs recognized the value of proper coaching. He regularly held courses for aspiring coaches at Bisham Abbey and Lilleshall and introduced coaching awards. Carwyn James, the legendary coach of Llanelli and Lions, was a great admirer of his methods and as the coaching bug spread Peter was invited to facilitate sessions in Germany. Among the many innovations Peter pioneered was the use of the hooker instead of a winger to throw the ball down the lanes. Over time, the RFU invited Peter to chair their coaching council and in 1973 he became England U23 manager. He was then coach of the entire national team from 1975 to 1979. This of course meant he had to give up his coaching role at Bristol, but he remained loyal to the club and later became chairman in the early 1980s.
Peter Colston was also a very good cricketer and played for Bristol rugby teams that won the Knowle Six-a-Side tournament. Peter continued his involvement with Bristol for the rest of his life. He was until recently President of the Bristol Rugby Former Players and a regular at reunions. He was particularly excited about the annual memorial service at Memorial Stadium, which meant a lot to him. All Bristol Bears staff extend their heartfelt condolences to Peter’s family at this very sad time.