Paul Hull: Former Bristol head coach recalls meeting Nelson Mandela on England debut
He's the first - and still the only - black head coach of a Premiership club, and Paul Hull has "a few theories" about why, as he tells Sky Sports to mark Black History Month
By Rhodri Jeremiah
Last Updated: 19/10/20 2:24pm
Paul Hull is Bristol through and through. He played close to 300 senior games for the club before joining their coaching ranks, first as academy manager, then assistant coach, head coach, and latterly chief scout.
Hull, now a housemaster and Director of Rugby at a public school in Bath as well as a citing officer, was also capped four times by England. His Test debut against South Africa in Pretoria in 1994 was definitely one to remember.
"It was such a wonderful trip from start to finish," he tells Sky Sports.
"I was just turning 26 at the time and I remember reading bits and pieces about Nelson (Mandela) as we were going over there. We got briefed obviously about lots of things, as you can imagine - we were the first rugby team to tour South Africa since the apartheid and there was a possibility we might meet Mandela, but that wasn't a done deal by the time we flew out.
"There was a little bit of shouting from the crowd in a couple of games but generally speaking, it was a really great tour and it ended with me getting capped in that Test. We met Mandela - it was quite a weird experience, there were three national anthems. There was obviously our national anthem 'God Save Our Queen', but there were two South African national anthems, as at the time they were still going through that transition.
"I'd had a really, really good tour and Nelson spoke to me for a couple of seconds prior to shaking hands but can I remember what he said? No I can't! One of my bugbears that!
"It was one of the best moments of my life, but also getting capped, about to play my first international, meeting Nelson Mandela - and I just wish I could remember what we talked about. I've got a picture of it, it's up there in my office on the wall and I've obviously got the video and everything else.
"It was a great day, we won, but obviously, meeting him, having memories of that, was just outstanding."
When Hull was named head coach of Bristol in 2009, he became a pioneer in the sport. He was the first black person to be appointed to such a role in the history of Premiership Rugby. To this day, he is the only black person to have held that position. He believes that there are several reasons why that is the case.
"I've got a few theories and we've got a little bit of a movement to try to address that in years to come - it's not a simple answer. I think, if I just look at the positions (playing positions) and what you tend to get when you look at positions going into coaching...
"Generally speaking, if you look up and down the country, around the world, in Europe, even down under in the southern hemisphere - when you look at the coaches, if you were to sort of put them in positions, you'd probably get a lot of hookers, those type of players that have got that technical skill - the scrum ability, the lineout knowledge.
"You might have the odd second row, the sort of lineout leader, a No. 8 who's that fulcrum of the decision-making team between forwards and backs, and you've got half-backs, and possibly a centre, here and there.
"When you look at the team and you look at those decision-making positions... when you talk about tactical meetings, player-led meetings... when you talk about coaches talking to their team leaders and decision-makers of the team, they're used to understanding the game and the technical nuances of the game through their position, and through that responsibility of leading the defence or leading the attack.
"Traditionally, over the years, when I was starting in the game, there were no black players playing in those key positions. A lot of the black players, when I was playing, were shoved on the wing... you were a quick, stereotypical black player playing on the wing, give them the ball and there you go. So that's one aspect of it - there weren't many black players in those positional roles. I'm surmising, but possibly they were not confident enough to go into coaching and I think that's a massive, massive reason.
"There's no role models for aspiring coaches, young players to go into coaching, and a black player might feel a bit under-confident with his ability - possibly there's no one that he can actually look up to and say, 'I've been coached by a couple of black coaches in the past'.
"Possibly they don't have the confidence to put their head above the parapet. I was slightly different because I was in the RAF for 10 years and for the majority of my time in the RAF, I was a physical training instructor so I was always confident enough to go out and coach, whether it's just in physical fitness or in some aspects of any sport. I had that confidence.
"When I was playing rugby, my last four years, I wanted to do a bit of coaching so I helped with the young kids at the club. Bob Dwyer helped me with that to be fair and gave me that confidence to go and coach. So when I retired, it was, 'shall I carry on doing what I'm doing with the youngsters, or go and do something else?' And I carried on... and the rest is history.
"Unless you've got that inner confidence, and that ability from what you've done as a player, then you might not go through with it.
"I think nowadays, there's a lot more black and players of colour within the league and there's possibly a few players that might be able to make that step up - they're the ones we're going to try and look at, and try to encourage, and make sure that I'm not the only black coach in the Premiership or in the professional game currently."
Black History Month
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