Rhys Charalambous & Martin Mulhall – Meet the BUCS Super Rugby standouts who now call Bristol Bears home

Rhys Charalambous & Martin Mulhall both starred in BUCS Super Rugby in the front-row last season
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It was back in April that Bristol Bears announced they had secured the signings of three of BUCS Super Rugby’s most highly touted players.

Each were front-row forwards, with Martin Mulhall, Rhys Charalambous and Fred Davies all having pledged their future to the West Country. 

Coming from Swansea University, Leeds Beckett and Durham University, the trio have followed in the footsteps of Fitz Harding, leading Bristol’s Director of Rugby to believe that “talent can be found and developed in the BUCS competition”.

“I remember I won a scrum penalty against him,” Charalambous laughed when asked if he had any standout memories of playing Mulhall. “Quite a few.”

“I’ll never forget my first away trip with Swansea,” Mulhall said. “We had to go to Leeds. On the way up, the bus broke down and we didn’t get there until about 06:00. 

“The game was at 14:00, so all the coaches were on their last legs. We were all just wrecked and tired and having to play a game.”

“Bad workmen always blame their tools,” Charalambous sniped. “It is funny you asked that question. After I played Martin that day, I remember going home and my body was so sore. We did have a proper battle. We beat each other up.

“When I came down in November to have my meeting with Pat, he said ‘of all the looseheads you’ve come up against, who are the ones that stick out?’.

“With all the games we had played, I was trying to think and then thought ‘that one from Swansea was pretty big, pretty good as well’. 

“Pat giggled and said ‘good, because he’s coming on Monday as well’. I was glad he was rated by someone else other than me. That was a good sign.”

Each shared similar stories of how their move to Bristol came about. Told early on in the season that their progress was being watched by Bears scouts, the props were invited down for an interview at the club's High-Performance Centre and then trained with the side over Christmas.

Signing on in the weeks that followed, Mulhall, Charalambous and the “poster boy for BUCS Super Rugby” Davies are all now housemates in nearby Portishead. 

Each of them came toe to toe with one another across last season. Davies’ Durham University topped the league, as Mulhall’s Swansea made the play-offs for the first time and Leeds Beckett squeezed into the post-season in eighth.

Rhys Charalambous attended Leeds Beckett University after not being given an Academy contract by Northampton Saints
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Laidback, Charalambous jokes that the trio “do a few set-ups before we go to bed”, thanks to there being a full front-row in their house. 

Moving in together close by to the training ground means that all three can focus wholly on rugby as they enter professional rugby for the first time.

That is not to say that they haven’t had glimpses as to what playing full-time could look like. Mulhall played age-grade rugby for Leinster, and even played senior rugby in the AIL for Lansdowne as well as for Saracens in the Londoners’ Premiership Rugby Cup campaign last year.

“There wasn’t much opportunity in Ireland because there is only four clubs, and there was a lot of competition in those areas,” Mulhall said. “My old head coach Mike Ruddock said I had an opportunity if I went over to the UK.

“He gave me a heads up to go to Swansea and I took the shot. It gave me another shot to play professional rugby because BUCS is a great league, a good competition and you get looked at by all the clubs you want to get looked at.

“At Swansea, there is a lot that progress onto Ospreys. There is a big connection there, so it isn’t rare to see a player go from Swansea to Ospreys. It is nice to see that progression.

“You see a lot of teammates getting picked up by Ospreys or Scarlets and now Bristol, so hopefully it is expanding now.”

Increasingly, BUCS Super Rugby has become a regularly trodden path for players looking to take the step up. 

At Bristol alone, both Fitz Harding and Harry Randall were regulars in the competition, while Alex Dombrandt at Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs’ Christ Tshiunza are also recent successes.

For Charalambous, moving to Leeds Beckett was not just an opportunity to play a high level of rugby, but also to gain a degree after the initial disappointment of not being contracted by Northampton Saints.

“I still wanted to play rugby, so I knew the next best option for me was to go to university, because not only that, a rugby career is quite short,” he said.

“I wanted to have a plan for after university so I sat down and thought ‘what do I need to improve on the most?' For me, Leeds Beckett was the best university to develop those aspects of my game.

“BUCS as a league is fantastic. It can definitely be used as a breeding ground or the next pathway for players who are trying to get into that professional set-up.

“A lot of players, especially in my position in the front-row, they might not develop properly until they are at least 21, or if they do a masters, 22.

“You have got that extra three or four year gap where you can continue to play rugby at a high level, you can get really good nutrition and the S&C. It should really be seen as the next way into professional rugby.”

Now embedded fully into their new club, both of Mulhall and Charalambous are able to learn from some of the best. 

Mulhall will look to the experienced heads of Ellis Genge to learn from, with Charalambous able to lean on the vast experience of another England international in Kyle Sinckler.

Martin Mulhall represented Saracens in the Premiership Rugby Cup last season while still attending Swansea University
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“For me, it is the first time I could properly focus,” Mulhall said. “When I was back in Ireland or at Uni in Swansea, I have always had that job on the side or Uni on the side. That has always taken its toll on doing extras.

“I knew once I had finished my masters, I could put my head down and just do 100 per cent rugby and I am looking forward to seeing how far that takes me. It should pay off in the end.”

Playing in Bristol’s pre-season game against Brive last month, Mulhall has recently joined fellow Premiership side Northampton Saints after a string of injuries in the position at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens. 

Where Charalambous gets regular game time is with National Two West side Clifton, the tighthead knowing that he and his teammates who have trodden the same path to the top of the club game are in the best place possible to realise their potential.

“It has been a massive step up,” Charalambous said. “Martin and I definitely knew that. Especially playing in the front-row, because the Premiership is one of the most brutal leagues in the world especially for prop forwards.

“Coming to a club like Bristol, where you have already got Kyle Sinckler at tighthead, Ellis Genge at loosehead and other big stars around the club, you know you are going to get really tested.

“That just made me more excited to come down because I knew I had these world class players to learn from. If I want to develop into that player, like I do, I can’t think of anywhere else better I would want to be.”