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Opponents in Focus - Bristol Rugby

23rd August 2006

Bristol entered the 2005-6 season with the main goal being that or survival i.e. an 11th place finish.

That may not sound over ambitious to the uninformed. However, the fact that Bristol had to wait for confirmation of their promotion from National League One meant that Richard Hill was slow out of the stalls compared to the other Premiership clubs in terms of player recruitment.

In fact Bristol kicked off the season with four of their overseas signings yet to arrive in the country! The pundits wrote Bristol off in virtually all the preseason prediction articles.

However, Richard Hill and his rapidly assembled squad caught the rest of the Premiership cold even had the audacity to head the table after two weeks. Some of Hill's 'unknown' signings and prematurely written off veterans started to find their feet and then some.

Shaun Perry and Dan Ward-Smith, both plucked out of Division One by Hill, were selected for England A with Perry a hot tip for the England tour of Australia until injury intervened.

David Lemi, a sensation on the World Sevens Series circuit, found the fifteens game to be to his liking and hovered around the top of the try scoring charts.

And Jason Strange ignored criticisms of not being the most creative fly halves and simply carried on accumulating points until he finished the regular season as the top points scorer in the Guinness Premiership.

But what really got Bristol through this season was a sense of togetherness. An incredible team spirit was built up and a refusal to meet the expectations of the critics meant that Bristol picked up enough wins and points to secure survival with three games still to play.

This season Bristol will not be an unknown quantity. They'll have to perform at a whole new level in order to move up the table. They have recruited wisely bringing in a number of players who are not likely to be missing for weeks on end on Autumn international and Six Nations duty.

There are also three very handy Kiwis set to arrive later in the season in the shape of Neil Brew (centre), David Hill (fly half) and Sean Hohneck (lock). This trio are quality Super 14 players and will be pivotal to Bristol's on the field fortunes.

Bristol have also boosted their off the field resources which will mean that the 2006-7 squad will be better prepared and cared for than any other squad in recent Bristol history.

This season will be tough. Bristol are still the bookies' preseason favourites for relegation but they won't let that bother them. They will use it as motivation. With Richard Hill at the tiller and led by Matt Salter who was named as the captain of Sky Sports Dream Team last season, Bristol will not be intimidated by any team even if they don't possess the star names and massive payroll.