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Bristol Rugby set for their big return

JackLam-AndyRobinson

Director of rugby Andy Robinson is under no illusions that making the step up to Aviva Premiership Rugby will be the biggest challenge of his tenure at Bristol Rugby so far.

But the 52-year-old former Bath Rugby, England and Scotland head coach is confident his side will control their own destiny on their first stint back in the top flight of English rugby for seven years.

It has been a long road under Robinson, with the side losing consecutive play-off finals having twice topped the regular-season Championship standings, before finally overcoming Doncaster Knights earlier this year to secure promotion.

Bristol could not have a grander opening to their campaign however with 2012 Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins lying in wait for their first game of the season, as part of the London Double Header at Twickenham.

And Robinson believes the sooner Bristol can adjust to the speed and physicality of the league, the bigger the impact they can have on the table.

“This has been a tough step to make,” he said. “We had some really tough matches in Championship finals.

“In my first year at the club we had London Welsh, then Worcester Warriors, and last year we had Doncaster – so three very tough finals to get through.

“We’ve been able to achieve that now, and it’s all about embracing the Aviva Premiership from here on.

“We know to begin with we just have to be able to control what we can control – which is ourselves and the way we play the game and our tempo.

“We’ll also need a very strong set-piece because that is a key element of the English game, but also be able to defend well, and if we can put those elements together with a simple attacking focus and make sure we fight for 80 minutes, then we’ll get things out of games.

“We’ll get punished if we drop off at all in the Aviva Premiership because of the pace and physicality of it; the sides we are facing are quality teams so we are under no illusions the difficulties we face but we are ready to face them head on.”

They may not boast the international pedigree of some of the other sides in Aviva Premiership Rugby, but in the likes of Gavin Henson, Tom Varndell, and Jordan Crane they have proven experience at the highest level.

And with a number of homegrown starlets in their ranks too, the task of leading the side has been bestowed upon Samoan international Jack Lam.

The bruising 28-year-old flanker signed in 2014 from the Hurricanes and having experienced both the heartache and ecstasy of Championship play-off finals since, Robinson knows he has a leader in Lam that his squad will get behind.

He added: “Jack’s got to be himself this year; he’s a quality man.

“He stands well within the team in terms of how they respect him, but he’s got to go out each week and focus on his game, and I know that he will do that.

“He’s been binding the side together with what he says, and when he speaks people listen. That’s all you want from a captain.

“Ultimately we wanted someone who was respected by the group, and that you know will deliver a performance each time he goes out there.

“We’ve got our tactical decision makers on the field – they will take responsibility for that side of things – but Jack is a person that I believe everyone will follow.”

Start the Aviva Premiership Rugby Season in style with two games from £25 at Twickenham. Harlequins v Bristol Rugby and Saracens v Worcester Warriors in the London Double Header, 3 September. Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk

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