Bristol Rugby’s Andy Robinson insists the league’s new boys will not end up caught in the headlights as they prepare to launch their assault on Aviva Premiership Rugby.
The West Country outfit finally clinched promotion back to the top tier of English rugby last season after a seven-year absence, and will immediately be thrust into the limelight at next weekend’s London Double Header where they play Harlequins.
For many in Bristol’s young squad it will be a first taste of Aviva Premiership action, and they will take plenty of heart from how Worcester Warriors acquitted themselves last term after their own promotion.
But for Robinson the key this season is to not only control what they can on the field, but to relish the big stage the club has craved during its Aviva Premiership exile.
“We’re looking up the table as this season is not about survival,” he said at today's Aviva Premiership Rugby launch at Twickenham Stadium.
“It’s about embracing every game, performing for 80 minutes, never giving up, and fighting for everything.
“It sounds a lot like what I was like as a player, but it’s important that we’re able to do that as we are under no illusions that if we underperform we are going to take a hiding.
“If we can get a really good set-piece together that will help, and defence is very important – everybody within the group has to be able to understand how to defend well.
“But we need to enjoy the occasions as well. Bristol has been waiting for this for a long time, and the players have been training really hard to get to this point for a couple of years.
“Now we are here we can’t get caught in the headlights; we have to enjoy the big stage as it’s great to be playing in these places – Allianz Park, Welford Road, Kingsholm, the Rec, even all the way up to Kingston Park.
“There’s some huge occasions for us to have, starting at Twickenham next weekend, and we want to thrive on that.”
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 while keeping the squad together throughout the season will only help his charges, Robinson expects some of his homegrown starlets to raise a few eyebrows this season and stake their claim for further honours.
He said: “We hope that some of our players find themselves on the England radar, as if they are looking at them it will mean we’ve started pretty well.
“We’ll be playing against teams with internationals and big players, but we can’t look at them otherwise we’ll be beaten before we even get onto the field.
“Everyone has to start somewhere, and we’ve got a number of young Bristol academy players ready to go this season.
“Mitch Eadie is one. He’s never experienced an Aviva Premiership game before but it could be really exciting for him this year and he could really make a name for himself.
“Schalk Burger had to start somewhere in South Africa, and he came through. We’re looking at our players to do that alongside some of the experienced guys we have brought in.
“To have Jordan Crane come in from a Leicester Tigers culture and be a part of our group has been phenomenal. He can navigate his way around a rugby field as well as anyone, and having him there will give guys like Mitch so much confidence.”
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