Bristol suffered enough heartbreaking punches to the gut in their bid to return to the top flight that you’d forgive them for purely aiming to stay up on their return to the Premiership this season. But focusing solely on scrapping their way to enough points to avoid 12th place feels like the wrong strategy, and Andy Robinson knows it.
Robinson was at the BT Tower in London on Thursday at the launch of this season’s Premiership fixtures, which revealed that his side will play their first Premiership game for seven years against Harlequins at Twickenham on the opening weekend.
No games in the Premiership look easy but at least Bristol will welcome three play-off contenders in Northampton, Exeter and champions Saracens to Ashton Gate all by the end of September to try and build a foundation of points and prove they can compete.
Worcester did just that in their first game back in the league last season, stunning Northampton with Tom Heathcote’s drop goal. What Robinson would give for a similar morale-boosting start to the campaign.
One piece of the puzzle before that opening game, however, is still missing. Sean Holley’s departure has left Bristol without a head coach, but as Robinson explained on Wednesday looking out over the spectacular views of London, which the BT Tower offers in abundance, there’s no immediate rush to find the right person given what the remaining members of the coaching staff have to offer.
“Long-term we’ll be looking for somebody to come in but it needs to be the right appointment,” Robinson told PA Sport.
“But with Mark Bakewell leading the coaching at the moment across pre-season work, and having Dwayne Peel and Jonathan Thomas as attack and defence coach, Mark and my ability to unlock the knowledge that is there.
“These two guys have got phenomenal rugby knowledge, and it’s unlocking that enthusiasm they’ve had to start with. Now we’ve got to unlock that knowledge so that our players can perform in our attacking and defensive games.
“The experience those two boys have had playing in the Premiership and also their rugby experience is as good as any. I’m going to unlock that, and that’s the big challenge. Developing young players and coaches is why I’m in the game.
“It’s great to be able to see the next crop of coaches come through, and the way they see the game. It’s great to empower them to make decisions and with Mark and myself we’re able to help them make those calls and to progress.”
Every drop of Premiership experience will be vital for Bristol over the coming months but Bristol will also need plenty of fight. Robinson doesn’t doubt that they’ll bring that in abundance.
“Having played in the Premiership and having coached in it I understand how tough it can be. For our guys we need them to embrace it, to take on every challenge that’s there. They can’t take a backward step,” he explained.
“But if we can show some courage, fight to the end of every game, focus on ourselves in how we perform, then we’ll get some success out of this season.”
Ben Coles, Pundit Arena