Club-by-club guide: Bristol

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Head Coach: Richard Hill

Captain: Joe El Abd

IN

Adrian Jarvis (Harlequins, right), Rob Sidoli (Cardiff Blues), Vungo Lilo (Cornish Pirates), Junior Fatialofa (Exeter), Chris Ashwin (Newbury), Sam Alford (Launceston)

OUT

Brian O’Riordan (tbc), Craig Morgan (tbc), Rob Higgitt (Llanelli Scarlets), Sean Hohneck (Viadana), Sam Cox (Viadana), Josh Taumalolo (Grenoble), Jason Strange (Leeds Carnegie), David Hill (Toshiba, Japan), Dave Hilton (retired), Gareth Llewellyn (retired)

First five games

Sep 7 Bath (H)

Sep 13 Harlequins (A)

Sep 19 Sale (H)

Sep 26 Newcastle (A)

Oct 1 Saracens (H)

Lessons from last season

Bristol were clearly jaded from their Heineken Cup adventures and finally ran out of steam, losing their last six games of the campaign. Bristol finished third in 2006-2007 despite a points differential of just +8. The reason for that surprising campaign was that Richard Hill inspired his boys to win a decent smattering of close games and managed the resources of an aging squad to perfection. Last term, Bristol won just three of nine contests decided by seven points or less. The real problem was that Bristol couldn’t keep it close in 2007- 2008, with their 14 losses in the league coming by an average margin of 12.21 points.

Weaknesses

Bristol did not want for attacking ambition last season but they lacked a cutting edge out wide and scored just 40 tries last term to rank 10th in the league. They also spent much of last season defending poorly and it cost them dear. They turned the ball over too many times and were a shambles in the lineout, losing a Premiership-high 78 throw-ins.

Strengths

Bristol have a team spirit that serves them well. Several members of the squad - led by Joe El Abd (left) and Matt Salter - spent a week this summer kayaking down a Norwegian fjord, further enhancing the bond among the players. Scrum-half Shaun Perry and fully fit again No.8 Dan Ward-Smith are vital. The key is keeping them healthy.

Player to watch

Jason Hobson, the Welsh-born tighthead prop has pure aggression coursing through his veins as was demonstrated in 2007 when he knocked out Phil Vickery and left the England captain nursing a concussion. After an injury-plagued start to his Bristol career, the 25- year-old has gone from strength to strength and made his full England debut in New Zealand earlier this summer.

Did you know?

Bristol were the cleanest club in the league last season, receiving a league-low six yellow cards and no reds.

Prediction No pushovers, but a tough season lies ahead for a squad short on gamebreakers.

11th

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