Bristol fashion ambition with quick move to sign Andy Robinson
Championship club set to get former Scotland – and Bath – coach for promotion push
When Andy Robinson was railroaded into a painful resignation by the Twickenham hierarchy in 2006 after a poor run of results as England coach, he went to ground for almost a year. Following his more recent departure from the Scotland job, he is back on his feet in double-quick time – far faster than he ever was as an international-class flanker, according to those who most objected to his ball-killing antics during Bath's decade-long dominance of British club rugby.
Next week, the forwards strategist with England's 2003 World Cup-winning team will be confirmed as the new director of rugby at Bristol, where his fiercest critics once congregated during the great A4 club rivalry of the late amateur era. It will seem an awkward fit at first, but Robinson, a gregarious soul blessed with boundless enthusiasm for the union game and a very fine coach, will win them over soon enough.
Robinson quit as Scotland's head coach following a grim defeat by Tonga in Aberdeen last November. Many people believed he would resurface with a Premiership club at the start of next season, but Bristol, who have rediscovered a sense of ambition since the wealthy local businessman Steve Lansdown became the majority shareholder a year ago, have struck early and hard.
Lansdown is the principal money man behind Bristol City FC, languishing at the wrong end of the Championship table, and he intends to bring his two sporting concerns together under one roof – either at a new stadium at Ashton Vale, on the southern outskirts of the city, or at a redeveloped Ashton Gate, the football club's existing home. The Ashton Vale plans, bitterly contested by local residents, are subject to a second public inquiry scheduled to start in October.
The rugby club, relegated from the Premiership for a third time in 2009, still play at the Memorial Ground, their ancestral home in the north of the city. But they no longer own the venue, having ceded control of the stadium company to Bristol Rovers in 1998. It will soon be demolished to make way for a supermarket, with Rovers themselves moving to another site.
Amid all this activity, the driving forces at the rugby club are plotting a route back into the Premiership – no easy matter with only one promotion place available and a fistful of candidates keen to grab it. Newcastle, relegated last season, are the overwhelming favourites to win the race this season, but next term will be highly competitive, especially if London Welsh, the most fragile of top-flight clubs despite their encouraging form in the first half of the campaign, make an immediate return to the second tier.
Bristol have been busy on the recruitment front, signing the hard-bitten forwards Peter Buxton and Mark Sorenson from Gloucester and Northampton respectively.
Robinson will have them at his disposal next season and will be expected to build a title-winning side around them. On the evidence of his past work at club level with Bath and Edinburgh, he may well succeed.
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