Bristol, one of the drowsiest of English rugby's sleeping giants, has stirred itself from its slumbers with a double signing of eye-catching quality, thereby delivering a statement of intent that could have all manner of consequences for a sport in the midst of its biggest political upheaval since the 1990s.
The Welsh scrum-half Dwayne Peel, a Test Lion in New Zealand nine years ago, and the Samoan prop Anthony Perenise will join the West Countrymen, from Sale and Bath respectively, at the end of the season.
If Bristol win the second-tier Championship title, their return to the Premiership will be assured: a ground-share move to Ashton Gate should be completed in the summer and they will meet all the necessary promotion criteria. The fun and games will begin if they fall short this term and then find their way blocked by the sudden appearance in the Premiership of the four Welsh regions, who will join if their dispute with their governing body remains unsolved.
Even though they still own a Premiership shareholding and have generally been "on message" in the current ruckus, Bristol are among those Championship teams who believe they should benefit from any top-flight expansion. As Sean Holley, their head coach, was quoted as saying a couple of days ago: "We have huge support and potential here, so why can't we have a crack? It's nothing to do with Bristol that the Welsh regions are failing, so why should we accommodate them? You have to look after your own clubs first." And Holley is… a Welshman.
"This is a major coup for the club and it's a real indication of the direction we want to take," said Bristol's rugby director, the former England head coach Andy Robinson.Reuse content