Hill doubles Brew strength at Bristol

Struggling Bristol sign up Wales international Nathan to increase midfield options
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The Independent Online

Bristol, the Premiership's bottom club and widely regarded as the most vulnerable of the top-flight teams to the effects of the economic downturn, yesterday launched a fightback of sorts by signing the Welsh international centre Nathan Brew, who ended an unfulfilling association with the Llanelli-based Scarlets earlier this month. Brew's arrival did not signify any attempt by the Bristol board to spend its way out of trouble, however. His recruitment was financed in large part by the BRIS Trust, an independent supporters' group.

The trust has been active for some years, donating close to £100,000 – either in hard cash or in kind through helping with building work – since 2003. Earlier this season, the trust paid for new game analysis software that allowed Richard Hill, the hard-pressed director of rugby, to operate on a level playing field with his opposite numbers at the 11 rival Premiership clubs, all of whom were already equipped with the latest technology.

While Hill has a number of midfield options at his disposal, including the impressive New Zealand import Neil Brew and the England age-group centre Luke Eves, he feels he needs all the bodies he can muster as he prepares his team for an all-out survival effort between now and the end of the Six Nations Championship in March. During this spell, Bristol will play must-win matches against Northampton and Newcastle, plus games with a number of teams likely to be affected by England calls, Leicester and Wasps among them.

Elsewhere in the West Country, the Tongan-born Gloucester wing Lesley Vainikolo, who qualified for England on residency grounds and played in this year's Six Nations Championship, was charged by Avon and Somerset police with an offence of causing grievous bodily harm. The allegation arises from an incident in Bath in the early hours of 26 October, following which a man was taken to hospital.

"Lesley vigorously denies this allegation and remains completely focused on his rugby and will not allow this matter to distract him from his immediate commitments to both club and country," the club said in an official statement. A spokesman added that there was "no reason" why Vainikolo could not be considered for Gloucester's top-of-the-table match at London Irish tomorrow.

Mike Phillips, the first-choice scrum-half for Wales in the 2008 Six Nations but stricken with injury problems since, will return to the Ospreys side for tonight's Magners League game with Newport-Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade. Phillips starts on the bench, but is likely to play a part.

A Heineken Cup disciplinary panel has banned Jamie Cudmore for five weeks after upholding the decision of the Gloucestershire referee Chris White to dismiss the Clermont Auvergne lock for thumping the Munster captain Paul O'Connell during the fourth-round match between the clubs in Limerick last weekend.

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