Ross Rennie latest Bristol recruit to gamble on promotion


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The Independent Online

Bristol are expected to add to their ever-increasing roster of top-class signings today by persuading Ross Rennie, the Scottish international flanker, to commit himself to a full-time contract.

Rennie has long been a favourite of the club’s rugby director Andy Robinson, who coached him at Test level, and his impact at the Memorial Ground since arriving on loan from Edinburgh has been significant.

Increasingly, the West Countrymen are also being linked with a move for the Wales and Lions back James Hook, whose tour of duty on the far side of the English Channel with Perpignan may reach a sudden conclusion if the struggling Catalans are relegated, even though he is said to have agreed a new deal through to 2017.

Bristol sources are distancing themselves from any immediate move for the former Ospreys player, who is attracting interest both from the wealthy French side Lyon and from teams in Japan, but if Perpignan disappear from the elite French Top 14 league, there may be a rethink.

Quite why Alan Solomons, the man in charge of union matters in the Scottish capital, allowed a forward as accomplished as the 28-year-old Rennie to leave Murrayfield in the first place, only he can explain. Robinson, for one, is deeply grateful. Almost on a weekly basis, he is strengthening his squad ahead of what he hopes will be a Premiership campaign next season: Bristol are safely in the play-offs, meet Rotherham in a two-leg semi-final early next month and, should they progress as expected, will take on either London Welsh or Leeds for the single available promotion slot.

Jack Lam, the Samoan international back-rower currently playing Super 15 rugby in the southern hemisphere with the Wellington-based Hurricanes, is a definite arrival in the summer, as are two highly experienced Welsh internationals with Lions Test experience: the scrum-half Dwayne Peel and the back-five forward Ryan Jones.

Add to that a couple more Samoans in the wing David Lemi, who will leave Worcester for a second stint with Bristol at season’s end, and the Bath prop Anthony Perenise, plus a bright young playmaking talent in the whippet-like shape of the Ospreys outside-half Matthew Morgan, and the seriousness of the recruitment drive is there for all to see.

Robinson believes his side are ready to advance to the top flight, and to make a decent fist of it once they get there. But the pressure is on: their achievements over the campaign to date – they have not been the tightest defensively, but their tally of 18 try-scoring bonus points in 23 league matches is nothing short of startling – count for nothing now that the play-off phase is imminent. One bad day at the office will leave them pondering another season in the second tier, almost certainly with the powerful Worcester for company.