Front row to head Bristol's recovery

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The Independent Online

The new Bristol coach, Richard Hill, has warned his youthful squad that they will need to "grow up quickly" as the club prepare for life in National League One.

The 42-year-old former Harlequins and Gloucester coach has been given the task of reviving the fortunes of the West Country club following their relegation from the Premiership and he has warned he will be setting high targets. "We'll be pushing the players," the former England scrum-half and captain said. "They may be young but they'll have to grow up pretty quickly."

Hill believes that the Shoguns front row, and especially the former Scotland prop Dave Hilton, will be crucial to their hopes of returning to the top flight.

"Dave Hilton and his experience will be key and, alongside Paul Nelson and Richard Skuse from last year's Bristol first-team squad, the front row will play a big part," he said.

"Our Division One opposition have strong front rows and many of them could compete with Premiership sides.

"Division One is a tough league and the players we've got are young. But we'll use their fitness and their enthusiasm to our benefit.

"We've got experience elsewhere as well. Sam Cox and Joe El Abd have been at Bath and Caerphilly and players like Sean Marsden and Richard Hunt both competed at the top level in Wales last year. You can also include people like Chris Morgan, who has a good number of appearances in the Bristol first team behind him."

A World Cup bonus row between the New Zealand players and their union became more outspoken yesterday as the parties differed publicly over how much the New Zealand Rugby Union can afford to pay.

Six days remain for the NZRU to secure player signatures on Cup participation agreements and, as uncertainty increased over the dispute's outcome, New Zealand's state gambling agency suspended betting on the World Cup.

The NZRU's chief executive, Chris Moller, continued talks in Sydney yesterday with the players' representative, Rob Nichol, expressing confidence that progress was being made. At the same time, players' agents were publicly portraying the union as penny-pinching, disputing its claim that it could not meet bonus demands because of its own financial vulnerability.

The union reinstated an offer of NZ$50,000 (£18,250) yesterday after cutting the amount to NZ$40,000 when the players refused the larger amount in June. The players are asking for more than NZ$100,000.