Injury crisis for Bristol before season starts

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The Independent Online

Bristol did not win anything on their return to the Premiership last season - apart, of course, from the right to continue in the top flight, which was the equivalent of a crock of gold for the famous old West Country club - but this time around, they have already nailed an award: for the first injury crisis of the campaign. Mark Regan, the 34-year-old former England forward, is the only fit hooker on the books after Neil Clark and Saul Nelson injured themselves in the space of three minutes during a friendly game at Neath.

Should Regan suffer any misfortune in the final warm-up game with Cardiff on Friday night, Bristol could be in the embarrassing position of failing to raise a side for the opening league fixture at Worcester eight days later. Richard Hill, the head coach, said yesterday he was attempting to sign a senior hooker on a one-year contract, not least because Clark, who mangled ligaments in a knee, is expected to be hors de combat for at least six months.

Despite this early setback on the personnel front, allied to the bookmakers' decision to make them favourites for relegation, Bristol are bullish about their chances of securing a comfortable mid-table finish and taking another meaningful step towards re-establishing themselves as a major power in the land.

Three very good New Zealanders are due to arrive over the next few months - the Waikato outside-half Dave Hill and the Maori lock Sean Hohneck are expected on 1 November; Neil Brew, the gifted Otago centre, on New Year's Day - and while some supporters have expressed concern at the decision to bring in a fresh batch of overseas players, the hierarchy insist they are operating pragmatically.

"We all know the New Zealanders are concerned at the number of players leaving the country to play their rugby here, and I guess I'm not overly popular back home," said David White, the Aucklander who joined Bristol as chief executive last season. "But we're not signing ex-internationals in search of a pension, but players in their mid-20s who are coming for the right reasons. In the short term, we need people of this quality. However, we're also committed to making our academy as strong as any in the country and in the long run, this will be a team full of locally developed players."

* James Simpson-Daniel will miss the autumn international series after undergoing an operation on his collarbone. The Gloucester winger will be out for two to three months.

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