Former Scotland coach Andy Robinson was yesterday unveiled as director of rugby at Championship side Bristol, and has set himself a target of masterminding their return to English rugby’s top flight within two years.
The 48-year-old, who watched Bristol beat Rotherham at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday, resigned as Scotland coach following a dismal autumn series earlier this season that culminated in a defeat against Tonga after losses to New Zealand and South Africa.
However, following discussions with Bristol chairman Chris Booy over the past few weeks, Robinson has confirmed his new role in English rugby with the promotion-hunting side.
“I am delighted to be joining Bristol Rugby at such an exciting time for the club,” said Robinson, who also had a stint as Edinburgh coach before he was appointed to the Scotland post.
“I firmly believe that with the passion for rugby in the region and the vision of the owners, Bristol has the potential to be one of the most successful sides in England. I am looking forward to building a squad with a blend of experience and young, home-grown talent, to play an exciting and winning brand of rugby. Our immediate objective is to achieve promotion back to the Aviva Premiership as soon as possible.”
Robinson, who was a member of England’s coaching staff under Sir Clive Woodward during the successful 2003 World Cup campaign before landing the top job between 2004 and 2006, is relishing the challenge of transforming Bristol.
“I want to take the club forward and work around my value set,” Robinson said. “I am really excited about getting back into rugby. I was at the game yesterday and it is a tough Championship. It was great to see the way the ball was moved around and the attacking prowess that was there. This (league) is an important step to get to the Premiership and the belief that I have that we can achieve at Bristol.
“I am looking forward to achieving that with Bristol over the next couple of years. It is a step by step process, it just doesn’t happen overnight, and working with the culture that is here and build on that is something really exciting.”
Robinson will take up his new role on 1 March after a short holiday, but met with the management, coaching staff and players at the Clifton training ground yesterday and had talks with head coach Liam Middleton, who remains in his post.
Robinson said: “I will be working closely with Liam over the next couple of months on the strategy that he has put in place and adding a bit of knowledge that I have from throughout my coaching and rugby career through to the end of the season.
“The key for us is to get into the top four (of the Championship) and then take the play-offs one by one.
“Newcastle have been the standout side so far, they have been playing some very good rugby and their goal is to get into the Premiership as well.” Robinson spent 11 years with Bristol’s neighbours, and arch rivals, Bath as a player and later as a coach before being appointed England’s forwards coach under Woodward.
After his time with England, the former flanker had two seasons at Edinburgh before being appointed Scotland’s head coach in 2009.
He added: “I have played against Bristol and their opponents many times and I think that the knowledge and passion for rugby in this area attracted me here. What I see is Bristol moving forward.”
Bristol, who are backed by Guernsey-based millionaire Steve Lansdown, are looking to regain Premiership status next season, although Newcastle remain firm Championship title favourites
Bristol chairman Booy said: “Since Steve Lansdown has become involved with the club (during the 2008-09 season) we have been very serious about where we want to be, but it has been difficult to attract the right players and somebody like Andy.
“This appointment shows that we are serious. We want the best people to do the best jobs, and that is not just director of rugby, but also players. Andy’s appointment shows that we are going to get there, and there are no more ifs, but it’s when.”
Bristol recently announced proposals to ground-share with Bristol City FC, where Lansdown is the majority shareholder, either at Ashton Gate or in a new stadium at Ashton Vale.