Injured Perry still hoping to help Bristol beat the odds
PA Sport
August 28, 2008

Shaun Perry has no intention of checking the odds for this season's Guinness Premiership - and that is probably a wise move.

Bookmakers across the land are predicting a two-way fight to avoid relegation from English rugby's top flight.

If the bookies are to be believed, then Perry's Bristol and Jonny Wilkinson's Newcastle will scrap for 11th place and a prize of avoiding the dreaded drop into National League One.

Northampton plummeted through the trap-door last year, but then returned as unbeaten League One champions, setting a formidable standard for this season's Premiership fall-guys.

Bristol though are about to embark on a fourth successive Premiership campaign since regaining their place among the elite in 2005, and they intend making it an odds-defying experience.

Their assault on the Premiership was dealt a significant blow recently however, when Perry was ruled out for the opening three months of the season having sustained a shoulder injury in the pre-season defeat to Exeter Chiefs.

Perry's injury comes following an encouraging pre-season, and is a further blow to his chances of regaining his place in the England setup.

Perry has seen enough from his team-mates to encourgae him to believe that they can avoid the drop in 2009.

He said, ''The boys are in good shape and raring to get the season started.

''We've had a chat about our aims and objectives, and we just want to improve on last season.

''If we can improve on our performances and move the club forward, then that is what we want to do. I can't comment on what the bookies might think.

''It will be a really intense and close Premiership. It is one of the hardest competitions in world rugby and we know it is going to be really hard work.

''But we are there to dig in and stick together. We just want to move Bristol forward, progressing as a team and a club.''

Bristol boss Richard Hill has once again been active in the summer player market, with Harlequins fly-half Adrian Jarvis and Cardiff Blues' Wales international lock Robert Sidoli proving the headline arrivals.

Hill's trend of recruiting from League One has also continued through signing backs Vunga Lilo (Cornish Pirates) and Junior Fatialofa (Exeter), among others.

The real question though, is whether or not Bristol can overcome some key departures, notably retired forwards Dave Hilton and Gareth Llewellyn, in addition to prolific points-scorer Jason Strange and midfield defensive organiser Rob Higgitt.

It also undoubtedly increases the pressure on key players like England international scrum-half Perry, his 2007 World Cup colleague Mark Regan and new club captain Joe El Abd to try and keep Bristol afloat.

Perry added, ''There are going to be some tough acts to follow, but every club needs to move forward and there are young guys there who are coming through.

''There should be a lot of expectation on players with international experience. It is about stepping forward and helping out the younger lads in the team.

''I can understand there will be a lot of pressure on me this season, but I am really looking forward to it. The pressure is there - it's how you deal with it as a player.''

Bristol would have originally hoped to have 30-year-old Perry available for much longer than they might have anticipated this term.

Despite starting England's opening two games of the World Cup last autumn, he has not represented his country since being hauled off at half-time during the calamitous 36-0 pool stage defeat against South Africa in Paris.

A neck injury then stalled his progress earlier this year, but 14 times-capped Perry was still surprisingly overlooked for selection by new England boss Martin Johnson in either the elite player squad or second-string Saxons group.

Perry said, ''I am disappointed I didn't get named in either the England EPS or the Saxons squad, considering I was selected to go to the World Cup.

''But then I did have more than three months off with my neck, and when I did eventually get back I was rusty for a couple of games, although I picked up my form towards the end of the season.

''I wouldn't say England happened too quickly for me. Yes, I had only been in the Premiership for 14 months when I got my first cap, but I think any player who is playing well and on form should have a chance of being selected.

''The intensity of the Premiership is immense.

''It's not just playing every week, it's all the work throughout the week as well, your training and your analysis, your one-on-one feedback with coaches.

''You've got 12 teams in the Premiership who can beat any other team on their day. It is going to be hard work fighting for points.

''The points we get we will cherish, put it that way.''

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