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Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Bristol on the brink

By Charlie Henderson

Bristol's disconsolate troops trudge off after the 35-3 home defeat to Newcastle

Bristol have been cast adrift at the bottom of the Guinness Premiership following their humiliating defeat to Newcastle and face a fight for survival.

It looks very grim but it's not over and it's going to be one hell of an escape, the Great Escape, if we get out of this one

Richard Hill, head coach
The are also questions hanging over the future of head coach Richard Hill, who has already summoned up the spirit of 'The Great Escape'.

Looking at the facts and figures, 'Mission Impossible' may seem more apt.

Relegation rivals Newcastle arrived at the Memorial Stadium having not won on the road in the league since the end of 2007 but left with a 35-3 win to their name and bonus point.

Bristol have the worst defensive and attacking records in the division. They have won just one league game all season and are now nine points adrift of 11th-placed Worcester, who have a game in hand.

Four of Bristol's nine remaining games are at home and, in the corresponding set of fixtures last season, when Hill's side finished ninth in the table, they accumulated just five points.

BBC Sport asked two former Bristol heavyweights, Gareth Llewellyn and Dave Hilton, with more than 130 international caps between them, what chance the club have in the fight against relegation.

Gareth Llewellyn
Bristol lock 2005-08 and former Wales international

Staying up's a hell of a tall order for Bristol now.

They've got a lot of ground to make up and that's without anyone doing anything themselves. If Worcester and Newcastle pick up a couple of wins then it's certainly all over.

It's not nice to see because they're a fantastic bunch of boys with great support, but they were always struggling against the tide to a certain extent and what they've failed to do is develop their game and move on.

The really disappointing thing is that they've got some great players and the makings of a really good team but they've just not been able to gel as a team for whatever reason

Gareth Llewellyn
We achieved third place in the Guinness Premiership in 2007 with a fairly basic game plan. That really needed to be built upon and it's sad that they haven't been able to consolidate on what we did then.

In the past they've always made the international periods count, which they don't appear to be doing this year.

You look at fixtures left on paper and on form and you wonder where the points are going to come from.

To get wins quickly they need to revamp everything they do, they need to find some spirit and a game plan from somewhere.

You're left hoping teams do what they've done to Bristol in the past when they've written them off and made changes, put out a weakened side and Bristol can capitalise.

The really disappointing thing is that Bristol have got some great players and the makings of a really good team in the likes of Neil Brew, Dan Ward-Smith, Shaun Perry. They are fantastic players but they've just not been able to gel as a team for whatever reason.

20 Feb: Sale (a)
1 Mar: Harlequins (h)
7 Mar: Bath (a)
13 Mar: Leicester (h)
22 Mar: Wasps (a)
29 Mar: Worcester (h)
4 Apr: London Irish (a)
19 Apr: Wasps (h)
25 Apr: Leicester (a)
And what amazes me about Bristol in terms of rugby, as well as football, is that it's a huge city, they've got a fantastic support base yet they can't seem to support a professional rugby or football team at the top level for any sustained period of time.

Even though they've got fairly decent corporate support locally, what they haven't got is that one individual with huge sums of money that they are prepared to put into the club.

What they've now got with Chris Booy taking over as chairman is a really good guy who's very passionate about Bristol Rugby Club and I think they're starting to sort the backroom stuff out at the club.

Unfortunately, that's come maybe a little late to survive this year and they'll have to go through a tough rebuilding process.

Dave Hilton
Bristol prop 1989-1992 & 2003-08 and former Scotland international

I certainly didn't see this coming but all Bristolians have to stay optimistic.

There are some fantastic players at the club and there are a lot of people they can put in that will have a positive effect on the games they've got coming.

You always get an extra 20% out of players if they've got a smile on their faces and that's what they need

Dave Hilton
Staying up is going to be a very hard task, but you've got to remember we've a third of the season still to go and there are still a lot of points out there to be grabbed.

The boys have got to get themselves out of a hole. It's not an enviable place to be, but other sides have done it and so can Bristol

I can see them picking points up from any of the home games against Harlequins, Leicester, Worcester and Wasps, as long as they don't play like they did against Newcastle!

I haven't seen them play that badly before. They haven't even been beaten like that by the best sides that have come to the Memorial Ground this season.

I'm sure they were all disappointed but they'll have worked out what went wrong and hopefully they can get it right.

Leicester at home is a very winnable game, as is Worcester, and after that it's just a case of where another four or five points are going to come from.

I'm not saying it's not going to be very, very hard, but there's still time for Bristol to save themselves from going down, although they are relying on a couple of sides not really getting any more points themselves.

Charlie Henderson
I was at that game against Newcastle. The build-up looked good, the guys looked focused and I thought they were going to do it, but they didn't come out of the blocks.

I'd like to think the pressure got to them and they just froze.

Richard Hill and his coaching staff need to get some of the pressure off the players. If they can't perform under pressure then you've got to get the pressure off them, get them out there and let them express themselves in their rugby.

They need to start performing again. You always get an extra 20% out of players if they've got a smile on their faces and that's what they need.

It's pretty dark days at the moment, but there's still light at the end of the tunnel for this season.

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see also
Sale v Bristol (Fri)
19 Feb 09 |  English
Bristol 3-35 Newcastle
13 Feb 09 |  English

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