Bristol Rugby: Redford Pennycook poised for his first appearance since returning to the club
REDFORD Pennycook will start a game for Bristol for the first time since the second leg of the 2010 Championship play-off final when they visit London Welsh this weekend.
Head coach Liam Middleton is without both of the openside flankers he has used in the league this season, Marco Mama and James Merriman, so will hand the fit-again Pennycook his first appearance since returning to Bristol in January.
Pennycook, pictured, underwent shoulder surgery shortly after returning to his hometown club from Newcastle, minutes before the transfer deadline for Championship clubs.
But he is now fit – and head coach Middleton said the 26-year-old would have been ready to start had Bristol had a fixture last weekend.
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Mama (calf) and Merriman (concussion) will not be risked at Old Deer Park on Sunday – and Middleton has no qualms about pitching Pennycook back into battle for Bristol.
"Marco and James are the only ones we have any concerns about – it's just one of those things that they play in the same position," said Middleton.
"We won't push them now, but, I think that even if this was the semi-final, they wouldn't be playing anyway. They're genuinely not fit enough to play at the moment.
"Fortunately, Redford is ready to go and I think he senses an opportunity. When I spoke to him about selection, even though he has played I-don't-know-how-many times for Bristol, I sensed a real excitement from him about being selected.
"He senses an opportunity and we've got three good sevens here, with not a lot between them.
"Whoever is in form at the time and holding on to the shirt has a shot at it.
"Redford has come back to Bristol to do a job and he knows where he wants to be playing and he knows where the club wants to be playing. He has fitted back in perfectly."
Pennycook last played on January 21, when he started and scored a try for Newcastle in their Amlin Challenge Cup defeat away to Lyon.
He has spent the last two months working hard to recover from shoulder surgery – and Middleton said: "If we'd have had a game last weekend, Redford would have played, so he's been ready for some time.
"We've just waited for the opportunity to put him in – and it just so happens to be a huge game, a pool decider away from home.
"But he's a quality player and I think he'll rise to the challenge. He's played in a lot of big games and he's level-headed and a very good quality player. I'm looking forward to seeing him run out in a Bristol shirt again."
Saracens head coach Andy Farrell has turned down the offer of a permanent coaching role with England.
The Rugby Football Union had been in negotiations with Saracens after England coach Stuart Lancaster indicated he wanted Farrell as part of his management team.
Farrell had been seconded to England on an interim basis for the RBS Six Nations and was a key part in transforming the fortunes of the national team.
But England have failed in their bid to lure Farrell away from the Aviva Premiership champions.