Bristol Rugby's young guns aim for the Premiership
JACK Tovey and George Watkins have both set their sights on playing Aviva Premiership rugby with Bristol in the near future after signing new deals with their hometown club.
The 22-year-old backs, both of whom attended Colston's School and came through the Bristol academy system, have given the resurgent Championship club another significant lift by putting their signatures on new contracts.
After appointing Andy Robinson as director of rugby, signing five Premiership players for next season and agreeing deals with a number of their existing players, the popular Bristolian duo have given supporters a further reason for optimism by signing up again.
Full-back Tovey, who has scored 18 tries since making his debut in 2009, said: "It was an easy decision to stay. The introduction of Andy and the way the club are really looking to move forward, it was a no-brainer.
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"The thought of moving away from Bristol and then seeing them playing in the Premiership would be difficult to take, and to play in the Premiership for your home team is the main goal."
Robinson only began work at Bristol last Friday and travelled with the team to their hugely impressive 18-6 win at Bedford on Saturday – and Tovey said he has already started to make an impact.
"Even a few little things Andy has added in training over the last few days make you really think that this is a serious thing and we're looking to move in the right direction as a club," he said.
"These are exciting times. This is already Premiership set-up in everything, bar the fact we're not in the right league."
Winger Watkins, who has already scored 39 tries for Bristol, the fourth highest tally in competitive games for the club, is equally positive about the future as his close friend.
He said: "Even before all the positive news of the last few weeks, this was a club that is close to my heart – growing up here, watching the team play, it was an easy decision. And when you see the other guys – Tuvs and Glynners [lock Ben Glynn], who are your mates – signing on as well it makes it even easier.
"The recent developments have been great, seeing someone of Andy Robinson's quality coming in, and the club is looking toward bigger and better things – and I want to be a part of that."
Watkins is now setting his sights on helping Bristol to take the elusive step back into English rugby's top flight after four seasons in the second tier.
"Having seen some of the hardship the club has suffered over the last few years, with not getting promotion and having a tough following season, it's great to see the club back on its feet," said Watkins.
"We're now getting top-class players in and pushing to get back into the Premiership, which is where we want and need to be."
Bristol head coach Liam Middleton, whose team face Nottingham at the Memorial Stadium on Friday, is understandably delighted to have secured the services of Tovey and Watkins for at least another season.
"It's fantastic news that Jack and George have agreed new deals with us," he said. "They're hugely important to Bristol Rugby because they fit a key purpose at the club, which is to develop Bristol players to play in 'Bristol Fashion'. I've thoroughly enjoyed watching both of them develop through the academy."