Dan Montagu released early from his contract by Bristol Rugby
BRISTOL will today confirm that Dan Montagu has left the club – little more than two months after he signed a new contract with the beaten Championship semi-finalists.
Head coach Liam Middleton said the decision to release the No 8, who spent three seasons with Bristol, came down to a "squad progression decision".
Bristol are understood to have negotiated a pay-off for the 28-year-old former Nottingham and Leicester back-row man after assessing his performances during the Championship play-offs.
Middleton said: "We have released Dan Montagu from his contract – and that was a squad progression decision after the semi-final.
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"I think it's a decision we chose to make after a number of performances in the play-offs – we want to progress the squad. We probably could have kept Dan, because he was involved in that group of players who did well and who we hoped would be more successful.
"But, because that didn't happen, we felt it was the time to try to push our squad progression on a bit. There are still one or two positions in the squad that need to be finalised – including a replacement for Dan – and I would expect an announcement on that within the next ten days.
"Apart from that, we are looking at one or two positions, including strengthening the front row, and then I think that will be pretty much it. Because we recruited throughout last season, I think the group we start with will pretty much be the group we work with all season – and I am more favourable of that."
Bristol have signed full-back David McIlwaine, centre Bryan Rennie, fly-half Adrian Jarvis, scrum-half James Grindal and prop Bruce Douglas for next season and could make another signing today.
They have also lost a number of players, including centre/wing Will Helu, who is returning to New Zealand for personal reasons, and, in total, thirteen members of last season's squad are not returning for 2012-13.
Helu, Montagu, Louis Silver, Jason Harris-Wright, Darren Barry, Matty James, Henry Vanderglas, Sean Marsden, Darren Crompton, Jake Caulfield, Mark Davies, Josh Ovens and James Letherby will not be with Bristol for the new campaign.
But, with 29 members of last season's squad staying on, five new signings made and more to come, Middleton believes Bristol will be stronger this season than they were last.
"We started last season with pretty humble expectations, and, as those expectations grew throughout the season, we tried to match them by adding to the squad," he said.
"With those expectations, we are starting the new season from a different point than we did a year ago – but we also start now with probably a stronger squad than we finished last season with.
"We have had some difficult decisions to make, notably with Dan Montagu, but Bristol are an ambitious club and to fulfil those ambitions and continue progressing sometimes you need to make difficult decisions. The club is bigger than everyone and the club's ambitions must come first."
Bristol squad for 2012-13 as it stands: Backs – D McIlwaine, J Goodridge, M Williams, J Tovey, R Edwards (academy), G Watkins, F Otto, L Eves, B Rennie, J Gadd (academy), M Jones, T Roberts, A Jarvis, T Slater, J Grindal, R Tipuna, C Braley (academy); Forwards – R Johnston, R Lawrence, T Channon (academy), B Douglas, W Thompson, M Lilley, M Irish, J Hobson, W Davis (academy), M Sambucetti, R Winters, G Townson, B Glynn (academy), J Joyce (academy), R Pennycook, I Grieve, J Merriman, M Mama (academy), S Uren (academy), M Eadie (academy).