PREVIEW: Plymouth Albion vs Bristol Rugby
AS coincidences go, Bristol were rather fortunate that, the week after their fighting spirit was called into question, Jason Hobson returned from long-term injury.
The 29-year-old prop has come to epitomise the club's forward resilience and doggedness over the years – so the fact he became available seven days after Bristol were thumped 63-7 at Nottingham was rather timely.
As it happened, Hobson and fellow enforcer Mariano Sambucetti returned to the side for what turned out to be a comfortable 39-16 bonus-point victory over Jersey.
Now the tighthead is looking to build on that win after a disappointing start to the season left Bristol languishing in eighth place in the Championship.
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"I wouldn't have re-signed if I thought for one minute we had weakened our squad or would be happy in the middle of the table or just to stay up," said Hobson, who signed a three-year deal in the summer.
"I want to help get Bristol back into the Premiership – and stay there.
"We're a huge amount better than we have shown this season and it's now a case of getting the boys to believe. We did all right in the first game of the season, against Newcastle, but it petered out a bit after that. It was as if we had such a big build-up to that game, which we then lost, that it was a little hard for us after that. But we have regrouped and re-gathered now. We have been on the ropes for quite a bit of this season but now it's time to get back out there."
This season has been as frustrating, if not more so, for Hobson as it has for Bristol.
The prop went in for what he thought was a routine clear-up operation on his shoulder during the summer – but ended up missing pre-season and the first ten weeks of the season.
"It wasn't really an injury – I was just having a clean-out of the shoulder, but after the surgery it didn't heal as quickly as it was supposed to," said Hobson.
"I was meant to be back in pre-season but it has taken until now. What was so frustrating for me was knowing that I didn't have a significant injury, because if you know you're going to be out for six months, you can get your head around that.
"But a lot of players have little operations like the one I did at the end of a season – and I had been scheduled in for it since Christmas."
Despite being unable to play for six months, Hobson looked as if he had never been away when he returned against Jersey 12 days ago.
Bristol were also assured during that contest, quickly banishing some of the horrific memories of the previous week's capitulation at Meadow Lane.
And a win in Devon tomorrow would almost certainly see Bristol leapfrog their opponents in the Championship table.
"Wins are massive for us now and it's all still very much in our hands," said Hobson. "If we can go to Plymouth and win then it's an eight-point difference in the table, because it's four points for us and four points they don't get.
"They are a different side to the Plymouth I grew up playing against when Graham Dawe was in charge. But we need to give them credit and show them respect, because they are playing a bit of rugby and getting some wins."