It's so tough for me to leave Bristol Rugby - James Phillips
JAMES Phillips has revealed how leaving Bristol was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make – but admitted he had little choice.
The 22-year-old No 8 and full-back Luke Arscott this week became the fourth and fifth players to quit Bristol in the wake of their failure to win promotion to the Guinness Premiership.
They both joined Exeter – Bristol's conquerors in the Championship play-off final – and will soon link up with their new team-mates for pre-season training.
Phillips will be leaving Bristol for the first time in his life when he moves to Devon later this summer – and the enormity of the events of the past fortnight have not yet fully sunk in for the man from Hanham.
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"It is difficult to leave Bristol; it really is," said Phillips. "I have found it really hard to leave the club, but I have got to do it.
"I am still gutted about what has happened and it hasn't really sunk in yet. I suppose that will only happen when I turn up at Exeter.
"I really didn't want to leave Bristol to start with, but I know it's the best move for my career to be playing in the Premiership and I think people will understand that."
Whatever happens during his time at Sandy Park, Phillips will remain grateful to Bristol and the club's supporters for the part they have played in his career.
Used sparingly by Richard Hill in the Premiership, the powerful ball-carrier became a first-team regular under Paul Hull and John Brain in the Championship.
He started 26 matches during the 2009-10 campaign, scoring 11 tries, and was named the club's players' player of the season.
"I was given a big chance by Bristol to play virtually every game last season – and I now need the next challenge: to be playing in the Premiership," said Phillips.
"I didn't really get much of a run at Bristol at the start – then Paul Hull and John Brain put me in and gave me my shot. I would like to thank them for everything they have done for me.
"I will miss the club and I will miss the fans. It was always good to see so many fans at the Memorial Stadium and they gave me great support and encouragement."
Many of Bristol's players are still reeling from the club's ultimatum of taking a 50 per cent pay-cut or moving on – and Phillips feels desperately sorry for those he is leaving behind.
"It came as a big shock to everyone – none of us thought this was going to happen," he said. "I am really sad to be leaving, but, with the things that have happened, it had to be done in the end.
"I couldn't even speak to the lads after they found out the news last week. I just didn't know what to say to them. Hopefully the club can be built back up, because it is a great club in a great city.
"It is going to be strange for me moving away from Bristol – but I am really committed to buying into Exeter. I have lived in Bristol my whole life, so maybe it will be a good thing to move away and buy into exactly what those guys are doing down in Exeter."