They have suffered some dreadful defeats recently and have been losing ground on the rest of the Aviva Premiership. Worcester Warriors increased the agony, by pulling out a stunning victory over reigning champions Saracens. Yet a huge win against the fiercest of local rivals Bath has ensured that Bristol Rugby’s roller coaster of a season continues.
The men from Ashton Gate will have loyal fans biting their finger nails once again as we head into a potential season defining game this weekend. The two bottom sides will battle it out, as Bristol travel up to Sixways Stadium. This time; unlike that Boxing Day thriller at the Gate, Bristol have the opportunity to climb above their opponents should they pull off the victory on Saturday.
Gavin Henson Returns
Gavin Henson’s return against Bath gave the Bristolians a huge boost, and a man-of-the-match performance saw him kick all of Bristol’s points. The former Welsh International brought a finesse to the midfield that – although possessing plenty of power through Will Hurrell – has yet to really test defences mentally.
Bristol Interim Head Coach Mark Tainton was very pleased with the win as well as Henson’s return. However, he urged his men to stay focused up to the final match of the season:
“Our defensive effort was massive and to beat our neighbours was fantastic as we stood up to them but the fight against relegation will go all the way to the end. Gavin will be sore after his comeback but he controlled the game as he was accurate with both his place kicking and line-kicking.”
Certainly the likes of Jason Woodward and Tom Varndell will have welcomed a sharing of the attacking burden placed upon Bristol’s best two back-line players. Indeed, from a timing point of view, Henson’s return could not have been scheduled better. The run-in will require experience as much as guts and these three have it in spades.
Counting down the days to what is going to be a huge weekend of rugby for @Bristol_RFC
— Tom Varndell (@Tom_Varndell) March 2, 2017
Bristol Licking Their Lips
Couple the Bristol high-performing personnel with the fact that the Warrior’s key player Ben Te’o is almost certain not to be released from the England squad this weekend, and the men from further south on the M5 must be ‘licking their lips’.
But where will they be focusing their efforts?
Up front, they have some injury problems at loosehead with Soane Tonga’uiha and Kyle Traylor both crocked. Tom Bristow has been brought in from Wasps to add likely cover to Ryan Bevington who will probably start the game at Sixways.
Evans & O’Callaghan Renew International Battles
Defence will be critical. Bristol’s line speed needs to be as sharp as it was last weekend. They will then put pressure on the Worcester attack and look to exploit mistakes from the home team. Ian Evans and Donnacha O’Callaghan will renew their old international battles, as the ex-Wales and ex-Ireland internationals fight it out for lineout dominance once again. Each man will look to give their teams the platform for go-forward ball.
With high stakes riding on this game, we could end up seeing a classic Premiership arm wrestle where neither side wishes to make a mistake. Yet the opportunity to deny a ‘losing bonus point’ for either side could end up being pivotal when all is said and done. That fact alone may just encourage some attacking play.
The weather at least seems to be forecast as fair and by the time the final whistle blows late in the afternoon, fans will know whether there is a change at the bottom of the table.
We will also know whether Bristol Rugby’s roller coaster of a season continues.
“Main Photo Credit”