Saturday confirmed what; in reality, we’d known for several months now: Bristol will be playing their rugby in the Championship next year, after losing to Wasps. A 36-21 defeat to the league leaders ended their Aviva Premiership journey after one year, in which they have won just three games.
A try after two minutes from full-back Jason Woodward suggested the home side were intent on delaying their relegation for at least another week. But that was about as good as it got for Mark Tainton’s side as Wasps responded with tries from Tommy Taylor, Joe Simpson, Guy Thompson, Christian Wade and two from Josh Bassett
The bonus point win for Wasps was vital given second-placed Exeter secured all five points at Harlequins and a late Saracens show earned them four points from their match with Northampton.
All that means Wasps (on 79 points) are five clear of Exeter and seven competition points clear of reigning champions Saracens.
One Step Backwards, Two Steps Forwards?
It hasn’t been the return Steve Lansdown would have wanted for his side but professional sport is hardly a place for sentiment.
Nevertheless, relegation might actually be the best thing to happen to Bristol, hard as it may be to comprehend, and the future is looking more than bright at the newly developed Ashton Gate.
This summer sees the arrival of Pat Lam from Connacht as the new man at the helm and the Samoan has a glowing reputation having led the Galway-based side to the Pro12 last term.
Combined with the marquee signing of Irish fly-half Ian Madigan for the start of next year, Bristol are already looking a formidable force.
Lam has been able to imprint his fluid style of rugby at Connacht will relatively little resources; that may take for the Bristol squad to adapt to and playing against a lower opposition for 12 months may enable Bristol time to hone their skills and be better prepared for another crack at Premiership rugby.
A Difference at 10
Dai Young opted with Jimmy Gopperth at 10 for the second week in a row, leaving Danny Cipriani on the replacements list.
Cipriani has played the majority of the year at 10 but Young said after the game that the 29-year-old had been suffering from a slight groin strain which may explain why the fly-half’s level has dipped from his incredibly high levels in recent weeks.
Gopperth swapped from his usual 12 spot with ease however and his distribution was consistent. Perhaps not quite as energetic as Cipriani in terms of taking the ball as close as possible to the gainline before making a decision, but he did his job equally as efficiently.
Young’s only hope will be that, in the 12 days Wasps now have off until they play at Harlequins, Cipriani gets over any physical and mental niggles he may have and return energized to finish what he will hope is a Premiership winning season.
The Gung-Ho Approach
Wasps seem to know no other way at the moment, but how long can that ethos continue?
Against a better side on Sunday the Coventry-based side could easily have conceded more than the 21 points they let in – even if Wasps did gift Bristol two of their three tries.
To their credit, several times their last-ditch defense was excellent and they got some vital turnovers at vital times which got them out of trouble.
Coming into the game though Wasps had conceded 14 tries in their last three contests, and whilst in that time they have scored 12, and won two of those games, that type of defensive record will struggle to pick up silverware.
Like some kind of ‘galactico’ assembled team, which with the players at their disposable they are quickly becoming, Wasps are simply saying to teams that they will win by outscoring you. As entertaining as that may be, against the likes of Exeter or Saracens – whom they play in three weeks-time – just how successful will that prove.
A Word on That Australian
He’s the highest paid player in the league and the man from down under showed why. Kurtley Beale’s time in England may have been brief, but it has been a pleasure all the same.
Returning to the Waratahs at the end of the year, Beale is determined to leave his mark on this Wasps side. Starting at 12 rather than his usual 15 slot, Beale ran some gorgeous lines at second receiver and sieved through the Bristol defense on more than one occasion.
His distribution was equally as affective, just when you think the Bristol defense we looking to hold him up and turn the ball over the Australian would somehow get a pass away.
He was deservedly named man of the match, some players get held back when they don’t commit to one position but when you’re as good as Beale 10, 12, 13 or 15 are simply just numbers.
Elliot Daly – Lions Starter?
Subbed off just before the hour mark, Daly is one of the Wasps players hoping his name gets read out at the Lions announcement on Wednesday.
He – along with captain Joe Launchbury – are looking like Lions bolsters following performances for both club and country this year. Daly’s ability to cover center, wing and even full back makes him a valuable member of the touring party.
By no means did he have his best game of the season but in glimpses showed his electric turn of foot and he remains solid in defense.
Few players in English rugby have enjoyed the upward trajectory that Daly has in the last 18 months, and the current curve shows no sign of dwindling. That form could yet mean a test start on the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.