Whilst Bristol Rugby have taken up their familiar position at the top of the Championship, their fans will not be dreading the season run-in as much as previous years. Since their relegation in 2016/17, it has been virtually universally accepted wisdom that the West Country side would return at the first attempt. The removal of the Championship play-offs virtually assured a Bristol Rugby promotion from day one.
On Sunday Bristol face the Jersey Reds in Round 17 of the Greene King IPA Championship. Here they can set a club league record for consecutive wins. Last Word on Rugby takes a look at the situation at the top of the English second division.
Club Records Set to Tumble
Bristol currently have 16 wins from 16 games, including 14 try scoring bonus points. Only Hartpury (in Round One) and Bedford Blues (in Round 14) have prevented Bristol collecting the full five points. However Jersey can take heart from Bedford’s performance in Bristol’s last home league game, where they nearly left Ashton Gate with a famous victory.
It is no shock that this record means Bristol have scored the most points (684) and conceded the least (312) in the league. In fact they have averaged more tries and points per match since the introduction of league rugby. This is according to long-serving club statistician Neil Williams.
There are also personal records to be claimed, with Fly-half Ian Madigan on course for 200 points this season. Meanwhile, Luke Morahan, Jordan Williams and Rhodri Williams have all reached double figures for tries scored. They will surely all be hoping to emerge as top try scorer by the end of the campaign.
❓| @Ian_madigan has surpassed 1⃣5⃣0⃣ league points.
With 6⃣ games left, the fly half could still reach 2⃣0⃣0⃣ points.
— Bristol Rugby (@Bristol_RFC) February 28, 2018
Bristol Rugby Promotion to the Premiership
Despite scares like the Bedford match, the men from the South West have finally been able to meet expectations in the second tier. They arguably have a stronger squad than they had in the Premiership, with internationals like Ian Madigan and Steven Luatua committing to a Championship campaign.
By recruiting ‘big names’ at their peak rather than on their way down, Bristol have blown away their second division opposition. This was a key error they made under Andy Robinson during previous promotion pushes. Vitally though, the current squad is likely to be the Premiership squad next season.
In comparison, when London Irish were relegated they were able to hold on to most of their star players, for example Alex Lewington and Ben Franks. Naturally they comfortably earned promotion but have found that this relegated squad is still not able to compete in the Premiership. Unlike Bristol, the Exiles did not have the budget to entice internationals to a season in the Championship. As a result they weren’t able to gel and build before promotion. Irish appear to be paying for this now and are on course for relegation again.
The removal of the play-offs helps Bristol in this respect, but in the long-run it raises questions about the competitiveness of the league. With only three or four sides willing and able to be promoted, the first-past-the-post system naturally favours the relegated side from the Premiership. But this is a debate for another day.
Bristol Rugby vs Jersey Reds
Visitors Jersey come into this match after a 32-24 home defeat to second-placed Ealing Trailfinders. They are however unbeaten in their last four away league matches,having most recently won 33-29 at Bedford.
The home side come into this match after a resounding 55-15 win away at London Scottish. Therefore they will be rightly confident of another victory. They will probably also be more expectant than hopeful of another try bonus point as they look to mathematically seal promotion as soon as possible.
However one factor that may hamper Bristol is the weather. Snow has been falling in Bristol during the week and there could be treacherous conditions on Sunday. Luckily the team are already training in the inclement conditions:
— Bristol Rugby (@Bristol_RFC) February 27, 2018
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