After months of circling the drain, Bristol’s fate was sealed at the weekend with a 36-21 defeat to Wasps at Ashton Gate.
The Premiership side’s 17th defeat all season, with just three wins, was enough to confirm that they will finish bottom of the table and be playing in the Championship next season. (An Ealing victory in the Championship playoffs could yet save Bristol as they probably wouldn’t meet the criteria for Premiership entry, but it is a slim possibility and one that they should not pin their hopes on.)
Despite the disappointment of going down, however, Bristol do have plenty to look forward to next season. Pro12-winning coach Pat Lam takes up his duties in charge of the side in the summer, and also arriving are the likes of former Ireland international Ian Madigan and All Black Steven Luatua.
Mark Tainton, who took the reins from dismissed Andy Robinson in November but will step aside for Lam at the end of the season, was unable to save Bristol from their ultimate fate but expressed pride at his players’ performance and determination in attempting to beat the drop:
“We’re obviously disappointed, getting relegated today, but I was immensely proud of the performance the players put in.”
“It was a similar story today to a lot of games – we’ve created an awful lot, we’ve been in the opposition 22 many times, but we’ve just not executed and got across the line.
“Obviously it’s disappointing to get relegated, but we’ve put a plan in place whether we were going to stay in the Premiership or we were going to get relegated.
“We’ve recruited strongly over the season to make sure we’re in a stronger position next year, whichever league we were in, than we have been in this season.
“We’ve done that, and we still have one or two people to come in to strengthen the squad further.”
Tainton will move to a role as chief operating officer once Lam takes his new role, and while Bristol’s return to the Premiership was a brief one, their summer recruitment means that they will be overwhelming favourites to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.