A month ago if someone had said to me that Bristol would be on a four-game winning streak in all competitions I would have laughed at them.
However, Bristol have now ended not only their Premiership drought, but also their search for a win in Europe.
This can be put down to three main factors, as outlined below.
1. Tom Varndell
Tom Varndell has been rejuvenated it seems as the season has worn on, and this week equalled Mark Cueto’s record of 90 Premiership tries. Don’t get me wrong, the former Leicester and Wasps man has always been a class act, but it was thought that when he transferred to Bristol he was slowing down his career. That is certainly not the case.
He has scored eight tries in the last four games for Bristol, and in two of those games he scored hat-tricks. He has returned to the prolific form he once had, and is one of the main reasons for the recent success at Ashton Gate.
2. New Coaching
Mark Tainton replaced the struggling Andy Robinson in November and slowly but surely has put into play his own style on this squad. Robinson should be praised for building this squad up for sure, however I believe he wasn’t the right man for them this season.
Indeed, Tainton is only in the job until Pat Lam joins the club at the end of the season from Connacht, but has produced results that Robinson couldn’t accomplish. Under his style of play the counter-attack is utilised more as teams are forced to kick to Bristol, where in-form fullback Jason Woodward can punish sides, as he showed against the Sharks last weekend.
Admittedly an overused cliché in rugby is the team that believes they will win, will indeed win. Overused, yet true, it seems, and Bristol have somehow found the belief in themselves under Tainton. Kicking off the new year they should continue that belief.
Bristol were only ahead once against Sale, and that was for the last eight minutes. Despite a couple of missed penalties in the dying minutes, they held on. For stages of the game they were 15 points down, and it truly showed immense character to claim the four points at the end of the match.
Bristol can look to 2017 with a great deal of hope, as their fortunes are definitely turning, but a tough trip to Franklin’s Gardens awaits on Saturday.
Oscar Reilly, Pundit Arena