The Runner Sports

Can Bristol Avoid The Drop?

With David Lemi making his 100th appearance for the club and star man Gavin Henson returning from injury there should have been optimism at Ashton Gate on Sunday. But the pessimism sank in once again as Bristol were convincingly beaten by Sale and Gavin Henson suffered yet another injury in the process. Lying bottom of the table with 7 losses from 7, there seems to be little hope of avoiding relegation. But can the west countrymen survive?

Bristol’s main problem is their defence, having already given up 253 points (36 points per game) with the other premiership sides on average only giving up 145 points (21 points per game). It’s clear this is not a good formula for winning rugby matches. Most teams finding it very easy to create an extra man out wide usually leading to an easy run in for a try. This seems like a coaching issue and will fall on the shoulders of head coach Andy Robinson who failed multiple times to get the team promotion and now seems unable to secure their premiership status. The decision to hire young an inexperienced defence coach Jonathon Thomas can’t have helped and with defence being one of the key components of a relegation scrap, it seems an odd choice to try and groom and develop a new coach.

One thing that can be said for Bristol’s management is they are trying to improve their squad mid-season which seems more than necessary. Having had fly-half injuries and poor play at the position, signing experienced Shane Geraghty was a sensible signing, although it won’t grab any headlines. The headlines are going to come if South African superstar Eben Etzebeth signs on a short-term deal. Undoubtedly one of the best locks in the world, Etzebeth could certainly bring more than just his grunt, inspiring a confidence in the team knowing that one of the world’s supreme talents is in your ranks.

Bristol certainly aren’t a helpless team; their solid scrum and a competitive set piece in the darker winter months might be all they need to scrape wins and even losing bonus points. They have also brought in talented players like Will Hurrell smashing his way forward consistently from the centre and Jon Fisher making a nuisance of himself at open side with a touch of menace thrown in. And their back three certainly isn’t lacking in firepower either with Tom Varndell and Lemi having a career built on finishing tries. Lemi’s try in the dying seconds at least gave the Ashton Gate faithful something to cheer about. The finish was superb and despite his age, he has not lost a step.

The teams Bristol are jostling with are Newcastle, Worcester, and perhaps Gloucester. It will be a necessity to win most of these fixtures to maintain hopes of survival but they have already lost a tight affair away to Newcastle. But there is still a lot of the season to go and they are only 7 points adrift of Worcester. Winning against a side like Worcester will give them hope but losing will be a death sentence. Unfortunately for Bristol, Newcastle and Worcester look to be superior sides with far more premiership experience in recent years, better coaching, and more talent. And on Bristol’s current form, being dead last might actually flatter them.