Bristol powered to cup final glory last night – then learned they had been controversially lined up for a shot at another one.
In just their second season back in English rugby’s top flight, Pat Lam’s Bears overturned a half-time deficit to beat mighty Toulon on French soil and lift the European Challenge Cup.
They made history along the way, returning the opening kick-off for Harry Randall to score in 15 seconds – the fastest try seen in a Euro final.
No sooner was the match won than Lam was insisting: “This will be the first of many. This is the one we need to get going, this is not the end. It’s just a moment of inspiration that everyone can take hold of.”
The Bears boss then confirmed that they had been put on standby by league chiefs to replace Wasps in next Saturday’s Premiership Final.
Wasps easily beat Bristol in last week’s semi but have since reported seven Covid positives in their camp and will be forced to forfeit their Twickenham place unless it clears up next week.
“Wasps and Exeter thoroughly deserve to be there and that’s the final we want to happen,” said Lam. “But the world we live in with covid we don’t know.
“We’ve been told about it. It’s one of those things. If we’re told we’re in and that’s it we’ll get everyone together and say ‘let’s do it’. But we certainly hope Wasps make it through.”
It is a disturbing state of affairs that Premiership Rugby feel they can just drop this ‘ruling’ on fans who fund the sport through their satellite subscriptions.
Those watching last night’s coverage from Aix-en-Provence had no complaints as Semi Radradra caught the opening kick-off, played a one-two with Alapati Leiua, and gave Randall the scoring pass.
Their joy would have turned to worry when Harry Thacker and Joe Joyce had tries chalked off and Toulon rallied to lead at half-time.
But Malins put them back on course, goose-stepping and accelerating his way over, and Callum Sheedy kicked eight from eight to seal Bristol’s first major trophy since 1983.
TOULON – Try: Heem. Con: Carbonel. Pens: Carbonel 4.
BRISTOL – Tries: Randall, Malins. Cons: Sheedy 2. Pens: Sheedy 6.