Callum Sheedy’s hopes of a gentle runout before taking on England in the Six Nations were wrecked by an incredible comeback from London Irish.
The Bristol fly-half was back on club duty a week after coming off the bench to spark Wales’ come-from-behind win over Scotland.
But this time the boot was on the other foot as his Bears side romped to a 25-point lead in the first half – then gave it all back in the second.
“Without a doubt this feels like a loss,” boss Pat Lam admitted after never-say-die Irish scored 21 unanswered points in the last 16 minutes.
Bristol still move three points clear at the top of the Premiership, cashing in on Exeter’s shock home loss to Northampton.
But this was a blown opportunity and it would have been even worse had not Irish squandered a four-on-one overlap with the last play of the game.
“We worked hard to get to this situation,” Lam said of his table-topping side. “But now a target is on our back.
“You’ve got to get used to not being the underdog, where we were a few years ago. You’ve got to get used to playing as a favourite.”
They made it look easy at first, scoring two intercept tries despite having centre Sam Bedlow in the sin bin for a tip tackle which came perilously close to being a red card.
With Charles Piutau and Siva Naulago running riot, they added tries through Chris Vui and Naulago himself.
And with Sheedy, who is pushing hard for a start against England this Saturday kicking six out of six, Bristol led 31-6 on 36 minutes.
But this is the same London Irish that came from 12 points down in the last 13 minutes to force a draw at Harlequins last month.
And after Bristol had a fifth try chalked off by the video ref and Exiles boss Declan Kidney got stuck into his side at half-time, the game turned on its head.
Steve Mafi and Theo Brophy Clews pulled back tries, then Kidney sent on his experienced bench and super subs Nick Phipps and Tom Parton went over to level the scores.
“Fair play to Irish, they should have won,” said Lam as Bristol departed the scene of the Premiership’s biggest ever comeback to snatch a draw.
LONDON IRISH – Tries: Mafi, Brophy Clews, Phipps, Parton. Cons: Jackson 4. Pens: Jackson 2.
BRISTOL – Tries: O’Conor, Naulago 2, Vui. Cons: Sheedy 4. Pens: Sheedy 2.