- Bristol Rugby face Rotherham Titans on Saturday, live on Sky Sports HD
- "We need to prove ourselves when it matters" – Tipuna
Photo: John White
By staying true to the club’s running rugby philosophy, Andy Robinson’s Bristol have contributed greatly to the Greene King IPA Championship’s fast-growing reputation as a league of thrills and spills. Now the proud West Country outfit hopes their high-risk approach brings with it high reward in the form of promotion back to the Aviva Premiership after an absence of five years.
Straightforward kicks at goal have regularly been spurned in favour of tries throughout the course of the regular season and as a result Bristol have crossed the opposition line an incredible 116 times – at an average of five per game. While the backs have dominated in the try-scoring stakes, scoring two-thirds of the overall tally, over 30 different players have got their names on the scoresheet – including six front-row forwards.
“To have people from all over the field scoring tries is great,” said wing George Watkins, who leads the way with 18 league tries. “That makes us hard to analyse and it makes us much more than a one-dimensional team to have that threat across the field.”
That said, Bristol have arguably been too generous at the other end of the field, conceding 63 tries. Despite winning 13 Championship games on the spin, as of late there has been a tendency to let teams back into games. In recent weeks, they have led Rotherham 21-0, Leeds 21-3, Moseley 26-0 and London Welsh 22-0, before winning those games by respective scorelines of 34-26, 33-27, 33-24 and 25-21.
Photo: Getty Images
As a significant addition to the squad, Bristol have managed to secure the services of Wales and British and Irish international Ryan Jones. Wales’ most-capped captain linked up with the squad this week after securing an early release from the Ospreys and will add considerable quality to what is already a high-class back row featuring the likes of homegrown No.8 Marco Mama and Scottish international Ross Rennie.
After previous play-off heartaches at the hands of Exeter and Cornish Pirates, it is hoped that Jones’ arrival proves to be the final piece of the jigsaw needed to get Bristol over the line.
“The guy is a quality individual, a quality rugby player, and will fit in seamlessly – he already has,” head coach Sean Holley, who worked with Jones at Ospreys, told the Bristol Post.
"He brings a sense of security and confidence to everybody else and him coming in now is only positive as far as we can see. He feels the same – he's got a big smile on his face and he loves it already."
Photo: Getty Images
Jones is pure box-office in terms of spectator appeal – not that Bristol need any help putting bums on seats. In terms of support, Bristol have averaged around 5,300 per match and with a season’s best gate of 8,000 for the recent game against London Welsh.
As scrum-half Ruki Tipuna points out, ‘the 16th man’ could make all the difference. “The Memorial Stadium factor, of course, will play its part. The passionate support and a packed house can really inspire the team, as we’ve seen in recent outings,” he told www.bristolrugby.co.uk.
“We’ve topped the league in the regular season and now we need to prove ourselves again when it matters.”
While all the talk this week has been about Ryan Jones’ arrival across the Severn Bridge, arguably the signing of the season has been that of Ross Rennie who bears all the hallmarks of a scavenging openside. Rennie arrived from Edinburgh on loan in January and, after a series of outstanding displays, that deal has become permanent.
The Welshman is a past-master at creating space for others with his ability to operate flat in the face of the defence. Given the lack of a settled midfield combination outside him the former international fly-half has done a fine job in getting Bristol’s back line firing so well. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the pressure kicks in the play-offs having not had much of an opportunity in front of goal during the regular season.