Memorial Stadium, Bristol
Bristol 20, London Welsh 21 (London Welsh win 48-28 on aggregate)
Aviva Premiership rugby will return to Oxford’s Kassam Stadium next season thanks to London Welsh’s 20-point aggregate win over promotion favourites Bristol.
London Welsh bounced back to the top flight at the first attempt despite a brave Bristol fightback at the Memorial Stadium on Wednesday night.
Bristol, who finished eight points ahead of second-placed Welsh at the end of the regular season, took a 19-point deficit into their final game at the Mem.
But soggy conditions and wayward place kicking from former Welsh International Nicky Robinson didn’t help their cause.
“We left a lot of points out there and had enough opportunities,” said Bristol director of rugby Andy Robinson, “but we have to be able to take those. It’s something we will look at going into next season.
“I thought it was an outstanding performance,” he added, “the character we showed was excellent, but we were left to chase too much.”
Nicky Robinson, who was eventually replaced by Adrian Jarvis, was off-target with three imminently kickable penalties and two conversions, one of which from the touchline.
A fired-up Bristol dominated the first quarter but failed to put points on the board, as Robinson first missed a sitter than watched his second shot go wide from the ten-metre line. Indeed, it was a drop goal from Sky Sports Man of the Match Gordon Ross, on Welsh’s first sortie out of their own half, that stretched the gap to 22 points.
To take nothing away from the Exiles organisation and discipline in defence, Bristol didn’t complicate matters too much for them with predictable inside balls, lateral running and unconvincing decoy runners.
But as Welsh silenced the crowd and Bristol ran out of attacking ideas, a delightfully
weighted Robinson cross kick found Andy Short on the left flank who shrugged off two weak tackles and slithered over in the corner.
Robinson failed to convert and Ross nudged the Exiles back into the lead as Bristol, whose scrum had started competitively, collapsed to concede a penalty following a Tovey knock-on.
On the stroke of half time, Exiles’ scrum half Chris Cook was sentenced to an extended interval break when he was adjudged to have knocked-on deliberately to prevent Short collecting a pass for his second. But all that intense Bristol pressure could produce was a Robinson penalty to give Bristol an 8-6 interval lead.
Mitch Eadie — gave the Bristol faithful brief hope
But Mitch Eadie roused the Bristol faithful when he touched down on the hosts’ first attack after the break. Robinson couldn’t add the extras nor a penalty from an Exiles scrum collapse which transpired to be his last action of this season.
There was real belief when Adam Hughes finished off a fine break by Ben Mosses and Jarvis converted to bring Bristol within eight points with ten minutes to go. Game on.
But mirroring their previous visit to the Mem, Welsh hit back with two tries in two minutes to slam the door on Bristol’s Premiership aspirations.
First, after a lengthy TMO referral, James Tideswell was adjudged to have touched down when an Exiles maul on the Hosts’ 22 almost sprinted to the Bristol try line. Then silence descended when Seb Stegmann hacked on three times from his own 22 before collecting the ball and diving over.
Ross converted to put the Exiles 21-20 ahead and into the Premiership, and to conclude 92 years of Bristol rugby at the Memorial Stadium.
A delighted Welsh head coach Justin Burnell said, “Bristol are a good side, and I feel a bit for Andy Robinson. “I don’t think they took us for granted.” He added, “but I think it showed today that you can have one philosophy, but if you don’t kick the points it’s disappointing.”
Bristol will have the summer to ponder how to better Worcester and an improving Leeds outfit for promotion next season.
Bristol: Wallace; Amesbury, Tovey, Mosses, Short; Robinson, Tipuna (capt); Traynor, Johnston, Cortes, Glynn, Townson, Koster, Mama, Eadie.
Replacements: Lawrence, Hall, Hobson, Skirving, Grindal, Jarvis, Hughes.
London Welsh: Awcock, Stegmann, May (capt), Jewell, Scott, Ross, Cook, Trevett, Morris, Edwards, Spencer, Corker, Lees, Kirwan, Thorpe.
Replacements: Vella, Bristow, Tideswell, West, Stedman, Lewis, Crane.