Thursday 2 May 2019 6:22 pm

Ollie Phillips: Champions Cup qualification would be fitting end to groundbreaking campaign for Bristol

The Premiership’s top two sides, Exeter and Saracens, may be meeting this weekend but with just two games to go the drama lies elsewhere.

The two outstanding teams are streets ahead and I think will meet in the final on 1 June but the other 10 sides still have lots to play for.

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Unfortunately for Newcastle it’s all but over after their mauling by Northampton left them nine points adrift at the bottom. They travel to third-placed Gloucester on Saturday where I think their relegation will be confirmed.

Last year the Falcons were in the play-offs; this year the Premiership will be losing an important outpost in the north east.

Brilliant Bristol

At the start of the season when Pat Lam outlined his vision for Bristol some might have been sceptical. The fact they’ve beaten the drop and, after a brilliant wins over Saracens and Leicester, are pushing for the top six is testament to his coaching.

If the Bears beat Sale tomorrow night they can leapfrog them into sixth and set up a crucial final round.

Having won the Pro 12 with Connacht in 2016 Lam is no stranger to overachievement and what he’s done at Bristol is similarly impressive.

Lam wants to play the New Zealand way, so his side try to get quick ball and play expansive off-loading rugby. Harry Thacker, John Afoa, Charles Piatau and particularly fly-half Ian Madigan have helped that style blossom.

Exeter Chiefs v Bristol Bears - Gallagher Premiership Rugby
Ian Madigan has led Bristol's charge from fly-half (Source: Getty)

They always have a go and sometimes that has been to their detriment, like when Exeter scored late on to snatch a 31-29 win in November, but that makes them all the more enjoyable to watch.

Bristol appear to be peaking at the right time. If they can secure Champions Cup rugby it would be a miraculous achievement.

Under-performing giants

On Sunday two under-performing powerhouses meet, with Bath hosting Wasps. While a top-six finish would be huge for Bristol, it would represent disappointment for both clubs, who currently lie seventh and eighth – finishes that would be almost disastrous.

Following the news of head coach Todd Blackadder moving to Japan at the end of the season, Bath need to end on a high in order to attract a new coach and new players. No top quality players want to be in the Challenge Cup, so an upturn in form is important.

Worcester Warriors v Gloucester Rugby - Gallagher Premiership Rugby
Danny Cipriani's move to Gloucester dented Wasps's season (Source: Getty)

Wasps, meanwhile, have stuttered this season. They haven’t recovered from losing Danny Cipriani to Gloucester, while the injury to Jimmy Gopperth, mid-season departure of Christian Wade and rumours of Dai Young losing control of the dressing room have left the team in flux.

This summer will be about rebuilding and Champions Cup qualification would make that much easier.

When you factor in the battle between Northampton and Harlequins for fourth place the Premiership is set for a cracking finale. I think Northants, who host Worcester, and Quins, who play Leicester, will both win this weekend to take it down to the final round.

With so much still to play for it looks as though we’re in for a compelling end to the season.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn


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