Bristol were relegated from the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP on Saturday after title-chasing London Irish confirmed the inevitable with a bonus-point victory at the Madejski Stadium.
Needing assistance from Sixways, Worcester’s 22-8 victory over Saracens instead sealed their fate with two matches of the regular season remaining.
History repeated itself as the west country club were condemned to a season in National One at the same venue they endured relegation in 2003 – the last time they went down.
A 41-21 mauling by Irish dumped them out of the top flight that year and the Exiles were just as irrepressible this afternoon as they put their outgunned opponents to the sword.
Tries from Scott Linklater and David Lemi, the first after an impressive spell, offered Bristol a glimmer of hope that quickly vanished with Luke Eves grabbing a late consolation score.
England lock Kennedy and winger Adam Thompstone led the assault with two tries each while Steffon Armitage and Paul Hodgson also crossed in a result that has strengthened Irish’s play-off claims.
The Exiles’ clinical finishing was crucial given they squandered 19 points through goalkickers Tom Homer, Delon Armitage and Seilala Mapusua.
But they retained possession for long periods and held far more firepower in attack with lock James Hudson enjoying the perfect conditions with some rampaging work in the loose.
A sun-kissed Madejski Stadium gave them the perfect stage to showcase their trademark attacking game and they took advantage from the start with some enterprising play.
Having lost number eight Chris Hala’ufia to the sin bin for a swinging arm they recovered to set up a chance for Sailosi Tagicakibau who spooned a potentially try-scoring pass into touch.
A penalty by Homer ensured their dominance was rewarded but Bristol were soon on the front foot with some inventive attacking play topped by Tom Arscott’s brilliant long-range pass to Lee Robinson.
Robinson was halted inches short of the line but Bristol cranked up their assault and won a five metre scrum.
Two phases later the ball was fed to hooker Linklater who smashed his way through the Irish defence at pace to touch down with Arscott converting.
With over a quarter gone Mike Catt hobbled off to be replaced by Peter Hewat but the Exiles scarcely noticed the influential former England fly-half’s absence as they once again ran Bristol ragged.
Only a magnificent try-saving tackle by full-back Luke Arscott prevented Thompstone from crossing but Irish could not be denied in the 33rd minute.
Bristol’s defence was creaking and finally ran out of numbers when quick hands enabled England second row Kennedy to stroll in at the left corner.
Another Exiles try looked certain but Paul Hodgson was hauled down by another last-ditch tackle.
Bristol were struggling to escape their own 22 as free-running Irish continued their onslaught with Armitage collecting James Hudson’s pass and galloping over.
An earlier Homer penalty meant the Exiles entered half-time 16-7 ahead and when play resumed they were quickly back in their stride.
Scrum-half Hodgson did the damage with a creative overhead pass and once again quick hands found Kennedy out on the wing with the lock burrowing over from close range.
Bristol hit back with an intercept try from substitute David Lemi, who grabbed Seilala Mapusua’s hopeful pass just 15 seconds after coming on, and Arscott converted.
But the revival was brief as four minutes later Thompstone dumped the ball on the line and when Hodgson slipped over from close range in the 73rd minute it was all over for Bristol.
To rub salt into the wound, Thompstone added a second before Eves ran in the last try of the match that Arscott converted.