Bristol Bears v Bath Rugby: three classic matches
Bristol Bears couldn’t have hoped for a better way to mark their return to the Gallagher Premiership than welcoming local rivals Bath Rugby to Ashton Gate in the new season’s curtain-raiser on August 31.
In what will be a fixture enriched with narrative, we cast our minds back to some of the most memorable clashes between the sides down the years.
Bath triumph in nail-biting affair
The 2016-17 Premiership season brought with it the first league derby between the two teams for seven years, and it was Bath who emerged with a 16-9 win.
The home side started strongly, spurred on by the knowledge that a win would take them top of the table, and Jack Wilson opened up a 10-3 lead when he went over for the only try of the game.
But Bristol responded, closing the gap to four points as Billy Searle kicked his third penalty of the game on the stroke of half-time, meaning that Bath went into the break 13-9 ahead.
A penalty from Tom Homer extended their lead to seven but Bristol had a chance to level things at the death when they almost broke the last line of defence but for a Will Hurrell knock-on, which brought things to a dramatic close.
And with that, Bath went top thanks to a hard-fought four points – but Bristol enacted their revenge in the return fixture, beating their rivals for the first time since December 2006 when they won 12-11 at Ashton Gate.
Inspired Contepomi drives Bristol triumph
When the two sides met at a packed Ashton Gate in May 2003, there was more than just pride at stake.
Bristol sat bottom of the table, whilst Bath were just one place above them, and with just two games left of the season, a win for either side would be seismic.
A Premiership record attendance of 20,793 meant that kick-off was delayed to ensure that everyone was primed and ready in their seats for what was a captivating match that only the neutrals could truly enjoy.
At the 30-minute mark, Bristol found themselves trailing 10-6 but a converted Daryl Gibson try meant that the two teams went into half-time level at 13-13.
And the home side switched on the afterburners in the second periond as Argentine international Felipe Contepomi ran in two tries to help his side leapfrog their local rivals in the table heading into the final game of the season.
But it was Bath who had the last laugh, as their 24-12 win over Newcastle Falcons meant that Bristol were down after a 41-21 defeat at London Irish.
Bristol back with a vengeance
After two years in the Championship, Bristol had been waiting patiently for their chance to tackle Bath once more.
In a fixture identical to this season’s opener, they hosted their local rivals on their Premiership return, and it was a day that Pat Lam and co will hope to repeat this time around.
A dream performance for Bristol had a nightmarish start as Bath took an early 13-3 lead in what proved to be a topsy-turvy fixture.
And just as it looked as though the home side were down and out, they emerged from the break with newfound verve.
Three penalties from Jason Strange took Bristol to within four points and when Bath failed to capitalise on a man advantage after Mark Denney was sin-binned, the home team sensed blood.
It was new signing Lee Robinson, playing National League One rugby for Plymouth the year before, who broke five Bath tackles to score with five minutes to go and etched his name into Bristol history.
And they held firm, much to the joy of their fans, and wrapped up a 19-16 win over their old West Country rivals.
It is a moment that will be on the minds of many of their fans come August 31st, one that the Bristol faithful will be praying they repeat, and that Bath will praying they don’t.