Pat Lam’s Bristol kept alive their double dream by trouncing Leicester to book their place in Sunday’s play-off shootout.
Bears needed maximum points to stay on the coattails of Wasps, Bath and Sale, who occupy the three ‘semi-final’ spots behind already qualified Exeter.
They had them within a minute of half time, guaranteeing the European Challenge Cup finalists go into Sunday’s final league round with everything still to play for.
“Job done,” declared Lam, who has never hidden his ambition for the club. “Our aim now is our best performance ever on Sunday.”
Bristol still have it all to do as they go to London Irish, surprise winners at Exeter last night, level on points with fourth placed Sale but trailing Steve Diamond’s men on points difference.
Sale themselves have a home game at Worcester while Bath, one point better off, go to Saracens and Wasps, a point further to the good, host Exeter. Put simply, there is no room for error.
This was as routine a win as they come against a Leicester side which has developed a habit of starting fast and fading almost as quickly.
Tigers snarled for 17 minutes until Ioan Lloyd put them back in their cage with a neat show-and-go for Bristol’s first try.
Zack Henry pegged back three points from the penalty spot but Bristol barely batted an eyelid, going back up the other end for Nathan Hughes to power over from a scrum.
Ben White’s yellow card only compounded Tigers’ woes and with the scrum-half off the field, there were tries for Bristol's two hookers, Bryan Byrne and Harry Thacker.
It was hard to believe Leicester had beaten Bristol in January until a glance at the team sheet revealed a completely changed Tigers team.
England’s biggest club have won only four times in the league and their misery was completed by a last-gasp penalty try which could yet prove vital to Bristol's points difference.
Bears' only scare came with the late departure of Kyle Sinckler with a shoulder knock that Lam later described as “not too bad”.
Away from Ashton Gate, Courtney Lawes’ hopes of being fit for England’s Six Nations finale in Italy on Oct 31 diminished after his ankle injury was referred to a specialist.
BRISTOL – Tries: Lloyd, Hughes, Byrne, D Thomas, Thacker, penalty try. Cons: Sheedy 4.
LEICESTER – Pen: Henry.
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