Bears primed for challenge as they eye up Premiership

West Country star Jonny May scores twice as England defeat Ireland 18-7 at Twickenham

Director of rugby Pat Lam is relishing the prospect of Bristol starting their Premiership campaign at last season’s runners-up Wasps.

Lam takes his troops to the Ricoh Arena today (Sunday) as they begin 2020-21 looking to continue their rapid upward trajectory since winning promotion to the top flight again in 2018.

Since then, Bristol have cemented their spot in the Premiership by securing ninth in their first campaign and finishing only five points away from securing a Euro- pean Cup place.

This momentum continued last term with a top-four finish and despite losing in the play-offs to Wasps, Bristol claimed the European Challenge Cup.

Speaking before Bristol’s instant chance of revenge for their play-off defeat in Coventry, Lam says his side are fully focused on achieving their clearly set out goals this term.

He said: “For us, it’s about moving on to the next moment of inspiration what we do daily here and what we can do throughout the whole season, and that’s why we’re excited to start again, and you couldn’t ask for a tougher game than Wasps away.

“We have set our goals for the campaign and have ab- solute clarity about what we want to achieve and what we expect of ourselves. That long road begins at the Ricoh and we can’t wait to get started.”

The Bears will be skip- pered by Siale Piutau with the veteran Tongan forward set to face his former club after enjoying a brief loan stint with Wasps in 2016. At the other end of the scale, promising fly-half Sam Bedlow makes his first start in Bristol colours due to international call-ups to Callum Sheedy, Ioan Lloyd and Max Malins.

With Bristol short of op- tion at outside half, 19-year- old academy prospect Tom Wilstead is named as a finisher by Lam as the Bristol supremo continues with his policy of giving the best homegrown talent from BS3 the chance to shine on the big stage.

For Wasps, who have won ten consecutive Premiership matches against Bristol, with their last defeat against the West Country outfit coming in 2006, they name Jack Wills at flanker after his surprise England squad omission.

Jacob Umaga, another deemed surplus to requirements by England head coach Eddie Jones, for  yesterday’s Autumn Nations match against Ireland, is also named in the Wasps starting line up by head coach Lee Blackett.

However, Joe Launchbury, Dan Robson, Will Rowlands and Matteo Minozzi are all away with England, Wales and Italy respectively as Wasps  look  to  bounce  back from their narrow Premiership final loss against Exeter on October 24.

Meanwhile, Premiership Rugby have announced new rules to their much-maligned salary cap regulations in the wake of the Saracens scandal which saw the then league title holders relegated for financial irregularities.

Lord Myners, who led an independent review of the rules, says that the alterations mean the Premiership has ‘a gold-standard framework’ when it comes to the salary cap.

If clubs break the rules now, Premiership Rugby have the power to remove titles and/or trophies, whilst ordering the return of prize money.