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Season review 2017/18 - part three

We take a look back at the GKIPA Championship winning 2017/18 campaign, with part three of our season review - featuring the promotion celebrations, new arrivals and the announcement of a bold new era.


March

March began in the worst possible way for the league leaders, who crashed to a first league defeat of the season at the hands of Jersey Reds at Ashton Gate. A victory would have seen Pat Lam’s men chalk up their 17th Championship win in a row – a new club record in a league season – but the hosts were left with nothing more than two bonus-points after a below-par display in BS3.

Pat Lam further bolstered his squad for the 2018/19 season by securing the services of seven of the Greene King IPA Championship’s standout players. Jersey trio Jake Woolmore, Jake Armstrong (props) and Tom Pincus (wing) put pen to paper, while Ealing Trailfinders’ Lewis Thiede (prop), Luke Daniels (full back) and Piers O’Conor (centre) also sign.

Bedford Blues hooker Tom Lindsay also makes the switch to the West Country as Pat Lam continues to recruit for the new campaign.

Jack Lam reflects on the defeat to Jersey at Ashton Gate.
Siale Piutau in action at snow-clad Clifton Lane.

Bristol got back to winning ways in extraordinary arctic conditions, beating a spirited Rotherham Titans 24-3 at Clifton Lane.

With a substantial blizzard encompassing much of the 80 minutes, Ian Madigan’s masterful 14-point haul and second-half tries from Ryan Edwards and Luke Morahan earned the league leaders a 17th league win of the campaign.

One of the season’s standout performers, Dan Thomas, agreed a two-year contract extension on his existing deal, committing until 2021. A week later, centre Tusi Pisi signed a new one-year contract at Ashton Gate.

Ian Madigan continued his mercurial form with the boot as Bristol edged past a valiant Yorkshire Carnegie at Ashton Gate.

The Irish fly-half landed six penalties from seven attempts – including two in the final ten minutes – to fire Pat Lam’s side to an 18th-league win of the season.


April

The club announced that legendary winger, David Lemi would depart the club at the end of the season, while on the flip-side, Bristol announced the signing of exciting scrum-half, Harry Randall from Gloucester.

Without knowing it at the time, Bristol secured promotion back to the Premiership with an eight-try demolition of Nottingham at Lady Bay on Friday night.

A 17-60 victory, combined with Ealing’s defeat to Doncaster the following day, sealed the GKIPA Championship title for Pat Lam’s side, as two tries apiece from Luke Morahan and Nick Fenton-Wells, and further scores for Jason Harris-Wright, Jordan Crane, Alapati Leiua and Tusi Pisi completed an emphatic away-day performance in the Midlands.

Hooker Nick Fenton-Wells was another to sign a new contract at the club, while it was also announced that Connacht captain John Muldoon would be joining as defence coach for the 2018/19 campaign. Pat Lam was named head coach for the Barbarians’ clash with England at the end of May.

Luke Morahan opens the scoring against Nottingham.
Bristol Rugby lift the GKIPA Championship trophy.

With the title sewn up, the final home game of the season was transformed into a celebration – and the players delivered a performance befitting of the occasion. Luke Morahan’s quartet of tries fired Pat Lam’s men to an emphatic 68-10 victory over Doncaster Knights in front of a bumper crowd at Ashton Gate, before the players lifted the GKIPA Championship trophy at the final whistle.

Then came the biggest news of the season – perhaps the decade – as Bristol Rugby announced it would become the Bristol Bears from June 1st, 2018, signalling a brave new era at Ashton Gate. Owner Steve Lansdown described it as: ‘an exciting and major commitment to ensuring the future success of the club.’

James Lay and Ed Holmes signed permanent deals at the club following successful loan spells during the 2017/18 campaign – and with one final game remaining, Bristol came from behind to beat a plucky Hartpury side 24-61 at the Gillman’s Ground.

That evening, the curtain came down on a memorable season at the club’s end of season awards night, with Joe Joyce scooping the prestigious players’ player of the season accolade.

Steve Lansdown announces the switch to Bristol Bears.
Joe Joyce collects the players' player award.