Best refuses to let Exiles crumble like Quins
May 10, 2000
Victory tonight for Bristol over London Irish at the Memorial Stadium will take the west country side into fifth place in the table, above Saracens, to maintain their challenge for a place in ext season's European Cup.
Director of rugby Bob Dwyer rested most f his senior players for last weekend's European Shield semi-final defeat by au in Tarbes so that they would be fresh to take on the Exiles.
Meanwhile, Dwyer's opposite number Dick Best has been busy with the calculator since his return from France, where his side lost to Castres in Colomiers in the other semi final, and reckons that his side will just miss out on a place in the European Cup.
"If we win our remaining games we will end up with 31 points, which may not be enough for Europe, and so we are effectively playing for pride," said Best. "But at least we're not surrendering on the Quins scale.
"London Irish never expected to win anything this year, but to reach the semi-finals of the Tetley's Bitter Cup and the European Shield has wet our appetite for next season.
"We have managed to elevate ourselves from being the perennial play-off team to a mid-table position.
"Now its time to go one step further so that we are there, or thereabouts, at the top of the Premiership table and ensure we win something.
"It's been a tough campaign and our players have quite naturally got the end of the season in their sights.
"I'm also looking ahead to next season and we need to recruit 10 more players, therefore change around a third of the senior squad."
Bristol, who also went out of the Tetley's Bitter Cup at the semi-final stage, know that their hard work over the past 10 months, together with the vast cash injection of owner Malcolm Pearce in the last two years, will have been wasted if they don't win their remaining three games.
"London Irish have got the better of us the last couple of times we've played them," said Dwyer.
"Last season they ended our interest in the Tetley's Bitter Cup and earlier this season they won well at The Stoop.
"They put together some excellent attacking play that night and looked a tremendous side. London Irish can play some good rugby, but they can also play badly as Bath can testify when they beat them 64-14 in March."
London Irish have made four changes, plus one positional, from the side that lost to Castres including the return to the side of All Blacks scrum-half Junior Tonu'u for his fourth league game since joining the Exiles in March.
Bristol's star half-back pairing of Argentine scrum-half Agustin Pichot and Springbok fly-half Henry Honiball both return from injury along with skipper and forwards coach Dean Ryan to the number eight berth.
After tonight's game, London Irish play London Wasps on May 17 and Gloucester three days later, while Bristol entertain Leicester on Sunday and then visit Saracens, who are also chasing a place in Europe, on May 21.
Victory for Leicester on Sunday at the Memorial Stadium will clinch the championship for the Tigers.
Many Bath fans are expected at that game to cheer on their neighbours to delay the title decision until Bath play Leicester at Welford Road on the final weekend of the league season.