Bristol Bears celebrated passing the halfway point of the 2020/21 season with a hard fought win against Worcester Warriors that put them six points clear of the pack.
While it wasn’t essential for Bristol to win to retain their place at the top, it won’t have gone unnoticed that Exeter Chiefs, last season’s double winners, sealed a dominant victory against Bath.
Even with their South West rivals winning, Bristol have good reason to believe they can stay ahead of Exeter and the other sides trying to chase them down.
Despite losing to Wasps in their second league game of the season, Bristol’s form throughout the campaign gives them no reason to fear anyone.
They’ve won nice of the games they’ve played, tasted defeat just twice and drawn one. That’s a 75% win rate, which is enormously impressive when remembering that Exeter won the 2019/20 title by winning 68%.
Bristol’s form over the course of the season has been so good that writers, sports casinos and staff believe the West Country team have a great chance of finishing on top of the pack at the end of the season.
After their destruction of Bath, Telegraph journalist Charles Richardson wrote that Bristol had “laid down a serious display of their title credentials”.
Richardson added that Bristol “now rule the banks of the River Avon, and they proved themselves to be genuine title challengers”.
Bookies agree that Bristol are very credible title challengers. Bet365 casino’s review of their chances puts their odds of winning the league at 15/8, making them second favourites to the 6/5 rated Exeter.
Despite being the second favourites at one of the UK’s most respected casinos, it’s really very close between Bristol and Exexter as far as the bookies are concerned.
This can be said because a £10 bet on Bristol would return £28.75, while a £10 wager on Exeter would return £22.00. Given the dynamics of team sports, it means there’s little between the two sides.
Perhaps the most encouraging signs for Bristol come from Director Pat Lam, who has indicated that Bristol are ready to be “hunted”.
It must be noted that Lim did sound a note of caution within that indication.
He was clear that Bristol need to keep their focus, explaining the challenge of being on top as “coping with that [status as table toppers] and realising that even just a little slip which you could get away with as the hunter, but there are small margins for error when you’re the ‘hunted.’”
Bristol have plenty of tough games left that they’ll need to win if they’re to continue staying ahead of their rivals, none more so than when they play Exeter at Ashton Gate on 23 April.
That will be a huge test of their title credentials but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Bristol beat Exeter 20-7 in the reverse fixture on 9 Jan. Repeat that result and the Gallagher Premiership will almost certainly be Bristol’s to lose.