Bristol went into the evening as the only one of the four teams tilting for the three remaining play-off places not in charge of their own destiny and despite a record Premiership victory over Leicester, they remain reliant on others.
If Wasps and Bath win their final matches on Sunday, hardly a given with Exeter and Saracens their respective opponents, and Sale secure maximum points at home to Worcester, not even a 100-point victory at London Irish would be enough for the Bears.
Only Exeter had won here in the Premiership this season and a virtual reserve side fielded by Leicester, who will finish the season as the team that would have been relegated but for Saracens’ transgressions, was not likely to emulate the leaders, but Bristol will rely on results elsewhere because of their home draw with lowly London Irish in December when they failed to exploit a one-man advantage they enjoyed for 40 minutes.
That was a day which summed up Bristol. Switching off is a counterweight to inspired moments and it was no different this time despite the Bears, playing less than a week after a European Challenge Cup semi-final, involving 15 of the players who were deployed during Friday night’s victory over Bordeaux-Begles.
Bristol started sloppily, as if putting the bonus point before the victory. Handling errors were compounded by Leicester’s Zack Henry who found joy in kicking along the Bears’ right wing where Niyi Adeolokun, on his first home appearance, showed he was more adept at using the ball than claiming it.
Leicester were overpowered at forward and provided a regular supply of penalties for the home side. Bristol scored their first five tries from one, starting after 17 minutes. A driving maul got nowhere and when Sam Bedlow received the ball in midfield, the only player outside him was Adeolokun on the touchline but Callum Sheedy and Ioan Lloyd worked a loop for the latter to score.
The second try came after Bristol opted for a scrum and the No 8, Nathan Hughes, who struggled with his handling throughout in the wet conditions, took advantage of forward momentum to take Ben White and Ollie Chessum over the line with him.
Leicester had interrupted the flow with a Henry penalty but other than the fly-half’s tactical kicking, they were mute as an attacking force and went into the interval 21-3 down. Ben White was sent to the sin-bin for deliberately knocking on what would have been a try scoring pass from Adeolokun to Piers O’Conor: on a dry day, it would probably also have merited a penalty try.
Bristol opted for a lineout and scored from the subsequent maul through Bryan Byrne. The bonus point was secured four minutes after half-time in the same manner, with Dan Thomas this time the player driven over, and Andy Uren then sent in Harry Thacker, who had just come on to face his former club following another penalty and a lineout.
Sheedy missed his first conversion to leave Bristol 30 points ahead, one short of their record Premiership victory over Leicester which they achieved last season.
On came Semi Radradra, but Bristol were no longer hungry and their final try, fittingly, was of the penalty variety after Harry Simmons deliberately knocked on to prevent a try 25 seconds from time.
“It was job done in terms of the outcome but there were some aspects I was not satisfied with,” said the Bristol director of rugby, Pat Lam. “Wet weather should make you more focused on ball retention but we kept losing it in contact. We need to find our best performance of the season on Sunday and hope it is enough.”