Everything is in place at Bristol Bears to be serious title contenders this season, the club’s billionaire owner Steve Lansdown believes.
Bristol finished top of the Gallagher Premiership league table for the first time in the professional era in 2020/21 but were then knocked out of the play-offs in extra time in the semi-finals against eventual winners Harlequins.
With the start of the new league campaign now just two weeks away, when Saracens come to Ashton Gate on Friday, September 17, Lansdown has echoed the aims of his director of rugby Pat Lam – the Bears’ bottom line in 2021/22 is a place in the final at Twickenahm in June.
Lansdown, who also owns Bristol City football club and the Bristol Flyers basketball team, has been bankrolling the rugby club since the 2008-9 season and officially became its majority owner in 2012.
After years of yoyoing up and down between the Championship and Premiership, Lansdown brought former Connacht boss Lam to Ashton Gate in 2017, and under his guidance, the team has progressed up the table every season.
In 2019/20 Bristol Bears also ended their 37-year wait for top-flight silverware by winning the European Challenge Cup with a 32-19 victory over Toulon in France in the final.
But Lansdown and Lam want more. And having completed work on an £11.5m new state-of-the-art training centre in 2020 and signed some of the best players in the world – Semi Radradra, Charles Piutau, Kyle Sinckler, Steven Luatua – all the ingredients for success look to be in place.
Lansdown said: “We are an ambitious club.
“There is plenty of investment in it, we have got the right facilities, the right management, the right players, we have now just got to put it all together and perform.
“The culture is there, we have got that to build on.
“There was a slight disappointment at the end of last season [losing 36-43 to Harlequins at Ashton Gate in the semi-final] but we have a lot to go forward with.
“It is exciting times and it is just great to be involved with it all.
“We are on target in terms of what we set out to achieve but we were ahead of target and now we have allowed ourselves to go back onto target – so that is the disappointment we had.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be too upset about it.”
But there is little room for error this season with Saracens back in the Premiership after a year in the Championship as punishment for breaching the league’s salary cap rules, Exeter Chiefs looking to bounce back from another final defeat and Sale Sharks rapidly improving, not to mention an ever-improving chasing pack.
Lansdown continued: “Our target this season has always been to be in the final this year and to look to win the Premiership and that is where we want to be.
“We want to do well in the Champions Cup as well.”
Bristol have been drawn against Stade Francais and Scarlets in the pool stage of the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup.
The club were knocked out at the last 16 stage last season away in France against Bordeaux-Begles.
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Lansdown added: “We are on a journey and we are well on our path to success, and even more success.”
The club have certainly captured the imagination of the Bristol public with more than 10,000 season tickets sold for the upcoming campaign, making the Bears one of the best-supported clubs in the country to rival the likes of Leicester Tigers.
Now for some more trophies to add to the wall of honours in the depths of the Lansdown Stand at Ashton Gate.
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