Bristol and Worcester eye the prize
Bristol and Worcester will step up their quest for a prized place among English rugby's elite when they contest the first leg of this season's Greene King IPA Championship play-off final on Wednesday.
The sold-out signs have already gone up at Ashton Gate, with Bristol looking to end a six-year Premiership exile that has seen them suffer play-off misery on three separate occasions.
Bristol finished six points above Worcester following the 22-game regular season, but promotion as London Welsh's Premiership replacements next term now comes down to events at Ashton Gate and then in next Wednesday's Sixways return.
"We've talked about not leaving anything to chance, but I expect Worcester will be doing the same," Bristol head coach Sean Holley said.
"You make your best plans for these two games back in the summer, but we are not taking anything for granted.
"We are confident in the squad that we have, and thankfully, despite some bumps along the way we are where we wanted to be.
"We're not going to underestimate the opposition - they are a Premiership team coming down - so in that respect with the experience they've had, they are probably slight favourites.
"The league is done, and now it is just a new two-tie situation - who turns up on the day, who prepares tactically the best and who executes technically the best."
Bristol are boosted by the return to action of fly-half Matthew Morgan, who was recently named Championship player of the year, and back-row forward Mitch Eadie, while the team also features Morgan's fellow Wales internationals Gavin Henson, Dwayne Peel and Ryan Jones.
Worcester, who were relegated from the Premiership last season, parade all their big-guns, including full-back Chris Pennell, wing Cooper Vuna, centre Alex Grove and hooker Agustin Creevy.
"It's a different environment to the league now," Warriors rugby director Dean Ryan said.
"We need everybody at the top of their form, and even then it will still be decided by tight margins, but we've given ourselves the best chance by getting everybody prepared and ready to go.
"We have been watching Bristol for nine months. They've got a strong drive and a good set-piece, and players like Matthew Morgan and Dwayne Peel who can do something different.
"We've always wanted to get to this stage knowing the reward is the Premiership. We know why we lost to them (Bristol) a few weeks ago, and we know we can fix that."