Bristol boss Pat Lam reflected on “a magic occasion” after his team made a dream return to the Gallagher Premiership.
Fly-half Ian Madigan’s four penalties and a late Alapati Leiua try saw Bristol home 17-10 against west country rivals Bath, with a 26,000 crowd – Bristol’s biggest home attendance – roaring them to victory.
“I am extremely proud of the guys,” head coach Lam said. “It has been a big day for the club.
“The thing about the Premiership is that we are going to be under a lot of pressure and spend time without the ball, and we had to dig deep as a team.
“We now go to Saracens next, the defending champions away. There are a few niggles, and it will be a different team next week because we have got to use our squad.
“It was a magic occasion tonight to kick off a wonderful competition.
“It’s nice to be back, and it was a good start for us, but we get back to work on Monday.”
Bath fought back from nine points adrift to lead when full-back Tom Homer scored a second-half try and Rhys Priestland kicked a conversion and penalty.
But the visitors were ultimately punished for a terrible 15th-minute blunder when an unmarked Homer remarkably failed to ground the ball after crossing Bristol’s line.
Bristol, last season’s Championship winners, were indebted to huge performances from the likes of skipper Steven Luatua and lock Chris Vui, while Madigan missed just one kick off the tee, keeping his composure amid intense pressure.
Lam heaped praise on Luatua, adding: “I’ve known Steven since he was 16. He is class.
“One of the reasons I gave him the captaincy is because each time he has captained the team, it’s his best rugby. He feels that extra responsibility.
“There are good leaders around him, and he is just going to go from strength to strength.”
Reflecting on the Homer howler, Bath Rugby director Todd Blackadder said: “It’s simply making sure of those things. You don’t leave them to chance. It (try) wasn’t awarded, so it doesn’t really matter.
“The points were there for us tonight, but we just didn’t capitalise. It was one of those ones we let slip through our fingers.
“The annoying thing was the inconsistency of some of our actions. Some were brilliant, and some weren’t, and often in a dog-fight like tonight that can be the difference.
“Our ball into contact was really poor – we turned over far too much ball. When we did build a bit of pressure I felt we had them on the back foot, but we didn’t do it enough.”
The Premiership has rolled out the stars for the 2018-19 season with a glittering array of talent trucked in from all over the globe.
As the season kicks off here’s our top ten signings.
CHARLES PIUTAU (Ulster to Bristol)
The former All Black is now the highest paid player on the planet raking in £1million a season from big spending new boys Bristol. The marquee signing has hit a snag though early on with a shoulder injury ruling him out of the opening night clash with neighbours Bath.
CHRIS ASHTON (Toulon to Sale)
The former England flyer broke the Top 14 try-scoring record in just one season with Toulon and Sale will be hoping he does the same in Manchester. Ashton’s return to England is due to a desire to once more pull on the national jersey but he may find try-scoring opportunities more limited than in France.
LIMA SOPOAGA (Highlanders to Wasps)
One of the top fly-halfs in the world, Wasps have pulled off a major coup with the signature of the 27-year-old All Black. Both with the ball in hand and off the boot the former Highlander is one of the best playmakers on the planet. Wasps fans enjoy.
TAQELE NAIYAROVORO (Waratahs to Northampton)
The flying Fijian was unstoppable for NSW in Super Rugby this season, scoring 15 tries and carrying for a whopping 1,478 metres. The Saints have picked him up in the form off his life and if they can keep him fit he will cause carnage.
JAMIE ROBERTS (Harlequins to Bath)
The Wales veteran desperately wants to make it to the 2019 Rugby World Cup so has moved west to Bath to hopefully give his career a late bloom. The years of direct running may have taken their toll on the good doctor whose best years maybe behind him.
234 - gloucesterrugby's Franco Mostert made the most tackles in Super Rugby this year (234) and also won the most lineouts (87). Monster. pic.twitter.com/xaxvGpCdQA— RugbyRuck (@rugby_ruck) August 30, 2018
FRANCO MOSTERT (Lions to Gloucester)
One of a trio of Lions that Johan Ackermann has brought to Kingsholm from his former South African club. 27-Test Springbok Mostert is superb in the lineout, mobile in the loose and rugged at the breakdown. Expect him to make a big impact.
DAN BIGGAR (Ospreys to Northampton)
After scoring over 2000 points in Swansea over 11 seasons, and playing 62 Tests for Wales, the 28-year-old has made the move to England in search of a new challenge. On his day he is one the world’s top playmakers and could be the missing link to Saints success.
JAMES HASKELL (Wasps to Northampton)
At 33 years of age the England flanker may be beyond his best but his experience and competitiveness more than make up for a wearying physique. He played over 100 games for Wasps and will want to put in a huge season to make sure he is selected for RWC 2019. Saints will benefit.
🎥Watch as the team prepare for @WorcsWarriors on Saturday, we get to know new arrival @brad_shields, including what made him sign for the club, who he's been spending his time with and loads more!— Wasps Rugby (@WaspsRugby) August 29, 2018
Get your tickets now from https://t.co/u0fvkrVdhn pic.twitter.com/ULuS2rW5CM
BRAD SHIELDS (Hurricanes to Wasps)
Shields is regarded by many as one of the unluckiest New Zealand players in history never to represent the All Blacks. The 27-year-old flanker played exactly 100 games for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and will be hungry to perform for his new club and country.
DANNY CIPRIANI (Wasps to Gloucester)
Some might be surprised to see Cipriani included, especially after his recent night out in Jersey, but the fly-half is both talented and determined and with a pack of hardened Springboks giving him ball on the front foot he could wreak some havoc.
Sam Simmonds plans to continue his pursuit this season of what he describes as an “ultimate goal” – World Cup selection.
In the past 18 months, 23-year-old Simmonds has gone from making his league debut to helping Exeter be crowned English champions, as well as winning seven England caps, which included scoring two tries on his Six Nations debut against Italy.
With the Rugby World Cup in Japan just over a year away, Simmonds knows that he faces an intense career spell that could start at Sandy Park and finish in Yokohama.
“I see this season as quite a big one for me,” Simmonds said.
“I will take it week by week, and if I can perform well for Exeter, which I hope I can, that then puts me in good stead for international honours.
“The England experience has been eye-opening. It’s great. I feel like it has improved me as a player and improved my understanding of the game.
“When I first turned up, I was nervous, but now I am looking forward to going back and to keep kicking on.
“It would be a dream to play in a World Cup. That is a long-term goal, but the short-term goal is to play well for Exeter and to hopefully be involved in the autumn series, which rolls on to the Six Nations, and the ultimate goal is the World Cup.
“In my mind, it is so far away, although I am sure it will creep up quite quickly.”
Simmonds’ ability to play with pace, power and considerable footballing skills has underpinned him shooting through the ranks.
It proved a rapid rise to the top, making his England bow just nine months after first gaining a place in Exeter’s Premiership team, but he quickly grasped the situation.
“I felt at the time that I couldn’t sit back and think I’ve played for England and won the Premiership, because I felt if I did that I would just stop and be happy with what I had done,” he added.
“You need to keep pushing on and moving forward, and I feel like the time I have had off this summer has allowed me to do that.”
Exeter, Premiership finalists in each of the past three seasons and 2017 champions, begin their latest title quest at home to Leicester on Saturday.
And after losing against Saracens at Twickenham three months ago, the Chiefs have no intention of seeing their healthy appetite for silverware diminish.
“Rob (Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter) has said we felt that the first year we got there, it was like ‘wow, we are in the Premiership final’, then the second year we got over that and won it,” Simmonds continued.
“We finished top last season, we were the best team throughout the year, but we just weren’t as good as Saracens were on the day. It’s sport. It happens.
“We weren’t good enough to win on the day, but the great thing about sport is you get other opportunities.”
*Simmonds was speaking at the opening of Exeter Chiefs’ new fitness analysis suite, launched in partnership with Red Bull.