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Harry Randall says that Bristol are ready to “go again” following the crushing disappointment of successive Gallagher Premiership play-off defeats.
Bristol launch the new Premiership season against Saracens at Ashton Gate on Friday.
A crowd of around 20,000 is expected as Pat Lam’s team – regular-season table-toppers last term – return to domestic business just three months after Harlequins ended their title hopes.
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) September 14, 2021
Bristol blew a 28-0 lead on that occasion, suffering play-off misery as Quins triumphed after extra time before going on to be crowned champions by beating Exeter at Twickenham just seven days later.
Wasps proved Bristol’s play-off hurdle too far the previous season, but such agony has not stalled the west country club’s ambition.
“Losing the semi-final was heartbreak for us all,” Bristol scrum-half Randall told the PA news agency.
“The sign of a good team is bouncing back stronger, and hopefully we will do that this season.
“We set ourselves goals every year as a team. We finished top last year, and unfortunately lost in the semi-final, but we will go again.
“It is clear that we are definitely up there with being title contenders, along with a lot of other teams, and we will do what we can to put our best foot forward to go and hopefully win it this season.
“It is going to be very competitive. A lot of teams will have the same aspirations and goals. Let the season begin.”
Saracens, relegated from the Premiership in 2020 following persistent salary-cap breaches for which they were fined more than £5million, will play their first domestic top-flight game for almost a year when they visit Bristol.
Mark McCall’s men are back following an expected and emphatic Championship title-winning campaign last term, and the bookmakers have installed them as joint title favourites with Exeter.
Randall, who made his England debut this summer, added: “If you look at the teams in the Premiership this season, it is exciting for everyone.
“What more could you ask for? Saracens back up there, the teams that are strengthening up, and the fact it is going to be a tough, competitive season.
“What a way to challenge yourself – first game back against Saracens.
ꜱQᴜᴀᴅ ᴄᴏɴꜰɪʀᴍᴇᴅ 📢
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) September 14, 2021
“They are going to be raring to go, and it is a massive opportunity for us a team to put our best foot forward and make a statement at the start of the season.
“With the quality and experience of what Saracens bring, they will be back to their best in no time. It is up to us to break them down and do what we need to do to get the win.”
Randall overcame ankle and shoulder ligament injuries that meant spells on the sidelines last season, returning to assist Bristol’s title push and then featuring for England in Twickenham Tests against the United States and Canada.
He made a try-scoring debut in the United States game, and at 23, he is prominent among an exciting young English playing generation.
“It was a really enjoyable couple of weeks,” he said. “I felt like it went well, and as a team we did well.
“It is every player’s goal to play for their country, and absolutely, I would love to do it again at some stage.
“The big focus at the moment is doing what I can to help Bristol win games and get to where we want to be.”