Can money buy Bristol Rugby the Premiership?

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The Exeter Chiefs won promotion in 2010 and then went on to win the Aviva Premiership title last season

Bristol Rugby have made a huge indent in the Championship so far this season, but could they succeed in the harsh Premiership? Bristol’s main shareholder is Steve Lansdown, and the large spending does not come as a surprise considering he has a net worth of $2.1bn. With two major signings for the 2017/18 season and one huge arrival already confirmed for the 2018/19 season, it is clear that Bristol Rugby is a club with tremendous potential.

Two bonus point wins have been secured in the championship so far, with crucial tries coming from Australia signing Luke Morahan. Credit must also go to Ian Madigan, as the new signing from Bordeaux Beagles has also played an important part in these wins. Madigan has 31 caps for Ireland and 147 for Leinster, showing the pedigree on display at Bristol Rugby. His contract is rumoured to be worth £500,000 a year, perhaps providing one reason for the motivation behind Madigan’s form. Blindside flanker Steven Luatua is another new signing who deserves praise. He has started all three games, playing 212 minutes out of 240. Luatua, having come from one of New Zealand’s biggest clubs in Auckland’s Blues, can bring much needed experience to Bristol’s side. He has 15 All Blacks caps to his name and made 63 appearances for the Blues, even playing against the British and Irish Lions in the summer. Therefore, it is understandable that his contract is rumoured to be worth an eye-watering £650,000 a year, making him Bristol’s highest paid player for this season.

Yet, the most impressive signing for Bristol is Charles Piutau. The New Zealander, who will join from Ulster rugby at the beginning of the 2018-19 season and set to earn a staggering annual £1,000,000 on a two-year contract; making him the highest paid player in world rugby, overtaking former All Black Dan Carter. Piutau, with 16 All Blacks caps, already has Premiership experience with Wasps, for whom he played 23 times as fullback. He is looking to further his career with brother Siale, who is already at Bristol.

But the question must be asked whether the other Bristol squad members will integrate with these star players and perform at the highest level.

Bristol Rugby shares the Ashton Gate stadium with Bristol City Football Club. It is pictured here before the renovation – and looks very different now!

This is the million-dollar question for Steve Lansdown and Pat Lam, Bristol’s newly appointed head coach from Connacht, who is rumoured to be on a £750,000 per year deal. Despite all this money, can Bristol perform at the highest level of English rugby in 2018?  Will this money see a Premiership title come to Bristol? Surely Lansdown has created a very good platform for Bristol to do so.  With a £45m renovation to Ashton Gate, the Bristol-born owner has really put his money where his mouth is. If Bristol do succeed and stay up in the Premiership we could be looking at one of the most powerful clubs in the world thanks to Lansdown’s spending power. Apart from clubs like Montpellier and Toulon in the Pro12, there are no clubs with as much.

However, there are restrictions in the Aviva Premiership which could limit Bristol’s spending: the wage budget for the roster is £6.5 million and clearly that is not enough for Bristol. But, that does allow for two players to have an unlimited wage.

Fans of the club will need to see how the current season fares in the Championship, before looking long term to how Bristol Rugby and Steve Lansdown handle the Premiership. Most importantly, we need to find out if the question of buying the rugby Premiership can be answered by big money.