Wasps consigned Bristol to a last place finish in the Aviva Premiership and almost-certain relegation after claiming a comfortable 36-21 victory at Ashton Gate.
Bristol are 12 points behind Worcester with just two games left, and the only way they can now survive in English rugby’s top flight is if the eventual Championship title winners do not meet Premiership entry criteria.
But even that escape route appears blocked off, given either London Irish or Yorkshire Carnegie are expected to win that division next month and secure Premiership status.
Bristol’s 17th defeat from 20 league starts this term followed a familiar pattern — plenty of endeavour and strong approach work, but ultimately being punished for lacking real quality in attack.
Wing Josh Bassett, hooker Tommy Taylor and scrum-half Joe Simpson scored first-half tries for Wasps — Jimmy Gopperth kicked three conversions – before wing Christian Wade and flanker Guy Thompson struck during the third quarter to leave Bristol floundering.
Bassett’s second try rubbed salt into Bristol wounds, with the home side contributing an early Jason Woodward touchdown and late scores by Jack O’Connell and Nick Fenton-Wells, with centre Gavin Henson kicking one conversion and fly-half Billy Searle two.
But Bristol are now effectively on their way to the Championship again after just one season back in the Premiership as they prepare to welcome a new head coach in current Connacht boss Pat Lam and several new player signings.
Bristol, despite survival odds being stacked against them before kick-off, came flying out of the blocks and they stunned Wasps by scoring a try after just three minutes. Wasps looked to attack from just inside their own half, but possession was spilled and Woodward gathered before setting off on an unopposed 50-metre run to the line, before Henson’s touchline conversion made it 7-0.
And it could have been even worse for Wasps as Bristol immediately launched another attack, with wing Ryan Edwards touching down, but referee Greg Garner rightly ruled that Edwards put a foot in touch during the build-up. Wasps, though, rapidly regrouped, and they showed their quality by scoring two tries in three minutes.
Bassett claimed the first following impressive approach work that heavily featured centre Kurtley Beale, then Taylor was driven over from an attacking lineout as Bristol crumbled, with two Gopperth conversions opening up a 14-7 lead.
But the home side continued to enjoy territorial dominance, and Searle and centre Will Hurrell both tested Wasps’ defence as Bristol put an emphasis on attacking Wasps with ball in hand.
Wasps looked rattled at times, but they struck for a third try just before half-time as Beale sliced Bristol’s midfield defence wide open and sent a supporting Simpson over, with Gopperth’s conversion securing a 14-point interval advantage.
Wasps, without hitting top gear, secured a try-scoring bonus point 12 minutes into the second period when Wade was given a simple run-in for his 16th Premiership touchdown of the season, and Bristol were finished despite giving a battling account of themselves.
Thompson then sprinted over for try number five, and Bristol found themselves in damage limitation mode for the final 25 minutes, their hopes of closing the gap on 11th-placed Worcester long gone.
Bassett’s simply-executed second try showcased Wasps at their clinical attacking best, but Bristol had the final say when substitute prop O’Connell crossed from close range and flanker Fenton-Wells finished off a long-range move.