There are not many sides in the Guinness Premiership who would view a home victory over Harlequins as the most significant of the campaign to date, for the Londoners would struggle to beat an egg with a whisk in each hand. But if Bristol's place at the top of the log after the first tranche of matches seemed ever so slightly false, there is a definite whiff of truth about their position of supremacy as a result of the five-try towelling they gave their visitors at the Memorial Ground yesterday.
Two tries in the opening quarter and a veritable torrent of points either side of the interval - David Lemi, the Pacific Islands' answer to "Roadrunner", scored a couple of blinders to kill off the visitors almost before they had showed signs of life - ensured the West Countrymen would reach next month's international window in a position of considerable authority. Bristol will lose their outstanding scrum-half, Shaun Perry, to England duty, but no one else. By contrast, three of their four November opponents - Sale, Bath and Gloucester - expect to be stripped bare.
If Quins presented any danger, it had precious little to do with the side selected by Dean Richards - a team bereft of muscle up front and behind, and short of know-how in too many decision-making positions. Indeed, it was this complete lack of menace that threatened to unnerve their hosts. Bristol had started all four of their previous league matches as underdogs. This time, they were odds-on favourites.
"I was a little worried about the psychology surrounding this game," said the Bristol coach, Richard Hill. "It takes time to learn how to perform with the burden of expectation and as we weren't favourites to win any of our games last season, we simply haven't had the chance to build that experience as a group. I was delighted with this performance, because we played well and exercised control for so much of the match. I'm not getting too carried away, because we still have to play the really big teams. There again, the November fixtures have fallen nicely for us. We have good players on their way from New Zealand, and we now know we're able to win when people think we will."
Alfie To'oala set the tone early by cutting Adrian Jarvis in two with a trademark Samoan tackle and then knocking the same player halfway down the M4 with the hand-off from hell. In the ensuing chaos, Chris Hala'ufia obstructed Perry as he launched a tap-and-go attack, Bristol drove the line-out and the scrum-half claimed the first try round the edge of a split-away second surge. When Alex Clarke, highly impressive at loose-head prop, added a second close-range try with only 15 minutes on the clock, the words "done" and "dusted" sprang instantly to mind.
Only when Hill replaced his most influential players - Perry, Mark Regan, Darren Crompton - in the final 20 minutes did the visitors retaliate with tries from Andre Vos and Tani Fuga. But by then, Bristol had extended their 21-8 interval lead to 33-8, courtesy of Lemi's brace of beauties. The Samoan ran round Ugo Monye for the first and then sold the entire opposing back line down the River Avon with a sucker-punch dummy following excellent work from both props and a between-the-legs pass from Dan Ward-Smith that looked like something from a long-lost issue of the Harlequins Guide to Champagne Rugby.
The bubbly lost its sparkle many moons ago: for Moet et Chandon, read Moan et Chagrin. Publicly, Richards insists Quins have what it takes to avoid bottom spot come April. Privately, he must have his doubts.
Bristol: Tries Lemi 2, Perry, Clarke, penalty try; Conversions Strange 3, Taumalolo. Harlequins: Tries Monye, Vos, Fuga; Conversion Jarvis; Penalty Jarvis.
Bristol: C Morgan; L Robinson (S Cox, 62), R Higgitt, J Taumalolo, D Lemi; J Strange (D Gray, 68), S Perry (B O'Riordan, 72); A Clarke, M Regan (D Blaney, 72), D Crompton (D Hilton, 62), R Winters, G Llewellyn (N Budgett, 62), M Salter (capt, G Lewis, 27), A To'oala, D Ward-Smith.
Harlequins: M Brown; U Monye, G Duffy, C McMullen (J Turner-Hall, 54), T Williams; A Jarvis, A Gomarsall; C Jones, J Hayter (T Fuga, 49), R Nebbett (L Ward, 49), J Evans (Spanghero, 70), N Spanghero (O Kohn, 49), N Easter (capt), W Skinner (A Vos, 40), C Hala'ufia.
Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).Reuse content