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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Wednesday, October 14th 2020

Joyce and Bristol's journey to the cusp of European glory

Joe Joyce knows that being a Bristol player or supporter hasn’t always been like this.

The Bristolian lock will fulfil a childhood dream on Friday if selected for the club’s maiden European final against Toulon at Stade Maurice-David, off the back of a third-place finish in the Gallagher Premiership.

Bristol were eighth in the Championship when the 26-year-old made his senior debut during the 2014 campaign, and after two play-off final defeats and a Premiership relegation, Joyce admits the journey to the cusp of major silverware, hasn’t always been a smooth one.

“You dream about things like this,” said Joyce, reflecting on his Bristol career and looking ahead to Friday’s showpiece.

“In my first year, I think at Christmas time we were eighth in the Championship, so back then, it would have felt a long way off. But since the rebrand and when Pat Lam came in, and the vision we had, I think we’ve got here pretty quickly. We put ourselves out there to say that was what we wanted and now we’re here, it does feel special.

“We’ve always had the belief. From the outside, it might look like we’re overachieving or we’re ahead of schedule, but we’ve always had these goals in-house and we know we’ve got the ability to go and do this.

“It’s been bold – we’ve put our goals out there. At the beginning of the season this is what we said we wanted to achieve. We’re on step away now and Friday night is obviously going to be a tough challenge.”

Three-time Heineken Cup winners, Toulon have a 100% record in this season’s Challenge Cup and qualified from the pool stages as the number one seed. Joyce knows the Bears face a huge test in Aix-en-Provence but says they will take confidence from a strong recent record against French opposition.

“I feel lucky because people have come from all around the world to join this team, to be in this training facility, to play at Ashton Gate and try and win trophies, and potentially could be lifting a European trophy for the club on my doorstep, so it’s very special.”

Joe Joyce

“When you look at what Toulon have done in the last 10 tears of European rugby and in France, it’s impressive, but we’re very confident still.

“French teams are always tough; they are always physical and unpredictable, and you just can’t let them get on the front foot. But we’ve gained confidence from some good results against French teams. In the last two season, we’ve beaten La Rochelle, Brive, Stade Francais, Bordeaux – and they are big teams, so with that in mind, it gives you confidence.”

Just 80 minutes now stands between Bristol and European silverware, and Joyce knows an enormous shift is required if the trophy is to accompany them back to the West Country. 

But what would it mean to be holding the Challenge Cup trophy aloft late on Friday evening?

“You think about it, and it is special, isn’t it? You try not to think about the outcome because you get ahead of yourself, and we need to be process driven, but it’s difficult not think that on Friday night, you could be stood there with your teammates holding a European trophy for your hometown club.

“I feel lucky because people have come from all around the world to join this team, to be in this training facility, to play at Ashton Gate and try and win trophies, and potentially could be lifting a European trophy for the club on my doorstep, so it’s very special.”

Joyce, and thousands of Bristolians across the globe, will be hoping that dream becomes a reality when full time comes.


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