BRISTOL Bears saw out an eventful 2018, which had seen them regain a place in Gallagher Premiership, by taking maximum points from a nail-biting home clash with Newcastle Falcons, who end the year at the foot of the table, writes John Harding.
Tries from Harry Randall, Charles Piutau, Luke Morahan and Tom Pincus earned Bristol their fourth try-scoring point of the season, with Ian Madigan landing two conversions and two penalties and Callum Sheedy adding one of each.
Despite picking up five points, with Leicester Tigers taking a losing bonus point in their defeat at Bath, it leaves Bristol in tenth place ahead of Saturday’s trip to Sandy Park to face Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs, kick-off 3pm.
“Our start and the second half were good, but we knew beforehand that the Falcons are just as the name infers – leave them scraps and they will swoop down – and we made error after error with something like 12 turnovers to three,” said Bristol head coach Pat Lam.
“So the boys showed a lot of character to come back from being ten points down and get ahead. There’s no doubt we have some great individual players, but we are just average if we expect individuals to win the game for us.
“Every point is important but our focus every week is that there are five points up for grabs.
“But it more about getting our performance right. Of course, I love to win the game and get the points to move up the table, but that isn’t our focus.
“We have a short turnaround before facing Exeter, while they will have eight days and they lost [at Northampton], so we know what we will be facing, so the players know that they will be back in for training a seven o’clock on New Year’s Day.”
The Bears showed their intent in the opening minute as Luke Morahan made a break before feeding scrum-half Randall, who raced away to cross the whitewash, despite the efforts of wing Adam Radwan to stop him.
Fly-half Madigan added the extras but, after battering the Bears line, the visitors opt at their second penalty to go for the three points with fly-half Toby Flood getting the Falcons on the scoreboard.
Newcastle continued to test the Bears’ defence which finally cracked under pressure with Fijian international wing Vereniki Goneva burrowing over from close range midway through the half and Flood adding the extras.
The England international then exchanged penalties with his Ireland opposite number. But the Falcons were quickly back up the other end with the forwards powering towards the line for No.8 Callum Chick to dot down and Flood add the extras.
The Bears were 20-10 down at half-time, but reduced that with New Zealand international full-back Piutau crossing the line after the break and Madigan adding the conversion.
Ashton Gate’s second-highest attendance of the season of 18,429 tried to lift their team, and the Bears responded with hooker Harry Thacker giving a scoring pass for Morahan to squeeze in the corner to put the home side ahead.
Madigan was off target with his conversion but had no problems bisecting the uprights with a second penalty.
However, the Falcons hit back with wing Radwan following-up a Flood chip to mark his 21st birthday with the visitors’ third try to level the scores.
Replacement fly-half Sheedy’s penalty again gave the Bears a three-point cushion, but that was short-lived as Flood landed his third penalty. Bristol went in search go a try-scoring bonus point, and wing Pincus duly obliged by crossing in the corner and Sheedy converting.
Bristol Bears scorers – tries: H Randall, C Piutau, L Morahan, T Pincus; cons: I Madigan 2, C Sheedy; pens: I Madigan 2, C Sheedy
Bristol Bears: C Piutau; L Morahan, W Hurrell (P O’Conor, 78), S Piutau (co-capt) (P O’Conor, 22-32) T Pincus; I Madigan (C Sheedy, 66), H Randall (A Uren,66); Y Thomas (J Woolmore, 64), H Thacker (N Fenton-Wells, 74), J Afoa, C Vui, A Muldowney (E Holmes, 64), S Luatua (G Smith, 46), D Thomas, J Crane (co-capt). Reps (not used): L Thiede.
Newcastle Falcons scorers – tries: V Goneva, C Chick, A Radwan; cons: T Flood 2; pens: T Flood 3
Newcastle Falcons: S Hammersley; V Goneva, C Harris, J Matavesi, A Radwan (T Arscott. 70); T Flood (B Connon, 78), Mi Young (S Takulua, 30-39; 61); S Mavinga (A Brocklebank, 52), G McGuigan (K Cooper, 52), L Mulipola (D Wilson, 52), C Green, T Cavubati (A Davidson, 70) W Welch (capt), J Hardie (G Graham, 30), Callum Chick.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Attendance: 18, 429
Earlier in the lunchtime Premiership Shield match at Allianz Park, Bristol Bears A lost 50-14 against Saracens Storm.
The hosts had a slender 17-14 advantage at the break but cruised away in the second half to secure a bonus point.
Full-back Matt Gallagher stepped in off outside centre Dom Morris’ delicate offload and his lift allowed wing Rotimi Segun to run on to the ball at pace and sprint in unopposed for the opening score.
It was the Bears’ experienced centre partnership that stood up to claw the visitors level. Jack Tovey’s defence-splitting line saw him make 30 metres and from his pass Pisi displayed excellent footwork to dance under the posts.
The score sparked Bristol into life and following several phases, they grabbed their second of the afternoon. With advantage being played inches from the line, scrum-half Nic Stirzaker fed Sam Bedlow and the fly-half beat his man to dot down.
The Bears’ lead was short-lived as Saracens took a grip on the game firstly producing a carbon copy effort to level matters once more; Morris hurtling on to a short Henry Taylor pass to crash over.
Fly-half Max Malins added to his two conversions with a penalty on the stroke of half-time and soon after the break he took his tally to 14 as a delightful pop released Malins on a sprint to the line before he added the extras.
A quick-fire double put the Men in Black out of sight midway through the second half. First Segun powered over for his second try of the game and flanker Sean Reffell raced home after a Bears error.
Replacement hooker Joe Gray scored Storm’s sixth from close range and barged his way over for a second in the dying minutes, sending Saracens to secure their second bonus-point victory in succession.