Bristol Rugby Secure Play-Off Place In Torrential Conditions
Bristol Rugby 18 - 13 Plymouth Albion
Bristol Rugby confirmed their place in the promotion play-offs after overcoming Plymouth Albion 18-13. Tries from Jack Tovey and Junior Fatialofa, as well as 8 points from the boot of Ed Barnes, settled a tense encounter played in swirling wind and rain.
Both sides toiled in the sodden conditions, but it was Bristol who seized the early initiative, George Watkins evading several tackles and winning a penalty which Nicky Little kicked to the corner.
In an error-strewn opening 15 minute minutes, Plymouth Albion’s Cameron Mitchell intercepted a long pass and looked set to score, only for Sean Marsden to race back and make an excellent tackle.
With the ball squirming loose and large areas of surface water on the pitch, running rugby was almost impossible. Both sets of forwards saw a lot of possession in a war of attrition at the breakdown.
Plymouth’s Kieran Hallett squandered the first real opportunity of the game, his long-range penalty ricocheting off the bar before Jack Tovey cleared to safety. Seconds later, Hallett had a chance to make amends after Bristol were penalised for not rolling away. The fly-half made sure of the three points on this occasion, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead.
The hosts began to gain the ascendancy, building phases and punching holes through the Plymouth midfield. The Bristol pack was tenacious at the set-piece, and earned a penalty for their side after driving their counterparts back at the scrum, though Nicky Little’s mammoth effort fell just short of the posts.
The fly-half orchestrated proceedings well and instigated another penalty for his side after he had forced a lineout deep in Plymouth territory. However, Little failed to convert and decisions started to go the way of the visitors. Both sides traded kicks as the conditions worsened with Plymouth looking to find space behind the Bristol backline.
Then, in a moment of invention, the host’s luck changed. Man-of-the-match James Merriman pounced on a loose ball deep in is own 22 and darted up the touchline, outpacing a defender in the process. His inside ball found the on-rushing Jack Tovey who finished in the corner with aplomb to give Bristol a 5-3 lead. Barnes missed the difficult conversion but the momentum had swung the way of Paul Hull’s men.
The dogged Bristol forwards continued to cause problems and No.8 Aaron Carpenter was yellow-carded after blocking Richard Bolt’s progress. Ed Barnes converted the penalty to increase the lead to 8-3 at the break.
As the rain continued to fall, Bristol began the second period in explosive fashion. Barnes and Fatialofa linked up well in the midfield, but any flowing rugby was hindered by the boggy Memorial Stadium pitch. The first clear-cut opportunity of the half came when Bristol executed a rolling maul just five metres from the line. The resulting drive saw Junior Fatialofa burrow between the posts to touchdown. Ed Barnes slotted the extras to extend the advantage to 15-3.
Plymouth hit back almost immediately and the visitors were awarded a penalty after Ruairi Cushion had carved an opening. Kieran Hallett capitalised to cut the lead to 15-6 on the hour mark.
Hallett had another chance to cut the deficit, but he opted to kick for touch rather than the posts. The decision would prove costly as Mariano Sambucetti forced an error at the line-out and Bristol were able to clear their lines through the boot of Nicky Little.
In a closely-contested second half, Bristol’s excellent forward play continued to pose headaches for the visitors. Referee Sean Davey had no choice but to award the home side a penalty after Plymouth hooker George Porter’s ill-discipline but Ed Barnes’ kick sailed narrowly wide of the target.
On a surface that now resembled a mudbath, Sione Tu’ipulotu’s half break was rewarded with a close-range penalty. After taking a quick-tap, Plymouth Albion moved the ball wide and Aaron Carpenter pierced the defensive line to score. Hallett converted to make the score 15-13 and set up a nailbiting finale.
The Bristol support breathed a sigh of relief when Ed Barnes instantly replied with a penalty, giving Bristol a five-point lead at 18-13. In an incredibly tense closing four minutes, Paul Hull’s men hung on and defended stoutly at the death. The final whistle was met with a roar from the Memorial Stadium faithful, as Bristol recorded a hard-fought victory and cemented their place in the top eight.
Sean Marsden; Jack Tovey, Junior Fatialofa, Ed Barnes, George Watkins; Nicky Little, Richard Bolt; Mark Irish, Ross Johnston, Darren Crompton, Mariano Sambucetti, Roy Winters, Iain Grieve ©, James Merriman, Dan Montagu.
Replacements: David Blaney, Wayne Thompson for Darren Crompton (72 mins), Jason Hobson for Mark Irish (72 mins), Darren Barry, Jamie Miller, Robbie Shaw, Jack Adams for Nicky Little (72 mins)
Mark Lee; Ben Mercer, Kenni Fisilau, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Cameron Mitchell; Kieran Hallett, Ruairi Cushion; George Porter, Gareth Evans, Ryan Hopkins, Tom Skelding ©, Robin Copeland, Wayne Sprangle, Rory Watts-Jones, Aaron Carpenter.
Replacements: Tom Kessell for Ruairi Cushion (68 mins), Alex Davies for Kieran Hallett (77 mins), David Morton, Gavin O’Meara, Dan Collier for Tom Skelding (68 mins), Tyler Hotson for Rory Watts-Jones (68 mins).
Referee – Sean Davey (Sussex)
Assistant Referee – Michael Tutty and James Minards
4th Official – Andy Weymouth
Official attendance: 5024