Bristol Go Down In Pre-Season Opener
Agen 35 - 20 Bristol Rugby
Bristol Rugby’s opening game of the pre-season campaign ended in a 35-20 defeat at the hands of Top 14 side Agen.
Liam Middleton will take plenty of positives from a solid display that saw the visitors score three tries through Ryan Edwards, Bryan Rennie and Ross Johnston.
In a lively encounter, Agen racked up twenty-eight first half points - including a twenty minute hat-trick from winger Saimoni Vaka.
The hosts came flying out of the traps and Bristol fell behind to an early Remi Vaquin score. The flanker capitalized on a bulldozing rampage from Opeti Fonua to crash over for a converted try.
In a highly-charged opening period, Bristol hit back through Tristan Roberts’ angled penalty goal. The fly half reduced the deficit to 7-3 following an excellent kick chase from Academy winger Ryan Edwards.
Middleton’s side were forced to defend for long periods of the first half and held firm, despite waves of Agen pressure. First, Redford Pennycook wrestled the ball free of Benjamin Petre close to the line, before Rhys Lawrence made a last-ditch tackle to prevent a certain try.
The French giants seized the initiative after Bruce Douglas’ yellow card left Bristol with a numerical disadvantage.
Saimoni Vaka plundered two tries in quick succession to put Agen in control. The winger latched onto an inside-pass to accelerate over from thirty metres, before notching a second a minute later, coasting in under the posts after snaffling a loose pass. Barnard converted both efforts to give the hosts an imposing 21-3 advantage.
Bristol forced their way back into contention late in the half, courtesy of Ryan Edwards’ superb try. The Academy winger collected a miss-pass and burst through the Agen midfield to touch down under the posts for a converted score.
But there was still time for the ever-threatening Saimoni Vaka to complete his hat-trick before the break. The Fijian stretched over the whitewash to put Agen in control at the interval, leading 28-10.
Having kept Agen at bay in the opening exchanges of the second half, Bristol were unfortunate to not add a second try when new recruits Bryan Rennie and David Mcilwaine came close to breaching the stubborn French defensive line.
Middleton introduced fresh legs on the hour mark and the new-found impetus saw the visitors trouble the Agen backline again. This time, Marco Mama carved an opening, only to be bundled into touch close to the whitewash.
Bristol did secure a deserved second try after a prolonged spell of attacking possession. Tom Slater’s smart break created space and the ball was moved quickly wide for Bryan Rennie to fly over in the corner. Jarvis saw his conversion attempt fade wide, but Agen’s lead was cut to 28-15.
The home side made sure of the victory in the closing stages when replacement centre Jamie Robinson weaved over for a converted try, but Ross Johnston had the final say when he forced his way across the whitewash with the final play of the game. Jarvis couldn’t add the extras, leaving the final score 35-20.
Belisario Agulla; Saimoni Vaka, Ben Petre, Junior Pelesasa, Jean-Francois Coux; Conrad Barnard, Sylvain Dupuy; Arsene N’nomo, Jalil Narjissi, Jonathan Garcia, William Demotte, Damien Lagrange, Jean Monribot (c), Remi Vaquin, Opeti Fonua.
Replacements: Semisi Telefoni, John Schwalger, Julien Moretto, Antoine Erbani, Mathieu Loree, Raphael Lagarde, Romain Edmond-Samuel, Viliamu Afatia, Mathieu Lamoulie, Jamie Robinson, Silvere Tian, Alexi Bales, Leka Tagotago.
Jon Goodridge; George Watkins, Bryan Rennie, Luke Eves, Ryan Edwards; Tristan Roberts, James Grindal; Kyle Traynor, Rhys Lawrence, Bruce Douglas, Glen Townson, Roy Winters, Redford Pennycook, James Merriman, Iain Grieve (c).
Replacements: Ross Johnston (for Rhys Lawrence, 60 mins), Mark Lilley, Wayne Thompson (for Bruce Douglas, 50 mins), Will Davis (for Kyle Traynor, 54 mins), Mariano Sambucetti (for Glen Townson, 57 mins), Marco Mama (for Redford Pennycook, 60 mins), Mitch Eadie (for Iain Grieve, 50 mins), Tom Slater (for James Grindal, 60 mins), Adrian Jarvis (for Tristan Roberts, 60 mins), Jack Gadd (for Luke Eves, 60 mins), David McIlwaine (for Jon Goodridge, 50 mins).