Bristol RFC vs Jersey Reds
04/03/2018 Ashton Gate 14.00 KO
Referee: Ian Tempest
Result: 34 - 38 (Jersey Win)
15 Williams, J
12 Pisi (Captain)
9 Uren (Williams, R, 34)
1 Tonga’uiha (O’Connell, 54)
2 Harris-Wright (Fenton-Wells, 54)
3 Cortes (Lay, 54)
6 Luatua (Joyce, 8)
8 Haining (Thomas, 50)
Van Breda (co-capt) 15
(Eastwell 62) Best 12
Woolmore (co-capt) 1
(Macfarlane 54) Selway 2
(Kolo'ofa'I 46) Sexton 4
(Godfrey 64) Bartle 6
Match Report by James Hall
Pat Lam said there could be “no excuses” for his side not being at their best, as Bristol Rugby braved the cold weather and the Jersey defence in their first defeat of the season, losing 34-38 at home to the Reds in Sunday’s upset.
Despite taking two bonus-points from the match, the league leaders were made to rue their mistakes, falling short of a club record seventeen Championship wins in a row.
The hosts started the game as the better side, opening the scoring on three minutes through a scrappy Steven Luatua try after the number six touched down under a mass of bodies following a well-worked line out. But Bristol couldn’t maintain their momentum and were left struggling to get out of their own half in the following minutes. A cagey period of back and forth ensued, and neither side was able to really make a break, though Jersey found themselves at a slight advantage when try-scorer Luatua limped off for the hosts, unable to see out the match.
It was an advantage that the visitors used to great effect when Scott Van Breda exploited a defensive mistake to get himself over the try line and level the score.
Indeed the run of play seemed to favour the Reds for a while, and they were allowed to relieve the pressure put on them by the home attack to launch a counter, permitting Jason Worrall to speed forward. Bristol were saved by the referee’s whistle, an audible lifeline and reminder not to lose focus.
Ian Madigan’s penalty put a momentary pause on an end-to-end game, though his side’s reprieve was short lived. Jerry Sexton’s quick movement to break away from the Jersey maul put the visitors in the lead with less than fifteen minutes to go in the first half.
The game had yet to find its flow when Alapati Leiua found space out left to grab a try, but Jersey proved to be a thorn in Bristol’s side again, scoring straight from the off when Kieron Hardy used his considerable agility to beat several of the Bristol back line.
Bristol’s answer came in the form of Madigan’s second penalty, putting Bristol at 1000 in all games for the season. It wasn’t enough however, as Van Breda made his presence on the field count yet again as the architect of Jersey’s fourth try, which followed a thumping run to touch down under the posts. The South African’s second try of the game had come on the back of a piece of poor discipline that left Siale Piutau in the sin bin for a poor tackle.
The teams went walked off to cries of “Bristol!” ringing out, evidence perhaps that Ashton Gate was undismayed by the eight point gulf between the two sides at the break.
If they weren’t disheartened in the first half, the Ashton Gate faithful certainly were after the restart, as their side’s patient advances were consistently met with a seemingly immovable object in the form of the Jersey defence, causing Pat Lam’s side to settle for kicking the ball long after losing out in several mauls. It was a frustrating first ten minutes back for Bristol, as the Reds slowed the game down, nipping any attacks in the bud and hindering concentration.
Jersey’s focus on attacking play in the warm up seemed to pay off, as extended their lead to fifteen points from a Bristol mistake in as many minutes in the second half. Tusi Pisi’s pass was intercepted by Tom Pincus, who had all the time in the world to grab Jersey’s try. Cope converted for the fifth time, and then added another three to the tally with a penalty, leaving Bristol high and dry.
There were signs of life in the Bristol team, but the away side seemed to have their number, snuffing out any signs of progress going forward, that is until Rodri Williams squeezed through a lineout put the ball down to restart the Bristol motor.
As the game ebbed away, the hosts were stopped several times superbly by a Jersey defence working overtime to keep their side eleven points to the good, a task made harder by a rejuvenated Bristol attack. But the league leaders refused to give up, a late score from Sam Jeffries earning his side bonus points, and inching them closer to victory. But it was not to be. A cross field kick in the closing second failed to bounce awkwardly, denying Bristol a chance to make good the empty space in front of them.
Despite the result, the hosts find themselves fifteen points to the good at the top of the table after picking up two bonus points, that “could be the key to promotion” according to Rhodri Williams. Williams stated in the post-match interview that his side will be “back at work tomorrow”, eager to learn from the defeat with a win at Rotherham Titans in two weeks’ time.