Beast beats beauty in Bristol

18th Nov 2007, 22:30


Go West: Bristol skipper Shaun Perry feeds his backs

Go West: Bristol skipper Shaun Perry feeds his backs

Organisation trumped artistry in the soggy West Country on Sunday as Bristol recorded a famous 17-0 victory over Stade Français at Memorial Ground.

Organisation trumped artistry in the soggy West Country on Sunday as Bristol recorded a famous 17-0 victory over Stade Français at Memorial Ground.

With Cardiff Blues and Harlequins sharing the points on Saturday, the French heavyweights would have hoped to leapfrog the Welsh as Pool Three leaders with a win away from home.

However, the Pool is now wide open after a gritty Bristol performance blew the visiting Parisians away.

Wet conditions cancelled out any hopes of a running game, with the ball correctly kept amongst the forwards for the majority of the match.

Bristol, in only their second season of top-flight European rugby, put in a tremendous effort up front against a shell-shocked Stade Français pack that failed to counter their hosts' dominance in the tight exchanges.

The home side's line-outs were also strong, while their forward drives earned crucial metres for scrum-half Shaun Perry to work his magic behind a solid pack with box kicks that kept the Stade defence running backwards all night.

England hooker Mark Regan was the inspiration behind Bristol's superiority up front and celebrated as though the match was won every time his forwards pushed the visitors off their feed.

Although the home side lacked flair or invention behind the scrum, it hardly mattered, because the visitors proved even more limited with ball in hand.

The win will go down as one of Bristol's best and the celebrations will no doubt continue long into the night with the home side's supporters brushing aside the awful thought of work on Monday morning.

Bristol coach Richard Hill would have been pleased how his team managed to dominate the majority of possession and territory from start to finish that shut Stade out for nearly the entire 80 minutes.

The home team took the points when they were presented them with fly-half David Hill missing just one kick from his five attempts.

The match started off with a bang as both teams threw everything at each other as if their lives depended on it.

It was perhaps all too much for winger Tom Arscott who was replaced by Josh Taumalolo after limping off the field with just ten minutes gone on the clock.

Taumalolo would have been wishing he was still wrapped up in a blanket on the soak-free bench after spilling a pass with the try-line in sight after Bristol's first real attacking opportunity.

With the visitors having been awarded a scrum after Taumalolo's knock-on, the Bristol pack huffed and puffed and nearly pushed their visitors all the way back to Paris.

Stade Français hooker Dimitri Szarzewski stood up in the ongoing shove and the skipper was penalised for his actions with a sixteen-man brawl breaking out soon afterwards.

Hill did his fighting with the boot and Bristol were on the board after 17 minutes played.

More injuries took their toll, this time from the Stade Français camp as number eight Sergio Parisse was helped off the field with South African Cliff Milton taking the Italian's place at the base of the scrum.

Another Bristol penalty followed for Hill to do the honours after Stade were blown up for entering the wrong side of a ruck. Hill made no mistake and the home team were in front 6-0 with ten minutes to go until half-time.

The visitors failed to make a difference to the scoreline with countless handling errors, partly due to the wet ball, preventing a strong Stade backline from causing little - if not any - threat to the Bristol defence.

Bristol galloped into the half-time sheds with their tails up after an excellent first half performance that left the home team with a well deserved lead.

The second half started better for the visitors with an opportunity for fly-half David Skrela to put the first points on the board for his team and narrow the gap.

However, the France pivot pushed the ball wide of the posts, a miss that was welcomed by the 10,500 strong home crowd. Stade never got another chance at goal after that.

Hill replied with a penalty kick of his own after an infringement in the line-out that was more successful and ultimately extended his team's lead to 9-0 after 61 minutes.

With Bristol brimming with confidence, the home team were nearly brought back down to earth after a Hill drop-goal was charged down by scrum-half Jérôme Fillol.

Had the nippy number nine held on after trying to regather the soapy ball, the visitors could have been in with a try under the posts.

As it turned out, it was Bristol who dived in for the game's only try after inside centre Neil Brew intercepted a French pass on the halfway line. Rob Higgitt linked up well with his midfield partner and carried the ball further down the field before drawing the last man on defence to send Brew over in the corner for an unconverted try.

But Hill's miss mattered little, the game was wrapped up with that swift movement by the Bristol midfield pairing and the crowd knew the match was their side's for the taking.

The French league champions restarted thinking they still had a window of opportunity to pick up a losing bonus-point, however they held on in the tackle and Hill was told to extend the margin further.

The New Zealander never looked like missing and rubbed more salt into Parisian wounds with a well-taken penalty kick on the stroke of full-time that all but sealed a memorable victory for Bristol.

Referee Peter Fitzgibbon allowed five minutes of injury time to be played and the visitors put in a better display with ball in hand in that small space of time than they did all match.

But the Bristol defence held strong and refused the Stade Français attackers entry into their goal area, bouncing the visitors with one thumping tackle after another.

The home side's commitment was rewarded after a flower-adorned defender knocked on - a mistake that summoned the final whistle and rapturous applause.

Man of the match: The entire Bristol pack deserve a pat on the back for their powerful performance that laid down the foundation for a remarkable win. It will be unfair to single out one solid rock over an eight-man mountain. But our vote goes to a player who played the part of a forward and back alike. It was scrum-half and captain Shaun Perry and his flawless performance on attack and defence kept Bristol's engine running. His pin-point kicking made life hell for the French tourists and his superb distribution of a wet ball to David Hill never once put his fly-half under pressure. When the England number nine is on song, it will take more than a fifteen-man choir to shut him up.

The scorers:

For Bristol:
Try: Brew
Pens: Hill 4

Bristol: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Tom Arscott, 13 Rob Higgitt, 12 Neil Brew, 11 David Lemi, 10 David Hill, 9 Shaun Perry (c), 8 Dan Ward-Smith, 7 Joe El Abd, 6 Andrew Blowers, 5 Sean Hohneck, 4 Roy Winters, 3 Jason Hobson, 2 Mark Regan, 1 Alex Clarke.
Replacements: 16 David