Dogged Bristol edge Gloucester in West Country thriller

Date published: March 1 2019

Bristol produced an outstanding display to overcome Premiership top-four contenders Gloucester 28-24 in the West Country derby at Ashton Gate.

Pat Lam’s men were exceptionally resilient throughout and claimed the win thanks to a late penalty try and Ian Madigan’s three-pointer as they eased their relegation fears.

Both sides enjoy spreading the ball wide and each team produced a well-constructed effort in the first half, with Dan Thomas going over for the hosts and Jason Woodward responding for the Cherry and Whites, but it was the Bristolians that opened up a four-point buffer at the break.

Callum Sheedy kicked two penalties as they moved 11-7 ahead before Billy Twelvetrees reduced the deficit from the tee to leave the match finely poised early in the second period.

It was a topsy-turvy encounter as, although the home team increased their buffer through Andy Uren, Gloucester hit back via Tom Marshall and Ollie Thorley. However, Bristol had the decisive word when referee Karl Dickson awarded a penalty try in the final quarter.

Johan Ackermann’s men have impressed over the previous couple of weeks, defeating the 2018 finalists Exeter Chiefs and Saracens over successive rounds at Kingsholm, but their away form needs improvement and they succumbed at Ashton Gate.

Last season’s English Championship victors have invested heavily in an attempt to compete in the top-tier and two of those high-profile acquisitions displayed their quality to take Bristol in front.

Charles Piutau has been impressive recently and his mere presence drew in three defenders, which allowed another former All Black – back-rower Steven Luatua – to get his hands free and off-load to Luke Daniels. The wing then had the simple job of finding Thomas, who scampered over the line unopposed.

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Lam’s men struggled to build on that try, however, with the lineout causing a number of problems. It allowed the visitors into the game and Thorley was once again a threat for Ackermann’s charges, and slick hands gave Woodward a simple finish in the corner.

Gloucester continued to press but ill-discipline was to be their undoing as they gave away a pair of kickable penalties, which were duly dispatched by Sheedy for an 11-7 advantage at the interval.

Twelvetrees reduced the arrears early in the second period but the away side conceded minutes later when a poor clearance kick was pounced upon by Luke Morahan. The Australian wing brilliantly spotted the space in the Cherry and Whites rearguard, scampered through and found Piutau, who fed Uren and the scrum-half evaded the tackle of Danny Cipriani to cross the whitewash.

That evidently irked the Kingsholm outfit as they hit back excellently. They pressurised the opposition defence and the hosts eventually succumbed through Marshall’s well-taken score out wide.

Ackermann’s men were not done there, though, and Woodward showed his endeavour to chase Cipriani’s kick and put Piutau under duress. The full-back failed to deal with the bouncing ball and Thorley was on hand to take Gloucester in front.

It was Woodward’s work ethic which created that try but the New Zealand-born player was to go from hero to villain when his deliberate knock-on resulted in a yellow card.

That infringement also gave Bristol the chance to kick to the corner and, following a dominant drive, Ed Slater illegally collapsed the maul, leading to a penalty try and another sin-binning.

Madigan then kicked a late three-pointer to take the Bristolians four points clear and that proved to be enough to claim a famous win.