Gabriel Ibitoye double helps Bristol Bears see off Leicester Tigers

Planet Rugby
Bristol Bears wing Gabriel Ibitoye after scoring against Leicester Tigers.

Bristol Bears wing Gabriel Ibitoye after scoring against Leicester Tigers.

Bristol Bears kicked off the Premiership season with an encouraging 25-14 victory over Leicester Tigers in front of their fans at Ashton Gate on Friday.

A brace from Gabriel Ibitoye helped the Bears begin the new campaign on a positive note, with Harry Thacker going over for their other first-half crossing.

However, they couldn’t complete the bonus-point win as Tigers launched a fightback from 25-0 down with tries from Dan Kelly and Hanro Liebenberg.

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Bristol made an explosive start, taking the lead in the second minute. A misdirected kick from Leicester scrum-half Joe Powell gave the hosts an attacking line-out from where they capitalised when Ibitoye raced onto a well-judged kick from Rich Lane to score.

AJ MacGinty missed with the touchline conversion as did Charlie Atkinson with a 45-metre penalty attempt, so Ibitoye’s try was the only score of the opening quarter in which the home side looked the sharper as Leicester continued to make elementary mistakes.

From one of these handling errors, Ibitoye seized on the loose ball to kick it 60 metres and then win a line-out five metres from the opposition line. From there, the Bears produced an unstoppable drive which culminated in a try for Thacker.

Straight from the kick-off, Bristol scored again. The irrepressible Ibitoye was sent on a weaving 35-metre run which ended with him just holding off the attentions of Cameron Henderson to grab the touchdown. MacGinty converted both and shell-shocked Tigers were 19-0 down.

However MacGinty was soon forced to leave the field with a leg problem, soon to be followed by prop Jay Tyack, who suffered a serious looking arm injury.

These setbacks did not deter the home side, who extended their lead with a James Williams’ penalty to leave toothless Tigers 22 points adrift at the interval.

Three minutes after the restart the lead was extended when Williams kicked another penalty, before Leicester made a couple of changes in an attempt to reverse their fortunes.

It paid immediate dividends when one of the replacements, former Bristol man Tom Whiteley, chipped ahead and when the home defence dithered Kelly took advantage to steal possession and score.

Bristol brought on former captain Stephen Luatua and new signing Virimi Vakatawa, the French international centre, but it was the visitors who collected the only points of the final quarter when a well-timed pass from Whiteley sent Liebenberg over.

The teams

Bristol Bears: 15 Rich Lane, 14 Gabriel Ibitoye, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 James Williams, 11 Noah Heward, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Fitz Harding (c), 5 Joe Batley, 4 James Dun, 3 Jay Tyack, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Andrew Turner, 18 George Kloska, 19 Josh Caulfield, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Virimi Vakatawa, 23 Piers O’Conor

Leicester Tigers: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Josh Bassett, 13 Guy Porter, 12 Dan Kelly, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Matt Rogerson, 7 Olly Cracknell, 6 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 5 Harry Wells, 4 Cameron Henderson, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Charlie Clare, 1 Francois Van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Nic Dolly, 17 James Whitcombe, 18 Will Hurd, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Kyle Hatherell, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Jamie Shillcock, 23 Phil Cokanasiga

Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Joe James, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Rowan Kitt

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