Bristol Bears 39 Gloucester 7
At times it felt like Bristol Bears were attempting to squeeze over a year’s worth of action into 80 minutes as their supporters returned to Ashton Gate for the first time since March 2020.
It was frantic, madcap and at times touched on the bizarre, but the crowd of 3,128 loved every minute as their side extended their lead at the top of the Premiership table with a victory laced with exhilarating play matched by a profligacy that prevented Pat Lam’s side from running up a cricket score.
At least eight try-scoring opportunities were squandered by Bristol but ultimately it mattered little.
Bristol were already proving to be an unstoppable force in the Premiership before the return of fans, and now that Ashton Gate is rocking again, with the club hoping to stage a crowd of over 9,000 for their title run-in, they look odds-on to reach the final at Twickenham on June 26.
The tries came from Max Malins, Charles Piutau, Ben Earl and Nathan Hughes and Semi Radradra to secure the bonus point, with Gloucester’s defiance peaking before the end of the first half with a try by Santiago Carreras.
Gloucester’s chances of mounting an effective resistance went as early as the 16th minute when Matias Alemanno was sent off for a tackle that flipped Steven Luatua onto his head.
Two penalties by Callum Sheedy were scant reward for Bristol’s dominance from the opening, as Lam’s side set the tone unleashing wave after wave of adventurous attacking play, a brilliant mix of pace and power, with the ball carrier always looking for space.
The flaw was their finishing. It is no exaggeration to say that Bristol could easily have scored six tries in the opening period but only had one, by Malins, to show for their efforts.
The analysis made little sense. Bristol looked to have scored one of the tries of the season when Andy Uren tapped a penalty on his 22 and a carry and offload by Davd Attwood to Semi Radradra created the momentum for Kyle Sinckler to hit a brilliant line and go over, only for the TMO to rule the England prop had narrowly lost control of the ball. Jake Kerr and Radradra were both held up and Andy Uren lost the ball as he dived for the line from a five-metre scrum.
The significant breakthrough appeared to finally come from another scintillating move, with a brilliant pass by Uren picking out Piutau before a pass out of the back door by Sheedy sent Malins to the line but Bristol’s fluffed chances continued.
Sheedy went over only for the try to be ruled out for a knock-on in the build-up and then Gloucester rubbed salt into the wounds by scoring from a rare incursion into the Bristol 22, with carry by Jordy Reid and a magnificent pass by Billy Twelvetrees putting Santiago Carreras over.
As if to underscore Bristol’s lack of ruthless, Piutau had the ball knocked out of his hands as he glided over for what should have been his side’s second try by Kyle Moyle.
The narrative continued after the break, with a seventh opportunity chalked off when Alapati Leiua went over only for the TMO to spot that Sheedy’s pass to Malins in the build-up had gone forward.
Gloucester could only ride their luck for so long, however, and a brilliant blindside break by Chris Vui created the opening for Piutau to dance his way over.
Piutau had yet another try ruled out when another knock-on was spotted but Bristol powered home with further tries by Earl, Nathan Hughes and Radradra. What a night.