BRISTOL RUGBY MATCH REPORT: Bristol find the momentum is with them with victory over Bedford
WITH so much talk about the future, it would have been easy for Bristol to lose sight of the present.
But the reality has been quite different. Instead, they are delivering regular hints that the brighter days may be closer than many people think.
The recent heavyweight signings Bristol have announced will not arrive at the club until the summer – but, for now, the current crop are doing just fine without them, thank you very much.
At Bedford, they produced their most impressive performance of the season to underline why the optimists among the Bristol support are refusing to rule out what had appeared an extremely unlikely tilt at promotion this season.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
Of course, Newcastle rightly remain huge favourites, but Bristol's performance at Bedford was of such quality that even the Falcons may start to notice the resurgence taking place within the team who occupy fourth place.
Bristol won away from home against a team in the top half of the Championship for the first time since the penultimate day of 2011 as they dominated and outclassed Bedford. In the process, they became the first team to deny Bedford a try at Goldington Road since, well, since Bristol last season.
A fifth successive win, an eleventh victory in the last 12 games, and a fifth successive win over Bedford all hint at progress – and the most impressive aspect of this latest victory was just how much control Bristol enjoyed.
Their line-out was spot on, while they disrupted the Bedford ball; their defence was of the highest intensity and quality, while they managed to pick holes in the Blues' line; their organisation, tempo and composure were all exquisite.
Luke Eves enhanced his burgeoning reputation as a try-scoring centre, going over for the seventh time this season in the Championship, while Ryan Edwards justified his selection with the score that effectively killed off the game.
And Eves, Bristol's leading try-scorer, said: "It was an unbelievable performance. Every game is crucial but coming to Bedford, who are second in the league, and putting on a performance like that – I honestly believe we could have put five tries on them. It was an absolutely fantastic win. We knew we had to attack them early on, we had to get into them physically and drain the life out of them – and we played some awesome attacking rugby.
"I don't know many teams who have locked Bedford out, especially on their home ground and with a dry ball. We'll take massive confidence from this, going into another massive game next."
The next game is on Friday at home to Nottingham, another of the sides in the top four and one who put 63 points on Bristol at Meadow Lane in November. And while revenge rarely creeps into the vocabulary of professional sportsmen who need to keep cool heads on the field, Eves and his colleagues understand the significance of the fixture.
"We've got a huge game against Nottingham – the score they put on us last time was embarrassing," he said. "But on our home patch, and with the confidence we're going to get from this, I think it's going to be a different story."
Bristol's confidence is justified. They are playing their best, most consistent, rugby of the season – and doing it without the key quartet of Jason Hobson, Roy Winters, Iain Grieve and Mike Tagicakibau.
New leaders and star turns are emerging, with hooker Ross Johnston delivering a turbo-charged display at Bedford, flanker Marco Mama turning in a commanding performance beyond his years, and Fautua Otto dropping a big hint that he is about to reproduce the startling form that made him a cult hero a year ago. All in all, the present and the future both look in fine shape – and that is before Andy Robinson, the new director of rugby, has even taken a training session or had a real impact. Robinson was there on Saturday, and Eves hinted that his presence alone may have had an subconscious impact on Bristol's players.
"Andy joined us on Friday, by which point we were already doing our team run and stuff."
The real glory of Bedford, though, belonged to Liam Middleton, the head coach, and the 22 players who contributed to a victory that was little short of stunning.
Two Adrian Jarvis penalties either side of Eves' try – created through Bristol's sheer bloody-mindedness and a neat offload from Mitch Eadie – gave the visitors an 11-0 half-time lead.
And, although Bedford rallied through a James Pritchard penalty after the break, and regularly looked to catch Bristol out with a series of quick taps and off-the-cuff attacks, the visitors were alert to everything.
Edwards finished well, after good work from Otto – who had also had a hand in the first try – and Jack Tovey, to increase the lead, while George Watkins and Otto were also held up over the line as Bristol repeatedly put Bedford under pressure.
If Bristol can beat Nottingham on Friday, a team Middleton recently claimed "aren't even underdogs – everyone has completely written us off" will be well and truly back in contention.