Bristol Rugby not at their best, but it's six wins in a row
BRISTOL produced the least convincing of the six consecutive wins they have now accumulated – but the most important headline from their latest victory is that it puts them in the top four of the Championship.
The hosts, who had led bottom-of-the-table Doncaster 26-6 with six minutes to play, finished the game looking jagged and slightly disjointed as the visitors found an extra gear that allowed them to score two tries.
The late scores caused mild concern, if not outright panic, in the Bristol ranks – but time was always going to be against Doncaster, who finished without so much as a losing bonus point after Jamie Lennard missed a drop-goal attempt with the last kick of the match.
Head coach Liam Middleton felt his team had allowed Doncaster – who sank to the bottom of the table following Jersey's surprise win over Leeds 24 hours earlier – back into the game after making a series of late replacements that affected their tempo and continuity.
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: Friday, May 31 2013
But, while it is true Bristol were not at their polished best, the league table now shows they have clambered into the top four from the mid-table obscurity of last month – and they have discovered how to win when even playing below their best.
"We find ourselves, at the end of the year, in the top four – and several weeks ago we were languishing in eighth place," said Middleton. "So, well done to the boys for pulling that back – now we've got to sit up and ask ourselves 'are we going to push this on?' I thought there were aspects of the game today where we had the potential to push on and we've just got to get back to work.
"I don't think system-wise or selection-wise there are any issues, it's a maturity around accuracy and understanding how we apply pressure. I think we could have applied more pressure to Doncaster, and that's in different ways."
In reality, Bristol only dropped off once they had gathered an unassailable lead, Mitch Eadie and George Watkins' second-half tries turning a 9-6 lead into a 26-6 advantage that had Doncaster on the ropes.
And while Bristol never quite managed to execute the knockout blow, allowing their visitors back into the contest through late scores from the impressive full-back Connor Braid and Chris Planchant, they were deserving winners of a distinctly average contest.
Bristol's staples of scrum and driving line-out – aided by the return of Jason Hobson, who is free to play until the Rugby Football Union hear his appeal against a 12-week ban for biting – gave them the upper hand, while Adrian Jarvis again controlled the play with calmness and authority from fly-half.
The returning David McIlwaine, playing against his former club, also looked lively on the wing, while Redford Pennycook and Eadie ensured the home side enjoyed the better of the back-row exchanges.
The game will not be remembered as a Christmas classic, which is a shame given that 6,045 supporters – a season's best for Bristol – turned out to watch them extend their winning run in the league to four matches.
The real stars of this latest Bristol victory, however, were probably the Memorial Stadium ground staff, who, after seeing Bristol Rovers' match against Rotherham called off the previous day, worked tirelessly to not only ensure that the game went ahead but that the pitch played superbly.
Any fears Rovers supporters had over yesterday's match ruining the Memorial Stadium surface were, fortunately, unfounded.
After an uninspiring first half, Bristol led 9-6, with three Jarvis penalties outdoing the two scored by Lennard for Doncaster, and Glen Townson being held up over the line as Bristol's best try-scoring opportunity of the half went begging.
Middleton's men did enough after the break, though, with Eadie powering over as the Doncaster defence, after initially resisting, were driven back over their own line from 20 metres. Jarvis added the conversion to make it 16-6 – and then kicked a penalty to increase the lead to 13 points.
Doncaster spurned a glorious chance to grab a try when centre Will Simpson, after showing excellent skill to get within a few inches of the line, spilled the ball, which was punished when Watkins beat Tyson Lewis for pace on the outside after James Grindal's quick tap-and-go and a fine pass from Jack Tovey.
With the game won, Bristol eased off, allowing Braid to create a huge gap for himself to score his side's first try, with Planchant then going over after lock Matt Challinor's break.