Bristol Rugby underline promotion credentials with emphatic win
Bristol Rugby 35 Nottingham 11: Bristol reached the halfway point of the regular Championship season with a third straight emphatic victory to underline their status as Exeter's closest – and perhaps only – rivals for promotion to the Guinness Premiership.
For the third match in a row, Bristol banked a try-scoring bonus point, with Jack Adams, Dan Norton, Mark Irish and Tom Arscott all going over in addition to a penalty try that owed everything to Bristol's forward authority.
Fly-half Adrian Jarvis enjoyed a 100 per cent success rate with the boot, too, nailing all five conversions despite being presented with some extremely tricky angles by his try scorers.
Bristol Rugby enjoyed such command throughout that, when Nottingham scored a 78th-minute consolation try, there was genuine disappointment in the home camp that their defence had been breached.
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Victory put a 10-point buffer between second-placed Bristol and third-placed Nottingham, with the victors now six points adrift of unbeaten leaders Exeter heading into the second half of the 22-game regular season.
The two-week break for British & Irish Cup action possibly comes at a less than ideal time for improving Bristol.
However, if they can continue their impressive Championship form when facing Birmingham & Solihull, Rotherham and Bedford before Christmas, the December 27 meeting with Exeter could offer a sizeable hint as to the ultimate destination of the Championship title.
The last three displays have been in stark contrast to Bristol's shock defeat at Doncaster last month – a performance and result that, quite perversely, appear to have re-ignited the club's season.
Yesterday's triumph owed plenty to Bristol's belief in their own convictions. With their driving game enjoying such sovereignty in recent weeks, they passed up several early opportunities to take three points in order to use their powerful line-out and maul.
And even when their early attempts were frustrated and Nottingham took the lead completely against the run of play with a penalty in the 12th minute, Bristol did not waver from their game-plan.
Forwards coach John Brain praised his players for sticking to their guns even when they were not afforded early rewards.
"If you look at the way we've played in the last three games, we have been very positive in those situations," said Brain.
"We've declined three points in order to go for five on the rationale that, if we don't get the five points, we'll at least get another penalty from the set-piece and have the option again to go for goal.
"They defended quite well early on and we didn't execute as well as we would normally, so we spent 10 minutes attacking and got nothing out of it – and then they got three points from their first incursion into our half.
"That was a bit disappointing, but the guys continued to work extremely hard.
"Nottingham had spells in our 22 in the first half where we defended well and turned the ball over – and those are key moments in a game against a top side like Nottingham.
"They're a well-organised team and when we go to their place, that will be a very, very tough game."
Yesterday's match threatened to be just that for Bristol after their early territorial dominance yielded no reward – but their persistence finally paid off on 27 minutes and from there it was largely one-sided.
Jason Spice, Jarvis and Luke Arscott were heavily involved in the build-up, with full-back Arscott finding Adams in space and the outside centre showing quick feet to slip between Jack Cobden and Tim Streather for the opening try.
Greig Tonks, who had opened the scoring for Nottingham, brought them to within a point of Bristol with a second three-pointer on 32 minutes – but the hosts ended the opening period on top after taking full advantage when opposition skipper Craig Hammond was yellow-carded.
Bristol kicked the resulting penalty to touch, triggering another spell of forward dominance that ended with a penalty try.
It was awarded after Dan Montagu was impeded as he prepared to score after Bristol's scrum had shunted the Nottingham set-piece towards their own line.
The second period began with a bang, Iain Grieve carrying the ball deep into Nottingham territory after Nathan Budgett had secured possession from the restart – and it was not long before Norton went over for his side's third try.
The source was, yet again, a driven line-out, with Bristol smartly switching play to Norton, via James Merriman and Spice, after knocking the stuffing out of Nottingham with a powerful rolling maul.
It was Norton's ninth touchdown in just 11 appearances for Bristol.
And the bonus point was banked with 30 minutes still to play. Line-out ball was secured on the right wing, Roy Winters carried possession into Nottingham territory, and Bristol moved play left, with Irish and Norton combining well for the prop to touch down.
Rather than sit back, safe in the knowledge they had secured the bonus point, Bristol continued to attack with urgency.
They added a fifth try on the hour mark, Montagu setting the ball rolling with a break before Spice found Luke Arscott and he chipped expertly over the defence and into the arms of his brother, Tom, for his sixth try of the season.
Jarvis nailed a difficult conversion to finish with five from five, but Nottingham crept back into the game in the closing stages after Bristol Rugby lost Irish to the sin-bin.
A lengthy stay in the Bristol 22 ended with Tonks throwing a long pass out to Streather, who scored in the corner to deny the home side a shut-out.