Bristol's preparation is the key to their success
BRISTOL spent much of last week extolling the virtues of Plymouth Albion's new, more expansive, style – stressing that the Devonians pose a more rounded threat these days.
Fortunately, they spent even more time in the build-up to their trip to Brickfields focusing on how to deal with the heavy, sodden conditions that were being forecast.
And their preparation came to fruition as the rain fell and the wind howled.
If Plymouth have expanded their game, it appears to have been at the expense of the ruggedness that made them a tricky, if not dominant, opponent in the past.
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Because Bristol were able to enjoy almost absolute supremacy en route to leapfrogging Albion into fifth place in the Championship.
The contest was by no means easy on the eye, but, when it really mattered, Bristol showed the nous, the determination and the spirit needed to conquer a Plymouth team seemingly devoid of a Plan B.
Bristol started impressively, bombarding Plymouth with a series of high balls with which they failed to deal, and maintained an impressive level of commitment and control throughout.
Bristol have now won successive Championship matches and, once again in this season of ups, downs, new dawns and false starts, the play-off places appear to be within touching distance.
Bristol head coach Liam Middleton said: "We prepared for these conditions all week – and I think the players executed the game-plan to a tee.
"This game required accuracy of execution and team spirit – because these games are as much about spirit as they are about rugby: it's partially a wrestling match and partially a rugby match.
"In the rugby aspect, I thought we were superior, and I thought we played the conditions well.
"In terms of spirit, I thought the boys were fantastic: they'd go to the trenches for each other and that's important."
It can be no coincidence that Bristol have looked a much more resolute and hardened team since Jason Hobson and Mariano Sambucetti returned to the starting XV, along with Iain Grieve, against Jersey in their last home match.
The trio not only understand the significance of what it means to be a Bristol player but are all able to back up emotive words about the club and the game of rugby with meaningful actions on the field.
Bristol's pack were the key reason for their victory – but the whole team appeared united in implementing a game-plan that would prove successful, with Adrian Jarvis standing out as he cleverly led Plymouth a merry dance from fly-half.
It was Jarvis' booming up-and-under that set the platform from which Bristol grabbed the crucial first score, his kick being fumbled and Bristol building pressure off the scrum, with the equally influential Ruki Tipuna throwing out an accurate long pass to George Watkins, who scored.
Even though Paul Roberts kicked Plymouth back to within two points, the score came from the hosts' first foray into Bristol territory and did not prove to be a sign of intent.
Jarvis made it 8-3 from 20 metres, 11-3 from 25 and 14-3 from 30, with Plymouth losing hooker Jon Vickers to the sin-bin for pulling down a maul.
For a team who have been under such pressure in recent weeks to produce such a disciplined and controlled performance in such awful conditions – there were pools of standing water on the field from the start – was a credit to them.
"In conditions like these, the forwards make a big difference but your half-backs have to pull the strings – and I thought both Ruki and Adrian made good decisions," said Middleton. "It was a mature performance from both of them."
Plymouth changed their shirts at half-time, switching from predominantly white jerseys to red ones, but they could not change their fortunes.
The second period was a slow-burner, only enlivened when a mass brawl broke out, with both sides' No 8s, Mitch Eadie and Sean-Michael Stephen, seeing yellow and Albion prop Jack Andrew seeing red for a punch. The citing officials may yet deem further incidents during the prolonged melee worthy of a closer look.
But that was the only kind of fight Plymouth showed all afternoon, as Bristol continued to boss the game, adding a second try through Redford Pennycook, who burst over the line following a line-out drive. Jarvis' conversion saw Bristol lead 21-3.
With the game already lost, Rhodri McAtee salvaged a degree of pride for Plymouth, but this was a game for them to forget and one for Bristol – who showed hunger, adaptability and desire in droves – to savour.