MATCH REPORT: Bristol overcome Rotherham 30-20 with tries from George Watkins, Ryan Edwards, Alafoti Faosiliva and Luke Eves
ANDY Robinson will today become Bristol's new director of rugby – and the former England and Scotland head coach must have been purring at the possibilities thrown up by his new side as he watched from the West Stand.
Because Bristol, in the space of 80 minutes, offered a fitting snapshot of their season – the promise, the potential, the cutting edge and also the occasional frailty.
For the club's director of rugby-in-waiting, this was an ideal introduction before he gets to work.
From this 80-minute performance alone, Robinson will have been made aware of how good Bristol can be when they get things right, but also how vulnerable they can be when they briefly switch off.
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They stormed into a 25-6 lead in the first 64 minutes yesterday, yet by the 71-minute mark, it was 25-20 after they shipped two tries in three minutes.
That they ended the game on top, with Luke Eves' 78th-minute try securing a bonus point, ensured a positive end to the afternoon – and Robinson is no doubt already aware he is taking over a side with great potential but also in need of a little refining. It is not difficult to see why this challenge appealed so much to him.
Robinson will talk about Bristol's future at a press conference this lunchtime, while there will no doubt be plenty of speculation in the coming weeks about which players he may want to bring into the club. But those who are already on board will want to influence their own futures in a positive way – and they did themselves little harm yesterday.
This was by no means a perfect performance from Bristol – that they allowed Rotherham back in with a sniff after leading 25-6 proves as much. But, on a weekend where their closest rivals for a top-four finish – Leeds and Cornish Pirates – suffered surprise defeats, securing a bonus-point victory should be seen as nothing but a triumph.
Head coach Liam Middleton, who will stay on and be asked to play a key role under Robinson, was most enthused by his team's character and the tempo and threat they showed in attack.
"The boys showed good character – and today also showed that, with a dry ball, we are a very good side," he said. "We scored four good tries and I think there will be more to come from us."
The negatives centred on the way Bristol allowed Rotherham back into the game, taking their feet off their visitors' throats just when it looked as if they had finished them off.
Middleton felt Rotherham had exploited the tiring legs of centre Fautua Otto, who was making his first start of the season after a serious knee injury, but also alluded to a collective loss of concentration.
"It was a lapse in concentration, and, without picking out individuals, Fautua played his first 60-70 minutes of rugby of the season today and they looked to stretch him," he said. "That was potentially part of it – but it was lapses of concentration and it's something we'll iron out and address in the week."
Robinson will relish working on some of Bristol's rough edges – and, realistically, he would not have been required to step in as director of rugby if the team was already perfect. But there is enough of a positive base and foundation already in place for the incoming boss to recognise this team is not too far from where it wants and needs to be.
Bristol led 11-0 at half-time yesterday, after dominating the opening period in terms of possession and territory. The in-form George Watkins grabbed the opening try, following impressive work from Adrian Jarvis, Ryan Edwards and Alafoti Faosiliva, while Jarvis added two penalties.
With the scrums a mess and Rotherham's line-out malfunctioning, Bristol seized the initiative – and, after Garry Law had kicked his team onto the scoresheet for the first time in the match, Edwards grabbed a deserved try. Jarvis threw out a long pass, Watkins found Luke Eves, and his clever pass inside was gratefully taken by Edwards.
Bristol then went 25-6 up when their forward dominance earned them a penalty try at the scrum, before Rotherham hit them twice in three minutes. Winger Mike Doneghan was pivotal in both scores, tearing through the Bristol defence to set up Joe Ellyatt for the first, before sending James McKinney away for the second.
But Bristol ended the game as they had started it – on top – with Eves taking Jack Tovey's pass in the left corner and going over to seal the win and the bonus point.