Bristol Rugby vs Leeds: Our phenomenal scrum did the damage – Liam Middleton
"I LOST count after the first two," said Jason Hobson, half-joking, when asked how many Leeds scrums Bristol had won against the head at the start of Friday's match at the Memorial Stadium.
As it turned out, it was four, with Bristol's pack enjoying the kind of dominance on the opposition's put-in that is rarely seen in the professional game.
The opening four Leeds scrums went Bristol's way – with tighthead prop Hobson the lynchpin of their control of the set-piece. Hobson was having such a good time, despite the awful conditions, that he played his first full 80 minutes since the days when he had hair.
But his form is both a blessing and a concern for head coach Liam Middleton at the moment. Such is Hobson's influence for Bristol that the outcome of tomorrow's appeal hearing – where the prop will contest his 12-week ban for biting Plymouth's Bevon Armitage – could prove a pivotal moment in their 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: Friday, May 31 2013
If the ban is upheld, Bristol will miss their 29-year-old prop for the majority of their run-in; if the appeal is upheld, his presence will give them an almighty lift as they look to hang on to the top-four spot in the Championship they won back on Friday evening.
"It's obviously an anxious time for us," admitted Middleton. "He showed how influential he was on Friday night. We'll go through the process and await the result."
Middleton went further in his praise of Hobson and his fellow forwards, offering the assessment that: "Our scrum was phenomenal. We were extremely dominant. It's an area we spent a lot of time on in the week – we knew it was an area where we could take them on and we delivered on that."
In a game that is constantly evolving, it was reassuring to be reminded that a dominant scrum can still swing crucial matches one way or another – although the woeful conditions ensured it was never going to be a free-running classic.
Strong wind blew heavy rain down-field, with all 21 points – 12 from the boot of Adrian Jarvis, nine from that of Rory Clegg – being scored in front of the Blackthorn End. When Jarvis attempted a routine penalty five minutes into the second half, the ball swirled around as if it were a kite being flown on The Downs.
But Bristol were deserving winners – and victory lifted them back into the top four, albeit with Leeds still to replay their game against Plymouth Albion, and Cornish Pirates having their trip to Newcastle postponed.
Hobson, as forthright off the field as he is on it, acknowledged that defeat on Friday would have spelled the end of Bristol's realistic hopes of a play-off finish.
"If we'd have lost, we'd have been out of the competition – there's no point sugar-coating it," he said. "We knew what we had to do – and whether we won by 40 points or two points, we didn't care.
"For us, we are not trying to leave it down to anyone else's results. We firmly know what we've got to do – and we're going to try to keep it in our own hands and keep building on our recent results."
Friday's win saw Bristol open up a two-point lead over Pirates and a three-point cushion over Leeds, both of whom have games in hand, and was their seventh home victory in succession in all competitions.
Momentum has become perhaps the most ubiquitous word in the rugby player and coach's vocabulary – but, whatever that hard-to-define quality really is, Bristol seem to have some of it at the moment.
Not that they had it all their own way on Friday – even after taking a 12-0 lead into the break.
Jarvis kicked four of his five first-half penalty attempts as Bristol, even with several line-out hiccups, took control of the key exchanges.
Leeds lost lock Dominic Barrow to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Ben Mosses, allowing Jarvis to make it 9-0; and, on a night that was never going to be conducive to running rugby, the hosts added what proved the decisive score on the stroke of half-time when Leeds were penalised for entering a ruck from the side.
The conditions made a Leeds rally inevitable – and it came shortly after half-time, Clegg knocking over a 35-metre penalty inside the first two minutes of the second period.
Bristol hearts skipped several beats as the on-loan Harlequins fly-half then rattled the upright with both a long-range drop-goal attempt and a penalty from out wide.
He eventually made it 12-6 with half-an-hour to play – and 12-9 with 20 minutes remaining after referee JP Doyle reversed a penalty he had initially awarded to Bristol.
But Bristol, inspired by a vibrant showing from replacement scrum-half Ruki Tipuna, lifted the pressure and even turned the screw on Leeds, territorially and at the scrum, in the closing stages.
The visitors lost replacement hooker Joe Graham to the sin-bin within three minutes of his arrival, before Middleton's team closed out in a game they could ill afford to lose.
Now they will be hoping prop Hobson – who has taken on an almost talismanic importance to the club – succeeds in his appeal tomorrow.
"You don't want to jinx it, but we're going into the appeal hoping for the best possible outcome – and we think we've got a strong case," said Hobson.
Bristol: J Tovey; G Watkins, L Eves, B Mosses (T Roberts 24-27), R Edwards; A Jarvis, J Grindal (capt; R Tipuna 61); K Traynor (M Lilley 80), R Johnston, J Hobson, M Sambucetti (B Glynn 61), G Townson, M Mama, R Pennycook, M Eadie. Reps not used: R Lawrence, W Thompson, A Faosiliva.
Scorers: Pens – Jarvis (4).
Leeds: S McColl; M Clark (P Nilsen 67-76), J Griffin, P Lucock, D Doherty; R Clegg, C Hampson (J Doherty 51); S Lockwood (B Harris 76), P Nilsen (J Graham 63), D Tussac, C Green (M Smith 76), D Barrow (M Myerscough 55), R Baldwin, J Rowan (capt), R Burrows. Reps not used: B Hooper, C Georgiou.
Scorers: Pens – Clegg (3).
Sin-binned: Barrow (21-35, high tackle); Graham (66-76, killing the ball).
Referee: JP Doyle.