Lovell Rugby Match of the Week: Bristol vs Worcester Warriors
An emphatic 37-18 victory over Worcester, their nearest rivals, has given Bristol belief that they might yet avoid the dreaded drop from the Guinness Premiership.
Defeat for the locals would have condemned them to relegation three games inside the distance after a miserable season.
But they conjured up an unlikely bonus-point victory against the 11th-placed Warriors, recording only their second Premiership success of the campaign.
They had a few nervous moments after seeing a 17-0 lead clawed back to just two points, but then finished strongly against a woefully out-of-sorts Worcester side.
Worcester are now nine points above Bristol, and they could have few complaints after being shredded by tries from full-back Tom Arscott (wearing his Adidas predator powerswerve rugby boots), lock Mariano Sambucetti, centre Junior Fatialofa, wing Lee Robinson (2) and substitute scrum-half Haydn Thomas.
Bristol could even afford fly-half Ed Barnes to miss four out of six conversion attempts, while Arscott’s drop-goal ensured Worcester did not threaten a losing bonus point.
It was the first time since October 2007 that Bristol have scored five tries or more in a Premiership game, and Worcester were left to reflect on possibly their worst performance under rugby director Mike Ruddock.
Tries by centre Dale Rasmussen and number eight Kai Horstmann briefly put them in the contest, while full-back Willie Walker – on loan from Gloucester – slotted two penalties and a conversion, yet Bristol were full value for the win.
Bristol, without a league win since mid-November, showed two changes from the side edged out by Wasps last weekend as Sambucetti and centre Neil Brew both gained starts,
And Bristol made the early running, forging a 10th-minute lead when Arscott left Worcester’s defence floundering.
Fly-half Matthew Jones, prop Matt Mullan and full-back Walker all failed to stop the Bristol full-back before he crossed between the posts, complete with celebratory dive.
Barnes added the conversion, and then his scything break caused fresh panic in the Worcester defence as Bristol underlined a more expansive approach since Paul Hull took over as head coach.
Bristol though, suffered an injury blow midway through the first half when their former England scrum-half Shaun Perry was helped off after being on the receiving end of a crunching midfield collision.
But the home side refused to be knocked out of their stride, and two tries in five minutes opened up a 17-point gap.
Arscott’s superbly timed pass sent Fatialofa over in the corner, and before Worcester could recover, wing David Lemi’s powerful run set up a forward platform from which Sambucetti prospered.
It was a shambolic display by Worcester, although they rallied to end the first period with a concerted spell of pressure deep inside Bristol’s 22, yet even that ended in blundering fashion.
A static Bristol defence saw Walker send wing Miles Benjamin over in the corner, but referee Wayne Barnes disallowed the try for crossing in midfield, before Rasmussen gave the Warriors a glimmer of hope when he touched down from the half’s final move.
And it set the tone for the second period’s opening flurries as Worcester scored 10 points in two minutes.
Walker slotted a penalty, then he counter-attacked confidently from deep inside his own half before freeing wing Marcel Garvey and then appearing on Garvey’s shoulder to deliver a scoring pass to Horstmann.
Bristol’s advantage had been slashed to just two points, and they needed to regroup after Worcester had caught them napping with tries either side of the break.
It was left to the impressive Arscott to restore a degree of order, as his 52nd minute drop-goal gave Bristol a five-point lead and sparked another spell of pressure.
And crisp passing resulted in a try for Robinson (wearing his Puma king XL rugby boots), whose impressive performance had seen him cause problems for Worcester throughout the contest.
The Warriors proved unable to build on their early second-half points blitz, and another defensive lapse allowed Thomas to scamper over unopposed after gathering substitute lock Roy Winters’ pass.
It was the score that killed off any hope of a Worcester revival, and Bristol’s standing ovation at the final whistle said everything about a game they dominated.
Tries: Arscott, Fatialofa, Sambucetti, Robinson 2, Thomas
Cons: Barnes 2
Drop: T Arscott
For Worcester Warriors:
Tries: Rasmussen, Horstmann
Pens: Walker 2
Bristol: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Lee Robinson, 13 Neil Brew, 12 Junior Fatialofa, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ed Barnes, 9 Shaun Perry, 8 Dan Ward-Smith, 7 Joe El Abd (capt), 6 Redford Pennycook, 5 Robert Sidoli, 4 Mariano Sambucetti, 3 Darren Crompton 2 Scott Linklater, 1 Mark Irish.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Hayes, 17 Wayne Thompson, 18 Roy Winters, 19 Alfie To’oala, 20 Haydn Thomas, 21 Luke Eves, 22 Luke Arscott.
Worcester: 15 Willie Walker, 14 Marcel Garvey, 13 Rico Gear, 12 Dale Rasmussen, 11 Miles Benjamin, 10 Matthew Jones, 9 Ryan Powell, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Pat Sanderson (capt), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Will Bowley, 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 Darren Morris, 2 Chris Fortey, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Callum Black, 17 Aleki Lutui, 18 Graham Kitchener, 19 James Collins, 20 Jonny Arr, 21 Loki Crichton, 22 Alex Grove.
Referee: Wayne Barnes