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Bristol confirm their best start to a league season since 1999

By PA
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Bristol moved top of the Gallagher Premiership and confirmed their best start to a league season since 1999 by beating London Irish 40-36 at Ashton Gate. The west country club matched a hat-trick of wins 23 years ago as they saw off Irish in bonus-point fashion. England prop Ellis Genge followed his try double against Bath a fortnight ago with another score, and there were also first-half scores for hooker Will Capon, wing Luke Morahan and scrum-half Harry Randall.

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Irish were indebted to flashes of brilliance from England international Henry Arundell, who created their opening try and then scored one of his own following an 80-metre breakaway. But Bristol shaded it after Irish had clawed it back to 26-24, with Jake Heenan and Max Lahiff claiming tries in quick succession, while fly-half AJ MacGinty kicked five conversions.

Arundell, scrum-half Ben White, hooker Isaac Miller, centre Benhard van Rensburg and fly-half Paddy Jackson touched down for Irish, with Jackson adding four conversions and a penalty for a 16-point haul.

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MacGinty made a first Bristol start since his summer arrival from Sale, with Genge returning to the front row and lock Ed Holmes also being called up. Arundell, meanwhile, made a second successive start at full-back for Irish in a team captained by flanker Matt Rogerson.

Arundell needed just five minutes to make a mark on the contest, beating Bristol defenders Randall and Rich Lane before delivering a scoring pass to White, with Jackson’s conversion opening up a seven-point lead. Jackson extended Irish’s advantage through a 16th-minute penalty, and Bristol were on the back foot as their opponents looked to capitalise on centre van Rensburg’s strong running.

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But the home side responded impressively to their early deficit, with Randall setting the back line in motion and centre Piers O’Conor sending Morahan clear for a try that MacGinty converted. Irish’s defence was breached again just three minutes later, this time from a driven lineout as Capon claimed the try and MacGinty’s conversion made it 14-10.

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Bristol had momentum through their forwards and they extended their lead seven minutes before half-time when Genge claimed his third try in two games as Irish’s defence struggled to cope with the home side’s physicality. MacGinty’s third successive conversion took Bristol past 20 points, and a miserable second quarter for Irish continued when White was yellow carded for a high tackle on his opposite number Randall.

Randall then pounced to secure a bonus point, darting over for Bristol’s fourth try and putting them 16 points clear at the break. Irish had a second-half mountain to climb, but they struck first when Arundell intercepted MacGinty’s pass inside his own 22 and showed the Bristol defence a clean pair of heels.

Arundell was involved again just seven minutes later, linking superbly with his England colleague Will Joseph in a high-class move that ended when Joseph put Jackson over, and the fly-half converted. Bristol had seen their lead slashed, yet it was Genge who lifted them, securing turnover possession following a crunching tackle that set up a try for skipper Heenan.

MacGinty converted and he then added the extras to Bristol’s sixth try as backs and forwards combined impressively before substitute Lahiff finished it off. Miller’s 72nd-minute try gave the Irish a try bonus-point and van Rensburg then scored, but they could make no further headway as Bristol took over the Premiership top spot from early pace-setters Sale.

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