Bristol finally break down stubborn Gloucester to extend lead at the top
An easing of coronavirus restrictions allowed Bristol’s first home crowd since March last year – 3,128 – and Pat Lam’s team eventually headlined the show.
Their bonus-point win took them 12 points clear at the Premiership summit and a home play-off next month is within touching distance.
But they often made hard work of it after Gloucester lock Matias Alemanno was sent off for a 16th-minute tip-tackle, seeing three first-half tries disallowed, full-back Charles Piutau wasting another golden opportunity and then substitute Alapati Leiua and Piutau having scores ruled out.
It meant that Bristol’s all-court game often stalled, yet they ultimately prevailed through touchdowns from Piutau, wing Max Malins, flanker Ben Earl, number eight Nathan Hughes and centre Semi Radradra, while fly-half Callum Sheedy kicked two penalties and four conversions.
Gloucester, despite facing an uphill struggle for more than hour, were admirable in adversity and they arguably deserved more than wing Santiago Carreras’ try that Billy Twelvetrees converted.
Bristol showed one change from the side that beat Bath last time out, with hooker Jake Kerr handed a first start, while a solitary Gloucester switch after they brushed aside Northampton nine days ago saw scrum-half Willi Heinz called up.
Sheedy booted Bristol into a seventh-minute lead, with the crowd seemingly cheering every Bristol pass and kick, and he doubled his team’s advantage through a second penalty shortly afterwards.
Sheedy was lining up the conversion when referee Craig Maxwell-Keys was referred to television replays and he ruled an unclear grounding by the England forward.
There was no let-up in the action, though, with Alemanno then dismissed for his reckless challenge on Luatua, before Bristol had another try ruled out, this time after Kerr crossed Gloucester’s line.
Radradra also went close and Gloucester were soon in further strife, being temporarily reduced to 13 men when prop Val Rapava-Ruskin was shown a yellow card for a scrummaging infringement.
Bristol were camped inside Gloucester’s half and they finally broke through 13 minutes before half-time.
Another flowing move had Gloucester in retreat and, when possession was quickly recycled, Sheedy freed Malins with a stunning reverse flip-pass and the fly-half converted for a 13-point lead.
Sheedy’s delight turned to frustration shortly afterwards when he had a try disallowed following a knock-on earlier in the move and Gloucester – despite their numerical disadvantage – were somehow still in the contest.
And Bristol then blew another gilt-edged opportunity when Piutau sprinted clear, but Gloucester full-back Kyle Moyle knocked the ball out of his hands, the try went begging and the visitors trailed just 13-7 at half-time.
Bristol boss Lam made four substitutions, including sending on a new front-row, just seven minutes after the restart and another score was disallowed, this time for Leiua after a forward pass earlier in the move.
All the officials’ no-try decisions were correct, but Bristol finally got it right after a rampaging run by lock Chris Vui led to Piutau crossing, then Earl stormed over 13 minutes from time as the home side closed in on a bonus point.
And it duly arrived courtesy of another close-range score, this time from Hughes as Bristol ultimately pulled away, with Radradra’s late effort making it 26 unanswered second-half points.
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