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Bristol upset the odds with thrilling win over west country rivals Bath

By PA
BRISTOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27: Jaco Coetzee of Bath Rugby is tackled during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby at Ashton Gate on January 27, 2024 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Bristol shredded the Gallagher Premiership form-book by beating title contenders and fierce west country rivals Bath 57-44 in a remarkable Ashton Gate encounter.

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An irresistible first-half performance saw Bristol run in five tries as Will Capon, Joe Batley, AJ MacGinty, Noah Heward and James Williams all breached Bath’s defence, with MacGinty kicking four conversions.

But the home side still had to endure a fraught finale when they had two players sin-binned in quick succession and Bath fought back from 20 points behind to just six adrift.

Bristol, 11 points and five places below their opponents before kick-off, ultimately capitalised on Bath being without several main players due to England’s Six Nations training commitments, although Scotland trio Finn Russell, Cameron Redpath and Josh Bayliss all featured.

Back-row pair Fitz Harding and Magnus Bradbury added second-half tries for the home side, as did full-back Rich Lane, with MacGinty converting both and booting a late penalty as he finished with 20 points, and Benhard Janse van Rensburg landed the final conversion in front of a sold-out crowd.

Joe Cokanasiga, Tom Dunn, Jaco Coetzee, Tom de Glanville and Thomas du Toit crossed for Bath and there was also a penalty try – Russell added two penalties and three conversions – but a bonus point will provide scant consolation, with Russell’s poor kick gifting Bristol their final try.

Bristol boss Pat Lam made five changes from the side beaten by Champions Cup opponents Connacht, including starts for Capon and lock James Dun, while Lane replaced injured full-back Max Malins.

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Bristol flanker Steven Luatua, meanwhile, became the first player in Premiership history to wear a microphone during a game, with audio planned to be broadcast on television during half-time and after the match.

Bath flew out of the blocks and went ahead after just two minutes from their first attack.

Russell’s kick found Cokanasiga, who still had plenty to do, but he brushed off two attempted tackles during a 45-metre run that ended in him crossing wide out for a 5-0 lead.

Bristol were level just five minutes later, though, when Capon touched down following a superbly executed lineout drive, before Bath’s defence was split open by a brilliant move.

Full-back Rich Lane attacked from deep, found scrum-half Harry Randall in support and the England international’s inside ball was taken at pace by Batley, who galloped clear to score.

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MacGinty converted and there was more trouble for Bath when Coetzee was yellow-carded following head-on-head contact with his opposite number Bradbury.

A short-range Russell penalty cut the deficit, yet Bristol were in the mood to capitalise on Coetzee’s temporary absence, collecting a third try as MacGinty crossed following strong approach work from Bradbury.

MacGinty added the extras and Bath continued to press the self-destruct button, briefly going down to 13 players when scrum-half Louis Schreuder saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on.

And Bristol did not require a second invitation, securing a bonus point after just 23 minutes when Heward crossed for their fourth touchdown, with MacGinty’s conversion putting the home side 18 points clear.

Bath responded when Dunn rounded off a lineout drive, with Russell converting, yet normal service was quickly resumed due to MacGinty’s defence-splitting pass that sent Williams clear for another converted try, giving Bristol a 33-15 half-time advantage.

A pulsating contest continued at pace, with Russell twice being involved in a flowing move that resulted in an early second-half try for De Glanville, yet back came Bristol when Harding surged over and MacGinty’s conversion left Bath 20 points behind.

Coetzee claimed Bath’s fourth try but it was immediately cancelled out when Bradbury scored, although Bristol then went down a player through Luatua being yellow-carded.

Heward then followed him as a penalty try brought Bath back to within striking distance before MacGinty’s penalty and Lane’s converted score finally denied them.

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2 Comments
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Terry 149 days ago

Fitz Harding had a very good game, as did Magnus Bradbury at number 8. Why did Bristol go for Mata at 8 when you have Bradbury continually playing very good, unless Bradbury is leaving as per Sheedy. Salary should have been spent replacing Sinkler, who also had a very good game. With Sheedy going and AJ MacGinty getting on, would like to see Malins playing at 10.

S
Sumkunn Tsadmiova 149 days ago

Mickey Mouse wears a Finn Russell watch…

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