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Bristol's knockout hopes in jeopardy after Bulls loss

By PA
Gabriel Ibitoye of Bristol Bears looks dejected following the Investec Champions Cup match between Bristol Bears and Vodacom Bulls at Ashton Gate on January 13, 2024 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bristol’s hopes of reaching the Investec Champions Cup knockout stages were dealt a major setback as South African challengers the Bulls beat them 31-17 at Ashton Gate.

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The west country club must now beat Connacht in Galway to have even an outside chance of making the last 16, but they are still likely to be reliant on results elsewhere.

Bristol were overpowered by a physical, unrelenting Bulls team, conceding tries to wing Sergeal Petersen, prop Khutha Mchunu, flanker Elrigh Louw and hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels, with fly-half Johan Goosen kicking three conversions and a penalty, and centre David Kriel landing one conversion.

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Jake White on team selection

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Jake White on team selection

Bulls’ bonus-point triumph owed everything to their overwhelming scrummaging superiority, with Bristol restricted to tries from scrum-half Kieran Marmion, wing Gabriel Ibitoye and number eight Magnus Bradbury, plus one AJ MacGinty conversion.

The Gallagher Premiership side could have no complaints, while the Bulls underlined credentials as a force in the 24-team competition.

Bristol were without injured internationals Callum Sheedy, Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, while Bulls boss Jake White opted to rest his South Africa World Cup-winning quartet of Willie le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Marco van Staden.

The Bulls made a bright start, with Petersen testing Bristol’s defence through a powerful touchline break, before Goosen kicked a 40-metre penalty that opened the scoring.

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Goosen made a temporary exit three minutes later, though, being yellow-carded by referee Mathieu Raynal for a deliberate knock-on after Bristol looked to attack through Marmion and flanker Dan Thomas.

Bristol found themselves under early scrum pressure, conceding two penalties in quick succession, before Bulls’ physical power helped carve out an opening for Petersen, with his clinical 15th-minute try being converted by Kriel.

But the home side responded impressively when MacGinty and centre James Williams combined strongly in midfield, allowing Marmion an unopposed run to the line. MacGinty’s conversion cut the deficit to three points.

Williams was soon heavily involved in the action again, but this time at the other end of the pitch as his challenge on Bulls lock Reinhardt Ludwig prevented a try.

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Bristol’s scrummaging problems were underlined nine minutes before the break when rugby director Pat Lam substituted both starting props Sam Grahamslaw and George Kloska, replacing them with Jake Woolmore and Max Lahiff.

It could not prevent Bristol from immediately conceding a fourth scrum penalty, yet the Bulls could not capitalise as they took a 10-7 advantage into half-time.

Lahiff was sin-binned for a scrummaging offence early in the second period, and the Bulls struck near the end of his 10 minutes off the pitch.

A flowing counter-attack was briefly halted by Bristol, but the Bulls had sufficient momentum and Mchunu crashed over for an outstanding try that Goosen converted.

There was no way back for Bristol, and the Bulls went up a gear to leave their opponents floundering by scoring two tries in three minutes.

Louw applied a brilliant finish following a flowing move, then Wessels intercepted Bristol captain Steven Luatua’s pass on the halfway line and sprinted 50 metres to score.

Ibitoye and Bradbury pounced for scores during the closing minutes, but the Bulls were comfortably home and dry.

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B.J. Spratt 3 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

You Poms and Paddies are really nice guys. New Zealand V Ireland - 37 Tests - N.Z. 31 Wins - Ireland 5 Wins - 1 draw. New Zealand V England - 45 Tests - N.Z. 35 Wins -England 8 Wins - 2 draws. Combined - You have beaten the All Blacks 13 Times in 82 attempts over 119 years. The Stats over 100 years + would say, especially England with 6 Times the player pool than New Zealand, you have “a limitation of context” regarding developing your coaches to teach your players how to WIN. So how can England with a 6 times the player numbers have a 17% winning strike rate against New Zealand? and be 8 -0 in Test Series over 100 years. The answer is simple. Your perception of the game. How do you fix it? You need to play in New Zealand for a couple of seasons in your teens, 18 -20 or send coaches over here. Martin Johnstone played 2 seasons here under the mentorship of Colin Meads. When he came here he had rugby shorts with pockets and a handkerchief in one pocket. He played for NZ Under 21 against Wallaby John Eales. He became the toughest player in the game and the best ever English Captain and Captained the Lions twice. Legend! Maybe if he hadn’t come to New Zealand, he may still had those rugby shorts with pockets. Recently Rogan O’Gara spent time at the Crusaders. What a great coach. “Our “mindset is different” and that’s how we have beaten you for 100 years + How the hell he isn’t Coaching Ireland, France, England, Wales, or Scotland I will never know? England has 131,000 Senior rugby Players. Ireland has 21,000 Senior Players. New Zealand has 27,000 Senior Players.

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