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Champions Cup heartache for Bristol as win over Gloucester not enough

By PA
Charles Piutau playing his last game for Bristol Bears in conversation with owner Steve Lansdown following the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Gloucester Rugby at Ashton Gate on May 06, 2023 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Bristol missed out on a Heineken Champions Cup spot for next season despite a hard-fought 36-21 win over local rivals Gloucester as they were pipped by Bath on points’ difference.

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The bonus-point victory was not enough for Bears to stay in eighth place in the final Gallagher Premiership table as Bath’s winning margin over Saracens proved crucial.

Semi Radradra scored two tries on his farewell appearance for Bristol while Sia Naulago, Magnus Bradbury and Harry Thacker were also on the try-scoring sheet, with A.J. MacGinty adding four conversions and a penalty.

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Ollie Thorley and Jonny May scored Gloucester’s tries and there was also a penalty try award, with Adam Hastings and Billy Twelvetrees each adding a conversion.

Thacker led out Bristol for his 100th appearance for the club and the hooker was instrumental in his side taking the lead in the 10th minute.

He was at the forefront of a line-out drive which took Bears to within a metre of the visitors’ line from where Harry Randall sent Naulago over.

Five minutes later, the home side repeated the dose with Thacker the try-scorer this time. It was his 11th try of the season to equal David Lemi’s Premiership record for Bristol.

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A second touchline conversion from MacGinty gave Bristol a 14-0 lead at the end of the opening 15 minutes, which they had dominated.

Gloucester needed a quick response and they got one when skilful passing from their backs created the space for Thorley to round the last defender and score.

Hastings converted but a straightforward penalty from MacGinty extended the hosts’ lead.

Bristol continued to have the better of territory and possession but their opponents were dangerous on the counter-attack, with Seb Atkinson, Stephen Varney and Thorley all coming close to reducing the arrears.

Bears suffered a blow when their influential number eight Fitz Harding departed with an injury but they still led 17-7 at the interval.

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Eight minutes after the restart, Harding’s replacement, Bradbury, was up in support of a potent attack from his three-quarters to score Bears’ third try.

Bristol knew they were likely to need a bonus-point victory so turned down a simple kick at goal in favour of an attacking line-out. However, it did not go to plan as Gloucester stole it.

It mattered little as, within minutes, Radradra had brushed aside two would-be tacklers to crash over and the home side could rest a little easier.

However, spirited Gloucester would not lie down and a break from Chris Harris saw May run in from the halfway line, but Radradra joined a driving line-out to give Bristol hope that the European place would be theirs.

But it was not to be as a late penalty award for a deliberate knock-on by Charles Piutau scuppered Bristol’s afternoon.

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