Callum Sheedy’s last-gasp conversion gave Bristol a stunning 35-33 comeback victory over Harlequins in an enthralling contest at Ashton Gate to further extend their lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership. Two Bears tries in the final moments of the game snatched victory away from title rivals Harlequins, who had looked almost certain to inflict just a second home defeat on Bristol this season.
But the leaders showed their perseverance for a second successive week to boost their bid for a maiden Premiership crown. It was an all-action, back-and-forth encounter between the Premiership’s first and third-placed teams, as Six Nations stars Sheedy, Kyle Sinckler, Ben Earl and Joe Marchant all returned to club duty.
Quins began the brighter as fly-half Marcus Smith hit the post with his first shot at goal. But the resulting play saw Bristol pounce from their own line and burst up the field with Dave Attwood collecting a fortunate fumble to stroll in from 25 metres for the game’s opening try.
Nevertheless, the visitors’ positive start continued. A string of infringements by the hosts close to their try line following constant pressure saw referee Hamish Smales award Harlequins a penalty try. Bristol number eight Earl was sent to the sin bin as a result.
The league leaders hit back almost immediately, as Bryan Byrne’s neat offload to Fitz Harding on his shoulder saw him cross, with Sheedy adding the extras. But, less than a minute later, Harlequins were back level. Earl, back on the field after time in the bin, was stripped in the tackle on his five-minute line by the evergreen Danny Care, who then dived over in the corner. Smith’s excellent conversion from the touchline boosted the score.
Victory at the death for @BristolBears! ?
Of all the people, it just had to be @KyleSinckler against his old side! ?
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 27, 2021
As the early spring sun shone on Bristol, running rugby was certainly the beneficiary. The returning Semi Radradra helped put Pat Lam’s side back ahead after the Fijian’s sumptuous offload to centre partner Piers O’Conor gave him an easy run to the line.
However, a pair of Smith penalties on either side of half-time cut Quins’ deficit to just a single point. The second period was a quieter affair with both sides guilty of making mistakes, but Care’s opportunistic drop-goal saw Quins take the lead once more.
The contest then burst back into life, and this time it was the visitors’ midfield combination of Andre Esterhuizen and Marchant combining terrifically for the latter to score under the posts and extend Quins’ lead.
A third penalty from fly-half Smith edged his side further ahead but a late penalty try for Bears, with a Marchant yellow card, threatened an intriguing conclusion. An exciting finish it was, as Sinckler powered over in the final minute of the game to give Sheedy a kick out wide for the win.
The Wales international calmly slotted over the conversion on his 100th appearance for the club to give Bears a memorable victory.
It was 54 weeks ago when the lockdown shutters crashed down on the Premiership, Bristol vs Harlequins the final game. Pat Lam and Adam Jones now review the 'new normal' year with their clubs set for an Ashton Gate rematch#BRIvHAR #PremRugby
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 27, 2021
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