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'I believe the top four will go right down to the last week'

By PA
Bristol Bears' Gabriel Ibitoye and Bristol Bears' Noah Heward celebrate at the final whistle during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bristol Bears and Bath Rugby at Ashton Gate on January 27, 2024 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Bristol boss Pat Lam believes this season’s Gallagher Premiership play-off race will go down to the wire.

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A remarkable 57-44 victory over fierce west country rivals Bath at Ashton Gate meant that Bristol maintained a fighting chance of featuring at the business end.

It was the first time for 22 years that a Premiership game had delivered 100 points or more, but Lam’s team prevailed in a match of 14 tries and four yellow cards.

“It was around going and playing our game. We focused on getting our ruck speed right and then playing what was in front of us with no fear,” Bristol rugby director Lam said.

“We were going to make mistakes, but it wasn’t about focusing on that.

“We talked at half-time about how we manage the game and how we stay calm and keep coming at them.

Match Summary

1
Penalty Goals
2
8
Tries
6
7
Conversions
3
0
Drop Goals
0
125
Carries
112
12
Line Breaks
4
6
Turnovers Lost
6
1
Turnovers Won
5

“It was a great game of rugby – no-one wants to come and watch a kick-fest.”

The Premiership campaign now breaks until late March while the Guinness Six Nations takes centre stage, and Lam added: “It has been 23 weeks non-stop, if you count the pre-season games.

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“It has been tough for everybody and this is a well-deserved break for everyone.

“There has been some great rugby played in the Premiership and it is going to be an exciting finish.

“Every game is going to matter and I believe the top four will go right down to the last week.”

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.

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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.

22m Entries

Avg. Points Scored
4.7
12
Entries
Avg. Points Scored
3.8
10
Entries

Bath’s head of rugby Johann van Graan said: “It was a great game. We started pretty well, and where we potentially lost was with the two (first-half) yellow cards (for Bath players Jaco Coetzee and Louis Schreuder).

“We had our chances in the first half and it was calm at half-time. We believed we could win the game and on 77 minutes it was a one-score game, so we had fought our way back.

“I am always going to back our squad. We backed ourselves to come and win this game and we are disappointed that we didn’t come away with the five points.

“Sometimes, you have just got to say well done to the opposition. We have become tough to beat and that wasn’t over until the last minute of the game.

“We are in a good position as a club and we believe the best is yet to come later in the season.”

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