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Thrilling win for seven-try Bristol not enough to make a semi-final

By PA
Bristol's Joe Batley celebrates (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Bristol held up their end of the bargain by winning a thrilling encounter against Harlequins, but it was not enough to reach the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.

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Both Quins and Bears could have qualified with a bonus-point win, provided other results went their way, and Bristol ran in seven tries during the 53-28 success at the Stoop.

But with Sale’s 20-10 victory at Saracens, Bristol’s triumph proved in vain as they finished fifth. Bears led 21-14 at half-time, with James Williams, Ellis Genge, and Gabriel Ibitoye all crossing.

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Those scores came at a cost though, with Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Callum Sheedy, and Genge all forced off before the break. England prop Genge ended the game on crutches and in a walking boot which will concern head coach Steve Borthwick.

Harlequins scored two tries of their own through Chandler Cunningham-South and Alex Dombrandt.

Fixture
Gallagher Premiership
Harlequins
28 - 53
Full-time
Bristol
All Stats and Data

Early in the second half, Harry Thacker brought up Bristol’s bonus point, but Quins responded through Luke Northmore before a second Cunningham-South try gave them the lead for the first time in the match.

But the boot of Williams and tries from Max Lahiff, Noah Heward and Gabriel Oghre allowed Bristol to retake the lead and stretch clear, even if it was not enough to crack the top four.

Pat Lam’s side could not have wished for a better start, with former Quins academy graduate Ibitoye racing clear down the left before Williams went over after 55 seconds. Sheedy converted from the touchline.

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Janse van Rensburg limped off after the restart and Quins levelled when the departing Andre Esterhuizen burst through a hole before Cunningham-South went under the posts.

Genge crossed after some wonderful offloading by the Bears created space and almost had a second, but the score was ruled out for an infringement by Thacker.

Instead, Quins levelled through Dombrandt, with Marcus Smith converting from the touchline. A loose ball in midfield then allowed Ibitoye to stretch his legs and run in a third to make it 21-14 to the visitors.

Genge and Sheedy departed in the same passage before the break, but Bears flew out of the blocks in the second half as Thacker dotted down with a customary maul score.

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Harlequins roared back, bringing back memories of their famous 28-point turnaround in the semi-final meeting between these sides three years ago at Ashton Gate.

Northmore showed brilliant footballing skills for their third try before Cunningham-South powered over for the bonus-point try to make it 28-26 to the hosts. But a Williams penalty restored Bristol’s lead before Lahiff got over from close range.

The momentum had swung definitively, Williams knocking over another penalty before Heward finished a try made by a Max Malins break – the full-back impressing after shifting to fly-half.

Harlequins had nothing left to give and Bristol brought up a half-century of points with another maul try, this time through Oghre.

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Flankly 13 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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