Bristol Sonics’ difficult Conference League 3 season could get even tougher on Saturday (30 June), when Rugby League Conference National champions Huddersfield-Underbank Rangers visit Aretians (2.30pm kick-off, free entry). Fans will also get a chance to see the results of the Sonics’ junior development as the Under 16’s take on Neath Port Talbot Steelers in a curtain-raiser game, kick-off 1pm. The Sonics have yet to win a game this season after moving up to the national leagues, and face a gigantic task to get anything out of their game against the Conference League 3 title favourites.Bristol were given a rude awakening to the demands of Conference League 3 when they faced the Holmfirth-based side back in May, losing 62-0 to the team many believe are odds-on to win the competition.Although the Sonics have improved considerably since then, losing a number of close matches, they face an uphill struggle to even get a bonus point against the Yorkshire side, one of the oldest amateur Rugby League clubs in the world.Sonics captain Dom Swann understands the task awaiting his side on Saturday: “To even get close, we’ll have to put in the best defensive performance the club has ever produced. When we played them at their place they made mincemeat of us. They have so much experience playing at this level and can reproduce a high level of performance every week. They’re very organized, strong in attack and concede very few points. If we don’t tackle hard and keep our line tight, we’ll get hammered. It’s a tough ask.”But Swann also thinks there is grounds for optimism. “When we played them at their place we weren’t at our strongest in terms of personnel, and we were just getting used to the League. Now we’ve had nine games and we’re used to the physical demands of the league. We’re getting better every week. We’ve not yet put in the sort of performance we can be happy with. If we get close to that on Saturday we’ll cause them problems. If we do that, and they have an off day, who knows what might happen.”While the Sonics’ first team take on Huddersfield-Underbank, Bristol Sonics A – the club’s second team – will be trying to enhance their title credentials at Oxford Cavaliers. The Sonics’ seconds sit second in the table, tied on points with leaders Somerset Vikings but with an inferior goal difference. A win against the dangerous Cavaliers could put the Sonics clear at the top of the West of England Division with two games remaining.Bristol beat Oxford when the two sides last met, but it was a close run thing. The Sonics will have to be at their best to win on Saturday.Bristol Sonics A player/coach Aran Simm said: “We’re expecting a very difficult game against Oxford on Saturday. They’ve generally been very strong at home and a lot weaker away. Since we’re playing them at their place, we could be in for a very tough afternoon. We’re definitely good enough to win well, and all the lads are really up for the game. We really want to win this league.”
Bristol Sonics let another opportunity to grab their first Conference League 3 victory slip through their fingers on Saturday, losing 24-16 to St Albans Centurions in a tight contest at Toulmin Drive.Bristol produced a stirring second half performance to guarantee only their second bonus point of the season, but it was not enough to overcome a St Albans side who proved difficult opponents.The Sonics enjoyed the greater of the possession in that second period, but were only able to convert two chances despite long periods of dominance. St Albans’ goal-line defence was particularly impressive in the closing stages, leaving Bristol coach Karl Fearnley frustrated yet again.Fearnley said: ‘That was another game we could, and possibly should, have won, which has been the story of recent games. For long periods we rarely looked troubled, but let in sloppy tries at crucial times. Again, we were punished for defensive errors or a lack of discipline. I couldn’t find fault with much of the performance, but again it just wasn’t quite good enough.’The home side started the game brightly and took the lead on 10 minutes, scrum half George Steven touching down an inch-perfect grubber kick from Australian player/coach Shane Rampling. Lewis Dempsey converted.Bristol bounced back quickly and were soon back within two points thanks to a long range try from Marcus Brooker. The England Students centre carved through the St Albans line and hit the gas, easing off in the final strides to touch down wide on the left.Bristol then enjoyed a short period of pressure on the St Albans line. Coach Fearnley was screaming for his players to ‘take the two points’ when awarded a penalty right in front of posts, 20 metres out, but captain Dom Swann and scrum half Lewis Beer decided to run the ball. Two tackles later, the ball was dropped and a golden opportunity had gone wasted.On 22 minutes St Albans’ supporters cheered when Bristol dropped the ball on the halfway line. Suddenly, the Centurions were given the chance to attack. Two penalties later, the first for ripping the ball, and St Albans were camped on the Sonics line. Substitute Dylan Rampling brushed off some weak tackling to crash over and make the score 10-6.Bristol were made to pay for more indiscipline on 35 minutes, as a controversial penalty was awarded to St Albans after winger Mike Norman was judged to have not played the ball after the referee called held. In Norman’s defence, although he had been tackled – by a high shot that went unpunished – there was no defender holding on to him when he hit the ground, so he believed he was within his rights to get up and keep going. The referee thought otherwise, and awarded St Albans a penalty, 20 metres out from the Sonics line. They took full advantage, Marin Day crashing over from close range. Full back Gareth Waters converted, putting the home team 16-4 up at the interval.After some harsh words at half time from a frustrated Fearnley, Bristol began the second half brilliantly. They tore into their opponents and began to make inroads into St Albans’ lead. After a period of sustained attacking pressure, Bristol were awarded a penalty for a shocking high tackle on winger Mike Norman. After working their way into the St Albans’ 20, Mike Norman danced past two defenders to touch down. Dom Swann’s conversion reduced the arrears to six points. Game on.After weathering more Bristol pressure, St Albans extended their lead on 60 minutes. After being awarded a penalty that helped that move downfield, Andy Lake touched down to make it 20-10.The Sonics, easily the better team in the second period and genuinely looking dangerous with ball in hand, refused to lie down and quickly reduced the arrears to four points. This time, Marcus Brooker collected an inch-perfect crossfield kick from captain Swann and forced his way over. Swann converted, only to be told by the referee to re-take it as he wasn’t ready. Swann duly slotted over his second attempt to make it 20-16 with 13 minutes remaining.Bristol continued to press and came close to levelling the scores on several occasions. Then, another error handed St Albans the position to seal their hard-fought victory. Winger Aaron Pearson collected the ball on his own line and ran into a wall of tacklers. He released the ball to substitute Sam Barker, but the pass was forward. St Albans were awarded a scrum and guaranteed possession for six tackles. They used this wisely, and on the fourth tackle Mike Benson squeezed over, taking two Bristol defenders with him. With an eight-point advantage and just four minutes remaining, the game was as good as up for the Sonics.Bristol continued to press in the closing stages, but couldn’t get the two scores they needed to snatch a victory. Next week Bristol return to Aretians to face 2011 champions Huddersfield-Underbank Rangers (Saturday 29 June, kick-off 2.30pm).Bristol MOTM: Marcus Brooker (centre)HST ALBANS CENTURIONS
Bristol Sonics coach Karl Fearnley has been boosted by the return of two student internationals for Satiurday’s trip to fellow Conference League 3 newcomers St Albans Centurians (K.O 2.30pm).Hard-running prop forward Nathan Rainer is fit to return after starring in Wales Students’ Academic 4 Nations Final victory over England last week, while centre Marcus Brooker, who grabbed a hatful of tries for England Students in the same competition, is fit and raring to go after only featuring briefly for the Sonics last weekend.Fearnley has been frustrated in recent weeks by having a number of players missing through injury, illness and international competition, but can now pick from an almost full first team squad for the first time this year.Fearnley said: “It’s great to be able to have selection issues. The lads have training incredibly well this week and are all focused on getting that first Conference League 3 victory of the season. St Albans are a great side, who have generally picked up better results than us. They’ve also missed out in a few tight games. I know for a fact that their coach identified the matches against us as “must win” ones. That means the pressure’s on them. I just want to see an improved performance for 80 minutes. We’ve been getting better, but we’re not there yet.”Last weekend the Sonics came close to recording a first victory of the season, but a mixture of poor set completion and indiscipline once again cost them, as Bramley Buffaloes scored three times in the last 20 minutes to win 20-4.Fearnley said: “It was incredibly frustrating to watch, if I’m honest. At half time we looked the better side and the more likely to win. The second half we were poor. We only completed 3 sets of six out of the 11 or 12 we had in that 40 minutes. We have away too much ball and too many penalties. We can’t afford to keep doing that if we want to win matches at this level.”Fearnley said: “It’s been very tough for us so far this season, but we expected that when we stepped up into the national leagues. It takes a while to adapt to the physical and mental demands of a higher intensity of rugby. Although we’ve had some serious beatings, there are things we are doing every week. The way we played against Kippax, South Wales and at times against Coventry shows that we can compete in this division. If we keep improving a little every week, wins will come.”While the Sonics’ firsts search for that elusive first victory, the second team are keen on getting back to winning ways after narrowly losing to local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors A last Saturday. Bristol Sonics A welcome bitter rivals Swindon St George to Aretians (kick-off 2.30pm, free entry) on Saturday, and nothing less than a win would do.
Bristol Sonics centre Marcus Brooker has been called up to the England Students squad for this summer’s Home Nations Championship.
Bristol Sonics’ search for a first Conference League 3 victory continues after a frustrating afternoon of dizzying highs and painful lows at the Harvey Hadden Stadium, Nottingham.The Sonics dominated the opening 20 minutes of the game
Bristol Sonics enjoyed their own “Super Saturday” at Clifton last weekend, coming from behind to stun Conference League 3 leaders Hemel Stags 19-8 at Clifton RFC.The Sonics, who began the day rock bottom of the Conference League 3 table, delivered a near faultless defensive performance to edge out Championship One-bound Hemel and record their third straight victory after 11 losses on the bounce.Bristol’s victory was all the more impressive given that they’d lost two key players, England Students centre Marcus Brooker and hard working second row Matt Douglas, to serious injuries midway through the first half.
Bristol Sonics supporters were taken on an emotional rollercoaster on Saturday, as the first team fell to another heavy Conference League 3 defeat and the seconds produced a dramatic last-gasp victory that lifts them to the top of the West of England league.The Sonics first team have yet to win in their debut Conference League 3 season, and hopes were raised of a first victory when they narrowly trailed Coventry Bears 18-12 at half time. Yet all hope disintegrated within the first 12 minutes of the second half, as four quick tries from the visitors – including a hat-trick for substitute Rhidian Booth – put the game beyond Bristol.It had all looked so promising. After a slow start, the Sonics were the better of the two teams in the opening period. Running hard and forcing Coventry into uncharacteristic errors thanks to solid defense, the home side came back from 6-0 down following a gift of a try to lead 12-6 after 30 minutes. First, returning winger Mike Norman palmed down a high, cross-field kick from captain Dom Swann and found centre Mike Gatson in support. He strolled to the line unopposed to touch down, before Swann’s conversion leveled the scores.
The Sonics are looking for new players to bolster both of their open age squads for the 2012 season. Interested players can get in touch by clicking here or simply come along to a pre-season training session (see here for details).2012 will be a big year for the Sonics with the 1st team set to step up a level following their RLC Midlands Premier title last season and the 2nd team aiming to better last season’s 3rd place finish in the RLC West of England Regional division. Full details of the league line-ups will be revealed shortly.
The Sonics’ pre-season preparations for 2012 are underway with 2 weekly sessions being held at Filton College ‘s WISE Campus on Thursdays and Sundays. Thursday’s offering is a gym session at 19:30-21:00 followed by an hour of skills and games on the state-of-the-art 40m x 60m indoor 3G artificial pitch. On Sunday’s the indoor 3G is booked between 14:00-16:00 for speed, agility and quickness (SAQ) training, skills work and small-sided games. Head-coach Karl Fearnley is urging existing and new players to take advantage of the sessions: ‘2012 is a big year for the club with the 1st team set to compete at their highest level yet. So we’ve kicked off our pre-season as early as possible to ensure we get maximum value out of the fantastic facilitates we’ve got on offer at Filton College .”The gym is very well equipped and players can take part in an organised conditioning circuit or do their own training. But the sessions on the indoor 3G are more important where we will be focusing on skill development through the use of games wherever possible and laying the foundations for how we want to play this season.’ ‘I appreciate that several members of our squads have commitments to union or other sports over the winter but I’d still encourage them to get involved whenever they can. We’ll need to pick an initial first team squad before the start of the season so the earlier people can get involved the better. I’d also like to invite any potential new players to come along and join the sessions.’Players should meet at 19:30 Thursdays at the gym (go down corridor between reception and the ‘Goals’ bar, take first left down corridor then up stairs on left to 1st floor – at top of stairs turn left and head to the end of the corridor) or 21:00 Thursday / 14:00 Sunday at the indoor 3G (down corridor between reception and the ‘Goals’ bar through door at far end).Full details of the Sonics’ 2012 league line-ups for both the 1st and 2nd teams will be released shortly.