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SONICS READY FOR GRAND FINAL SHOWDOWN

Player/coach Dom Swann has told his Bristol Sonics side to “make their own history” when they face Bath & Wiltshire Romans in the West of England League Grand Final at AFC Corsham’s Leafy Lane ground on Sunday (23rd August, K.O 14.30).

Swann, the club’s record points scorer and the only man to have played in every season since the Sonics’ first took to the field in 2003, wants his young side to “finish the season in style” by recording a second win in three weeks against League Leaders, and 2015’s form team, Bath & Wiltshire Romans.

The Sonics came into 2015 in disarray, with on and off-field issues forcing the club to withdraw from the elite Conference League South competition and drop down into the West of England League. Given this upheaval, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Sonics struggled to find form in the early part of the year, with the thrill of heavy victories tainted by the pain of tight losses to Somerset Vikings and Cheltenham Phoenix.

As the season has progressed, Bristol has finally clicked into gear. An impressive midweek performance against the Royal Marines, where the Sonics provided the military men with a scare in a pulsating performance, was followed by a dramatic 30-all draw at Dings with this season’s surprise package, Bath & Wiltshire Romans. It was the first time the new club, who rely heavily on Armed Forces players recruited from barracks in Wiltshire, had dropped points. That game, a fiery encounter that included a sin-binning and two sendings off, saw the Sonics roar back from a 14-point deficit to lead, only for the visitors to level the scores in the dying minutes.

Since then, the Sonics have been in prime form. Two weeks ago, an understrength Sonics side traveled to Bath’s Leafy Lane ground in Corsham and emerged victorious, inflicting a first defeat of the season on the confident Romans. Youngster Jack Uren, filling in for injured captain Alex Potts at hooker, grabbed four tries as the Sonics won 28-32.

Last week, Uren repeated the trick, crossing the whitewash four times as the Sonics overcame Somerset Vikings 48-22 at Dings to book a tantalising Grand Final re-match with Bath & Wiltshire Romans this Sunday.

Now player/coach Swann, who missed last week’s encounter due to the wedding of fellow Sonics coach Wes Rodgers, wants his side to finish the job. He said: “I’ve given the players a simple message: finish the job and make your own history. This is what we’ve worked all year for. It’s not been a great season off the field, and at times we’ve struggled on it, but all along we were focused on making the Grand Final to put ourselves in with a chance of winning some silverware. Now we’ve done that, we can focus on our next goal: beating Bath & Wiltshire Romans and winning the West of England League. We know what we have to do to beat them, and psychologically we’re in a good place as the only side in the region not to have lost to them this year. I’m in no doubt that it will be a very difficult game for us, though. I expect them to have all their experienced Forces players available for selection, and we know from little things we’ve picked up on that they’re really desperate to win that trophy, just as we are.”

The Sonics have appeared in a number of Grand Finals over the years in different competitions, and Swann is hoping that might make a difference on Sunday – despite the lack of big-game experience from some in his young, energetic side. He said: “Our last Grand Final was in 2011, where we beat Leicester Storm 28-20 at Aretians to become Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier Champions. There are very few of our squad who experienced that day, but one or two are still in the ranks, or will be there cheering us on from the sidelines. I’ve asked them to have a few words with the youngsters, and tell them about their experiences. This is a new experience for Bath, and we don’t yet know how they’ll respond, but a number of their players have international honours with Great Britain Combined Services so you’d expect them at least to take it in their stride. There’s a certain pressure to being favourites, and they’re definitely favourites.”

One player with experience who will controversially take to the field for Bath on Sunday is prop forward and captain Tom Howley. Alongside Sonics’ Dan Stuart-Cummins, Howley was sent off for his part in a brawl in a previous encounter between the sides, and was due to serve a one-match ban on Sunday. While Stuart-Cummins has accepted his punishment, Bath have written to the Rugby Football League to appeal the decision, allowing Howley to take his place in the side.

Howley is likely to be joined in the Romans’ starting line-up by Mike Harrison, a recent Great Britain Combined Services representative who played for the Sonics in Conference League South last season. These two players, along with the Romans’ strong-running pack, will arguably pose the greatest threat to the Sonics’ title ambitions on Sunday.

Dom Swann said: “Mike and Tom are terrific players and will be at the forefront of everything they do on Sunday. Nobody wants to miss out, which is why I’ll have a few selection headaches this week. Whoever takes to the field for us, I’m convinced they can do a job and help us win that trophy in their back yard.”

Swann is likely to return to the starting line-up, and can also call on experienced centre Mike Gaston for Sunday’s showdown in Corsham. Young stars Jack Farler and Jack Uren, who between them scored 28 of the Sonics’ 48 points last Saturday, will also make the starting line-up. Elsewhere, Swann is remaining tight-lipped and as yet, not even the players know who will be on the team sheet come 2.30 on Sunday afternoon.

Swann said: “I want to keep faith as much as I can with the young players and academy graduates who got us in this position, but we definitely need some extra experience in there, particularly in the pack. The game will be won and lost in the forwards, and we have to compete from the word go. That’s causing me a few headaches, but thankfully a few of the lesser-experienced lads have played brilliantly in the last couple of weeks, so I might just put my faith in them. I’ve still got a fair amount of thinking to do, though.”

Bristol Sonics face Bath & Wiltshire Romans in the West of England League Grand Final at AFC Corsham’s Leafy Lane ground on Sunday 23rd August, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is free.

BRISTOL SONICS RECORD IN GRAND FINALS

2007: RLC West Midlands Division – WON (40-30 v Burntwood Barbarians at Chase High School, Burntwood)
2008: RLC National Grand Final – LOST (38-20 v Moorends Thorn Moor Mauraders at Derby RFC)
2010: RLC West Midlands Premier Division – LOST (24-20 v Coventry Bears in Golden Point extra time at Old Coventrians RFC)
2011: RLC West Midlands Premier Division – WON (28-20 v Leicester Storm at Aretians RFC, Patchway)

Dom Swann is the only player to have appeared – and scored – in each one of Bristol’s Grand Final matches.

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SONICS BEAT SOMERSET TO REACH GRAND FINAL

Hooker Jack Uren grabbed a quartet of tries for the second week running as Bristol Sonics swept aside Somerset Vikings 48-22 to reach next Sunday’s West of England League Grand Final.

Bristol’s victory sets up a Grand Final re-match against table-toppers Bath & Wiltshire Romans on Sunday 23rd August at Corsham RFC’s Leafy Lane ground (K.O 14.30). The Sonics are the only side to have beaten Bath this season, and will have high hopes of winning their first silverware since 2011 .

The Sonics tarted well against third-placed Somerset on Saturday, with forwards Olley Scholey, Matt Blacker, Ed Boxhall and Tom Verber punching holes in the visitors’ defence right from the start. It took just two minutes for Bristol to open the scoring, hooker Jack Uren wriggling over from close range for a try converted by full back Jack Farler.

On 14 minutes Bristol extended their lead, winger James Potts strolling over out wide after receiving an inch-perfect pass from stand-off and assistant coach Lawrence Roycroft. Two minutes later loose forward Tom Verber broke clear and dived over between the sticks, Farler again converting. When scrum half Simon Bannister stepped past a couple of players out wide for a try converted by Farler after 22 minutes, Bristol were 22-0 ahead and looking comfortable.

An error from Bannister from the resulting kick-off handed Somerset a great chance to attack from a scrum, five metres out from the Sonics line. Somerset captain and stand-out player Joe Bussell duly forced his way over direct from the scrum, with lively half-back Kelvin Zingyama adding the extras.

Bristol quickly refocused and extended their lead on the half-hour mark, Matt Blacker charging over for a try converted by Farler. With five minutes until half time, the visitors pulled another try back, Zingyama dancing through Bristol’s defence for a deserved score. His conversion made it 30-12. Somerset piled on the pressure in the closing minutes of the half, but Bristol’s defence held firm.

The Sonics effectively booked their final spot with two tries in the opening 12 minutes of the second half. First prop forward Sam Collins barged his way over from close range on 42 minutes, before Jack Uren scythed through Somerset’s defence from 35 metres out to pick up his second try of the afternoon. Farler converted both, putting Bristol 38-12 up and on course for the Grand Final.

To their credit, Somerset never gave up and fought until the final minute. They grabbed a deserved consolation score on 62 minutes, full back Dan Hinton crossing for a try converted by the impressive Zingyama.

Star of the afternoon Jack Uren then confirmed Bristol’s superiority with two more scores – one converted by Farler – before Somerset’s Connor Perkins dived over out wide four minutes from time to end the visitors’ season on a high note.

Bristol’s injured captain Alex Potts, who took charge of the team from the sidelines due to player/coach Dom Swann’s absence, said: “There are a few things to work on ahead of next week’s Grand Final, but that was another strong performance. We were generally very good in defence, and in attack we got the right balance between punching holes with the forwards and getting the ball out wide. We’ll need to improve again to beat Bath next week, but having emerged victorious in our last encounter with them we know what it takes to beat them. It feels great to be in a Grand Final again and to be competing for silverware. Things have been hard off the field for the Sonics over the last 12 months, so it’s good to reward our dedicated players, fans and volunteers with a big day out.”

MATCH FACTS

BRISTOL SONICS 48
T: Jack Uren 4, James Potts, Tom Verber, Simon Bannister, Matt Blacker, Sam Collins
G: Jack Farler 6 (from 9)

SOMERSET VIKINGS 22
T: Joe Bussell, Kelvin Zinyama, Dan Hinton, Connor Perkins
G: Kelvin Zinyama 3 (from 4)

H-T: 22-12
Referee: Melvin Betteridge

MOTM Awards:
Sonics: Ed Boxhall (prop forward)
Vikings: Joe Bussell (loose forward)

Game Star
Jack Uren (Bristol Sonics)

Teams

BRISTOL SONICS: Jack Farler, Phil Tanner, Dan Stuart-Cummins, Kieran Harvey, James Potts, Lawrence Roycroft (captain), Simon Bannister, Sam Collins, Jack Uren, Olley Scholey, Matt Blacker, Joe Singleton, Tom Verber. Interchange (all used): Ashton Pullin, Gerald Darley, Will Obree, Sam Phillips, Ed Boxhall

SOMERSET VIKINGS: Dan Hinton, Cam Wheeler, James Collings, Jordan Tucker, Adam Twine, Ozzy Flowers, Kelvin Zinyama, Connor Caddick, Doug Caddick, Bob Blainey, Bailey Jackson, Aaron Woods, Joe Bussell. Interchange (all used): Jason Senior, George Burkenshaw, James Brakes, Connor Perkin, Zeky Cheng, Josh Evans.

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IN-FORM SONICS EYE FINAL SPOT

Bristol Sonics face local rivals Somerset Vikings at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground this Saturday (August 15, K.O 16.30), with a place in the West of England League Grand Final at stake.

The Sonics head into their biggest game of the season to date in the midst of a rich vein of form. After drawing 30-all with Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Dings a fortnight ago, Bristol produced their best display of the season last Saturday to beat the same side 32-28, thanks largely to four tries from live-wire hooker and Sonics Academy product Jack Uren. It was the Romans’ first and so far only defeat of the season.

Bristol will be looking to maintain this good form when Somerset Vikings roll into town on Saturday. Player/coach Dom Swann, who will be missing Saturday’s game due to the wedding of Sonics stalwart Wes Rodgers, has told his side to focus on the threat the Vikings will pose, and forget about a possible Grand Final re-match with Bath & Wiltshire a week on Sunday.
 
The veteran half-back said: “Beating Bath last week at their place and end their long unbeaten run was brilliant, but it means nothing if we don’t play well this week and get through to the Grand Final. That’s been our focus all season. Last time Somerset came to Bristol we beat them comfortably, but they beat us down at their place last month, so we know that they’re a very strong and capable side on their day. They’ll be looking to finish off their season in style by getting to another Grand Final. If we take them lightly, disrespect them or have a poor attitude, we will lose – and rightly so. If we do the basics well, as we have been doing in the last couple of weeks, the result will look after itself.”

In Swann’s absence, similarly experienced player/coach Lawrence Roycroft will lead from the front on the pitch, with injured captain Alex Potts running things from the bench. Saturday’s squad features a mixture of young stars – Uren being joined by fast rising forward Olly Scholey, utility back Jack Farler, string running second row Matt Blacker and ever-present centre Kieran Harvey – and experienced players, with loose forward Tom Verber, prop forward Sam Collins and half-back Simon Bannister on hand to calm things down if tempers fray. Winger and leading scorer Dan Stuart-Cummins will play his final game of the season for the Sonics, having picked up a one-match ban – which comes into effect for the final should Bristol make it – following his part in an altercation with Bath & Wiltshire Romans’ Tom Howley (who will definitely miss the final).

Spectators are encouraged to come and cheer on the Sonics in what’s likely to be their final home game of 2015. The match takes place at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground, kicking off at 4.30pm. Entrance is free.