post

SONICS OVERCOME BULLDOGS’ SPIRIT

Bristol Sonics were made to work hard by Forest Bulldogs at Landseer Avenue on Wednesday night, but kept their composure to secure the 50-22 win that puts them four points clear at the top of the West of England League Pool A table.

The victory is free-scoring Bristol’s fourth straight win,and puts them in a strong position at the midway point of the season. It was far from easy, though, with the Sonics forced to dig deep defensively against a lively young Bulldogs side who are enjoying a promising first season in Rugby League.

While Bristol had the game under control throughout, a combination of poor discipline and needless errors meant that they had to do a lot of defending, particularly in the second half. The Bulldogs, who attacked with vigour and width, took advantage on a number of occasions, but could not do enough to stem the tide of tries at the other end.

As they have done on numerous occasions this season, the Sonics opened up a significant lead early on. The home side opened the scoring after nine minutes, with in-form centre Alun Roberts-Jones trotting away to score a try converted by player/coach Dom Swann. Four minutes later, Bristol doubled their lead when Mike Gaston ghosted through the Bulldogs defence and touched down close to the posts, Swann again converting.

Bristol were all over their opponents at this point, and had two tries correctly disallowed for forward passes in the following ten minutes. Then, on the back of a series of penalties, the Bulldogs finally had a chance to show their attacking prowess deep in Bristol territory. They made the most of it, full back Lewis Chard scooting over from close range on 25 minutes for a try converted by Rhys Evans.

With the visitors now within a converted try of levelling the scores, the Sonics needed a big finish to the half. They got that thanks to two quick tries in the five minutes before the interval. First, former University of Gloucestershire All Gilds and South Wales Scorpion forward Nathan Rainer was on hand to collect an offload at speed and sprint away to score, before scrum half Johan Schoeman somehow forced his way over from close range. Swann’s cool conversion put Bristol 22-6 up at the interval.

The Bulldogs needed a strong start to the second half, and got it when Bristol dozily allowed their kick-off to go dead in goal. Although the Sonics stoutly defended the resulting set of six tackles, the visitors crossed the whitewash moments later. Replacement centre Sam Smith read a Sonics attempted long cross field pass, intercepted it, and raced away to touch down unopposed. This time, Rhys Evans couldn’t add the extras.

It wasn’t long before Bristol extended their lead again, though. Two minutes later, following a scrum deep in Bulldogs territory, Johan Schoeman slipped a pass to winger Shervin Ghassemlou, who stepped back inside and dived over. An even period of play followed, before Bristol finally scored again on 58 minutes, full back Jack Farler scoring a trade-mark long-range try which was converted by Dom Swann. Three minutes later, the Sonics secured the points when Alun Roberts-Jones bounced off the post protectors and over the line to collect his second try of the evening, Swann again converting.

Referee Malcolm Holmes was unimpressed with Bristol’s efforts to get back onside, and their defence around the play-the-ball, and began penalising them heavily. With a greater weight of possession, the Bulldogs began to test the Sonics line. While the home side largely defended well, impressive hooker Dan Parry finally found his way through on 64 minutes, with Evans again converting the try.

Bristol began to get more frustrated, but still had the firepower to take chances that came their way. One of those came on 72 minutes, when Nathan Rainer was hauled down 10 metres from the Bulldogs line following an eye-catching break. Hooker Alex Potts scooped the ball up from the resulting play-the-ball, turned on the gas and dived over between the sticks, Swann again adding the easy conversion.

With time running out, the Bulldogs collected another deserved consolation score when Zak Hancock squeezed over in the right corner, despite the attentions of opposite wing man Joe Uren. Amazingly, Evans’ touch line conversion attempt bounced in off the left upright.There was just time for Bristol to have the final say, marauding prop forward Byron Edwards surging through the defence and sprinting away to score underneath the posts. Once Dom Swann’s conversion sailed through the sticks, referee Malcolm Holmes blew the whistle for full time.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “That was far from a perfect performance, but we played very well in patches. By and large our defence was excellent, we looked pretty sharp in attack, and we did enough to win the game comfortably. Credit must to Forest Bulldogs, who are playing their first season of Rugby League but showed a lot of promise. If they play like that for the rest of the season they will surprise a few sides. The win means that we’re where we wanted to be at the half way stage of the League season, but there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure that we get in the top two and make the play-offs. Our next game against Portsmouth, on July 9th, will be crucial.”

The Sonics are next in action on Saturday July 9th, when they host fellow title-chasers U.S Portsmouth Navy Seahawks at Landseer Avenue (kick-off 2.30pm).

** MATCH FACTS **

BRISTOL SONICS 50
T: Alun Roberts-Jones 2, Mike Gaston, Nathan Rainer, Johan Schoeman, Shervin Ghassemlou, Jack Farler, Alex Potts, Byron Edwards
G: Dom Swann 6 (from 9)

FOREST BULLDOGS 22
T: Lewis Chard, Sam Smith, Dan Parry, Zak Hancock
G: Rhys Evans 3 (from 4)

Half-time score: 22-6
Referee: Malcolm Holmes

Man Of The Match Awards
Sonics: Matt Blacker (second row)
Bulldogs: Dan Parry (hooker)

post

SONICS WARY OF BULLDOGS’ BITE

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann says he’s expecting a tough game when Forest Bulldogs make their first visit to Landseer Avenue on Wednesday night (22nd June, kick off 7.30pm).

Having not lost since the opening day of the season, the Sonics are in a rich vein of form, but veteran Swann is still wary of the threat posed by the Bream-based West of England League newcomers.

He said: “We played the Bulldogs in a friendly at their place last year, and while we had an experimental side out, we only just scraped home with a win. Although they’re still taking their first steps in Rugby League, they can call on a number of good quality rugby union players from clubs in and around the Forest of Dean. We know from past experience that players from that area tend to be strong and run hard, so we’re expecting another tough test of our defensive capabilities.”

While Bristol has won three of their four Pool A games this season, racking up an amazing 222 points in the process, the Bulldogs have found things a little tougher in their debut West of England League season. Since beating under-powered Somerset Vikings in their first game of the campaign, the Bulldogs have lost to fellow Pool B sides Southampton Spitfires and Cheltenham Phoenix. The meeting between the cross-Severn rivals will be the first “cross-pool” fixture of the season, allowing the two sides to get a better idea of the comparative strength of the other half of the draw.

Dom Swann said: “We now have a good idea what we’re up against in our own pool, having faced all of the other sides once. We’ve beaten all but one of those sides, but it’s hard to know how they compare to those teams in Pool B. In some ways we’re playing ‘blind’, though having faced the Bulldogs in a friendly last year we have a fair idea of their capabilities. Our pool is so tight this year that we can’t afford any slip-ups if we want to make the end of season play-offs, and ultimately the Grand Final, which has always been our aim. That means we simply have to win, and put in another impressive performance”.

If they manage a win, the Sonics will go four points clear at the top of the West of England League Pool A table, having played more games than their closest rivals for a top two finish, U.S Portsmouth Navy Seahawks and Oxford Cavaliers. By the time the Sonics face the Seahawks on July 9th, the Portsmouth-based side could have pulled level on points at the top of the table.

Swann is hoping to field a similar side to the one that overpowered Gloucestershire Warriors 78-26 on Saturday, but will have to make do without fellow player/coach Lawrence Roycroft and prop forward Sam Collins. Powerful prop Byron Edwards will replace the latter, while experienced second-rower Joe Singleton is also likely to return after missing Saturday’s game. Full back Jack Farler, who scored an eye-catching hat-trick of tries against the Warriors on his first appearance of the season, leads a back-line that scored ten tries between them at the weekend.

Bristol Sonics face Forest Bulldogs at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground in Lockleaze on Wednesday 22nd June, kick-off 7.30pm. Entrance is free for spectators. Those who can’t make the game can follow updates of the match via the Sonics Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/BristolSonicsRL

post

SONICS PUT WARRIORS TO THE SWORD

Bristol Sonics moved two points clear at the top of the West Of England League Pool A table with a dominant 78-26 victory over local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors.

The victory was the Sonics’ third straight win, and was built on a superb forward display, quick running out wide, and much-improved defence. While the Warriors rallied a little in the second half, it wasn’t nearly enough to stop Bristol’s charge to victory.

Free-scoring Bristol, who have now notched up more than 200 points over the course of four West of England League matches, went ahead after less than two minutes. Full back Jack Farler charged through some weak attempted tackles to crash over out wide for a try that player/coach Dom Swann could not convert. Bristol extended their lead six minutes later, with quick hands opening up the opportunity for Mike Gaston to force his way over in the right corner. This time, Swann slotted over the extras, with his conversion attempt bouncing in off the left upright.

The Sonics continued to defend well, and thanks to a string of needless penalties and poor kick options early in the tackle count from their opponents, were seeing a lot of the ball. It took them almost 15 minutes to cross the try line again, but once they did that the floodgates open. In the final 18 minutes of the half, Bristol added five tries, three converted by Swann, to open up a 36-0 lead.

Again, centre Mike Gaston was in the thick of the action. First, he broke clear and set up a try for Alex Potts, before grabbing his second of the afternoon after finishing off a quick passing move. There was no respite for the wounded Warriors, as minutes later Jack Farler showed great speed to race 40 metres down the right touchline to score. There were additional tries from centre Alun Roberts-Jones and young winger Jack Uren, before Gloucestershire veteran Kirk Lewis – who will soon become the first player to make 100 appearances for the club – forced his way over to open the Warriors account in the dying seconds of the half.

As the first half drew to a close, words were exchanged between players from both sides. This seemed to fire up the Warriors, who regained the ball straight from the kick-off and set about trying to claw their way back into the game. On the last tackle of the resulting set, Ash Lewis – son of first-half try-scorer Kirk – showed great footwork to pick his way past a gaggle of Bristol defenders and score under the posts. He added the conversion himself, reducing the arrears to 36-10.

With tempers fraying, Bristol began to lose their composure. Even so, they responded well to conceding, scoring three tries in six minutes to put the game well beyond the visitors. Will Tobin marked his first appearance of 2016 by bursting through 45 metres out and sprinting away to score, before Joe Uren sprinted away to collect his second try of the afternoon. Then, on 51 minutes, Alun Roberts-Jones showed some good footwork to grab his second try. All three scores were converted by the nerveless Swann, and the Sonics were out of sight at 54-10 with just under half an hour remaining.

The Warriors were determined to get something from the game, and continued to work hard to try and put the Sonics under pressure. After 57 minutes the excellent Ash Lewis once again weaved his way through some tired attempted tackles to touch down for a try converted by centre Kieran Cox. Five minutes later, Jack Farler scored another superb long-range try to complete his hat-trick, before loose forward Nathan Rainer crashed through a number of attempted tackles and sprinted 40 metres to touch down.

As the game entered its’ final stages, Bristol’s discipline wavered, offering Gloucestershire plenty of possession with which to attack with. They made the most of it, Hector Silva barging his way over for a try converted by Dean Cooper, before Ash Lewis completed a deserved hat-trick seven minutes from time.

There was still time for the Sonics to have the last word, though, with the tireless Wes Long getting reward for an afternoon of hard work with a try beneath the sticks. Finally, with seconds remaining, winger Jonny Mawer cut inside and sprinted away to touch down. Swann’s conversion – his eleventh of an action-packed afternoon – made the final score 78-26 to the home side.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “I was really pleased with the performance today. We dominated them in the forwards, made great use of the ball when we had it, and mostly defended excellently. There were a few defensive lapses in the second half, and we lost our shape and discipline a bit when things got heated, but these are minor concerns in the grand scheme of things. Overall, it was our best performance of the season so far. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement, which bodes well for the tests to come over the rest of the season.”

The Sonics return to action on Wednesday 22nd June, when they host Forest Bulldogs at Landseer Avenue.

** MATCH FACTS **

BRISTOL SONICS 78
T: Jack Farler 3, Mike Gaston 2, Alex Potts, Alun Roberts-Jones 2, Joe Uren 2, Will Tobin, Nathan Rainer, Wes Long, Jonny Mawer
G: Dom Swann 11 (from 14)

GLOUCESTERSHIRE WARRIORS 26
T: Kirk Lewis, Ash Lewis 3, Hector Silva
G: Ash Lewis 1 (from 2), Kieran Cox 1 (from 1), Dean Cooper 1 (from 2)

Half-time score: 36-4
Referee: Ian Waters

Man Of The Match Awards
Sonics: Alex Potts (hooker)
Warriors: Ash Lewis (stand-off)

post

SONICS HOPE TO MAKE HOME ADVANTAGE COUNT

Bristol Sonics will be looking to make home advantage count when they face local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors and Forest Bulldogs over the next seven days.

The Sonics, fresh from an impressive 32-24 away win at fellow title hopefuls Oxford Cavaliers, welcome old foes Gloucestershire Warriors to Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground on Saturday, 18th June (kick-off 2.00pm), before hosting West of England League newcomers Forest Bulldogs at the same venue on Wednesday 22nd June (kick-off 7.15pm). Entrance to both matches is free to spectators.

Since opening their campaign with a high-scoring 69-56 loss at U.S Portsmouth Navy Seahawks, the Sonics have notched up back-to-back wins against Bath & Wiltshire Romans and, last Saturday, Oxford Cavaliers. If the Sonics can make home advantage count against the Warriors and Bulldogs, they will be in a strong position as the League season reaches its’ half way point.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann is keen that his players don’t get ahead of themselves, though. He said: “We’ll worry about the Forest Bulldogs game next week – for now, what is important is putting in a great performance against a very good Gloucestershire Warriors side. If we can do that, then the result will take care of itself. The way the League is structured this year, we cannot afford to drop points if we’re going to make it into the play-offs. It’s the same for the Warriors, and we know that they will be fired up to get a result at our place”.

Swann missed Saturday’s fixture at Oxford due to family commitments, but has been encouraged by reports of a much improved defensive performance from his side. He said: “In our first two League games we showed that we have the ability to rack up a lot of points, but we struggled to keep the opposition out. Rugby League games at this level are generally won by the team that defends its’ line the best. Oxford are a strong side, so to limit them to 24 points was hugely pleasing, especially since we conceded nearly 120 points in our first two matches. If we can defend as well as that against the Warriors, and the Bulldogs on Wednesday, we’ll give ourselves a great chance of picking up the points”.

Swann will return to the starting line-up on Saturday, possibly to begin a new half-back partnership with Saturday’s two-try hero, fellow player/coach Lawrence Roycroft. He’ll have to do without strong-running prop forward Byron Edwards, who has scored on each of his appearances for the Sonics this season, but could welcome back former Gloucestershire All Golds and Oxford RLFC forward Nathan Rainer following a head injury picked up in pre-season. Centre Mike Gaston returns to bolster the back-line, while Jack Farler could make his first appearance of the season. Forward Louis Mizen is likely to return after missing the Oxford game.

Bristol Sonics take on Gloucestershire Warriors at Dings Crusaders RFC, Landseer Avenue, Lockleaze, on Saturday 18th June, kick-off 2.00pm. Entry is free for spectators.
post

SONICS HOLD FIRM TO DENY CAVALIERS

Bristol Sonics put in an improved defensive display to grind out a 32-24 victory away at previously unbeaten Oxford Cavaliers at Harcourt Hill on Saturday.

The Sonics had conceded a staggering 117 points in their first two West of England League games of the season – including last week’s 56-48 comeback win over local rivals Bath & Wiltshire Romans – but improved dramatically to limited Oxford Cavaliers to a handful of clear chances.

Bristol began the game brightly, opening up a 12-0 lead in the opening 15 minutes. Both tries came through the combination of skipper Alex Potts and scrum half Lawrence Roycroft. Twice Potts made great yards from dummy half, releasing Roycroft who weaved his way through the Oxford defence to touch down close to the posts. Potts, taking over kicking duties from absent player/coach Dom Swann, converted both scores.

Oxford, who had struggled to penetrate Bristol’s well organised defence, finally made a breakthrough after 20 minutes. Long serving half-back John Connaughton scooped up a loose ball 20 metres from his own line, rounded the man in front of him and raced away to touch down under the posts, Louis Richards converting.

Bristol wasted a number of opportunities to score as the first half wore on, but remained solid in defence as the home side began to throw the ball wide in a bid to break through. On the stroke of half time, one of these moves finally paid off, with Nick Arnell breaking through on half way and sprinting away to score. Again, Louis Richards added the extras.

Despite this set back, Bristol continued to look the most likely winners early in the second period, and edged ahead again after just five minutes of the half. After forcing an error from the hosts 20 metres from their line, the ball was worked to prop forward Byron Edwards, who forced his way over from close range. Alex Potts couldn’t add the extras, leaving the Sonics just 4 points ahead.

Bristol made a hash of the resulting kick off, and were forced to drop out from beneath their own sticks. They manfully defended the first set, but the pressure was on. The Cavaliers quickly regained the ball and set about battering the Bristol line. After holding firm for five tackles, the Sonics were caught out on the final play. With Bristol expecting a kick play, Dan Jameson picked his way through the Sonics’ suddenly ragged defensive live to dive over to the left of the posts. Louis Richards slotted over the conversion, putting Oxford two points ahead with half an hour remaining.

Following a closely fought period when defences were on top, Bristol scored three tries in less than 10 minutes to put them within sight of victory. On 60 minutes, Alex Potts dived over straight from dummy half for the unconverted score that edged the Sonics back in front. Four minutes later, a typically barnstorming run from interchange prop Curtis Asante set up the position for returning second-rower Jake Robertson to charge over. Once again, Alex Potts’ conversion attempt drifted wide. Then, with less than ten minutes of the game remaining, the Sonics brilliantly shifted the ball wide to centre Tom Curtis, who slipped a perfect pass to debutant winger Tom Hawkey. He dived over in the corner, leaving Potts a tricky touchline conversion. Amazingly, he made it, putting the Sonics 32-18 up and in sight of victory.

Oxford raised themselves for an all-out assault on the Bristol line in the closing stages, Louis Richards scoring – and converting – a try five minutes from time to give the hosts hope of a famous late comeback. But Bristol held firm in the final minutes to end Oxford’s unbeaten start to the season, and move themselves within one point of Portsmouth Navy Seahawks at the top of the West of England League Pool A table.

Bristol Sonics captain Alex Potts, who was named Man of the Match, said: “We have worked incredibly hard in training on our defence, and today that worked paid off. We limited Oxford to a handful of chances, and although we weren’t quite as sharp as normal in attack, we carved out enough chances to beat them by a wider margin. What really pleases me was that this was a real team performance. All 13 who started, plus the seven interchange players, all played their part in the win. The forwards in particular were excellent. It’s hard to pick out individuals in such a good team performance, but special praise should go to Wes Long, Matt Blacker, Byron Edwards, Simon Bannister, Jake Robertson, Sam Collins and Joe Singleton. I could easily name five or six others, though, as everyone played their part.”

The Sonics return to action on Saturday 18th June, when old rivals Gloucestershire Warriors visit Landseer Avenue.

** MATCH FACTS **

OXFORD CAVALIERS 24
T: John Connaughton, Nick Arnell, Dan Jameson, Louis Richards
G: Louis Richards 4 (from 4)

BRISTOL SONICS 32
T: Lawrence Roycroft 2, Byron Edwards, Alex Potts, Jake Robertson, Tom Hawkey
G: Alex Potts 3 (from 6)

Half-time score: 12-12
Referee: Stewart Orton

post

SONICS COMEBACK STUNS ROMANS

Bristol Sonics overturned a 20-point deficit to secure a remarkable 56-48 victory over 2015 West Of England Champions Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Landseer Avenue.

Bristol trailed for all bar 10 minutes, with debutant second-rower Jack Harbridge’s two late tries – both converted by player/coach Dom Swann – securing a last-gasp victory in a 19-try thriller.

Bath started quickly, with stand-off Paul Riley twice scything through Bristol’s shaky defence in the opening ten minutes to score dazzling long range tries, both of which were converted with ease by Fijian centre Bruce Vuetanaotoka.

Bristol hit back on the first significant attack of the game on 15 minutes, quick hands sending the ball wide to winger Jonny Mawer to crash over. Dom Swann slotted over a remarkable touchline conversion to reduce the arrears to six points, but with 10 minutes the visitors had extended their lead to 20 points.

First Riley completed his hat-trick with another mazy, long-range run, before Vuetanaotoka did the same. Fellow centre Ben Brierley was then put through a gap by Riley and raced away to score. Although Vuetanaotoka could only add one conversion, the Romans were 26-6 ahead and sitting pretty.

On the back of a series of penalties, the Sonics roared back into the game. Tries from Johan Schoeman – following a scintillating break and offload from replacement prop Curtis Asante – and Wes Long, the latter converted by Swann, brought the home side back within 10 points. When hooker Charlie Geary squeezed over for a try, again converted by Swann, the Sonics trailed by just 4 points. There was still time for a twist before half time, though, with the excellent Vuetanaotoka once again crossing the whitewash for a try he converted himself. At half time, the Romans remained ten points ahead at 32-22, but there was still all to play for.

After a quiet opening to the second half, Bath’s Paul Riley scored another trademark score, converted by Vuetanaotoka, and many thought the Sonics had too much to do.

Now 16 points in arrears, Bristol needed a big response. They got it when Kieran Harvey somehow managed to bulldoze his way over from 10 metres out, Swann adding the extras, and prop Simon Bannistern scooting over out wide. Bristol were only within a converted score for a matter of minutes, though, before Ben Brierley grabbed his second try of the afternoon. Joe Knight’s conversion put Bath 12 points ahead with 18 minutes remaining.

The Sonics surged forward looking to make amends, and worked the ball wide to Elliot Nightingale. He spun away from a high tackle, stepped back inside and crashed over, Swann making no mistake with the conversion. With 76 minutes on the clock, Bristol finally levelled the scores. Prop forward Byron Jerome was hauled down close to the line, bit stretched out his arm and somehow managed to ground the ball close to the posts. Swann slotted over the conversion, and suddenly it was anyone’s game.

The force was suddenly with the Sonics, who now looked like scoring on every attack. With 10 minutes remaining, the ball was thrown wide to second rower Jack Harbirdge, who marked his Bristol debut by racing clear of some tired defenders to touch down. Swann’s conversion put the Sonics six points ahead for the first time.

There were still further twists to come. The Romans showed champion form to get up on the canvas and reply, hooker Leigh Wheatley capping a fine game with a much-needed score. With Vuetanaotoka off the pitch, Paul Riley stepped up to attempt the conversion. His kick floated well wide, meaning that Bristol still held a slender two-point advantage.

With just over five minutes to go, Bristol once again worked the ball wide to Harbridge, who broke clear before getting as near as he could to the posts before touching down. Swann calmly converted, giving the Sonics a vital eight-point advantage.

The Romans threw everything at the Sonics line in the closing minutes, but for once the home side’s defence held firm. When referee Ian Waters whistled to mark full time, Bristol’s players jubilantly celebrated their first West of England League win of the season.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “That was another thrilling game and it’s great to get the win, but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. We started poorly and make some very basic errors in defence, which allowed them to deservedly go 20 points ahead. The way we came back over the final 50 minutes of the game was excellent, and I think we just about deserved to edge it in the end. That said, Bath played some superb stuff, too, and we had to dig deep to keep them out at the end. Somehow we held on for victory, and that gives us something to build our season on.”

The Sonics return to action next Saturday with a trip to face old rivals Oxford Cavaliers, before returning to Landseer Avenue the following weekend for a date with Gloucestershire Warriors.

** MATCH FACTS **
BRISTOL SONICS56
T: Jonny Mawer, Johan Schoeman, Wesley Long, Charlie Geary, Kieran Harvey, Simon Bannister, Elliot Nightingale, Byron Edwards, Jack Harbridge 2
G: Dom Swann 8 (from 10)

BATH & WILTSHIRE ROMANS48
T: Paul Riley 4, Bruce Vuetanaotoka 2, Ben Brierley 2, Leigh Wheatley
G: Bruce Vuetanaotoka 5 (from 7), Joe Knight 1 (from 1)
MAN OF THE MATCH AWARDS
Sonics: Mike Gaston (centre)
Romans: Paul Riley (stand off)

Half-time score: 22-32

Referee: Ian Waters
post

SONICS & ROMANS TO RENEW RIVALRY

Bristol Sonics and Bath & Wiltshire Romans will renew their on-field rivalry this Saturday, for the first time since last year’s thrilling West of England Grand Final.

Both sides lost their opening fixtures of the 2016 season to title favourites United Services Portsmouth Navy Seahawks, and will be desperate to notch up a first win of the campaign when they meet at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm).

Bristol and Bath were closely matched last season, with the aggregate score of their three 2015 matches remarkably being dead level. While the Sonics won in Bath in the lead up to August’s Grand Final, they lost out by four points in the game that mattered. As a result, player/coach Dom Swann is keen to put that right this weekend.

Swann said: “Losing the Grand Final hurt, particularly as we let a sizeable lead slip, but even to reach the showpiece season-closer was a result given how young and inexperienced our squad was at the start of 2015. All three games against the Romans last season were close-fought crackers, with our first ever meeting, here at Dings, resulting in a 30-all draw. We feel like we’ve got a point to prove, to ourselves more than Bath, and we’re all fired up and focused on getting a win on Saturday”.

The Sonics have been in training for the last three weeks, following their high-scoring 69-56 opening day loss against the Seahawks. Naturally, much focus has been on getting their defensive structure right ahead of further tests to come.

Dom Swann, who missed the Portsmouth game for family reasons, said: “By all accounts our inexperienced side did very well in attack, but struggled to defend well in certain areas of the pitch. We’ve traditionally been fairly sharp in attack and capable of scoring points, but it’s how well you work without the ball that wins you trophies. I don’t expect us to get it 100% right on Saturday, but we’ve been working hard to correct our mistakes and solidify our defensive line. If we can defend well, we’ll be a match for anyone in this division, even those sides that can call on dual-registered, semi-professional players, such as Oxford Cavaliers”.

Stand-off Swann will return to the starting line-up on Saturday to forge a new half-back partnership with namesake Jamie Swann, while skipper Alex Potts is also back to bolster the Sonics’ ranks. Experienced players Elliot Nightingale, Byron Jerome and Joe Singleton are all likely to feature for the first time, but Swann must do without fellow player-coach Lawrence Rycroft and loose forward George Burnie, who scored four tries in the loss at Portsmouth.

Bristol Sonics face Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Dings Crusaders RFC, Landseer Avenue, Lockleaze, on Saturday June 4th, kicking off at 2.30pm. Entrance is free for spectators.