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SONICS BATTLE PAST CAVALIERS TO SECURE PLAY-OFF SPOT

Bristol Sonics dug deep to battle past Oxford Cavaliers 32-16 at Landseer Avenue on Saturday, in the process all but guaranteeing a place in the end of season West of England League play-offs.

The victory was enough to keep the Sonics on top of the West of England League Pool A  table, ahead of South Coast rivals U.S Portsmouth Navy Seahawks on points difference. Both sides are four points ahead of Oxford with two games remaining. As the Cavaliers and Seahawks meet next week in Oxford, the Sonics are now guaranteed to finish in the top two, this securing a play-off semi-final against one of the top teams from Pool B of the West of England League (most likely Cheltenham, Swindon or Southampton).

Bristol were made to work hard for the win on Saturday, with Oxford – who fielded a trio of former Sonics players, including brothers Dan and Harry Brooker – showing the solid defence and great organisation that has made them one of the form teams in the division.

The Sonics started brightly and opened the scoring after four minutes, skipper Alex Potts sliding in under the posts. Player/coach Dom Swann made no mistake with the conversion, meaning the Sonics were 6-0 up. The lead lasted until the 17th minute, when Dan Brooker ghosted over to haunt his former club. He kicked the resultant conversion to rub salt into the wound.

10 minutes later the pendulum swung back towards the home side, with veteran Swann crossing the whitewash for a try he could not convert. Then, shortly before the interval, utility back James Potts joined his brother on the scoresheet after finishing off a fine move. At the interval, Bristol held an eight-point lead – meaning Oxford would have to score twice to overtake them – and would have been happy with the 14-6 scoreline.

Four minutes into the second period, Bristol extended their lead when substitute Mike Gaston dived over near the posts, Swann slotting over the conversion with ease. It triggered an impressive response from the visitors, who spent much of the next 15 minutes hammering away at the Sonics line. Bristol, whose defence has improved a lot since they famously lost 69-56 to Portsmouth on the opening day of the season, scrambled superbly to hold Oxford at bay.

Like all good sides, the Sonics were quickly able to turn defence into attack, and take the few chances that came their way. Home fans were relieved when Tom McIntosh scored a fine try, converted by Swann, to cap a fine first appearance for Bristol. Oxford quickly struck back though a try from Nick Arnell, but any hope of a famous comeback was snuffed out when speedy Sonics full-back Jonny Mawer sprinted away to score a try which Swann expertly converted.

Oxford grabbed some consolation with a well-worked try, finished by Josh Stanfield-Smith. Dan Brooker’s neat conversion was the last kick of the game.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “I’m immensely proud of the effort the lads put in today, and delighted with the result. We went into the game knowing that we’d have to defend well and take our chances, and we did just that. There are still areas of our game we need to work on, and having secured a play-off spot we can do just that in the two remaining league games. However, we’re determined to finish top of the table, so our first priority needs to be to beat Bath Romans at their place next Saturday. I’d also like to put on record our thanks to former Chairman and club founder Phil Cole, who stepped in to referee at the last minute when the League couldn’t provide any match officials. He did a superb job and both sides were happy with the way he handled the game.”

Bristol Sonics head to Corsham RFC next Saturday, where they face their closest geographic rivals, Bath & Wiltshire Romans, in a re-run of last year’s West of England League Grand Final.

 

** MATCH FACTS **

 

BRISTOL SONICS 32

T: Alex Potts, Dom Swann, James Potts, Mike Gaston, Tom McIntosh, Jonny Mawer

G: Dom Swann 4 (from 6)

 

OXFORD CAVALIERS 16

T: Dan Brooker, Nick Arnell, Josh Stanfield-Smith

G: Dan Brooker 2 (from 3)

 

Half-time score: 14-6

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SONICS BACK ON TOP AFTER WARRIORS ROUT

Bristol Sonics returned to the top of the West of England League Pool A table on Saturday, following a comfortable 14-58 away win over Gloucestershire Warriors.

The Sonics leapfrog Portsmouth Navy Seahawks at the summit of the table with three league games remaining, but are only ahead of their South Coast rivals due to a far superior points difference.

With both sides down to a bare 13 due to injury and holiday absences, most predicted a tighter game than the hosts may have feared. However, with Gloucestershire unable to field all 13 players at the start of the match, Bristol were handed an advantage that they ruthlessly made the most of.

The Sonics were brilliant in the first quarter of an hour, scoring five tries – four of which were converted by player/coach Dom Swann – to open up an almost unassailable 28-0 lead. The first try came within a minute of kick-off, with big Dutchman Mark Wokke – nicknamed “the Viking” by team-mates – collecting a brilliant Byron Edwards offload and sprinting 65 metres to touch down beneath the posts. A minute later, the Sonics were over again, skipper Alex Potts sidestepping his way past a clutch of Warriors defenders before turning on the after-burners.

There was little respite for the struggling home side. After eight minutes the impressive Byron Edwards charged through some weak attempted tackles to touch down, Swann adding his third simple conversion, before winger Blake Knowlson finished off a slick, right-to-left passing move by sliding in at the corner. Almost straight from the resulting re-start, opposite winger Ben Lee sidestepped inside his opposite number and ran 70 metres to dive over to the right of the sticks. Swann’s fourth conversion in five attempts made it 28-0 to the visitors with just 16 minutes on the clock.

A combination of Bristol errors and penalties for standing offside in defence finally allowed the home side a chance to play with the ball in hand. A more even contest began to develop, with standout player Ash Lewis getting the Warriors on the scoresheet after 28 minutes with a close range solo effort out wide. This setback only seem to inspire the Sonics, though, who grabbed two more tries before the interval. First full-back Jonny Mawer weaved his way over from close range, before centre Alun Roberts-Jones finished off a fine break. Swann converted both tries, to leave the Sonics 40-4 up at the interval.

Gloucestershire had the slope at their backs in the second half, and quickly re-doubled their attempts to get something from the game. After only two minutes of the half, Jake Thompson forced his way over from close range, Ash Lewis converting. Six minutes later Bristol stretched their lead again, prop Kieran Harvey powering over for a try that was converted by Dom Swann. Scrum half James Potts, brother of captain Alex Potts, grabbed a brace of tries for the Sonics – one of which was converted by Swann – before Conrad Jones slid over in the right corner for the Warriors, following a one-handed offload from Lewis. With time running out, centre Tom Curtis finished off the game for Bristol, sliding over out wide following another speedy passing move.

Bristol’s next game is likely to be a much closer contest. They face fellow play-off hopefuls Oxford Cavaliers at Dings on Saturday, with a win all but securing the Sonics position in the top two. Lose, and they face a fight to the last day of the regular season.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “Today I asked the players to be ruthless, and for the most part they were. I was disappointed that we gave away some silly penalties again, but for the vast majority of the game we were very disciplined in the face of a side who did everything they could to try and wind us up. We knew it was just frustration on their part, so kept our heads and just played. We played some good stuff throughout, and although our level dropped in the second half, we kept going right until the 80th minute. Next week’s game at Dings is massive. It’s the most important game of the season so far, and I’ll be looking for a huge effort from the boys for that one.”

** MATCH FACTS **

GLOUCESTERSHIRE WARRIORS 14
T: Ash Lewis, Jake Thompson, Conrad Jones
G: Ash Lewis 1 (from 3)

BRISTOL SONICS 58
T: Mark Wokke, Alex Potts, Byron Edwards, Blake Knowlson, Ben Lee, Jonny Mawer, Alun Roberts-Jones, Kieran Harvey, James Potts 2, Tom Curtis
G: Dom Swann 7 (from 10)

Half-time score: 4-40
Referee: Andy Brown

Man Of The Match Awards
Warriors: Ash Lewis (full back)
Sonics: Byron Edwards (prop forward)

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SONICS KEEN TO GET BACK ON TRACK

Bristol Sonics are looking to put last Saturday’s loss to Portsmouth Navy Seahawks behind then when they travel to face local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors at Gordon League RFC tomorrow.

The Sonics performed admirably for much of the game against their closest title rivals last Saturday, but poor discipline in the closing stages – which included two sin-binnings from referee Malcolm Holmes – ended up in them losing the game 42-34, and their position at the top of the West of England Pool A table.

With Portsmouth enjoying a week off, the Sonics can return to the top of the table on points difference with a victory over the Warriors on Saturday. When they sides last met, Bristol ran out comfortable winners 78-26, but it’s likely to be a much closer affair in Gloucester.

Bristol player/coach Dom Swann will have to make do without a host of first team regulars, though he’s boosted by the return of powerful prop forward Byron Edwards and half-back Josh Spuyman. Skipper Alex Potts, whose controversial sin-binning changed the Portsmouth game in the visitor’s favour, will be looking to help get his team back on track.

Potts said: “We had the game under control last Saturday, but our discipline let us down and we ended up losing a crucial match that we should have won. I hold my hands up and say I was as guilty as anyone for the high penalty count. We knew exactly what to expect from the referee and were warned many times, but continued being ill-disciplined. On Saturday we can’t afford to do that again. It’s a match that we really have to win, and I will be leading from the front.”

Dom Swann said: “Due to holidays and other absences we’re up against it a bit tomorrow, but we know what we have to do and I have full confidence in the squad. It might be tighter than our last game, and they will be desperate to get a win as we’ve beaten them fairly comfortably in recent encounters. We have to be on our mettle for the full eighty minutes, and keep on the right side of the ref. If we can do that, we stand a good chance of grabbing the points.”

Bristol Sonics travel to take on Gloucestershire Warriors at Gordon League RFC, Gloucester, on Saturday 16th July, kick-off 2.30pm.