Bristol Sonics endured a tough day at the office on Saturday, with both open age teams suffering heavy losses.
The first team, shorn of many regulars and forced to hand debuts to a string of second team players, was convincingly beaten 62-4 by Conference League South hotshots Sheffield Hallam Eagles, who were also missing several key players and traveled to Bristol with only 16 men.
The second team also struggled for numbers, and put in an admirable effort in a 66-14 loss to Somerset Vikings.
Special mention should go to Sonics’ players Freddie Blanks, Lee Bartlett and Mike Gaston, who played in both games, defying sweltering heat to do their bit for the cause. For Blanks and Bartlett, it was their first taste of first team rugby. They both put in a big stint against the odds.
The Sonics came into the game against Sheffield Hallam as leaders of Conference League South, but struggled to match the pace, power and intensity of their opponents.
Sheffield started confidently, and opened the scoring on six minutes when hooker Scott Smith dived over between the sticks, Tom Holt converting. The Sonics rallied, and on 16 minutes a marauding run from Daniel Brooker – forced to play for long spells at half back despite being a prop forward by trade – created the space for winger James Raymond to brush off his opposite number and sprint away to score. Alex Potts couldn’t add the extras.
It wasn’t long before Sheffield extended their lead. On 21 minutes, powerful centre Tom Ashton, building on momentum created by quick play-the-balls and clever running from Scott Smith, broke the Sonics’ line 40 metres out and jogged away to touch down.
Bristol were given a rare opportunity to attack Sheffield’s line when the Eagles made a hash of Daniel Brooker’s kick off, but the Sonics couldn’t make the most of the resultant set of six.
The Sonics were second best for much of the first half, but hung in the game impressively and kept Sheffield at bay for long periods. You couldn’t fault the home side’s effort or eagerness, and they showed great resolve to stick with an Eagles side that has beaten all-comers this season.
Despite these heroic efforts to stick with their opponents, who put on something of a masterclass in simple, tough, high-tempo Rugby League, it would only be a matter of time before Sheffield made their dominance count.
When they scored on the stroke of half time, Chris Cullimore finishing off a Corey Hanson break, it was a warning of what was to come.
Within six minutes of the restart, 18-4 had become 34-4. Sheffield scored from their first set of six, Donald Kudangirana stretching out to touch down out wide, and then followed it up with further quick scores from stand-out full-back Joey Luttrull and Tom Ashton.
It got worse for the Sonics. Although they tried their best to stem the tide of red shirts surging forwards, they simply couldn’t slow down Sheffield’s momentum. The Eagles dominated possession and made the most of it, scoring five further tries through Chris Palmer, Corey Hanson, Bradley Tattersall (2) and Tom Holt, who finished the game with a personal haul of 20 points thanks to eight successful conversions.
When the final whistle came, it was a great relief to Bristol’s battered and bruised bodies.
Bristol Sonics coach Aran Simm said: “Sheffield were terrific today and thoroughly deserved their win – they were a class apart at times. I would also like to pay a massive compliment to our lads for the way they faced up today. It was a largely inexperienced side, with several players making their first team debuts, and they didn’t give in. Any defeat hurts, especially when you’re challenging for honours at the top of the table, but we can learn from this, dust ourselves down and look to get back to winning ways next week.”
The Sonics next face Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC, Henbury, on Saturday 13 July, kick off 2.30pm.