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BRISTOL SONICS 36-24 ECCLES

National Conference League 1 side Eccles made the long trip to the West Country and successfully negotiated a tricky first round qualifying tie in the Challenge Cup, but they were given a real tough test by the Bristol side. Neither side was at full strength but this lead to an enthralling Challenge Cup contest.

Bristol actually played the better rugby with ball in hand in the first half, and with more possession they might have scored more points, but a penalty count of 2-8 against them and sterling defence from Eccles kept them at bay. On the other hand Eccles took their chances better than the home side and ran up a lead that was big enough to hang on to despite being out-scored in the second half by 2 points.  Richard Openshaw topped the tackle count for Eccles and was adjudged man of the match, just, ahead of Mark Thomas.

Eccles took just 4 minutes to open the scoring with Steve Barry sending a long pass to the wing for Christian Higgins to make progress before passing inside for Ben Williamson to score wide out. The angle was too tight for Andrew Muscat to convert (4-0) but The Bristol kicker – Don Swann had more success 4 minutes later, converting the first of his 4 goal from 4 attempts to give Bristol the lead after Marcus Brooker had forced a try (4-6).

Bristol were fancying an upset when they extended the lead on 16 minutes, getting the ball out in the tackle for Josh Duran to score (4-12) only to be left reeling by Eccles scoring 3 tries, all converted by Muscat, in a 6 minute spell starting in the 20th minute.  First, a short pass from Barry saw Mike O’Boyle burst through and go round the posts (10-12) then Barry and Openshaw contrived to send Thomas over, handing off a defender on the way (16-12) before Openshaw sent Adam Taher crashing over after a strong run by Thomas(22-12).

Eccles gave themselves some breathing space on 34 minutes with Marc Jones and O’Boyle combining to send Higgins over in the corner for an unconverted try (26-12) and the tie was just about settled 9 minutes into the second half when Thomas was stopped just short and “quick hands” through Openshaw, Barry and Muscat saw Williamson race in for another unconverted try (30-12).

To their credit, Bristol never lost heart and Marcus Brooker was rewarded on 63 minutes, picking up a dropped pass by Eccles to race 80 metres between the sticks (30-18), but hopes of a come-back were dashed 5 minutes later when Thomas again wreaked havoc in the home defence before Openshaw scooted over the line from dummy half for a try that Muscat converted (36-18). The last say went to the home team however, on 74 minutes, with speedy winger Duran racing in from the half way mark for his second try (36-24).

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