Bristol Sonics showed definite signs of improvement in a comfortable 42-22 win over Leicester Storm that keeps them in the hunt for the Conference League South title.
The Sonics remain level on points with leaders Sheffield Hallam Eagles at the top of the table, four points clear of next Saturday’s opponents, Nottingham Outlaws.
While it wasn’t a perfect performance, there were lots of positives to take out of a game that Bristol never looked like losing, despite the tireless efforts of an out-of-sorts Leicester Storm side who struggled to find their best form but still produced the odd moment of magic.
Much of the damage was done by the Brooker brothers, with centre Marcus grabbing a hat-trick and prop forward Dan making countless yards down the channels. At times Leicester struggled to cope with the hard, direct running of Bristol’s forwards, with man of the match Rob Verber, props Mike Venn and Wes Rodgers, and second-rower Wijnand Wormhoudt all producing eye-catching performances.
The Sonics made their now customary good start. After a Leicester Storm player made a hash of catching the ball following Dom Swann’s long, raking kick-off, Bristol had six tackles with which to bombard the visitors’ try line. After probing on the right hand side, the ball was worked left to centre Marcus Brooker, who trotted over after less than a minute for the first try of the game. Dom Swann produced an excellent conversion, using the strong wind to curl the ball between the uprights.
Leicester hit straight back, making the most of a Bristol error straight from the resultant kick-off. The Sonics’ goal line defence wasn’t called into action much over the course of the afternoon, but when it was it mainly failed. On this first occasion, forward Kane Feek managed to stretch out and put the ball down on the line despite the attention of several Sonics’ tacklers. Impressive storm full back Mark Etherington added the conversion.
Despite this setback, Bristol continued to impress and on 10 minutes regained the lead. Following a series of penalties and unforced errors from the visitors, the Sonics were given another chance to test Leicester’s goal line defence. Again, it was found wanting, as second row James Walter powered over from close range.
Four minutes later Bristol found themselves further ahead when Marcus Brooker again crossed on the left following neat work from skipper Dom Swann and hooker Rory Sharatt. This time, Swann was able to convert to make the score 16-6.
Although Leicester continued to drop the ball and were on the wrong side of the penalty count thanks to far too much interference at the play the ball, Bristol struggled to capitalise. Breaks from Dan Brooker and Mike Venn ended in the ball going to ground following sloppy offloads, while Swann’s passing radar was also a little off. Thankfully, the Sonics defence remained strong, and they largely controlled the ruck without getting on the wrong side of referee Darren Hayes.
Eventually, the Sonics managed to extend their lead. On 29 minutes, a beautiful offload allowed loose forward Rob Verber a run at Leicester’s tiring defenders. He turned on the gas to outsprint Storm fullback Mark Etherington and cross the whitewash following a strong 35-metre run. Swann converted to put Bristol 22-6 up after half an hour.
Another error from the kick off gifted possession back to the visitors, giving them another rare chance to attack the Sonics’ try line. They again took the opportunity, Reece Williams bursting through some weak attempted tackles to touch down. Etherington again converted. Still, at 22-12 up at half time Bristol were sitting pretty.
Leicester were given the rounds of the kitchen at half time by coach Dean Thomas, and began the second half well. They enjoyed more possession and their hard-working forwards began to make more ground. Bristol did their part to encourage them, dropping the ball early in the tackle count to put themselves under pressure.
Eventually, though, the Sonics clicked back into gear and began to make serious ground with ball in hand. On 52 minutes, marauding breaks down field from Dan and Marcus Brooker set up the position for Swann to shift the ball wide right to centre Mike Gaston, who strolled through a huge gap in Leicester’s defensive line to crash over.
On 60 minutes Bristol all but wrapped the game up when winger James Raymond collected an inch-perfect crossfield kick from Swann, stepped back inside and touched down. At 30-10 up with 20 minutes remaining, Bristol were sitting pretty.
Leicester have won plaudits this season for their battling performances and never-say-die attitude, and again they refused to roll over in the face of the home side’s onslaught. They scored next, Jack Boothby surviving a high tackle to bounce over the line. Etherington again converted to reduce the arrears to 14 points.
It wasn’t long before Bristol restored their 20-point advantage, though. Three minutes later Dan Brooker capped another impressive performance with a fine solo try, converted by Swann. Released on the left by brother Marcus, the tall prop forward brushed off a gaggle of would-be tacklers on a 50-metre dash to the line.
On 72 minutes, the Sonics completed their eight-try performance with a final score. On the back of two penalties against the visitors, one for dissent against veteran hooker and former Sonic Simon Anniss, Bristol found themselves deep in Storm territory. It wasn’t long before Marcus Brooker was able to power over to complete his second hat-trick of the season. Swann’s conversion made it 42-16.
Leicester had the last laugh, though, impressive stand-off Tom McIntosh crossing on 76 minutes for a late consolation. It was a less than perfect end to the game for the home side, but it hardly dented what had been a satisfactory afternoon for the Sonics.
Bristol Sonics’ Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley was certainly pleased with what he saw. He said: “We’ve been off-colour in recent weeks, so that was a definite improvement. I’m still looking for an 80-minute performance, and there are areas of concern that need addressing, but we bossed the game for the most part and did the basics right for much of the game. We’ll need to step it up again next week against Nottingham, but with a few absentees returning it bodes well for the rest of the season.”
Next week Bristol travel to Harvey Hadden Stadium, Nottingham, to face in-form Nottingham Outlaws, who face the Sonics on the back of heavy victories over St Albans Centurions and Northampton Demons.
Bristol Sonics (v Leicester Storm, 8th June 2013): Tawanda Chipdaza, Josh Sampson, Marcus Brooker (3 tries), Mike Gaston (1 try), James Raymond (1 try), Dom Swann (5 goals), Johan Schoeman, Dan Brooker (1 try), Rory Sharatt, Wes Rodgers, Sam Blaney, James Walter, Rob Verber (1 try, Man of the Match). Subs: Mike Venn, Wijnand Wormhoudt, Pete Hayes, Jake Robertson