James Pritchard’s try 10 minutes from time helped Bristol Sonics to salvage a 22-all draw at Nottingham Outlaws and move back to the top of Conference League South.

Pricthard, playing his first Conference League South game of 2013, swooped to touch down the ball after Nottingham’s full-back fumbled a towering high kick from Phil Cowburn, under pressure from Sonics’ centre Mike Gaston. Skipper Dom Swann slotted over the conversion to level the scores.

There was still more drama to come, as the Outlaws were awarded a penalty, 35 metres from Bristol’s line, with seconds remaining. They elected to kick for goal, but the ball drifted wide in the swirling wind.

Earlier, Bristol had enjoyed the better of a tense opening period and deservedly took the lead after 15 minutes. James Gross collected an inside pass from Swann, who was playing at hooker for the first time in his 11-year Bristol career, rounded the Outlaws’ full back and sprinted 35 minutes to score. Swann converted.

Having played a good, control game, Bristol began to make errors and give away penalties under pressure from the home side. Nottingham eventually made the most of their increased possession, going over in the left corner on 35 minutes. Bristol’s defenders claimed the ball had been grounded inches short of the line, but the referee backed his own judgement and awarded the try. It was brilliantly converted from out wide, tying the scores at six apiece.

The Sonics soon went close to regaining their lead following a barnstorming 50-metre run from substitute forward Curtis Asante, but the young prop lost the ball 10 metres from the Outlaws’ line.

On the stroke of half time, the Sonics finally nudged themselves ahead. After dominant running from Jake Robertson, the ball was moved wide to James Gahan, who slipped a perfect pass to winger Mike Norman. He hared down the left wing and brilliantly stretched out to touch down the ball with millimetres to spare. Swann couldn’t convert, but Bristol were happy to be ahead 10-6 at the break.

Nottimgham began the second half in scintillating form, and the Sonics struggled to respond. Following three consecutive sets of six deep in Bristol territory, the Outlaws crossed for a try out wide. The conversion was missed, putting the teams all square once more.

Bristol were guilty of giving away needless penalties and struggled to keep hold of the ball. Nottingham made the most of the extra possession, adding two scores in 10 minutes to go 12 clear at 22-10.

Bristol looked a shambles, and their disintegration and frustration was best summed up when they were penalised for offside straight from the resulting kick-off.

Things looked bleak, but somehow the Sonics found a way back into the game. Now enjoying a little more possession, Mike Gaston, Jake Robertson and James Gahan began to make more ground. On 67 minutes Gahan produced a superb sidestep and turn of speed to score a wonderful, 60-metre solo try, converted by Swann.

Then, with their next attacking set of six tackles, the Sonics produced the converted try that levelled the scores. Cowburn’s kick got caught in the wind, and the Outlaws’ full back could only spill it behind his own line. Thankfully for Bristol, James Pritchard was on hand to touch down and rescue a point.

Bristol Sonics’ Director of Rugby, Karl Fearnley, was pleased with the way his side came back. He said: “We were pretty poor for most of the second half and didn’t control the ball well enough. I always thought that we could get back into it, though, and the lads showed great charcter to come back to grab a point. A lot of credit must go to Nottingham, who had the best of us for long periods and perhaps deserved the win. I’m happy enough with the result in the end, but we’ll need to improve considerably in coming weeks.”

The point puts Bristol back at the top of the Conference League South table, one clear of Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, who aren’t playing this weekend. The Sonics next face St Albans Centurions in Bristol in two weeks time.

Meanwhile, an inexperienced and under-strength Bristol Sonics A side produced a battling performance to go down 32-6 to Old Patesians in the West of England League. The Sonics’ try was scored by Lee Bartlett and converted by 16 year-old debutant Harry Brooker, brother of first team stars Dan and Marcus, and fellow second-teamer Dean.

Bristol Sonics (v Nottingham Outlaws, 15/6/13): Dan Evans, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, James Gahan (1 try), Mike Norman (1 try), Phil Cowburn, James Gross (1 try), Dan Brooker, Dom Swann (3 goals), Ollie Yeats, Jake Robertson, Tom Verber, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Curtis Asante, Will Tobin, James Pritchard (1 try), Joe Singleton.



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

T: Marcus Brooker 3, James Walter, Rob Verber, Mike Gaston, James Raymond, Dan Brooker
G: Dom Swann 5 (from 8)
T: Kane Feek, Reece Williams, Jack Boothby, Tom McIntosh
G: Mark Etherington 3 (from 4)


Bristol Sonics returned to winning ways with a comfortable 36-24 victory over Northampton Demons, but the performance left skipper Dom Swann far from happy.

The Sonics built up a commanding 32-6 lead after 60 minutes, only to allow the home side a trio of consolation tries in the closing stages as Bristol’s intensity dipped below the levels expected by coach Jason Talbot. As has been the case on numerous occasions this season, the Sonics were guilty of giving away far too many penalties. These, combined with individual errors, combined to allow the Demons a way back into a game they at one point looked destined to lose heavily.

It was a performance that frustrated captain Dom Swann. He said: “Today we played in patches. At times we played some brilliant rugby and did everything right. At others we lacked intensity and cohesion, missed tackles we should have been making and allowed Northampton back into the game. We should give them credit for putting us under pressure, particularly late in the second half, but it disappointing to concede that many points. If you let the opposition have the ball as much as we did in the final 20 minutes, there’s always a chance that you will get punished. That’s exactly what happened.”

Swann continued: “We need to get back to basics and concentrate on putting in an 80-minute performance. Today. we probably played well for 35 minutes. It was good enough today, but we can’t always expect to turn on the style in patches and keep winning. On another day, we’d have been punished for our sloppiness.”

The Sonics dominated the first 20 minutes and built up a commanding 16-0 lead. First James Gahan, playing his first game for the Sonics for nearly 12 months, trotted over on the left after six monutes, following a brilliant long pass from centre Marcus Brooker. Skipper Swann added the extras, the first of four successful conversions of the afternoon. On 13 minutes Bristol doubled there lead when good work from Wes Rodgers and Dom Swann created the space for Rob Verber to stroll over under the posts unopposed from 10 metres out. Then, on 19 minutes, Bristol again breached the home side’s defences, good hands creating the space for Ollie Yeats to dive over in the left corner.

Having been in control, Bristol began to give away penalties and make errors. Northampton broke through on the left on half way on 25 minutes, and only a brilliant tackle from winger James Raymond, who sprinted back 40 metres to catch the runaway Demons’ player, prevented them scoring. A few minutes later Raymond was again in the thick of the action, combining with centre Mike Gaston to bundle a Northampton player into touch inches from the try line. Then, following an off-the-ball altercation, Sonics second-rower Matt Douglas was sent to the sin-bin by referee Darren Hayes for punching. It was only a matter of time before the home side scored. They duly got over the whitewash on 30 minutes, Richard Kirk brushing off some weak attempted tackles to touch down. Ollie Furniss converted. Demons Tim Stevens was sent to the sin-bin five minutes later after throwing a punch at a Bristol defender. It was a scrappy end to an up-and-down half for both sides.

Following some positive words from Talbot and Swann at half time, the Sonics came out and blew the home side away early in the second half. It was the Demons who started the half the brighter, though, and on 44 minutes winger James Raymond again had to rescue the Sonics, this time bundling opposite number Matt Lyle into touch inches from the tryline. Less than a minute later, the Sonics had extended their lead. Second-rower Jamie Crowther broke through on half way, sprinted 40 metres and eventually found full back Dan Evans in support, who finished brilliantly. Three minutes later the Sonics all but made the game safe with another thrilling try, Mike Gaston finishing off a brilliant left-to-right move deep in Demons territory. Then, two minutes later, Rob Verber grabbed his second of the game. The loose forward showed great speed and footwork to shrug off the attentions of four would-be tacklers on a 60-metre dash to the line. Swann converted, putting Bristol 32-6 ahead with 50 minutes gone.

It looked as if the Sonics would run away with it, but soon the wheels began to fall off. Following a brilliant break, Jaems Gahan was correctly penalised for passing the ball from the ground after the referee had called the tackle. From that point on, the Sonics were second best. A string of penalties and handling errors gifted possession to Northampton, who noticeably grew in confidence as the game wore on. On 65 minutes Seb Ward scythed through some weak attempted tackles and crashed over, Furniss converting. Two minutes later Ward again broke clear, this time on half way, and sprinted away to dive over between the sticks.


Bristol finally put together a couple of good sets of six and extended their lead on 72 minutes, the excellent James Raymond finishing off another expansive move. Despite the attentions of two Demons defenders, Raymond had enough strength to get the ball down on the try line. Swann couldn’t convert kicking into a stiff breeze.


Right at the death, the home side scored a final consolation, Davie Watts rising above James Gahan to claim a towering Ollie Furniss kick and ground the ball over the try line. Furniss added a brilliant touchline conversion to complete the game. It was a frustrating end to a hit-and-miss afternoon for the Sonics.


The win means that Bristol remain second in Conference League South on points difference from leaders Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, who defeated the Sonics’ next opponents, Leicester Storm, 44-18. The Sonics face the Storm at Dings Crusaders RFC, Lockleaze, on Saturday 8th June, kick-off 2.30pm.




T: Richard Kirk, Seb Ward 2, Davie Watts

G: Ollie Furniss 4 (from 4)



T: James Gahan, Rob Verber 2, Ollie Yeats, Dan Evans, Mike Gaston, James Raymond

G: Dom Swann 4 (from 7)



BRISTOL SONICS (v NORTHAMPTON DEMONS): Dan Evans, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, James Gahan, Dom Swann, Nick Portch, Dan Brooker, Rory Sharratt, Gary Carpenter, Jake Robertson, Ollie Yeats, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Jamie Crowther, Winjand Wormhoudt, Matt Douglas, Wes Rodgers.




Bristol Sonics tasted defeat for the first time this season on Saturday, when they lost a nail-biting encounter with Conference League South title favourites Sheffield Hallam Eagles 36-30 at Landseer Avenue.

Bristol were left rueing the cost of injuries which left them battling to stay in the game in the second half. The Sonics lost a number of players to injury during the course of the game, and had to dig deep to stay with a Hallam side full of Academy players from Championship title-holders Sheffield Eagles.

It was a performance that earned praise from Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley, who was impressed by his players battling qualities. He said: “Sheffield are a top side, so to push them close with all the injuries we picked up shows how much desire there is in this squad. There were some battered and bruised bodies out there in the second half, but the lads never gave up. It fills me with a great deal of confidence for the next time we meet Sheffield in July.”

The Sonics, who beat the Eagles in Sheffield on the first day of the season – the only Conference League South club to do so to date – started brightly and opened up a 12-point lead in the early stages.

After the Eagles made a lightening-quick start and threatened to score on their first set of six, Bristol took command. After eight minutes, a dropped high kick deep in Sheffield territory gave the Sonics a chance to attack. A terrific one-handed offload from loose forward Rob Verber found skipper Dom Swann, who released Mike Gaston. The tall centre showed great footwork to cut back inside and cross the whitewash, to rapturous applause from the Sonics’ biggest crowd of the season. Dom Swann calmly added the extras.

On 13 minutes the Sonics extended their lead. This time Swann was the provider, running left and flicking a perfect reverse pass back inside to create the space for Johan Schoeman to saunter through to the tryline unopposed. Swann again converted.

Sheffield began to get more of the ball and were soon pushing the home side back through hard running from their talented forwards and quick, expansive wide play. They got their reward on 22 minutes, when prop forward Lee Sanders stretched out to put the ball down over the line, Tom Holt converting.

Three minutes later, Sheffield were level. When Sonics second-rower Josh Sampson fumbled a low ‘grubber’ kick from scrum half Shaun Roberts behind his own line, Tom Holt was on hand to touch down. He converted his own try to tie the scores at 12-all.

With half time approaching, Sonics winger James Raymond was helped from the field with concussion following a fair but brutal tackle from a Sheffield forward. With no backs on the interchange bench, Bristol were forced to hastily reorganize.

It didn’t make much difference to begin with, as the Sonics hit the front on 39 minutes when centre Marcus Brooker forced his way over from close range, Swann converting. But a minute later, Raymond’s absence was felt as Sheffield scored down his wing. It was his opposite number Donald Kudangirana who touched down, though Bristol were furious that referee Ian Curzon had missed centre Tom Ashton taking out two covering defenders in the build-up. Holt converted to level the scores at 18-all at half time.

Early in the second period, Sheffield took control. Five minutes into the second half, they took the lead for the first time when Kudangirana finished off a quick right-to-left hands move, Holt converting. Then, on 55 minutes, prop forward Sam Williamson broke free of some weak attempted tackles on half way and sprinted to the try line. Instead of scoring himself, he waited for Kudangirana to catch up, slipped him the pass and watched as the winger celebrated his hat-trick.

It looked as if Bristol would crumble. Now without stand-off Swann, who was forced off with a hamstring injury, and with replacement Marcus Brown also limping, it seemed that the Sonics would run out of fit bodies against a team in scintillating form. With Sheffield making easy yards with the ball, and successfully slowing down Bristol in defence, most thought it would be one-way traffic from then on in.

Bristol are made of sterner stuff these days, and showed great character to edge their way back into the game. On the back of a lot of possession, Bristol reduced the arrears to six points on 75 minutes when impressive prop forward Dan Brooker, playing out of position as a play-maker, powered his way to the line. He converted his own try to make it 24-30.

From the re-start Bristol attempted to attack down the left, but Josh Sampson lost the ball. 30 seconds later Hallam made the game safe when substitute forward Alex Palmer charged through some tired tackles on halfway and sprinted 50 metres to touch down.

There was still time for a final twist, as Bristol went down the other end and scored through the tireless Jake Robertson, Brooker again converting, but it came too late to change the outcome of the game. As Brooker’s conversion sailed through the posts, Curzon blew for full time.

The loss means that the Sonics drop to second in the table, behind Sheffield Hallam on points difference. The two sides both have 10 points, four points more than third-placed Nottingham Outlaws.



Bristol Sonics are celebrating a “Super Saturday” after seeing both adult open-age teams notch up valuable wins.

The first team, previously unbeaten in Conference League South, cemented their position at the top of the table after winning away at St Albans 40-6. Bristol Sonics A, the club’s second team, made a great start to the West of England League season, grinding out a tough 26-20 victory over Swindon St George at Avonmouth Old Boys RFC.

T: Day. G: Waters
T: Dan Evans 2, Harry Marson, Dom Swann, James Gross, James Raymond, Mike Gaston 2. G: Dom Swann 4 (from 8)


Early tries from Dan Evans, Harry Marson and skipper Dom Swann set the Sonics first team on the way to a convincing win at struggling St Albans. The home side briefly rallied to get on the scoresheet in the 32nd minute, but further tries from James Gross and James Raymond helped the Sonics to a comfortable 28-6 half time lead.

In a tigher second half, Bristol soaked up pressure from the home side before finally putting the game to bed with a trio of tries in the middle of the half. Centre Mike Gaston grabbed a brace, with full back Dan Evans collecting his second of the match with 15 minutes remaining.
The win means Bristol remain top of Conference League South, having won each of their five games this season. They lead Sheffield-Hallam Eagles by two points, who visit Clifton RFC next Saturday to take on the Sonics.


T: Craig Burgess, Johan Schoeman, Jack Gibson, Will Tobin 2 G: James Bennett 3 (from 5)
T: Milo Hartley, Richard White, James Slater, Chris Kent. G: James Slater 2 (from 4)


Two second half tries from Man Of The Match Will Tobin helped Bristol Sonics A squeeze past Swindon St George at Barrack’s Lane.

Tobin’s second score, 14 minutes from time, was enough to secure the points for the home side, despite several late chances for the visitors.

Bristol began the game well, and were 6-0 up within 7 minutes thanks to Craig Burgess’s short-range try, converted by James Bennett.

Swindon hit back well and on the back of a series of penalties for offside against lazy Bristol defenders created some good chances. Eventually the pressure told, with Milo Hartley forcing his way over on 21 minutes after taking a quick tap penalty. James Slater couldn’t convert.

Things got better for the visitors four minutes later, when James Slater crossed the whitewash to put them into the lead.

On 32 minutes Bristol regained the advantage when Johan Schoeman dived over after collecting a brilliant inside ball from James Pritchard, only to see their lead disappear in less than a minute following a close range try, again from a quick tap penalty, from prop forward Richard White.

Yet by the end of an eventful and spicy first half, Bristol were back ahead. On the stroke of half time Jack Gibson crashed over after collecting a neat offload from Johan Schoeman. James Bennett’s conversion made it 16-14 at the break.

Bristol extended their lead early in the second period, when a Lewis Beer kick caught in the wind, bounced freakishly and was collected by Will Tobin, who sprinted away to touch down from 15 metres out. Bennett’s conversion made it 22-14 to the home side.

Swindon rallied and within 8 minutes were back within two points thanks to a fine try out wide by Chris Kent, brilliantly converted by James Slater.

With defence dominating, it was down to Tobin to produce a final moment of magic to restore Bristol’s six-point advantage. He raced away to score from half way. Bennett couldn’t convert, but the Sonics held out for a morale-boosting victory.



Bristol Sonics produced a dazzling first half performance to set up a 40-6 win over Nottingham Outlaws that puts them clear at the top of Conference League South.

A blitz of three tries midway through the first half helped the home side notch up a 20-0 half-time lead and put a fourth straight win within touching distance.

Nottingham produced an improved performance in the early stages of the second half, only to see their comeback thwarted by the sending off of second-rower George Strachan for dissent towards the match officials.

Bristol started brightly and thought they’d taken the lead on four minutes when winger Mike Norman touched down following a dazzling 60-metre move, but the dual-registered Gloucestershire All Golds flier had put a foot in touch on his way to the line.

Two minutes later Bristol opened the scoring when Marcus Brooker powered over following a scrum deep in Nottingham territory. Skipper Dom Swann slotted over the conversion from wide on the left.

The Sonics dominated proceedings in the opening 15 minutes, and only some desperate defence from Nottingham kept them at bay. Eventually, the weight of possession and territory was just too much for the Outlaws to take, and outstanding prop forward Jake Robertson charged through some weak tackles to score from 20 metres out.

Within 10 minutes the Sonics had extended their lead to 20 points. First, Marcus Brooker grabbed his second try of the game from close range, before debutant Nico Flanaghan broke clear on the half way line and rounded Outlaws full back Will Thomas to touch down to the right of the posts. Swann slotted over the conversion.

Nottingham enjoyed more possession in the closing stages of the first half and came close to hitting back, only to be denied by some excellent goal line defence from the Sonics.

The Outlaws did finally get on the score sheet early in the second period following another period of pressure, second-rower George Strachan slipping out of some tired tackling to dive over. Matt Rowland added the extras.

With Bristol again guilty of giving away silly penalties, it looked like the Outlaws might stage a dramatic comeback. However, Joe McClean’s try on 55 minutes settled the home supporters’ nerves and restored Bristol’s lead. McClean showed great strength to make it over the line, given that he had three players trying to stop him. Sadly, his game ended soon after when a stray forearm from an Outlaws forward resulted in a broken collarbone.

Any thoughts of a Nottingham comeback were finally extinguished on 60 minutes thanks to a moment of madness from Outlaws second-rower George Strachan. Having been sin-binned by referee Darren Hayes for a nasty “chicken wing” tackle, Strachan thought it wise to talk back to the Widnes whistler. Hayes had no option but to show him a red card for dissent.

The Sonics took full advantage of their man advantage in the closing stages of the contest, scoring three excellent tries. First hooker Rory Sharrat burrowed over from close range on 62 minutes, Swann converting, before Mike Gaston surged through a gap created by a perfect pass from stand-off Swann. Jake Robertson completed the rout with a remarkable solo effort on 76 minutes. Set free by Nico Flanaghan, the prop forward showed remarkable speed to out-sprint the Outlaws’ back line on a touchline-hugging 60-metre run to the try line.

Bristol Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley was largely pleased with his side’s performance. He said: “I thought we were superb in the first half. We played some brilliant stuff and that was easily the best we’ve played this season. We made life difficult for ourselves in the second half by giving away a lot of silly penalties, but we always had enough to go on and secure the win.”

The Sonics next face a trip to St Albans Centurions on Saturday 11 May.

T: Marcus Brooker 2, Jake Robertson 2, Nico Flanaghan, Rory Sharrat, Joe McLean, Mike Gaston
G: Dom Swann 4 (from 8)
T: George Strachan
G: Matt Rowland 1 (from 1)
Sent off: George Strachan (dissent)
Man of the Match: Jake Robertson (Bristol Sonics)
Referee: Darren Hayes
Half-Time: 20-0
Bristol Sonics (v Nottingham Outlaws, 27/4/13): Dan Evans, MIke Norman, Marcus Brooker, Mike Gaston, James Raymond, Dom Swann, James Gross, Wes Rodgers, Rory Sharrat, Jake Robertson, Nico Flanaghan, Joe McClean, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Curtis Asante, Lewis Beer, Johan Schoeman, Darren van Hoof


Bristol Sonics needed a dramatic last-gasp try from veteran fullback James Gross to overcome Conference League South newcomers Leicester Storm and retain their unbeaten start to the season.

The Sonics were trailing 18-16 with seconds remaining when Gross somehow found a way to unlock Leicester’s dogged defence with the last play of the game. Although skipper Dom Swann missed the conversion attempt, it was enough to guarantee Bristol a narrow 20-18 victory.

Earlier the Sonics had built up a 10-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes, only to see it wiped out before half time. A beautiful pass from centre Mike Gaston set up on-loan University of Gloucestershire All Golds’ forward Sam Blaney for the opening try of the game, before hooker Matt Williams extended the lead after charging down a kick.

On the back of a number of penalties for Bristol indiscipline, Leicester hit back, crossing the whitewash three times to hold a 14-10 half time lead.

The Sonics piled on the pressure early in the second half, but Leicester’s determined defence held firm. Bristol continued to give away penalties, allowing Storm to relieve the pressure.

Eventually the Sonics regained the lead when on-loan All Golds hooker Rory Sharratt scooting over from dummy half with just over 10 minutes remaining. Skipper Swann’s conversion put Bristol two points ahead at 16-14.

Leicester attempted to level the scores with a penalty kick at goal, but the attempt bounced back off the post. 30 seconds later they squeezed over the try line out wide to give themselves a great chance of grabbing their first win of the season.

Sadly for the home supporters they couldn’t hold out under extreme pressure from the Sonics. As he’s done many times before, Gross produced a moment of magic to save Bristol’s bacon.

The result means the Sonics stay second in Conference League South, tied on points with Nottingham Outlaws. The two sides will lock horns next Saturday at Clifton RFC, kick-off 2.30pm.



Bristol Sonics continued their unbeaten start to the 2013 Southern Conference League season, grinding out a 24-10 win over Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC.


The Sonics were always the stronger of the two sides, but made heavy weather of overcoming a determined Demons side who arguably mastered the difficult conditions better.


With torrential rain and strong winds sweeping across the chilly “shelf” pitch at Station Lane, it was always going to be an old-fashioned kind of match. With mud-soaked players struggling to hold off a slippery ball and defenses on top, it looked more like a traditional winter amateur game than a free-flowing summer match.


Despite the scoreline, Bristol could – and probably should – have won by more points. They built up an 18-0 lead within half an hour, before being pegged back by a Northampton team helped by the home side’s lack of discipline and inability to complete enough sets of six tackles. While the Sonics were never exactly hanging on, they needed Wes Rodgers’ second-half try to settle the nerves of their agitated spectators and give them a bit of breathing space.


Things had begun so well. Dom Swann’s kick off was allowed to bounce into touch by Northampton, and from the resultant scrum the Sonics put pressure on the home side’s try line. With just 90 seconds on the clock, dual-registered All Golds star Sam Blaney surged through the visitors’ weak defense and crossed for the first try of the game. Swann’s attempted conversion drifted well wide.


The Demons were struggling not only to stop Bristol’s forward momentum – props Ollie Yates and Liam Walker impressing up front – but also to keep hold of the ball when they had it. With so much ball with which to attack the Demons’ defense, it was no surprise that tries came at regular intervals.


On 15 minutes, quick hands from hooker Matt Williams and scrum-half Dave Tomlinson allowed skipper Dom Swann to find right winger Tom Davies with a long, hanging pass. Davies showed a great turn of pace to beat the cover tackler and dive in at the corner. Swann’s attempted conversion hit the post, but referee Ian Curzon ordered him to retake it. Amazingly, the veteran stand-off hit the same post with his second attempt.


Bristol didn’t have it all their own way in the early exchanges. Referee Curzon took exception to a number of high tackles and Bristol’s aggressive tackling, and Northampton were awarded a string of penalties. On 21 minutes Curzon lost patience with scrum-half Dave Tomlinson, and sent him to the sin-bin for persistent offending.


Strangely, Bristol barely struggled while Tomlinson was off the pitch and actually extended their lead further. First, Jake Robertson continued his fine try-scoring form with a typical close-range effort, before prop forward Ollie Yates marked a fine debut by powering his way over close to the posts. This time, Swann was able to convert, putting the Sonics 18-0 up with 30 minutes played.


Bristol’s discipline continued to waver, much to the frustration of the crowd, and more cheap penalties gifted Northampton a way back into a match they looked destined to lose by a cricket score.


With 33 minutes on the clock Demons winger Reese Rance reacted first to a beautiful crossfield kick from impressive stand-off Ollie Furness. The ball looked to be heading out, but somehow Rance touched it down just milimetres from the dead ball line.


Then, on the stroke of half time, Bristol again gifted Northampton a chance to attack on the back of another penalty, this time for a ripping the ball out of the attacker’s hands. Scrum-half Daniel Watts took advantage, turning an angled run to the line into a try-scoring opportunity. The Sonics weren’t impressed, though, as it appeared that the ball had been knocked on at the play-the-ball in the build-up. Either way, the score stood, Furness converted and the Demons were back within eight points.


This unlikely comeback seemed to spur the visitors on. They were arguably the better team in the second half. While they hardly threatened the Sonics line, their simple game plan and excellent kicking game made it difficult for the home side. Bristol didn’t help themselves much, either, with plenty of dropped balls and few completed sets of six tackles. Fortunately, their defense was too strong for the Demons, who struggled to penetrate or make decent ground.


The Sonics believed they had the game wrapped up on 55 minutes, when Marcus Brooker broke through the line and slid in to score. Referee Curzon thought otherwise, and spotted a knock-on from Brooker as he was crossing the line. Northampton were naturally delirious.


Bristol did finally get a score to settle the nerves and secure the win, and it came from the best piece of play of the whole match. Swann found centre Mike Gaston with a beautifully weighted pass and he sprinted through the line at pace, 30 metres out. He drew the fullback and passed back inside to supporting loose forward Wes Rodgers. Despite juggling with the ball, he rounded the last defender and crashed over between the posts. Swann converted to put Bristol 14 points up with less than 15 minutes remaining.


Northampton tried their best to get back into it, but Bristol’s defense was just too strong.


After the game, Sonics’ Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley had mixed feelings about the win. He said: “We weren’t at our best today and made far too many poor choices with the ball. We got 18-0 up by playing a simple game that worked in the terrible conditions. We then seemed to lose our heads. I always felt like we had too much for them, but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. Credit should also go to Northampton who played the conditions very well in the second half and didn’t take a backward step. There’s plenty to work on in training this week.”


Next week, Bristol travel to face Leicester Storm at New College, Leicester (kick-off 2.30pm), looking to make it three wins on the bounce. Today, Leicester lost 16-38 to Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.

BRISTOL SONICS (v Northampton Demons, 13/4/13): James Gross, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Tom Davies; Dom Swann, Dave Tomlinson; Ollie Yates. Matt Williams, Liam Walker, Jake Robertson, Sam Blaney, Wes Rodgers. Subs (all used): Curtis Asante, Darren van Hoof, Jack Spooner, Joe Singleton




Sam Blaney, Tom Davies, Jake Robertson, Ollie Yates, Wes Rodgers
Dom Swann 2 (from 5)
Sin-bin: Dave Tomlinson (20 mins) – persistent offending
Reece Rance, Daniel Watts
Ollie Furness 1 (from 2)
Half-time: 18-10
Referee: Ian Curzon
Bristol: Matt Williams (hooker)
Northampton: Ollie Furness (stand-off)





Bristol Sonics twice battled back from a 10-point deficit to grab a last-gasp 42-40 win over Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium.


Prop forward Liam Walker barged his way over the Sheffield line four minutes from time to level the scores, before skipper Dom Swann coolly slotted over the conversion to earn Bristol a nail-biting victory over the highly-fancied home team.


Dual-registered University of Gloucestershire All Golds centre Marcus Brooker, returning to the Bristol side he has served so well for the past three seasons, scored four tries, while man-of-the-match Jake Robertson helped himself to a brace.


Yet the Sonics could quite easily have lost the game. Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, a new club set up by 2012 Championship winners Sheffield Eagles and Sheffield Hallam University, led for much of the game and twice built up 10-point leads in the second half.


Bristol were arguably the better of the two sides from the start, but a combination of errors, slack defense and opportunistic plays kept the home side in the driving seat.


The Sonics started well, and twice crossed the whitewash in the early stages only to see the tries ruled out for dropping the ball in the act of scoring. After seeing a third try ruled out on 18 minutes, Bristol fell behind when Bradley Tatersall finished off a fine Sheffield-Hallam break. Tom Holt’s conversion made it 6-0 with 20 minutes gone.


Bristol were soon back in the game when Marcus Brooker powered down the left to narrow the arrears to two points. After seeing another try ruled out for a knock-on, Sheffield once again broke away to extend their lead. This time, it was centre Tom Ashton who crossed following a long run from Holt. The latter’s conversion made it 12-4.


Jake Robertson burrowed his way over from close range shortly after, Dom Swann converting, before a horrendous error from the otherwise faultless Brooker gifted a try to the home side. 30 metres out from his own line, he threw a loose offload. Sheffield-Hallam speedster Donald Rodangarina snaffled up the ball and sprinted down the touchline to score. Holt again converted to give the home side an 18-10 advantage with less than a minute to go until the break.


The drama wasn’t over yet, though. After Sheffield-Hallam made a mess of Swann’s kick-off, Brooker jumped to collect a high bouncing ball, 10 metres out, and trot over unopposed. Swann couldn’t add the extras, meaning the Sonics trailed 18-14 at the break.


Bristol finally got their noses in front four minutes into the second half, when Brooker somehow managed to wriggle his way over underneath the posts. Swann’s conversion made it 18-20 and the Sonics were flying.


On the back of two penalties the home side set up the position for Anthony Seeto to dive over in the corner, with Holt’s touchline-hugging conversion making it 24-20. Minutes later, prop Sam Williamson caught a poor chip from Swann and raced 60 metres to score. Holt again added the extras to make it 30-20, and it looked as if the Sonics’ resistance would melt away.


But Bristol are made of sterner stuff these days, and soon they were back in the game following another short-range effort from the excellent Robertson. Swann converted, and minutes later Bristiol were level when Brooker forced his way in the corner following a sweeping right-to-left move.


Just when it looked as if the momentum had shifted back to the Sonics, Sheffield-Hallam restored their 10 point advantage. First, the impeccable Lee Sanders got his name on the scoresheet, Holt converting, before a break from former Sheffield Eagles first-teamer Corey Hanson created the space for Tom Ashton to grab his second. Crucially, Holt’s attempted conversion drifted wide, but at ten points up with less than 10 remaining, the home side were sitting pretty.


Again, back came the Sonics. With 8 minutes remaining hooker Matt Williams ducked under some weak tackles to force his way over close to the posts, Swann converting.


From the resulting kick-off Sheffield Hallam were able to put Bristol under pressure. Somehow, skipper Swann landed a beautiful 40-20 kick to win a vital scrum deep in Sheffield territory. With the clock ticking down, prop Liam Walker collected a short pass and stormed over to level the scores. Swann’s conversion gave Bristol the lead with little over four minutes remaining.


Sheffield-Hallam threw everything at the visitors for the remainder of the contest, but Bristol’s defence stood firm to record a memorable opening-day victory.



Sheffield-Hallam Eagles            40

T: Bradley Tattersall, Tom Ashton 2, Donald Rodangarina, Anthony Seeto, Sam Williamson, Lee Sanders G: Tom Holt 6 (from 7)

Bristol Sonics                                    42

T: Marcus Brooker 4, Jake Robertson 2, Matt Williams, Liam Walker. G: Dom Swann 5 (from 8)


Sheffield-Hallam: Lee Sanders (prop forward)

Bristol: Jake Robertson (second row)

Bristol Sonics (v Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, 6/4/13): Max Davies, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Tom Verber, Dom Swann, Alex Potts, Wes Rodgers, Matt Williams,  Liam Walker, Jake Robertson, Joe McLean, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Jack Spooner, Darren van Hoof, Curtis Asante, Joe Singleton.



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).