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SONICS COMEBACK STUNS ROMANS

Bristol Sonics overturned a 20-point deficit to secure a remarkable 56-48 victory over 2015 West Of England Champions Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Landseer Avenue.

Bristol trailed for all bar 10 minutes, with debutant second-rower Jack Harbridge’s two late tries – both converted by player/coach Dom Swann – securing a last-gasp victory in a 19-try thriller.

Bath started quickly, with stand-off Paul Riley twice scything through Bristol’s shaky defence in the opening ten minutes to score dazzling long range tries, both of which were converted with ease by Fijian centre Bruce Vuetanaotoka.

Bristol hit back on the first significant attack of the game on 15 minutes, quick hands sending the ball wide to winger Jonny Mawer to crash over. Dom Swann slotted over a remarkable touchline conversion to reduce the arrears to six points, but with 10 minutes the visitors had extended their lead to 20 points.

First Riley completed his hat-trick with another mazy, long-range run, before Vuetanaotoka did the same. Fellow centre Ben Brierley was then put through a gap by Riley and raced away to score. Although Vuetanaotoka could only add one conversion, the Romans were 26-6 ahead and sitting pretty.

On the back of a series of penalties, the Sonics roared back into the game. Tries from Johan Schoeman – following a scintillating break and offload from replacement prop Curtis Asante – and Wes Long, the latter converted by Swann, brought the home side back within 10 points. When hooker Charlie Geary squeezed over for a try, again converted by Swann, the Sonics trailed by just 4 points. There was still time for a twist before half time, though, with the excellent Vuetanaotoka once again crossing the whitewash for a try he converted himself. At half time, the Romans remained ten points ahead at 32-22, but there was still all to play for.

After a quiet opening to the second half, Bath’s Paul Riley scored another trademark score, converted by Vuetanaotoka, and many thought the Sonics had too much to do.

Now 16 points in arrears, Bristol needed a big response. They got it when Kieran Harvey somehow managed to bulldoze his way over from 10 metres out, Swann adding the extras, and prop Simon Bannistern scooting over out wide. Bristol were only within a converted score for a matter of minutes, though, before Ben Brierley grabbed his second try of the afternoon. Joe Knight’s conversion put Bath 12 points ahead with 18 minutes remaining.

The Sonics surged forward looking to make amends, and worked the ball wide to Elliot Nightingale. He spun away from a high tackle, stepped back inside and crashed over, Swann making no mistake with the conversion. With 76 minutes on the clock, Bristol finally levelled the scores. Prop forward Byron Jerome was hauled down close to the line, bit stretched out his arm and somehow managed to ground the ball close to the posts. Swann slotted over the conversion, and suddenly it was anyone’s game.

The force was suddenly with the Sonics, who now looked like scoring on every attack. With 10 minutes remaining, the ball was thrown wide to second rower Jack Harbirdge, who marked his Bristol debut by racing clear of some tired defenders to touch down. Swann’s conversion put the Sonics six points ahead for the first time.

There were still further twists to come. The Romans showed champion form to get up on the canvas and reply, hooker Leigh Wheatley capping a fine game with a much-needed score. With Vuetanaotoka off the pitch, Paul Riley stepped up to attempt the conversion. His kick floated well wide, meaning that Bristol still held a slender two-point advantage.

With just over five minutes to go, Bristol once again worked the ball wide to Harbridge, who broke clear before getting as near as he could to the posts before touching down. Swann calmly converted, giving the Sonics a vital eight-point advantage.

The Romans threw everything at the Sonics line in the closing minutes, but for once the home side’s defence held firm. When referee Ian Waters whistled to mark full time, Bristol’s players jubilantly celebrated their first West of England League win of the season.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “That was another thrilling game and it’s great to get the win, but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. We started poorly and make some very basic errors in defence, which allowed them to deservedly go 20 points ahead. The way we came back over the final 50 minutes of the game was excellent, and I think we just about deserved to edge it in the end. That said, Bath played some superb stuff, too, and we had to dig deep to keep them out at the end. Somehow we held on for victory, and that gives us something to build our season on.”

The Sonics return to action next Saturday with a trip to face old rivals Oxford Cavaliers, before returning to Landseer Avenue the following weekend for a date with Gloucestershire Warriors.

** MATCH FACTS **
BRISTOL SONICS56
T: Jonny Mawer, Johan Schoeman, Wesley Long, Charlie Geary, Kieran Harvey, Simon Bannister, Elliot Nightingale, Byron Edwards, Jack Harbridge 2
G: Dom Swann 8 (from 10)

BATH & WILTSHIRE ROMANS48
T: Paul Riley 4, Bruce Vuetanaotoka 2, Ben Brierley 2, Leigh Wheatley
G: Bruce Vuetanaotoka 5 (from 7), Joe Knight 1 (from 1)
MAN OF THE MATCH AWARDS
Sonics: Mike Gaston (centre)
Romans: Paul Riley (stand off)

Half-time score: 22-32

Referee: Ian Waters
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SONICS & ROMANS TO RENEW RIVALRY

Bristol Sonics and Bath & Wiltshire Romans will renew their on-field rivalry this Saturday, for the first time since last year’s thrilling West of England Grand Final.

Both sides lost their opening fixtures of the 2016 season to title favourites United Services Portsmouth Navy Seahawks, and will be desperate to notch up a first win of the campaign when they meet at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm).

Bristol and Bath were closely matched last season, with the aggregate score of their three 2015 matches remarkably being dead level. While the Sonics won in Bath in the lead up to August’s Grand Final, they lost out by four points in the game that mattered. As a result, player/coach Dom Swann is keen to put that right this weekend.

Swann said: “Losing the Grand Final hurt, particularly as we let a sizeable lead slip, but even to reach the showpiece season-closer was a result given how young and inexperienced our squad was at the start of 2015. All three games against the Romans last season were close-fought crackers, with our first ever meeting, here at Dings, resulting in a 30-all draw. We feel like we’ve got a point to prove, to ourselves more than Bath, and we’re all fired up and focused on getting a win on Saturday”.

The Sonics have been in training for the last three weeks, following their high-scoring 69-56 opening day loss against the Seahawks. Naturally, much focus has been on getting their defensive structure right ahead of further tests to come.

Dom Swann, who missed the Portsmouth game for family reasons, said: “By all accounts our inexperienced side did very well in attack, but struggled to defend well in certain areas of the pitch. We’ve traditionally been fairly sharp in attack and capable of scoring points, but it’s how well you work without the ball that wins you trophies. I don’t expect us to get it 100% right on Saturday, but we’ve been working hard to correct our mistakes and solidify our defensive line. If we can defend well, we’ll be a match for anyone in this division, even those sides that can call on dual-registered, semi-professional players, such as Oxford Cavaliers”.

Stand-off Swann will return to the starting line-up on Saturday to forge a new half-back partnership with namesake Jamie Swann, while skipper Alex Potts is also back to bolster the Sonics’ ranks. Experienced players Elliot Nightingale, Byron Jerome and Joe Singleton are all likely to feature for the first time, but Swann must do without fellow player-coach Lawrence Rycroft and loose forward George Burnie, who scored four tries in the loss at Portsmouth.

Bristol Sonics face Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Dings Crusaders RFC, Landseer Avenue, Lockleaze, on Saturday June 4th, kicking off at 2.30pm. Entrance is free for spectators.
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INEXPERIENCED SONICS LOSE OUT IN 125-POINT THRILLER

Loose forward George Burnie grabbed four tries, as a youthful and inexperienced Bristol Sonics side lost 69-56 to West of England League title hopefuls U.S Portsmouth Navy Seahawks.

Bristol were blown away in the latter stages of the first half, but produced a rousing second half display to get within 13 points of their vastly more experienced opponents.
The Sonics arrived at the United Services Recreation Ground in Portsmouth expecting a tough test. Bristol had to do without the services of a string of experienced players, instead relying on a mixture of debutants, talented graduates from the club’s youth academy, and club stalwarts. In comparison, their opponents – who won last season’s London & South East League before switching competitions over the winter – could call on a large number of Forces rugby players, including a very strong pack of forwards.
In the circumstances, Bristol’s inexperienced side performed admirably, scoring ten tries to come surprisingly close to causing a monumental upset. Bristol were put to the sword in the latter stages of the first half, but rallied to outscore their strongly fancied opponents. The Sonics were particularly strong in the closing stages, showing that there’s nothing wrong with the side’s desire or self-belief.
Loose forward George Burnie was the hero for Bristol, scoring four tries – including a hat-trick in the first half an hour of the game – while prop forward Sam Collins finished with a personal haul of 24 points, thanks to two tries and eight conversions from ten attempts.
Veteran full-back James Gross missed a large chunk of the game after picking up an injury in the opening 15 minutes, but returned in the second half to score a brace of tries. Debutants Louis Mizen and Nikola Strbac, the latter a Serbian Rugby League international, also crossed the whitewash for Bristol.
Sonics team manager Matt Anniss, who was filling in for absent player/coaches Dom Swann, Lawrence Rycroft and Alex Potts, said: “It’s rare that you walk away from a game where you’ve conceded 69 points with more positives than negatives, but we left Portsmouth believing that we could be onto something good this season. Many of our squad were playing their first games of League today, and others were 17 year-olds tasting adult rugby for the first time. Portsmouth will be amongst the strongest teams in this division, and certainly the most physical. To score 56 points against them, while lacking our regular half-backs and a number of experienced forwards, was actually a very good effort.
There’s lots for us to work on, of course, but promising signs. Georgie Burnie, Sam Collins, Louis Mizen, Charlie Geary and Joe Uren are amongst the youngest members of our squad, but all played terrifically today. There were many other notable performances throughout the side, and no lack of effort. We dramatically improved as the game wore on, too, suggesting that there’s much better to come as the season unfolds”.
Bristol now have two weekends off, before playing their first home match of the season against local rivals Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Landseer Avenue, Lockleaze, on Saturday June 4.
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POSITIVE SIGNS FOR SONICS AHEAD OF SUMMER SEASON

Bristol Sonics’ preparations for the 2016 summer Rugby League season take a step up this Wednesday (20th April) when they face military opposition at Landseer Avenue, home of hosts Dings Crusaders RFC.

The Sonics will face the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (kick-off 7pm), in a match that should test the home side’s mettle ahead of the up-coming West of England League season.

Player/coach Dom Swann will use the match, which will be played in four, 20-minute quarters, to test out combinations of players and give game time to new recruits and returning favourites.
 
Since beginning pre-season training a few weeks back, the number of players taking part in sessions has been remarkably high. This upturn in fortunes can partly be attributed to a high number of new recruits, many of which are trying Rugby League for the first time.
Dom Swann said: “There’s been a real buzz at training over the last few weeks, with both regulars and new recruits putting in a lot of effort. The intensity and quality on show has been obvious, and it definitely makes us all feel optimistic ahead of the new season.
 
“Wednesday night’s game gives everyone an opportunity to get some game time before we get into the serious business of the West of England League, which starts in a few weeks time. Playing military opposition is always tough, and we’re all expecting a very difficult match. The kind of intensity and physicality they bring will help our players, especially those new to the game, by showcasing the kind of levels we need to attain in order to compete this season.”
 
Swann is happy with how the Sonics squad is shaping up, but is at pains to point out that new players are always welcome. He said: “We’re always welcome to new recruits, regardless of previous experience or lack of it. The vast majority of our players had played no Rugby League prior to getting involved with the Sonics, and we can provide training in the basics as well as the more advanced stuff the team works on. If you’re interested in giving League a go, simply turn up at training. You’ll find details of sessions on our website and social media pages.”
 
The Sonics next assignment, following Wednesday’s game at Dings, is the South West Nines on Sunday 1st May. The following weekend they will compete in the West of England Nines in Swindon on Saturday May 7 before beginning their West of England League campaign on May 14. Last year, the Sonics reached the West of England League Grand Final, losing to Bath & Wiltshire Romans in a thriller. This season, the Sonics are naturally aiming to go one better.
 
Dom Swann said: “Our aim is always to win any competition we’re involved in, but we have a point to prove after losing the Grand Final last season. The way the League is structured this season will make it particularly difficult for us to take the title, as we’ll have to beat a lot of good teams week in, week out to stand a chance. We think we’re developing a squad that will be up to the task, but until we start playing matches we won’t know how we’re looking. That’s why Wednesday’s game is so important. After that, we’ll know exactly what we need to work on in order to make the improvements needed to challenge Bath, Portsmouth, Gloucestershire and everyone else in the division.”
 
Bristol Sonics take on the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Enginners at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground on Wednesday, 20th April, kick-off 7pm. Entrance is free.
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2016 SEASON

Preparations are underway for the 2016 season and the club would like to hear from prospective players. Having come close to a grand final victory with a rebuilt squad last season, the club has set its sights on going one better in 2016.

Sonics coach Dom Swann is looking to build a strong squad for this year’s campaign: “Last season was about rebuilding as we had a high turnover of players from the previous year. But thanks to everyone’s hard work we really progressed as a squad so we’re now looking to kick-on from last year’s success. Experience tells us that we’ll need a big squad, especially as it looks like we’ll have more games this summer. Competition for places is key to us progressing and it would be great to be able to field a second team again this year so we’re looking for players of all experiences and abilities.

Last season we had a lot of players new to the game and I’m sure they’ll all tell you how much they enjoyed the season. We’re a really open and friendly club so I’d encourage anyone to come and give rugby league a go. There will be plenty happening off the pitch as well this season with regular socials including a trip up to Newcastle for the Super League Magic Weekend.”

The Sonics will be competing in a new-look West of England division with pre-season training will start on Wednesday 6th April 2016 at Dings Crusaders RFC. Keep an eye on the website and the club’s social media accounts before then for further announcements about the upcoming season.

Any prospective players should register their interest using the Contact Us page.

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SONICS READY FOR GRAND FINAL SHOWDOWN

Player/coach Dom Swann has told his Bristol Sonics side to “make their own history” when they face Bath & Wiltshire Romans in the West of England League Grand Final at AFC Corsham’s Leafy Lane ground on Sunday (23rd August, K.O 14.30).

Swann, the club’s record points scorer and the only man to have played in every season since the Sonics’ first took to the field in 2003, wants his young side to “finish the season in style” by recording a second win in three weeks against League Leaders, and 2015’s form team, Bath & Wiltshire Romans.

The Sonics came into 2015 in disarray, with on and off-field issues forcing the club to withdraw from the elite Conference League South competition and drop down into the West of England League. Given this upheaval, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Sonics struggled to find form in the early part of the year, with the thrill of heavy victories tainted by the pain of tight losses to Somerset Vikings and Cheltenham Phoenix.

As the season has progressed, Bristol has finally clicked into gear. An impressive midweek performance against the Royal Marines, where the Sonics provided the military men with a scare in a pulsating performance, was followed by a dramatic 30-all draw at Dings with this season’s surprise package, Bath & Wiltshire Romans. It was the first time the new club, who rely heavily on Armed Forces players recruited from barracks in Wiltshire, had dropped points. That game, a fiery encounter that included a sin-binning and two sendings off, saw the Sonics roar back from a 14-point deficit to lead, only for the visitors to level the scores in the dying minutes.

Since then, the Sonics have been in prime form. Two weeks ago, an understrength Sonics side traveled to Bath’s Leafy Lane ground in Corsham and emerged victorious, inflicting a first defeat of the season on the confident Romans. Youngster Jack Uren, filling in for injured captain Alex Potts at hooker, grabbed four tries as the Sonics won 28-32.

Last week, Uren repeated the trick, crossing the whitewash four times as the Sonics overcame Somerset Vikings 48-22 at Dings to book a tantalising Grand Final re-match with Bath & Wiltshire Romans this Sunday.

Now player/coach Swann, who missed last week’s encounter due to the wedding of fellow Sonics coach Wes Rodgers, wants his side to finish the job. He said: “I’ve given the players a simple message: finish the job and make your own history. This is what we’ve worked all year for. It’s not been a great season off the field, and at times we’ve struggled on it, but all along we were focused on making the Grand Final to put ourselves in with a chance of winning some silverware. Now we’ve done that, we can focus on our next goal: beating Bath & Wiltshire Romans and winning the West of England League. We know what we have to do to beat them, and psychologically we’re in a good place as the only side in the region not to have lost to them this year. I’m in no doubt that it will be a very difficult game for us, though. I expect them to have all their experienced Forces players available for selection, and we know from little things we’ve picked up on that they’re really desperate to win that trophy, just as we are.”

The Sonics have appeared in a number of Grand Finals over the years in different competitions, and Swann is hoping that might make a difference on Sunday – despite the lack of big-game experience from some in his young, energetic side. He said: “Our last Grand Final was in 2011, where we beat Leicester Storm 28-20 at Aretians to become Rugby League Conference Midlands Premier Champions. There are very few of our squad who experienced that day, but one or two are still in the ranks, or will be there cheering us on from the sidelines. I’ve asked them to have a few words with the youngsters, and tell them about their experiences. This is a new experience for Bath, and we don’t yet know how they’ll respond, but a number of their players have international honours with Great Britain Combined Services so you’d expect them at least to take it in their stride. There’s a certain pressure to being favourites, and they’re definitely favourites.”

One player with experience who will controversially take to the field for Bath on Sunday is prop forward and captain Tom Howley. Alongside Sonics’ Dan Stuart-Cummins, Howley was sent off for his part in a brawl in a previous encounter between the sides, and was due to serve a one-match ban on Sunday. While Stuart-Cummins has accepted his punishment, Bath have written to the Rugby Football League to appeal the decision, allowing Howley to take his place in the side.

Howley is likely to be joined in the Romans’ starting line-up by Mike Harrison, a recent Great Britain Combined Services representative who played for the Sonics in Conference League South last season. These two players, along with the Romans’ strong-running pack, will arguably pose the greatest threat to the Sonics’ title ambitions on Sunday.

Dom Swann said: “Mike and Tom are terrific players and will be at the forefront of everything they do on Sunday. Nobody wants to miss out, which is why I’ll have a few selection headaches this week. Whoever takes to the field for us, I’m convinced they can do a job and help us win that trophy in their back yard.”

Swann is likely to return to the starting line-up, and can also call on experienced centre Mike Gaston for Sunday’s showdown in Corsham. Young stars Jack Farler and Jack Uren, who between them scored 28 of the Sonics’ 48 points last Saturday, will also make the starting line-up. Elsewhere, Swann is remaining tight-lipped and as yet, not even the players know who will be on the team sheet come 2.30 on Sunday afternoon.

Swann said: “I want to keep faith as much as I can with the young players and academy graduates who got us in this position, but we definitely need some extra experience in there, particularly in the pack. The game will be won and lost in the forwards, and we have to compete from the word go. That’s causing me a few headaches, but thankfully a few of the lesser-experienced lads have played brilliantly in the last couple of weeks, so I might just put my faith in them. I’ve still got a fair amount of thinking to do, though.”

Bristol Sonics face Bath & Wiltshire Romans in the West of England League Grand Final at AFC Corsham’s Leafy Lane ground on Sunday 23rd August, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is free.

BRISTOL SONICS RECORD IN GRAND FINALS

2007: RLC West Midlands Division – WON (40-30 v Burntwood Barbarians at Chase High School, Burntwood)
2008: RLC National Grand Final – LOST (38-20 v Moorends Thorn Moor Mauraders at Derby RFC)
2010: RLC West Midlands Premier Division – LOST (24-20 v Coventry Bears in Golden Point extra time at Old Coventrians RFC)
2011: RLC West Midlands Premier Division – WON (28-20 v Leicester Storm at Aretians RFC, Patchway)

Dom Swann is the only player to have appeared – and scored – in each one of Bristol’s Grand Final matches.

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SONICS BEAT SOMERSET TO REACH GRAND FINAL

Hooker Jack Uren grabbed a quartet of tries for the second week running as Bristol Sonics swept aside Somerset Vikings 48-22 to reach next Sunday’s West of England League Grand Final.

Bristol’s victory sets up a Grand Final re-match against table-toppers Bath & Wiltshire Romans on Sunday 23rd August at Corsham RFC’s Leafy Lane ground (K.O 14.30). The Sonics are the only side to have beaten Bath this season, and will have high hopes of winning their first silverware since 2011 .

The Sonics tarted well against third-placed Somerset on Saturday, with forwards Olley Scholey, Matt Blacker, Ed Boxhall and Tom Verber punching holes in the visitors’ defence right from the start. It took just two minutes for Bristol to open the scoring, hooker Jack Uren wriggling over from close range for a try converted by full back Jack Farler.

On 14 minutes Bristol extended their lead, winger James Potts strolling over out wide after receiving an inch-perfect pass from stand-off and assistant coach Lawrence Roycroft. Two minutes later loose forward Tom Verber broke clear and dived over between the sticks, Farler again converting. When scrum half Simon Bannister stepped past a couple of players out wide for a try converted by Farler after 22 minutes, Bristol were 22-0 ahead and looking comfortable.

An error from Bannister from the resulting kick-off handed Somerset a great chance to attack from a scrum, five metres out from the Sonics line. Somerset captain and stand-out player Joe Bussell duly forced his way over direct from the scrum, with lively half-back Kelvin Zingyama adding the extras.

Bristol quickly refocused and extended their lead on the half-hour mark, Matt Blacker charging over for a try converted by Farler. With five minutes until half time, the visitors pulled another try back, Zingyama dancing through Bristol’s defence for a deserved score. His conversion made it 30-12. Somerset piled on the pressure in the closing minutes of the half, but Bristol’s defence held firm.

The Sonics effectively booked their final spot with two tries in the opening 12 minutes of the second half. First prop forward Sam Collins barged his way over from close range on 42 minutes, before Jack Uren scythed through Somerset’s defence from 35 metres out to pick up his second try of the afternoon. Farler converted both, putting Bristol 38-12 up and on course for the Grand Final.

To their credit, Somerset never gave up and fought until the final minute. They grabbed a deserved consolation score on 62 minutes, full back Dan Hinton crossing for a try converted by the impressive Zingyama.

Star of the afternoon Jack Uren then confirmed Bristol’s superiority with two more scores – one converted by Farler – before Somerset’s Connor Perkins dived over out wide four minutes from time to end the visitors’ season on a high note.

Bristol’s injured captain Alex Potts, who took charge of the team from the sidelines due to player/coach Dom Swann’s absence, said: “There are a few things to work on ahead of next week’s Grand Final, but that was another strong performance. We were generally very good in defence, and in attack we got the right balance between punching holes with the forwards and getting the ball out wide. We’ll need to improve again to beat Bath next week, but having emerged victorious in our last encounter with them we know what it takes to beat them. It feels great to be in a Grand Final again and to be competing for silverware. Things have been hard off the field for the Sonics over the last 12 months, so it’s good to reward our dedicated players, fans and volunteers with a big day out.”

MATCH FACTS

BRISTOL SONICS 48
T: Jack Uren 4, James Potts, Tom Verber, Simon Bannister, Matt Blacker, Sam Collins
G: Jack Farler 6 (from 9)

SOMERSET VIKINGS 22
T: Joe Bussell, Kelvin Zinyama, Dan Hinton, Connor Perkins
G: Kelvin Zinyama 3 (from 4)

H-T: 22-12
Referee: Melvin Betteridge

MOTM Awards:
Sonics: Ed Boxhall (prop forward)
Vikings: Joe Bussell (loose forward)

Game Star
Jack Uren (Bristol Sonics)

Teams

BRISTOL SONICS: Jack Farler, Phil Tanner, Dan Stuart-Cummins, Kieran Harvey, James Potts, Lawrence Roycroft (captain), Simon Bannister, Sam Collins, Jack Uren, Olley Scholey, Matt Blacker, Joe Singleton, Tom Verber. Interchange (all used): Ashton Pullin, Gerald Darley, Will Obree, Sam Phillips, Ed Boxhall

SOMERSET VIKINGS: Dan Hinton, Cam Wheeler, James Collings, Jordan Tucker, Adam Twine, Ozzy Flowers, Kelvin Zinyama, Connor Caddick, Doug Caddick, Bob Blainey, Bailey Jackson, Aaron Woods, Joe Bussell. Interchange (all used): Jason Senior, George Burkenshaw, James Brakes, Connor Perkin, Zeky Cheng, Josh Evans.

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IN-FORM SONICS EYE FINAL SPOT

Bristol Sonics face local rivals Somerset Vikings at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground this Saturday (August 15, K.O 16.30), with a place in the West of England League Grand Final at stake.

The Sonics head into their biggest game of the season to date in the midst of a rich vein of form. After drawing 30-all with Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Dings a fortnight ago, Bristol produced their best display of the season last Saturday to beat the same side 32-28, thanks largely to four tries from live-wire hooker and Sonics Academy product Jack Uren. It was the Romans’ first and so far only defeat of the season.

Bristol will be looking to maintain this good form when Somerset Vikings roll into town on Saturday. Player/coach Dom Swann, who will be missing Saturday’s game due to the wedding of Sonics stalwart Wes Rodgers, has told his side to focus on the threat the Vikings will pose, and forget about a possible Grand Final re-match with Bath & Wiltshire a week on Sunday.
 
The veteran half-back said: “Beating Bath last week at their place and end their long unbeaten run was brilliant, but it means nothing if we don’t play well this week and get through to the Grand Final. That’s been our focus all season. Last time Somerset came to Bristol we beat them comfortably, but they beat us down at their place last month, so we know that they’re a very strong and capable side on their day. They’ll be looking to finish off their season in style by getting to another Grand Final. If we take them lightly, disrespect them or have a poor attitude, we will lose – and rightly so. If we do the basics well, as we have been doing in the last couple of weeks, the result will look after itself.”

In Swann’s absence, similarly experienced player/coach Lawrence Roycroft will lead from the front on the pitch, with injured captain Alex Potts running things from the bench. Saturday’s squad features a mixture of young stars – Uren being joined by fast rising forward Olly Scholey, utility back Jack Farler, string running second row Matt Blacker and ever-present centre Kieran Harvey – and experienced players, with loose forward Tom Verber, prop forward Sam Collins and half-back Simon Bannister on hand to calm things down if tempers fray. Winger and leading scorer Dan Stuart-Cummins will play his final game of the season for the Sonics, having picked up a one-match ban – which comes into effect for the final should Bristol make it – following his part in an altercation with Bath & Wiltshire Romans’ Tom Howley (who will definitely miss the final).

Spectators are encouraged to come and cheer on the Sonics in what’s likely to be their final home game of 2015. The match takes place at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground, kicking off at 4.30pm. Entrance is free.

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SONICS AIM TO HIT HEIGHTS AS SEASON REACHES CLIMAX

Bristol Sonics hopes of winning the 2015 West of England League title could be decided in the next week and a half, as the city’s Rugby League club faces three top-of-the-table clashes in quick succession.

The Sonics currently sit second in the West of England League table, with three games remaining. To have any chance of topping the table, and therefore getting a prime draw for the end-of-season Championship play-offs, Bristol must win all of those matches – starting with tomorrow night’s top-of-the-table clash with unbeaten leaders Bath & Wiltshire Romans at Dings Crusaders’ Landseer Avenue ground (Wednesday 29th July, kick-off 7.30pm).

Bath & Wiltshire Romans have been a revelation this year, marking their debut season in the West of England League with a string of brilliant performances. The Corsham-based outfit has made the most of their links with the armed forces, and can call upon a number of British Army Rugby League players with Great Britain Combined Services experience. 

In contrast, pre-season title favourites Bristol have endured an up-and-down season. High-scoring defeats of local rivals Somerset Vikings and Swindon St George were followed by narrow and frustrating defeats to Somerset and Cheltenham Phoenix. Following a number of weeks playing friendlies, the Sonics returned to league action on Saturday, holding off a late charge from Swindon St George to emerge victorious 24-28 at Swindon Supermarine Sports Club. That win leaves the Sonics second in the table, ahead of Somerset on points difference, with three tough games to play.

Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann is under no illusions about the task facing his side on Wednesday night. He said: “Bath have been the form team in this division, and rightly sit top of the table. They’re a well-drilled, athletic side who have benefitted greatly from strong links with nearby British Army barracks and their strong Rugby League teams. We’ll have to be at the top of our game to beat them, but we have it in us to deliver what would probably be a shock given their strong form this season. If we do the basics well and defend better than we have done all season, we’ll push them close at the very least.”

Swann has been unable to pick from a full squad for much of the season, with a combination of illness, injury and player unavailability hindering his side’s quest for consistency. This week he’ll be missing a number of key players, including experienced heads Tom and Rob Verber, Will Tobin, Sam Collins and Mike Norman, but is bolstered by the return to action of hard-running prop forward Tony Harvey and younger brother Daniel. Swann also returns to the side after missing Saturday’s trip to Swindon, and his play-making partnership with hooker Alex Potts will be key to Bristol’s chances of overcoming a strong Romans side.

Swann said: “Wednesday night is not make or break for our play-off chances, but to guarantee finishing in the top two we may need to win two out of our three remaining fixtures. If we lose on Wednesday night, it makes it all that much harder. It certainly makes Saturday’s home game against Cheltenham Phoenix a must-win encounter, whatever happens.”

Following Wednesday night’s top-of-the-table clash, Bristol host Cheltenham Phoenix at Dings Crusaders RFC on Saturday August 1st, before travelling to Bath & Wiltshire Romans the following Saturday, 8th August. Entrance to both games will be free of charge, though the Sonics will be collecting donations to the fund set up by the family of Cheltenham player Zac France, who was seriously injured during the West of England League cup final earlier in the year.

Bristol Sonics take on Bath and Wiltshire Romans on Wednesday 29th July, kick-off 7.30pm, and Cheltenham Phoenix on Saturday August 1st, kick-off 2.30pm. Both games will take place at Landseer Avenue, home of Dings Crusaders RFC.