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FOUR-STAR GROSS INSPIRES SONICS

Veteran fullback James Gross grabbed four tries as Bristol Sonics produced another stunning second half performance to down Cooperative RLC Midlands Premier rivals Leicester Storm 50-10 and move within one win of a place in the regional Grand Final.Gross was in scintillating form, combining brilliantly with play-makers Dom Swann, Joel Keen and Harry Marson to rip apart Leicester’s usually solid defence and set up a dizzying second-half try blitz. As they’d done against Northampton the previous week, Bristol cut loose at the start of the second period, notching up five tries in 16 minutes to take the game away from the visitors. It was spellbinding stuff.The first half had gone to form. Bristol started brightly, putting the visitors under pressure through strong forward running and quick, expansive play. The Sonics deservedly took the lead on seven minutes, Gross diving over from dummy half inches out and twisting out of the tackle to touch down.Leicester’s inexperienced stand-off Tom Knott put the resultant kick-off straight into touch, giving the Sonics a penalty on half-way and another chance to attack. Dom Swann drilled the penalty into touch and Bristol restarted deep in Storm territory. After probing the Leicester line for a few tackles, the ball was spun wide to flying winger Mike Norman, who squeezed over in the corner. Skipper Swann converted from the touchline to give Bristol a 10-0 lead with less than 10 minutes gone.It was almost too good a start for the home side. Leicester, playing to a tight, forward-dominated game plan and committing plenty of players to the tackle in defence, began to get back into the game. Bristol were punished for lapses of concentration and discipline, and soon the men from the East Midlands were back in the game.First, a series of quick play-the-balls set-up the opportunity for Storm hooker Simon Anniss to scoot over between the sticks on 18 minutes, Knott converting. Then, on 25 minutes, winger Paul Andrews strolled over wide on the right after a long, looping pass from Tom Knott and the scores were level. Once again, the position for Storm to attack – deep in Sonics territory – came from a combination of handling errors and penalties.Over the following 15 minutes, the tension began to mount. Bristol made a string of line breaks, with Gross, Josh Sampson, Marcus Brooker and prop forward Wes Rodgers all going close. Invariably, good field position was wasted and Leicester lived to fight on. That they did, raising the stakes via some combative defence and the occasional high tackle. Tempers began to fray, but Bristol held their cool and continued to chip away, largely through the hard work of a pack of forwards at the top of their form.On the stroke of half time, the Sonics edged ahead again. It was a try created by hooker Harry Marson, who sold a dummy and cut through the Storm defence with an arcing run towards the try line. While he was pulled down inches short, Gross was again on hand to finish off the try. Swann was unable to convert, but Bristol went into the break 14-10 ahead.Games between Bristol and Leicester have historically been close affairs, and there was little to suggest that this match would be any different. While Bristol had offered more cutting-edge in attack, the visitors had scrambled well in the first period and smartly slowed the Sonics’ progress. More of the same was expected in the second half.Once again, Bristol turned the form book on its head with a dazzling spell of near faultless attacking rugby. Little over a minute after the restart, Gross completed his hat-trick with a typical 40-metre run to the line down the left channel. On the way, he showed great strength to bump off four would-be tacklers.A minute later, the Sonics scored another. With Leicester still reeling after Gross’s effort, skipper Swann took the opportunity to attack the line. It was classic Swann, dropping the shoulder and setting off on a mazy run to the whitewash. It marked the beginning of a mesmerizing second-half performance from the Sonics’ most capped player.Suddenly, Leicester looked shot. Bristol’s forwards were punching holes in their previously solid defence almost at will, while Swann and half-back partner Joel Keen buzzed around the fringes releasing wide runners. It wasn’t long before Gross grabbed his fourth try of the afternoon, this time with a side-stepping run down the left. Once again, outstanding hooker Harry Marson had created the position for the veteran full-back.Now, everything was working for Bristol. Offloads, short passes and probing cross-field balls all stuck, and Leicester had little answer. Andrew Bond set off on

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