A hat-trick from stand-off James Gross inspired Bristol Sonics A to a nailbiting 30-26 victory over local rivals Swindon St George on Saturday – a win that lifts the Sonics to second in the Cooperative Rugby League Conference West of England division.The Sonics’ seconds trailed 22-20 with 15 minutes of a scrappy game remaining, but late scores from Gross and winger AJ Currie secured the points and helped avenge a 28-26 defeat at the hands of Swindon earlier in the season.Bristol found it hard to gain any rhythm in attack and were repeatedly punished for lapses in discipline by referee Kenneth Lee. Despite showing flashes of real quality the Sonics found it hard to put away a Swindon side that fought hard to gain only their second win of the season.Swindon started the game brightly, taking advantage of uncharacteristic handling errors from the Sonics. On 10 minutes the home side took the lead, Mike Thompson forcing his way over from close range after a series of soft penalties from referee Lee. Warren Broadley slotted over the conversion to give Swindon a 6-0 lead.Referee Lee was in the thick of the action again on 20 minutes, when Swindon try-scorer Thompson was sin-binned for a punch on hard-running Sonics second-rower Chris Carter. Moments later Lee also sin-binned Bristol prop Wayne Cochran for dissent, after the burly forward had been pulled back for taking the resultant penalty too quickly.Bristol responded better to being a man down, and quickly built up a six-point lead. First James Gross surged through a huge gap in the home side’s defence to touch down between the sticks – Andy Parsons converting – before Matt Douglas found enough space to score unopposed after a neat pass from Parsons. The latter slotted over his second conversion of the afternoon to give Bristol a 12-6 lead.Now on the front foot and looking dangerous, Bristol made several line breaks that could have resulted in tries. A powerful surge from centre Andre Samura ended with a loose pass to winger Currie, while full back Josh Craven and prop Ryan Hall all went close.Swindon made the Sonics pay on 35 minutes, when Richard White took advantage of more cheap penalties from referee Lee to burrow his way over from acting half-back. Broadley converted to leave the sides level at 12-apiece at half time.Early in the second period the Sonics once again took the lead, winger Connor Batt strolling over out wide after a great right-to-left hands move on the fifth tackle. When James Gross sprinted 60 metres to grab his second try of the afternoon 10 minutes later, it looked like Bristol had finally taken control of the game.Referee Lee struggled to keep control of the game when an all-in brawl erupted moments later. Despite punches swinging, no further action was taken by the whistle-blower.Now fired up, the home side hit back hard and two quick tries from centre John Kassani – again following a series of penalties from Lee – and a single conversion from Broadley gave them a slender two-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.Bristol struggled to keep control of the ball and looked to be heading for the first defeat in four matches. But a flash of brilliance from stand-off Gross on 73 minutes restored their lead. The veteran half back somehow managed to create enough space to break through the line. Although he was tackled by Swindon’s full-back, it wasn’t enough to stop him reaching out and placing the ball on the whitewash. Andy Parsons’ brilliant conversion from wide left gave the Sonics a vital four-point lead. Two minutes later the Sonics all but sealed the points with a thrilling try out wide. On the fifth tackle, the ball was quickly moved to winger AJ Currie, who showed great skill to dive over in the right corner, inches from the touchline.
Swindon managed to pull one try back in the 79th minute through Ben Bridson to raise hopes of a miraculous comeback, but Bristol held out for a vital victory. The Sonics now sit second in the Cooperative Rugby League Conference West Of England division table behind runaway leaders Gloucestershire Warriors, with Wiltshire Wyverns in third. Bristol Sonics A host Gloucestershire Warriors next Sunday, knowing a win would all but guarantee them a home tie in the play-offs.Bristol Sonics A coach Aran Simm said: “The boys showed a lot of spirit today to get the win, but it wasn’t a great performance. I take a lot of positives from the fact that we grinded out a result, but we’ll have to play better than that if we’re going to challenge Gloucestershire Warriors for the regional title.”