Bristol Sonics produced an impressive second half fight back to edge out Leicester Storm 34-26 in a feisty contest at Little Stoke Park.
Trailing 18-4 at the break, Bristol scored five converted tries in the second period to snatch a victory that for large periods of the game looked unlikely.
The Sonics started poorly, and fell behind with less than three minutes on the clock when Storm hooker Simon Anniss forced his way over from close range. Mark White’s conversion made it 6-0 to the visitors.
Bristol eventually got into their stride and began to push Leicester back, but the visitors’ defense stood firm. The Sonics finally hit back after a quarter of an hour, when a John-Jo Burden offload found James Gross. The utility back hared down the right wing and touched down for his seventh try in four matches. Unfortunately Burden couldn’t convert.
For the next 15 minutes, the two sides punched and counter-punched, but neither could make the breakthrough. Bristol had the better of possession, but basic errors and a lack of direction – coupled with solid Storm tackling – resulted in stalemate.
As the half wore on, Leicester began to turn the screw and deservedly extended their lead on 33 minutes when Maxoton Morgs took advantage of some weak Bristol goal line defence to burst through and touch down beneath the sticks. Mark White added the extras.
Five minutes later, Storm extended their lead further, centre Jack Powly getting on the end of a flowing attacking move. White again added the extras, giving Leicester a much deserved 18-4 lead.
A string of penalties in the final few minutes of the half gave Bristol the chance to attack Leicester’s line, but the Storm’s line held firm and the Sonics went into half time staring down the barrel of a rare home defeat.
Coach Karl Fearnley tore into his players during the interval, challenging them to make amends for a poor first half performance. He got the desired result during an action-packed second half, but it was hardly vintage Bristol.
The half started brilliantly for the Sonics. A clumsy Storm knock-on from the kick-off gave Bristol a scrum 20 metres out from the Leicester line. From the scrum, loose forward Neil Evans charged through the Storm line and dived under the posts for a vital score. John-Jo Burden made no mistake with the conversion.
Yet as soon as Bristol had started their revival, Leicester restored their advantage. A lazy knock-on straight from the kick-off gave Storm the perfect platform to test the Sonics’ previously sloppy goal line defence. It didn’t take them long to once again highlight the home side’s flaws, Ant Latham crossing out wide after neat work from Ty Watson and Simon Anniss. White couldn’t convert, but the Storm still held a 12-point lead.
Five minutes later, Bristol had pulled another try back, John-Jo Burden stepping his way past four or five Leicester defenders to touch down. Burden once again converted, cutting Storm’s lead to just six points.
Leicester were soon 10 points ahead again, another Sonics error gifting them good field position from which to attack. It was Simon Anniss who took advantage, scooting straight from dummy half through a gaping hole behind the ruck to score in the corner. White couldn’t convert, but with 55 minutes gone and Bristol beginning to look frustrated, Storm were sitting pretty.
It was an inspired ten minute spell midway through the half that finally changed the game in Bristol’s favour. On 60 minutes, James Gross stepped his way through the line on halfway and sprinted away to score another memorable – not to mention vital – try. Burden converted from in front of the sticks to reduce the arrears to just four points.
Less than five minutes later, Bristol hit the front for the first time in the match. It was Neil Evans who once again powered his way through the middle to touch down, much to the delight of the Sonics’ frustrated supporters. Burden’s fourth successful conversion gave Bristol a slender 28-26 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Despite the advantage, the game hung in the balance. Thankfully for Bristol supporters, it was the Sonics who got the knock-out blow with 10 minutes of the match remaining. John-Jo Burden scooped up a loose ball close to the Leicester line, stepped two men and dived over. His conversion gave the Sonics an eight-point lead – one they would not relinquish.
WIth eight minutes of the game remaining Bristol fullback Johan Schoeman was sin-binned for the second reckless challenge in the less than 30 seconds. Leicester sensed their opportunity and attacked hard, but the Sonics held on for a vital victory.
Earlier in the day, the Sonics’ second team made their long-awaited debut against Leicester’s second string.It was the visitors who emerged victorious, scoring two late tries to snatch a 26-20 win.
Sonics’ second team skipper Mike Ashford was carried off late in the game with a broken leg – an inury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.
Despite their inexperience, the new-look Sonics’ seconds put in a gutsy performance and were a little unlucky to lose.