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.
NORTHAMPTON DEMONS 24
T: Richard Kirk, Seb Ward 2, Davie Watts
G: Ollie Furniss 4 (from 4)
BRISTOL SONICS 36
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.