Bristol Sonics put in an improved defensive display to grind out a 32-24 victory away at previously unbeaten Oxford Cavaliers at Harcourt Hill on Saturday.
The Sonics had conceded a staggering 117 points in their first two West of England League games of the season – including last week’s 56-48 comeback win over local rivals Bath & Wiltshire Romans – but improved dramatically to limited Oxford Cavaliers to a handful of clear chances.
Bristol began the game brightly, opening up a 12-0 lead in the opening 15 minutes. Both tries came through the combination of skipper Alex Potts and scrum half Lawrence Roycroft. Twice Potts made great yards from dummy half, releasing Roycroft who weaved his way through the Oxford defence to touch down close to the posts. Potts, taking over kicking duties from absent player/coach Dom Swann, converted both scores.
Oxford, who had struggled to penetrate Bristol’s well organised defence, finally made a breakthrough after 20 minutes. Long serving half-back John Connaughton scooped up a loose ball 20 metres from his own line, rounded the man in front of him and raced away to touch down under the posts, Louis Richards converting.
Bristol wasted a number of opportunities to score as the first half wore on, but remained solid in defence as the home side began to throw the ball wide in a bid to break through. On the stroke of half time, one of these moves finally paid off, with Nick Arnell breaking through on half way and sprinting away to score. Again, Louis Richards added the extras.
Despite this set back, Bristol continued to look the most likely winners early in the second period, and edged ahead again after just five minutes of the half. After forcing an error from the hosts 20 metres from their line, the ball was worked to prop forward Byron Edwards, who forced his way over from close range. Alex Potts couldn’t add the extras, leaving the Sonics just 4 points ahead.
Bristol made a hash of the resulting kick off, and were forced to drop out from beneath their own sticks. They manfully defended the first set, but the pressure was on. The Cavaliers quickly regained the ball and set about battering the Bristol line. After holding firm for five tackles, the Sonics were caught out on the final play. With Bristol expecting a kick play, Dan Jameson picked his way through the Sonics’ suddenly ragged defensive live to dive over to the left of the posts. Louis Richards slotted over the conversion, putting Oxford two points ahead with half an hour remaining.
Following a closely fought period when defences were on top, Bristol scored three tries in less than 10 minutes to put them within sight of victory. On 60 minutes, Alex Potts dived over straight from dummy half for the unconverted score that edged the Sonics back in front. Four minutes later, a typically barnstorming run from interchange prop Curtis Asante set up the position for returning second-rower Jake Robertson to charge over. Once again, Alex Potts’ conversion attempt drifted wide. Then, with less than ten minutes of the game remaining, the Sonics brilliantly shifted the ball wide to centre Tom Curtis, who slipped a perfect pass to debutant winger Tom Hawkey. He dived over in the corner, leaving Potts a tricky touchline conversion. Amazingly, he made it, putting the Sonics 32-18 up and in sight of victory.
Oxford raised themselves for an all-out assault on the Bristol line in the closing stages, Louis Richards scoring – and converting – a try five minutes from time to give the hosts hope of a famous late comeback. But Bristol held firm in the final minutes to end Oxford’s unbeaten start to the season, and move themselves within one point of Portsmouth Navy Seahawks at the top of the West of England League Pool A table.
Bristol Sonics captain Alex Potts, who was named Man of the Match, said: “We have worked incredibly hard in training on our defence, and today that worked paid off. We limited Oxford to a handful of chances, and although we weren’t quite as sharp as normal in attack, we carved out enough chances to beat them by a wider margin. What really pleases me was that this was a real team performance. All 13 who started, plus the seven interchange players, all played their part in the win. The forwards in particular were excellent. It’s hard to pick out individuals in such a good team performance, but special praise should go to Wes Long, Matt Blacker, Byron Edwards, Simon Bannister, Jake Robertson, Sam Collins and Joe Singleton. I could easily name five or six others, though, as everyone played their part.”
The Sonics return to action on Saturday 18th June, when old rivals Gloucestershire Warriors visit Landseer Avenue.
** MATCH FACTS **
OXFORD CAVALIERS 24
T: John Connaughton, Nick Arnell, Dan Jameson, Louis Richards
G: Louis Richards 4 (from 4)
BRISTOL SONICS 32
T: Lawrence Roycroft 2, Byron Edwards, Alex Potts, Jake Robertson, Tom Hawkey
G: Alex Potts 3 (from 6)
Half-time score: 12-12
Referee: Stewart Orton