Bristol Sonics were made to work hard by Forest Bulldogs at Landseer Avenue on Wednesday night, but kept their composure to secure the 50-22 win that puts them four points clear at the top of the West of England League Pool A table.
The victory is free-scoring Bristol’s fourth straight win,and puts them in a strong position at the midway point of the season. It was far from easy, though, with the Sonics forced to dig deep defensively against a lively young Bulldogs side who are enjoying a promising first season in Rugby League.
While Bristol had the game under control throughout, a combination of poor discipline and needless errors meant that they had to do a lot of defending, particularly in the second half. The Bulldogs, who attacked with vigour and width, took advantage on a number of occasions, but could not do enough to stem the tide of tries at the other end.
As they have done on numerous occasions this season, the Sonics opened up a significant lead early on. The home side opened the scoring after nine minutes, with in-form centre Alun Roberts-Jones trotting away to score a try converted by player/coach Dom Swann. Four minutes later, Bristol doubled their lead when Mike Gaston ghosted through the Bulldogs defence and touched down close to the posts, Swann again converting.
Bristol were all over their opponents at this point, and had two tries correctly disallowed for forward passes in the following ten minutes. Then, on the back of a series of penalties, the Bulldogs finally had a chance to show their attacking prowess deep in Bristol territory. They made the most of it, full back Lewis Chard scooting over from close range on 25 minutes for a try converted by Rhys Evans.
With the visitors now within a converted try of levelling the scores, the Sonics needed a big finish to the half. They got that thanks to two quick tries in the five minutes before the interval. First, former University of Gloucestershire All Gilds and South Wales Scorpion forward Nathan Rainer was on hand to collect an offload at speed and sprint away to score, before scrum half Johan Schoeman somehow forced his way over from close range. Swann’s cool conversion put Bristol 22-6 up at the interval.
The Bulldogs needed a strong start to the second half, and got it when Bristol dozily allowed their kick-off to go dead in goal. Although the Sonics stoutly defended the resulting set of six tackles, the visitors crossed the whitewash moments later. Replacement centre Sam Smith read a Sonics attempted long cross field pass, intercepted it, and raced away to touch down unopposed. This time, Rhys Evans couldn’t add the extras.
It wasn’t long before Bristol extended their lead again, though. Two minutes later, following a scrum deep in Bulldogs territory, Johan Schoeman slipped a pass to winger Shervin Ghassemlou, who stepped back inside and dived over. An even period of play followed, before Bristol finally scored again on 58 minutes, full back Jack Farler scoring a trade-mark long-range try which was converted by Dom Swann. Three minutes later, the Sonics secured the points when Alun Roberts-Jones bounced off the post protectors and over the line to collect his second try of the evening, Swann again converting.
Referee Malcolm Holmes was unimpressed with Bristol’s efforts to get back onside, and their defence around the play-the-ball, and began penalising them heavily. With a greater weight of possession, the Bulldogs began to test the Sonics line. While the home side largely defended well, impressive hooker Dan Parry finally found his way through on 64 minutes, with Evans again converting the try.
Bristol began to get more frustrated, but still had the firepower to take chances that came their way. One of those came on 72 minutes, when Nathan Rainer was hauled down 10 metres from the Bulldogs line following an eye-catching break. Hooker Alex Potts scooped the ball up from the resulting play-the-ball, turned on the gas and dived over between the sticks, Swann again adding the easy conversion.
With time running out, the Bulldogs collected another deserved consolation score when Zak Hancock squeezed over in the right corner, despite the attentions of opposite wing man Joe Uren. Amazingly, Evans’ touch line conversion attempt bounced in off the left upright.There was just time for Bristol to have the final say, marauding prop forward Byron Edwards surging through the defence and sprinting away to score underneath the posts. Once Dom Swann’s conversion sailed through the sticks, referee Malcolm Holmes blew the whistle for full time.
Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “That was far from a perfect performance, but we played very well in patches. By and large our defence was excellent, we looked pretty sharp in attack, and we did enough to win the game comfortably. Credit must to Forest Bulldogs, who are playing their first season of Rugby League but showed a lot of promise. If they play like that for the rest of the season they will surprise a few sides. The win means that we’re where we wanted to be at the half way stage of the League season, but there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure that we get in the top two and make the play-offs. Our next game against Portsmouth, on July 9th, will be crucial.”
The Sonics are next in action on Saturday July 9th, when they host fellow title-chasers U.S Portsmouth Navy Seahawks at Landseer Avenue (kick-off 2.30pm).
** MATCH FACTS **
BRISTOL SONICS 50
T: Alun Roberts-Jones 2, Mike Gaston, Nathan Rainer, Johan Schoeman, Shervin Ghassemlou, Jack Farler, Alex Potts, Byron Edwards
G: Dom Swann 6 (from 9)
FOREST BULLDOGS 22
T: Lewis Chard, Sam Smith, Dan Parry, Zak Hancock
G: Rhys Evans 3 (from 4)
Half-time score: 22-6
Referee: Malcolm Holmes
Man Of The Match Awards
Sonics: Matt Blacker (second row)
Bulldogs: Dan Parry (hooker)