Bristol Sonics moved two points clear at the top of the West Of England League Pool A table with a dominant 78-26 victory over local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors.
The victory was the Sonics’ third straight win, and was built on a superb forward display, quick running out wide, and much-improved defence. While the Warriors rallied a little in the second half, it wasn’t nearly enough to stop Bristol’s charge to victory.
Free-scoring Bristol, who have now notched up more than 200 points over the course of four West of England League matches, went ahead after less than two minutes. Full back Jack Farler charged through some weak attempted tackles to crash over out wide for a try that player/coach Dom Swann could not convert. Bristol extended their lead six minutes later, with quick hands opening up the opportunity for Mike Gaston to force his way over in the right corner. This time, Swann slotted over the extras, with his conversion attempt bouncing in off the left upright.
The Sonics continued to defend well, and thanks to a string of needless penalties and poor kick options early in the tackle count from their opponents, were seeing a lot of the ball. It took them almost 15 minutes to cross the try line again, but once they did that the floodgates open. In the final 18 minutes of the half, Bristol added five tries, three converted by Swann, to open up a 36-0 lead.
Again, centre Mike Gaston was in the thick of the action. First, he broke clear and set up a try for Alex Potts, before grabbing his second of the afternoon after finishing off a quick passing move. There was no respite for the wounded Warriors, as minutes later Jack Farler showed great speed to race 40 metres down the right touchline to score. There were additional tries from centre Alun Roberts-Jones and young winger Jack Uren, before Gloucestershire veteran Kirk Lewis – who will soon become the first player to make 100 appearances for the club – forced his way over to open the Warriors account in the dying seconds of the half.
As the first half drew to a close, words were exchanged between players from both sides. This seemed to fire up the Warriors, who regained the ball straight from the kick-off and set about trying to claw their way back into the game. On the last tackle of the resulting set, Ash Lewis – son of first-half try-scorer Kirk – showed great footwork to pick his way past a gaggle of Bristol defenders and score under the posts. He added the conversion himself, reducing the arrears to 36-10.
With tempers fraying, Bristol began to lose their composure. Even so, they responded well to conceding, scoring three tries in six minutes to put the game well beyond the visitors. Will Tobin marked his first appearance of 2016 by bursting through 45 metres out and sprinting away to score, before Joe Uren sprinted away to collect his second try of the afternoon. Then, on 51 minutes, Alun Roberts-Jones showed some good footwork to grab his second try. All three scores were converted by the nerveless Swann, and the Sonics were out of sight at 54-10 with just under half an hour remaining.
The Warriors were determined to get something from the game, and continued to work hard to try and put the Sonics under pressure. After 57 minutes the excellent Ash Lewis once again weaved his way through some tired attempted tackles to touch down for a try converted by centre Kieran Cox. Five minutes later, Jack Farler scored another superb long-range try to complete his hat-trick, before loose forward Nathan Rainer crashed through a number of attempted tackles and sprinted 40 metres to touch down.
As the game entered its’ final stages, Bristol’s discipline wavered, offering Gloucestershire plenty of possession with which to attack with. They made the most of it, Hector Silva barging his way over for a try converted by Dean Cooper, before Ash Lewis completed a deserved hat-trick seven minutes from time.
There was still time for the Sonics to have the last word, though, with the tireless Wes Long getting reward for an afternoon of hard work with a try beneath the sticks. Finally, with seconds remaining, winger Jonny Mawer cut inside and sprinted away to touch down. Swann’s conversion – his eleventh of an action-packed afternoon – made the final score 78-26 to the home side.
Bristol Sonics player/coach Dom Swann said: “I was really pleased with the performance today. We dominated them in the forwards, made great use of the ball when we had it, and mostly defended excellently. There were a few defensive lapses in the second half, and we lost our shape and discipline a bit when things got heated, but these are minor concerns in the grand scheme of things. Overall, it was our best performance of the season so far. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement, which bodes well for the tests to come over the rest of the season.”
The Sonics return to action on Wednesday 22nd June, when they host Forest Bulldogs at Landseer Avenue.
** MATCH FACTS **
BRISTOL SONICS 78
T: Jack Farler 3, Mike Gaston 2, Alex Potts, Alun Roberts-Jones 2, Joe Uren 2, Will Tobin, Nathan Rainer, Wes Long, Jonny Mawer
G: Dom Swann 11 (from 14)
GLOUCESTERSHIRE WARRIORS 26
T: Kirk Lewis, Ash Lewis 3, Hector Silva
G: Ash Lewis 1 (from 2), Kieran Cox 1 (from 1), Dean Cooper 1 (from 2)
Half-time score: 36-4
Referee: Ian Waters
Man Of The Match Awards
Sonics: Alex Potts (hooker)
Warriors: Ash Lewis (stand-off)