Bristol Sonics produced a dazzling first half performance to set up a 40-6 win over Nottingham Outlaws that puts them clear at the top of Conference League South.
A blitz of three tries midway through the first half helped the home side notch up a 20-0 half-time lead and put a fourth straight win within touching distance.
Nottingham produced an improved performance in the early stages of the second half, only to see their comeback thwarted by the sending off of second-rower George Strachan for dissent towards the match officials.
Bristol started brightly and thought they’d taken the lead on four minutes when winger Mike Norman touched down following a dazzling 60-metre move, but the dual-registered Gloucestershire All Golds flier had put a foot in touch on his way to the line.
Two minutes later Bristol opened the scoring when Marcus Brooker powered over following a scrum deep in Nottingham territory. Skipper Dom Swann slotted over the conversion from wide on the left.
The Sonics dominated proceedings in the opening 15 minutes, and only some desperate defence from Nottingham kept them at bay. Eventually, the weight of possession and territory was just too much for the Outlaws to take, and outstanding prop forward Jake Robertson charged through some weak tackles to score from 20 metres out.
Within 10 minutes the Sonics had extended their lead to 20 points. First, Marcus Brooker grabbed his second try of the game from close range, before debutant Nico Flanaghan broke clear on the half way line and rounded Outlaws full back Will Thomas to touch down to the right of the posts. Swann slotted over the conversion.
Nottingham enjoyed more possession in the closing stages of the first half and came close to hitting back, only to be denied by some excellent goal line defence from the Sonics.
The Outlaws did finally get on the score sheet early in the second period following another period of pressure, second-rower George Strachan slipping out of some tired tackling to dive over. Matt Rowland added the extras.
With Bristol again guilty of giving away silly penalties, it looked like the Outlaws might stage a dramatic comeback. However, Joe McClean’s try on 55 minutes settled the home supporters’ nerves and restored Bristol’s lead. McClean showed great strength to make it over the line, given that he had three players trying to stop him. Sadly, his game ended soon after when a stray forearm from an Outlaws forward resulted in a broken collarbone.
Any thoughts of a Nottingham comeback were finally extinguished on 60 minutes thanks to a moment of madness from Outlaws second-rower George Strachan. Having been sin-binned by referee Darren Hayes for a nasty “chicken wing” tackle, Strachan thought it wise to talk back to the Widnes whistler. Hayes had no option but to show him a red card for dissent.
The Sonics took full advantage of their man advantage in the closing stages of the contest, scoring three excellent tries. First hooker Rory Sharrat burrowed over from close range on 62 minutes, Swann converting, before Mike Gaston surged through a gap created by a perfect pass from stand-off Swann. Jake Robertson completed the rout with a remarkable solo effort on 76 minutes. Set free by Nico Flanaghan, the prop forward showed remarkable speed to out-sprint the Outlaws’ back line on a touchline-hugging 60-metre run to the try line.
Bristol Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley was largely pleased with his side’s performance. He said: “I thought we were superb in the first half. We played some brilliant stuff and that was easily the best we’ve played this season. We made life difficult for ourselves in the second half by giving away a lot of silly penalties, but we always had enough to go on and secure the win.”
The Sonics next face a trip to St Albans Centurions on Saturday 11 May.