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SOLID SONICS GRIND OUT WIN

Marcus Brooker grabbed four tries as Bristol Sonics ground out a 32-0 win against Conference League South strugglers St Albans Centurions at Landseer Avenue.

 

The win cements the Sonics’ place at the top of the Conference League South table, one point ahead of next week’s visitors, Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, who romped to a 62-20 win over third-placed Nottingham Outlaws.

 

The Sonics began the game strongly, forcing an error from Centurions’ full back Gareth Waters following a high kick from Daniel Brooker. Following the scrum, the ball was worked left to Marcus Brooker, who slipped an offload inside to supporting runner Dan Evans, who dived over to open the scoring after just two minutes. Daniel Brooker, who would later go off with a painful hip injury, slotted over the conversion in a swirling wind.

 

Bristol failed to build on their positive opening and were soon on the back foot. St Albans ran hard, cleverly picking out perceived weaknesses in the home side’s defence. For their part, Bristol struggled to retain possession, gave away some needless penalties and spent most of the first 30 minutes defending in their own half. Thankfully, the Sonics held firm, forcing errors from their opponents in good positions.

 

In attack, Bristol were wasteful, and their lack of completion was a constant frustration for players and supporters alike. Despite a great all-round performance from hooker Rory Sharratt, who was rightly named man-of-the-match, the Sonics struggled to get any fluidity with ball in hand, and too often resorted to trundling it down the middle. On the rare occasions they did get the ball wide quickly, St Albans struggled to cope.

 

On 28 minutes, a series of relieving penalties allowed Bristol a rare chance to attack the Centurions’ line. They gleefully took the opportunity, Marcus Brooker powering his way over from close range. Brother Daniel again converted, curling the ball between the uprights to make the score 12-0.

 

Less than two minutes later, the Sonics extended their lead further. After working their way down field, Marcus Brooker again powered over from close range, this time taking several tacklers with him as he crossed the whitewash. This time, Daniel couldn’t convert, but at 16-0 things were looking pretty rosy, despite the patchy performance.

 

To their credit, St Albans didn’t let their heads’ drop, and roared back in the latter stages of the first half. They lay siege to the Sonics’ line for the last five minutes of the half, but simply couldn’t find a way through Bristol’s watertight defence. Having done the hard work setting up great field position, they lacked composure and didn’t quite have enough to cross the whitewash.

 

The arm-wrestle continued early in the second period, with St Albans making good yards down the middle and Bristol defending stoutly, despite sluggish line speed. The Sonics, for their part, continued to struggle to complete sets and still lacked some spark in attack. With scrum half Johan Schoeman off injured, responsibility fell to first team debutant Alex Potts, who earned his chance through some eye-catching performances for the second team. He seemed to warm to the play-making role as the match went on.

 

Eventually, Bristol began to enjoy more possession and field position. On 60 minutes, a rare chance to attack in St Albans’ territory ended, predictably, with another close range score for man-of-the-moment Marcus Brooker. The powerful centre again forced his way over from five metres out, just to the left of the posts, to complete his third hat-trick of the season. With Daniel Brooker off injured, Rory Sharratt stepped up to slot over an easy conversion.

 

Ten minutes later, it got better for Brooker and Bristol. When St Albans’ centre David Coyle made a hash of a poor pass from Sam Norris 10 metres from the Sonics’ line, the ball was hacked forward by Johan Schoeman. Dan Evans won the race to the ball, and somehow managed to snaffle it up before Centurions’ full back Gareth Waters. From the resultant play-the-ball, Rory Sharratt and Alex Potts combined to release Marcus Brooker on the left, 40 metres out. He swerved his way past two covering defenders before jogging away to touch down for his fourth try of the afternoon, and second four-try haul of the season.

 

With St Albans wilting, the Sonics began to find more space and make more ground with ball in hand. It took less than two minutes for Bristol to score again, Sharratt and Potts releasing Dan Evans on the right, who cut through St Albans’ defence like a hot knife through butter and cantered 35 metres to touch down. Alex Potts slotted over the conversion to make it 32-0 and complete the scoring.

 

After the game, Sonics’ coach Aran Simm was full of praise for his side’s defensive display. He said: “We struggled at times today in attack, but the lads put in a massive defensive shift and that’s what made the difference. St Albans played with a lot of heart and the half time scoreline of 16-0 to us was a bit flattering, if I’m honest. We improved as the game wore on, and deserved the win, but it wasn’t perhaps the dominant performance I’d have liked.

 

“All the lads who played today put in a massive shift. It’s rare in Rugby League that you ‘nil’ a team, and I’m told that the Sonics have only ever managed it once before. That’s something we should take from this game. Our linespeed could be a lot quicker, and we’ll need to work on that in training, but there weren’t many missed tackles and for the most part we controlled the play the ball. We’ll need to improve next week, but this is a step in the right direction.”

 

Meanwhile, an under strength Bristol Sonics ‘A’ side showed great heart in a 74-18 loss to Gloucestershire Warriors at Old Centralians, Gloucester. The Sonics second-string, which features a number of promising youngsters and committed veterans, will be hoping for a better result when they take on Somerset Vikings at home next Saturday, in a curtain raiser for the first team clash with Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.

 

BRISTOL SONICS (v ST ALBANS CENTURIONS, 29/6/13)

Dan Evans (2 Tries), James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker (4 Tries), Will Tobin; Alex Potts (1 Goal), Johan Schoeman; Daniel Brooker (2 goals), Rory Sharratt (1 goal), Jack Spooner, Neil Evans, Tom Verber, Rob Verber (captain.

Interchange (all used): Curtis Asante, Joe Singleton, Gary Carpenter, Jack Gibson.

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NEW-LOOK SONICS SET FOR CENTS TEST

Conference League South leaders Bristol Sonics return to action this Saturday, when they take on St Albans Centurions in the first of three consecutive home games.

 

The Sonics have traditionally enjoyed a strong record at home, and have lost just once in Bristol this season – a 36-30 reverse to fellow title-chasers Sheffield-Hallam Eagles. With the Eagles boasting a game in hand and due to visit Bristol next weekend, the Sonics will be looking to make the most of tomorrow’s game with strugglers St Albans at Landseer Avenue, home of Dings Crusaders RFC (kick-off 2.30pm).

 

Bristol will have to do without skipper, goal-kicker and main playmaker Dom Swann, who is currently away on his honeymoon. It will be the first time this season that the Sonics have played without the inspirational Swann, who will also miss next week’s rematch with Sheffield.

 

With other regular playmakers also missing, South African Johan Schoeman returns to scrum half, with second team graduate Alex Potts likely to deputize for Swann at stand-off. Gloucestershire All Golds’ Rory Sharratt, a regular for the Sonics this season, looks set to continue at hooker.

 

Second team player/coach Aran Simm will be coaching the first team in the absence of Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley. Simm expects a tough game against a St Albans side who have won only once this year.

 

Simm said: “Despite their results, St Albans are a decent side and I’d expect them to give us a very tough game. If we’re just a little bit off our game they’ll punish us. When we last met in St Albans we won comfortably, but with players missing and new halfbacks it may take us some time to gel. We’ll only win if we play well, so we need to be on our game right from the first whistle.”

 

To encourage more spectators to come down and show their support for summer Rugby League, the Sonics are offering free entry to the game on Saturday.

 

Bristol Sonics’ Chairman Phil Cole said: “With the Rugby League World Cup coming to Bristol later in the year, there’s no better time to check out some live Rugby League. By making entrance free, we hope that many new fans will take the opportunity to check out the sport for themselves. I started out as a rugby union supporter in my youth, but was converted by the speed, excitement and intensity of Rugby League.  If you’ve not been to a live match, it’s worth checking out Saturday’s game for free.”

 

Meanwhile, Bristol Sonics ‘A’ travel to West of England League form side Gloucestershire Warriors (Old Centralians RFC, Gloucester, K.O 2.30pm) on Saturday, buoyed by an impressive win over Oxford Cavaliers last weekend.

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SONICS WARY OF DEMONS AND WARRIORS

Bristol Sonics’ two adult sides are looking to back to winning ways this Saturday, following the disappointment of losing close matches to top-of-the-table rivals a fortnight ago.

Sonics’ first team, who surrendered their unbeaten record in Conference League South two weeks ago after slipping to a 36-30 loss to title favourites Sheffield-Hallam Eages, travel to Northampton Demons with a point to prove.

 

The last time the Sonics visited Northampton in 2011 they routed the home side by 60 points, but the scoreline was much tighter when the two sides clashed in Bristol earlier in the season. The Demons recently notched up their first (and so far only) win of the year, and will be looking to celebrate their debut at new home ground Durston Road by picking up another victory.

 

The Sonics have a good record over the Demons, having beaten them on three of the four occasions they’ve met, but skipper Dom Swann is under no illusions about the task that faces Bristol on Saturday.

 

He said: “Northampton are a big, physical, well organised team who try and get under the opposition’s skin and force them to lose their composure. We know that they will try and disrupt our natural game and wind us up. We just have to do the basics and play to our game plan. If we do that, we stand a very good chance of getting back to winning ways. If we don’t, it could be a difficult aftermoon.”

 

The Sonics are boosted by the return of long-serving prop forward Gary Carpenter, following a season-long spell in rugby union with Bridgend. Tough second-rower Matt Douglas is set to make his first appearance of the season from the bench, while Dan Evans returns to fullback after missing the Sheffield-Hallam game. Hard-running second-rower Nico Flanaghan is also in line to return, while Joel James – brother of Wales international Jordan James – gets another chance to impress at scrum half.

 

Sonics’ second team, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from their loss to West of England League champions Oxford Cavaliers when they face local rivals Gloucestershire Warriors at Dings Crusaders RFC, Lockleaze (kick-off 3.30pm, free entry).

 

It took the Sonics nearly five years to pick up their first win over the Warriors, but since then they have largely held the upper hand in contests between the sides. However, their West of England League record against the Gloucester-based side is mixed, and they will have to be at their best to win on Saturday.

 

Sonics’ seconds could come up against hooker Matt Williams, who appeared for the Sonics’ first team earlier this season but has since decided to return to his local club.

 

Sonics’ player/coach Arran Simm is expected to name a strong side to face the Warriors.

 

He said: “We all get on very well with the players and staff at the Warriors, but we always want to win. It’s our oldest and fiercest local derby. They’ve been in good form of late so we’ll have to play well, especially in defence, to stand a chance. The team we have out will be a blend of youth and experience, with familiar faces and newcomers both featuring. It should be a good game.”

 

Bristol Sonics first team squad to face Northampton Demons: Dan Evans, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Andre Samura, Dom Swann (captain), Joel James, Dan Brooker, Rort Sharratt, Gary Carpenter, Jake Robertson, Nico Flanaghan, Rob Verber, Matt Douglas, Sam Blaney, Jack Spooner, Jack Gibson, Dean Brooker, Wes Rodgers.

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SWANN CALLS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Bristol Sonics captain Dom Swann has warned his side that they must improve dramatically to have any chance of maintaining their unbeaten start to the season.

The Sonics face Nottingham Outlaws, holders of Conference League South’s only other 100 per cent record, at Clifton RFC on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm). With the teams currently tied on points at the top of the table, the winners have a chance to go clear of their rivals, and a chasing pack led by pre-season title favourites Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.

Last weekend, the Sonics needed a last minute try from veteran fullback James Gross to keep their winning start to the season in tact. The previous week, they were fairly unimpressive against Conference League South new boys Northampton Demons but ground out a result in terrible conditions.

Skipper Swann knows that the Sonics must improve considerably if they are to maintain their winning start to the season, especially against an in-form Nottingham side that provided stiff competition to Bristol last season.

Swann said: “So far this season the results have been good, but the performances less so. We’ve somehow found enough to win, even when we’ve played badly, but we can’t keep playing poorly and expect to get the results, especially against good sides like Nottingham. This week I’ll be looking for a big improvement.”

In all three matches this season, the Sonics have made life difficult for themselves. Although they’ve often started and ended games well, they’ve yet to put in an ’80 minute performance’.

Stand-off Swann, who is now into his 11th season with the Sonics, is all to aware of the problems that need rectifying. He said: “It’s true that we’ve been making a lot of silly errors and letting our discipline lapse. This has allowed teams to get back into matches we should have been winning comfortably. I think there’s still some rustiness there. We know we’re not in great form, but the response in training has been excellent, and I’m expecting an improved performance on Saturday.”

Swann also praised the support his side has received so far this season. He said: “Despite the foul weather, there was a decent crowd at our first home game against Northampton. It really lifts the team when we have a big crowd cheering us on, so I’d encourage people to get up to Clifton on Saturday and show their support for one of Bristol’s most successful sports teams of recent years.”

Bristol Sonics face Nottingham Outlaws on Saturday, April 27 at Clifton RFC. Entrance to the top-of-the-table clash with Nottingham Outlaws is £3, including complimentary matchday programme. Entry for under-16s is free.

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OLD FOES LIE IN WAIT FOR UNBEATEN BRISTOL

Bristol Sonics’ Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley has called on his players to “remain focused” against old rivals Leicester Storm on Saturday (20 April).

The Sonics travel to New College, Leicester, keen to extend their winning start to the season to three games. They face a Leicester Storm side who have yet to record a victory after stepping up to Conference League South at the beginning of the season.

The two sides have clashed many times over the years, with the Sonics pipping the Storm to the RLC Midlands Premier title in 2011. Contests between the clubs have sometimes been tense, angry affairs, and Fearnley has warned his side to remain disciplined at all times.

Fearnley said: “First and foremost, I want the lads to remain focused at all times on Saturday. We’re there to get a job done – to win the match and get the points. The best way to achieve that outcome is to stick to our game plan, keep our discipline and let our rugby do the talking. Leicester hasn’t made the best start to the season, but they’re a real threat – they are very strong defensively and usually good in the forwards. We’ll have to look after the ball better than we did last week, but if we do that I’m expecting a good performance.”

Fearnley is able to field a number of players from the University of Gloucestershire All Golds, including forwards Sam Blainey and Ollie Yeats, and star centre Marcus Brooker. Loose forward Rob Verber and winger Max Davies are set to return to the starting line-up after missing last week’s hard-fought win over Northampton Demons.

Fans unable to get to the game at New College, Leicester, can follow live score updates and commentary on the Sonics’ Twitter account at http://twitter.com/BristolSonicsRL

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SONICS MAKE HEAVY WEATHER OF DEMONS WIN

Bristol Sonics continued their unbeaten start to the 2013 Southern Conference League season, grinding out a 24-10 win over Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC.

 

The Sonics were always the stronger of the two sides, but made heavy weather of overcoming a determined Demons side who arguably mastered the difficult conditions better.

 

With torrential rain and strong winds sweeping across the chilly “shelf” pitch at Station Lane, it was always going to be an old-fashioned kind of match. With mud-soaked players struggling to hold off a slippery ball and defenses on top, it looked more like a traditional winter amateur game than a free-flowing summer match.

 

Despite the scoreline, Bristol could – and probably should – have won by more points. They built up an 18-0 lead within half an hour, before being pegged back by a Northampton team helped by the home side’s lack of discipline and inability to complete enough sets of six tackles. While the Sonics were never exactly hanging on, they needed Wes Rodgers’ second-half try to settle the nerves of their agitated spectators and give them a bit of breathing space.

 

Things had begun so well. Dom Swann’s kick off was allowed to bounce into touch by Northampton, and from the resultant scrum the Sonics put pressure on the home side’s try line. With just 90 seconds on the clock, dual-registered All Golds star Sam Blaney surged through the visitors’ weak defense and crossed for the first try of the game. Swann’s attempted conversion drifted well wide.

 

The Demons were struggling not only to stop Bristol’s forward momentum – props Ollie Yates and Liam Walker impressing up front – but also to keep hold of the ball when they had it. With so much ball with which to attack the Demons’ defense, it was no surprise that tries came at regular intervals.

 

On 15 minutes, quick hands from hooker Matt Williams and scrum-half Dave Tomlinson allowed skipper Dom Swann to find right winger Tom Davies with a long, hanging pass. Davies showed a great turn of pace to beat the cover tackler and dive in at the corner. Swann’s attempted conversion hit the post, but referee Ian Curzon ordered him to retake it. Amazingly, the veteran stand-off hit the same post with his second attempt.

 

Bristol didn’t have it all their own way in the early exchanges. Referee Curzon took exception to a number of high tackles and Bristol’s aggressive tackling, and Northampton were awarded a string of penalties. On 21 minutes Curzon lost patience with scrum-half Dave Tomlinson, and sent him to the sin-bin for persistent offending.

 

Strangely, Bristol barely struggled while Tomlinson was off the pitch and actually extended their lead further. First, Jake Robertson continued his fine try-scoring form with a typical close-range effort, before prop forward Ollie Yates marked a fine debut by powering his way over close to the posts. This time, Swann was able to convert, putting the Sonics 18-0 up with 30 minutes played.

 

Bristol’s discipline continued to waver, much to the frustration of the crowd, and more cheap penalties gifted Northampton a way back into a match they looked destined to lose by a cricket score.

 

With 33 minutes on the clock Demons winger Reese Rance reacted first to a beautiful crossfield kick from impressive stand-off Ollie Furness. The ball looked to be heading out, but somehow Rance touched it down just milimetres from the dead ball line.

 

Then, on the stroke of half time, Bristol again gifted Northampton a chance to attack on the back of another penalty, this time for a ripping the ball out of the attacker’s hands. Scrum-half Daniel Watts took advantage, turning an angled run to the line into a try-scoring opportunity. The Sonics weren’t impressed, though, as it appeared that the ball had been knocked on at the play-the-ball in the build-up. Either way, the score stood, Furness converted and the Demons were back within eight points.

 

This unlikely comeback seemed to spur the visitors on. They were arguably the better team in the second half. While they hardly threatened the Sonics line, their simple game plan and excellent kicking game made it difficult for the home side. Bristol didn’t help themselves much, either, with plenty of dropped balls and few completed sets of six tackles. Fortunately, their defense was too strong for the Demons, who struggled to penetrate or make decent ground.

 

The Sonics believed they had the game wrapped up on 55 minutes, when Marcus Brooker broke through the line and slid in to score. Referee Curzon thought otherwise, and spotted a knock-on from Brooker as he was crossing the line. Northampton were naturally delirious.

 

Bristol did finally get a score to settle the nerves and secure the win, and it came from the best piece of play of the whole match. Swann found centre Mike Gaston with a beautifully weighted pass and he sprinted through the line at pace, 30 metres out. He drew the fullback and passed back inside to supporting loose forward Wes Rodgers. Despite juggling with the ball, he rounded the last defender and crashed over between the posts. Swann converted to put Bristol 14 points up with less than 15 minutes remaining.

 

Northampton tried their best to get back into it, but Bristol’s defense was just too strong.

 

After the game, Sonics’ Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley had mixed feelings about the win. He said: “We weren’t at our best today and made far too many poor choices with the ball. We got 18-0 up by playing a simple game that worked in the terrible conditions. We then seemed to lose our heads. I always felt like we had too much for them, but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. Credit should also go to Northampton who played the conditions very well in the second half and didn’t take a backward step. There’s plenty to work on in training this week.”

 

Next week, Bristol travel to face Leicester Storm at New College, Leicester (kick-off 2.30pm), looking to make it three wins on the bounce. Today, Leicester lost 16-38 to Sheffield-Hallam Eagles.

BRISTOL SONICS (v Northampton Demons, 13/4/13): James Gross, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Tom Davies; Dom Swann, Dave Tomlinson; Ollie Yates. Matt Williams, Liam Walker, Jake Robertson, Sam Blaney, Wes Rodgers. Subs (all used): Curtis Asante, Darren van Hoof, Jack Spooner, Joe Singleton

 

MATCH FACTS

 

BRISTOL SONICS 24
Sam Blaney, Tom Davies, Jake Robertson, Ollie Yates, Wes Rodgers
Dom Swann 2 (from 5)
Sin-bin: Dave Tomlinson (20 mins) – persistent offending
 
NORTHAMPTON DEMONS 10
Reece Rance, Daniel Watts
Ollie Furness 1 (from 2)
 
Half-time: 18-10
Referee: Ian Curzon
 
MOTM AWARDS
Bristol: Matt Williams (hooker)
Northampton: Ollie Furness (stand-off)

 

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SONICS KICK-OFF WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN

With 200 days to go until the Rugby League World Cup comes to Bristol’s Memorial Stadium, live Rugby League returns to the city tomorrow (Saturday 13th April) for the first time in 2013.

 

With Bristol’s Memorial Stadium hosting the Cook Islands against USA on Wednesday, October 30, tomorrow’s game between Bristol Sonics and Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC (2.3pm kick-off) marks the start of a big year for the sport in the city.

 

The Sonics, who play in the Rugby Football League’s Conference League South competition for leading community clubs outside the game’s Northern ‘heartlands’, go into their first home game of the season on the back of a morale-boosting opening day victory over Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium.

 

The Sonics twice battled back from a 10-point deficit to secure a thrilling, last-gasp 42-40 win over the combined talents of Sheffield Eagles’ Academy and Sheffield Hallam University’s student side.

 

Bristol Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley will be looking for a similar result, if not scoreline, against Conference League South newcomers Northampton Demons tomorrow.

 

Fearnley said: “Last week’s result and performance was solid, but there’s plenty to work on if we’re serious about winning the league this year. As this is our first home game of the year, we’ll be looking to show both old and new fans just what we’re capable of against a decent Northampton side.”

 

Fearnley looks set to field dual-registered University of All Golds professional players Sam Blaney and Marcus Brooker, who impressed last week with four well taken tries. Last week’s man-of-the-match Jake Robertson has recovered from a knee injury, while Sonics legend James Gross returns to the starting line-up at full back.

 

The Sonics are keen to encourage would-be Rugby League fans, especially those new to the sport, to attend its home matches this season, to give them a taste of the sport in the lead-up to the World Cup. Entrance to all Sonics Conference League South matches will be free to under 16s, with adult entrance £3 (including complimentary matchday programme).

 

Bristol Sonics captain Dom Swann said: “Rugby League is an exciting, all-action sport full of big hits, top handling and exciting tries. If you’ve yet to attend a game, you should come down to Clifton and cheer on the Sonics. We’ve been building something good now for over 10 years, and there’s a feeling that we could mark Rugby League World Cup year with something very special. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome from our players, volunteers and supporters.”

 

One confirmed supporter who will be attending tomorrow’s game is Bristol RLWC ambassador and ‘superfan’ Ian ‘Muddy’ Waters. He’s been appointed as one of the match officials for the game, in his role as a fully qualified referee.

 

Bristol Sonics take on Northampton Demons at Clifton RFC on Saturday 13th April, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is £3 for adults (including programme), under 16s free.

 

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SONICS LATE-SHOW STUNS SHEFFIELD

 

Bristol Sonics twice battled back from a 10-point deficit to grab a last-gasp 42-40 win over Sheffield-Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium.

 

Prop forward Liam Walker barged his way over the Sheffield line four minutes from time to level the scores, before skipper Dom Swann coolly slotted over the conversion to earn Bristol a nail-biting victory over the highly-fancied home team.

 

Dual-registered University of Gloucestershire All Golds centre Marcus Brooker, returning to the Bristol side he has served so well for the past three seasons, scored four tries, while man-of-the-match Jake Robertson helped himself to a brace.

 

Yet the Sonics could quite easily have lost the game. Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, a new club set up by 2012 Championship winners Sheffield Eagles and Sheffield Hallam University, led for much of the game and twice built up 10-point leads in the second half.

 

Bristol were arguably the better of the two sides from the start, but a combination of errors, slack defense and opportunistic plays kept the home side in the driving seat.

 

The Sonics started well, and twice crossed the whitewash in the early stages only to see the tries ruled out for dropping the ball in the act of scoring. After seeing a third try ruled out on 18 minutes, Bristol fell behind when Bradley Tatersall finished off a fine Sheffield-Hallam break. Tom Holt’s conversion made it 6-0 with 20 minutes gone.

 

Bristol were soon back in the game when Marcus Brooker powered down the left to narrow the arrears to two points. After seeing another try ruled out for a knock-on, Sheffield once again broke away to extend their lead. This time, it was centre Tom Ashton who crossed following a long run from Holt. The latter’s conversion made it 12-4.

 

Jake Robertson burrowed his way over from close range shortly after, Dom Swann converting, before a horrendous error from the otherwise faultless Brooker gifted a try to the home side. 30 metres out from his own line, he threw a loose offload. Sheffield-Hallam speedster Donald Rodangarina snaffled up the ball and sprinted down the touchline to score. Holt again converted to give the home side an 18-10 advantage with less than a minute to go until the break.

 

The drama wasn’t over yet, though. After Sheffield-Hallam made a mess of Swann’s kick-off, Brooker jumped to collect a high bouncing ball, 10 metres out, and trot over unopposed. Swann couldn’t add the extras, meaning the Sonics trailed 18-14 at the break.

 

Bristol finally got their noses in front four minutes into the second half, when Brooker somehow managed to wriggle his way over underneath the posts. Swann’s conversion made it 18-20 and the Sonics were flying.

 

On the back of two penalties the home side set up the position for Anthony Seeto to dive over in the corner, with Holt’s touchline-hugging conversion making it 24-20. Minutes later, prop Sam Williamson caught a poor chip from Swann and raced 60 metres to score. Holt again added the extras to make it 30-20, and it looked as if the Sonics’ resistance would melt away.

 

But Bristol are made of sterner stuff these days, and soon they were back in the game following another short-range effort from the excellent Robertson. Swann converted, and minutes later Bristiol were level when Brooker forced his way in the corner following a sweeping right-to-left move.

 

Just when it looked as if the momentum had shifted back to the Sonics, Sheffield-Hallam restored their 10 point advantage. First, the impeccable Lee Sanders got his name on the scoresheet, Holt converting, before a break from former Sheffield Eagles first-teamer Corey Hanson created the space for Tom Ashton to grab his second. Crucially, Holt’s attempted conversion drifted wide, but at ten points up with less than 10 remaining, the home side were sitting pretty.

 

Again, back came the Sonics. With 8 minutes remaining hooker Matt Williams ducked under some weak tackles to force his way over close to the posts, Swann converting.

 

From the resulting kick-off Sheffield Hallam were able to put Bristol under pressure. Somehow, skipper Swann landed a beautiful 40-20 kick to win a vital scrum deep in Sheffield territory. With the clock ticking down, prop Liam Walker collected a short pass and stormed over to level the scores. Swann’s conversion gave Bristol the lead with little over four minutes remaining.

 

Sheffield-Hallam threw everything at the visitors for the remainder of the contest, but Bristol’s defence stood firm to record a memorable opening-day victory.

 

MATCH FACTS

Sheffield-Hallam Eagles            40

T: Bradley Tattersall, Tom Ashton 2, Donald Rodangarina, Anthony Seeto, Sam Williamson, Lee Sanders G: Tom Holt 6 (from 7)

Bristol Sonics                                    42

T: Marcus Brooker 4, Jake Robertson 2, Matt Williams, Liam Walker. G: Dom Swann 5 (from 8)

MOTM AWARDS

Sheffield-Hallam: Lee Sanders (prop forward)

Bristol: Jake Robertson (second row)

Bristol Sonics (v Sheffield-Hallam Eagles, 6/4/13): Max Davies, James Raymond, Mike Gaston, Marcus Brooker, Tom Verber, Dom Swann, Alex Potts, Wes Rodgers, Matt Williams,  Liam Walker, Jake Robertson, Joe McLean, Rob Verber. Subs (all used): Jack Spooner, Darren van Hoof, Curtis Asante, Joe Singleton.

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SONICS SET FOR SHEFFIELD SHOWDOWN

Bristol Sonics will be looking to make a flying start when they kick off their Conference League South campaign at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium on Saturday.

 

The Sonics, who have not played since tumbling out of the prestigious Challenge Cup competition at the hands of National Conference side Eccles in October, face a tough task against Sheffield Hallam Eagles, a new club set up by Sheffield Hallam University and 2012 Cooperative Championship winners Sheffield Eagles.

 

Both sides will be looking to make a winning start in Conference League South, the Rugby Football League’s new ‘tier 3’ division for leading amateur clubs based outside the club’s traditional Northern ‘heartlands’. The new league replaces Conference League Three, the division that the Sonics competed in last season.

 

On Saturday, both sides could field a number of players with semi-professional experience thanks to new rules that allow ‘dual registration’ of players between Championship, Championship One and Conference League South clubs.

 

The Sonics have taken advantage of this rule by joining forces with Cheltenham-based Championship One side University of Gloucestershire All Golds. Many of the latter’s playing squad have been ‘dual registered’ with the Sonics, allowing them to appear in Conference League South.

 

Sheffield Hallam Eagles are in a similar position thanks to their close ties to former Challenge Cup winners Sheffield Eagles. Many of the latter’s fringe players, a number of which study at Sheffield Hallam University, are in line to feature on Saturday. While most have little or no first team experience, they will provide a stern test for the Sonics.

 

Sonics Director of Rugby Karl Fearnley has announced a strong squad for the trip to the home of Sheffield Eagles and Olympic heptathlon star Jessica Ennis. He’s able to field Sonics’ All Golds signees Marcus Brooker and Mike Norman, and could hand debuts to Max Davies, Liam Walker, Jack Spooner and Darren van Hoof.

 

Fearnley isn’t too worried by his side’s lack of match practice. He said: “While there’s a chance that we’ll be pretty rusty and rough round the edges, the lads have been training really well and the addition of All Golds squad players will strengthen us,” he said. “I don’t expect us to hit top form straight away, but if we can do the basics well and build on the success we enjoyed in the second half of the 2012 season, we should be able to put in a decent performance.”

 

The Sonics struggled in the early part of 2012, and it took them nearly three months to adjust to the intensity of Tier 3 amateur Rugby League.  They finished the season in style, though, winning five of their last six games, including a famous victory over Champions elect – and now Championship One side – Hemel Stags.

 

Sonics captain Dom Swann believes that this experience will stand them in good stead this season: “It was a tough season last year, but by the end we really looked the part and were unlucky not to make the play-offs. We now know what it takes to compete at that level, and hopefully we’ll be on the ball from the word go. We think that Conference League South will be really tight this year, with all six teams being capable of taking points off one another. If we want to do well, we need to hit the ground running.”

 

Their opponents on Saturday, Sheffield Hallam Eagles, will be playing their first match together. However, with the majority of their players coming from the university’s first team and a smattering of future professional stars, they should be as strong a side as the Sonics will face this year.

 

Sheffield Hallam Eagles Head Coach Andrew Henderson – Scotland international and Sheffield Eagles’ first team hooker – is confident that the team can perform well this season. He said: “We see this team as an integral part of Sheffield Eagles’ player performance pathway. Competing in Conference League South will enable our performance players and Sheffield Hallam students to continue their Rugby League education in a closely fought competition. The club has come together very quickly so we’ll have to hit the ground running straight away. If we do that, I’m confident that we can have a tilt at winning the League.”

 

Sonics captain Dom Swann, who begins his 11th season with the club on Saturday, is wary of making similar predictions. “Of course every club in the League privately thinks that they have a chance of winning the title, because on paper all the teams look evenly matched,” he says. “Very few will come out and say ‘yes, we’re going to win this’, because that would be a foolish thing to do. There are six teams in the League, and six teams that could potentially win it – it’s going to be that tight. We’re confident that we’ll do quite well, but only if we play to our potential every week. There will be no ‘easy wins’ this season.”

 

Bristol Sonics face Sheffield Hallam Eagles at Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield, on Saturday 6th April, kick-off 2.30pm. Entrance is £3 for adults, £2 for OAPS and £1 for under 16s and students (with a valid NUS card).

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SONICS SEEK MATCH DAY VOLUNTEERS

Bristol Sonics are looking for a number of volunteers to help with the smooth running of matchday management during the 2013 Conference League South season, which begins after Easter.

To ensure that our matches at Clifton RFC run smoothly, we’re looking for people willing to lend a hand with stewarding (collecting admission money and directing fans to the clubhouse and pitch), programme selling, administration, collecting match stats, taking photographs and capturing video, and other small tasks such as setting up the pitch and laying out players’ kit before the game.

None of these tasks is particularly arduous, and most can be completed within 30 minutes or less. In return for their help and commitment, volunteers will be given free entry to all our home games and complimentary copies of matchday programmes. There are also a number of other benefits, including discounts on club merchandise and travel to away matches.

Full training will be given, where needed, and volunteers will be supervised at all times. If you’re interested but cannot commit to the whole season, don’t worry – we’d love to have you involved.

The Sonics’ Conference League South season begins on 6th April, with the first home game at Clifton RFC taking place the following Saturday, 13th April.

For more information please email Nick Brook on nhbrook@me.com