Davies' men expose familiar chinks in Bristol's armour
LAST season I maintained all along that Bristol would not get promoted because, despite their ever increasing unbeaten run, they were not good enough. I was proven right as they fell apart in a dramatic semi-final first leg at the Mennaye Field.
I'm still unconvinced about Bristol's pedigree and ability to mix it in the top flight again after this win over the Pirates, not because of any sour grapes, but because all their off-field bluster and bravado can be quickly unpicked on the field, as the Pirates proved here.
As was the case with Plymouth a week before, Bristol could and should have been out of sight by half-time. Yet for all the strong running by Pennycook, Tagicakibau and the impressive James Merriman, a resolute Pirates defence time and again waited for their moment and then picked off the ball carrier.
By the time Matt Evans had silenced the Memorial Ground early in the second half with his sixth try in three games, Bristol looked flat and rudderless, drifting helplessly towards defeat.
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The Pirates were never out-gunned in the scrum but took a while to wisen up to the referee's viewpoint. They held their own at the lineout and rucked and mauled effectively again after understanding the gospel according to Mr Davey. But three things ultimately turned the game back in favour of the hosts.
Defending for so long in the first half hour without any meaningful possession will hurt any side and by the time we reached the dramatic conclusion to this game, the Pirates had no gas left in the tank.
They also only had 13 men left standing for the final 90 seconds with Wes Davies hobbling off and Matt Evans lying semi-conscious in his own 22 with playing continuing all around where he lay.
Ben Prescott had hobbled off, Kyle Marriott's departure with a hamstring problem decimated their control of the game up front, Junior Fatialofa had departed from the midfield wearing a pained grimace, and Gavin Cattle just couldn't get going at scrum-half.
With confusion reigning it was little wonder that the very necessary introduction of Tipuna and Roberts from the home bench had a telling and decisive impact.
There was a period of rejoicing on the terraces at the end among those wearing blue and white but it was relatively short-lived. And as I stood on the pitch waiting to do my post-match interviews while being told to get off the grass by a scowling groundsman, several seasoned Bristol-watchers privately admitted that they have their own doubts about their club and where it is going.
An hour after the final whistle the Pirates and most of the Bristol crowd were on their way home. The floodlights, which had blazed for several hours in daylight providing all the benefit and usefulness of a chocolate kettle, were finally extinguished and a band in the clubhouse mixed cover versions of early Madness tracks, Adele, Deep Purple and the Corrs.
After the huge battle which had raged between two committed teams in the hours before, the confusion of this musical intervention just seemed to epitomise for me where this whole league currently stands off the field.