Bristol Bears picked up their second win of the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership season with a 45-33 victory over London Irish despite being down to 12 players before half time after three quick-fire yellow cards.
The Bears secured their first bonus point win of the campaign with five tries in all, scoring through Jake Heenan, Toby Fricker, Jack Bates, Piers O’Conor and Harry Thacker while Callum Sheedy finished with 20 points from the kicking tee.
London Irish put up a worthy fight, coming back from being 19 points down to be level at 19 all just after the break, punishing the Bears for having Heenan, Charles Piutau and Andy Uren in the sin bin.
But a yellow card for Albert Tuisue for a high tackle on Fitz Harding just as the Bears were getting back to their full compliment helped swing the match back in favour of the visitors.
The Exiles also scored five tries through James Stokes, Mike Willemse, Matt Rogerson, Terrence Hepetema and Kyle Rowe to leave the Bristol coaching staff with more work to do in defence. Paddy Jackson added eight points, all from conversions.
Bristol Bears rugby writer John Evely takes a closer look at the individual performances from the away side…
15. Charles Piutau – 6
Back in the starting side after being rested against Newcastle Falcons the full-back failed to set the world alright as he was given few opportunities to take on the Irish defence in a one-on-one situation where he is so deadly.
The former All Black was yellow-carded just before half time for what was judged to be a deliberate knock-on. He went for an interception with two hands so the call was harsh but with his side already down to 14 men it put the Bears in a deep hole.
More a battering ram than a dancer today.
14. Luke Morahan – 7
Making his first appearance of the season having been sidelined with a hamstring injury the Australian showed how dangerous his pace can be as he ran the ball out from his own 22 to spark the break for Jack Bates’ try.
Missed a late tackle on Kyle Rowe that led to the Exiles replacement back scoring a late try.
13. Jack Bates – 7
The England U20s centre scored his first Premiership try to cap a fine display.
He showed good hands on several occasions to pick up very average passes to him and keep attacks alive.
Very promising indeed.
12. Piers O’Conor – 6
The centre was the nuts and bolts to the Bears backline on Saturday as he move the ball smoothly without making eye particularly eye-catching breaks but did show tremendous strength to power through an attempted double tackle to touch down for Bristol’s bonus point try.
11. Toby Fricker – 6
The winger left the pitch early in the first half after taking a blow to the head trying unsuccessfully to stop James Stokes powering over him to score a try.
But Fricker also scored his first Premiership try, taking an inside pass from Jake Kerr following a burst down the wing.
10. Callum Sheedy – 7
Making potentially his final club appearance for a month with international duty with Wales on the near horizon the fly-half had a superb day with the boot as he finished with 20 points from the boot, landing eight of nine kicks for the sticks including three long-range second-half penalties to keep the hosts at arms length on the scoreboard.
There was little of his running game on display but he controlled play much better this week.
9. Andy Uren – 7
The scrum half’s performance had some real highlights moments including a wonderful 50:22 to put his side in a scoring position having picked up the ball in his 22.
A clever chip kick following a break could have put Charles Piutau in for a try had the ball bounced more favourably.
He was the recipient of Bristol’s third yellow card just before the break after harshly, and perhaps even incorrectly, being ruled offside as he attack the ball at the back of a ruck with London Irish looking likely to score having just broken down the wing.
Whether it was the right gamble to make to go for the ball with his side already down to 13 is debatable.
1. Yann Thomas – 7
The Bears scrum was on top throughout the game with the visitors winning several penalties in that area in the early stages of the game.
2. Jake Kerr – 8
The Scotland international is such a physical presence.
He made some huge tackles to stop Irish in their tracks and then knock them backwards and showed good speed to break down the wing to set up Fricker’s try.
He is keeping Thacker out of the team.
3. John Afoa – 7
Making his first start of the season with Kyle Sinckler away with England the veteran went deep into the game to provide Bristol with a stable platform throughout.
4. Dave Attwood – 7
The Bristol co-captain finished as his side’s top tackler with 22 without error as he put in an almighty shift again.
5. Joe Joyce – 6
The lock was forced to leave the field in the 21st minute after colliding head-on-head with Toby Fricker trying to make a tackle on James Stokes.
6. Sam Jeffries – 6
The flanker struggled to significantly impact the game but worked hard throughout making 15 tackles in the 58 minutes he was on the park.
7. Jake Heenan (co-capt) – 6
The flanker scored the Bears’ first try of the game from an 11-man maul following a lineout but was also yellow-carded for illegal play defending at a maul from a London Irish 5m lineout. His departure led to Bristol temporally unravelling.
8. Fitz Harding – 7
The dynamic number eight set up the Bears’ fifth try for Harry Thacker’s with a strong burst at the edge of a ruck, taking an inside ball from the hooker before shrugging off an attempted tackle and getting his arms free to give the ball back to the frontrow for a try with just his second touch of the game.
Left looking battered with Ioan Lloyd, yes Ioan Lloyd, packing down at number eight in the closing stages.
It is now hard to imagine this Bears side without him in the starting side.
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16. Harry Thacker – 8
17. Max Lahiff – 5
18. Jake Armstrong – N/A
19. John Hawkins – 8
20. Dan Thomas – 6
21. Tom Whiteley – 7
22. Ioan Lloyd – N/A
23. Alapati Leiua – 7