By Ian Todd
March 26 2012
Bristol escaped from Nottingham with the vital play-off points, but rode their luck all the way. The best thing that could be said was that when points were on offer they were taken (except for one penalty miss). The same could not be said for the hosts. Two yellow cards did not help matters, but the defence at the end was resolute in the face of Notts last ditch efforts. A draw and a narrow win. Good enough for the semi-finals? Probably, but is the pressure telling on Bristol? The team is just not playing in the style that served them well in the regular season. This is the second game in a row in which a good catch and drive has been used once early on and then never attempted for the rest of the game. I think we need to tighten things up before attempting to release the backs. One other good point was that we looked to be a very fit side: down to 14 men for a quarter of the game and still managing to keep out the home side is a tribute to our conditioning.
Bristol kicked off the game, but it was the hosts who made the early running, only a charge-down from Will Helu disrupting Notts rhythm. A cross-field kick threatened to open up the Bristol defence but fortunately it went into touch. Bristol conceded several penalties in these initial exchanges that allowed Notts to camp in the visitors half, but the defence was able to cope. Against the run of play, with Notts making excellent ground in a move out wide, Matthew Jones get hold of the ball and raced away down the left wing. His pass inside to the supporting Helu was well timed and the wing had the strength to squeeze in at the corner for an unconverted try.
Nottingham could have narrowed the gap virtually from the restart when Bristol were penalised. The normally reliable Arlidge saw his effort drift left of the posts, to Bristol’s relief. Bristol took advantage of the let-off to finally put the hosts under pressure with a fine break from Jon Goodridge following a powerful drive from a penalty lineout. Notts struggled to deal with the attack and were penalised in front of the posts. Jones scuffed his drop goal effort as the referee played advantage, but made no mistake with the penalty kick and it was 0 – 8. Bristol scored another opportunistic try shortly thereafter. A clumsy knock forward on the halfway line from Notts went into the hands of Fautua Otto who braced himself for a double hit from the nearby Notts players. Instead, all three stood still for an instant. Otto recovered first and raced away untouched to score under the posts. Jones converted and Bristol were sitting pretty at 0 – 15.
Nottingham tried to get back into the game, probing away with neat tactical kicks but failed to make any real inroads in the Bristol defences. Instead it was Bristol who scored again when Notts went offside and Jones landed another penalty goal: 0 – 18. Notts were really stung by this and strung together several phases of play before a missed first-up tackle allowed them to breach the defence and go up close to the try line. Fortunately for Bristol a really obvious piece of crossing let Bristol off when the hosts tried to press their advantage. Nottingham kept up the pressure on Bristol but a combination of good defence and indiscipline preserved the visitors lead.
Finally, Nottingham made the pressure count when Arlidge made a lovely run that freed Streather to cross for an unconverted try. Just before the break it appeared that Marco Mama had burst clear at a loose maul, but a fine piece of blocking by the referee prevented the tackle, as you can see above, so the score at the end of the half stood at 5 – 18.
Nottingham came out of the blocks quickly in the second half, A dangerous thrust was just barely held out and, as Notts continued to press forward, Bristol began to concede too many penalties. Eventually one was in kickable range but this time Arlidge struck the posts. It was clear that Nottingham were going to score soon, but the manner of the try that ultimately came was galling. A pass out from Jones was not so much telegraphed as posted on Facebook (other social networking sites are available) about a week ago and Socino sprinted away with the ball to dot down beneath the posts. Arlidge could not miss the conversion and Nottingham were right back in it at 12 – 18. Bristol looked rattled and fierce Nottingham tackling was forcing errors as Bristol attempted to get moving forward. Captain Iain Grieve was shown a harsh yellow card for not rolling away (or some such), immediately after Notts were penalised for the same offence and immediately before they were penalised again. Why was one a yellow card but the others not? Particularly as the Grieve incident was on halfway? Ho hum.
In any event, Jones had the chance to atone for the intercept and he sent over a marvellous long range kick from out left, just inside the Notts half. I had a large helping of humble pie at this point. Another excellent kick, a bit easier than the first, moved a grateful Bristol into a much more comfortable position at 12 – 24.
Bristol seemed determined to allow Notts back into the game with some sloppy play. Notts were awarded a penalty at the first scrum following Grieve’s return and they went for touch five metres out. The initial drive was good but Bristol managed to regroup well and forced a Nottingham error. The scrum went to Bristol who were, inevitably, penalised. Back to the same spot for another lineout!. And then another Notts penalty. And another yellow card, this time for Glen Townson. I know you can’t wrap yourself all over the guy in the air (as Townson did a couple of times) but the question was asked, “ how long can the jumper be held in the air? And what’s to stop you just walking him over the line?” I know the referee could blow for unsportsmanlike conduct, but is there any law relating specifically to this area?
Nottingham then lost the ball forward in their desperation to close the gap on Bristol. The scrum was not a good one from Bristol and the ball simply had to be cleared quickly, unfortunately Ruki Tipuna was too slow and his kick was charged down to allow Parr to scuttle over for a converted try and 19 -24.
A resurgent Nottingham battered away at Bristol and the defence were hard put to hold out. Another penalty conceded, again despatched to touch, but out on the 22 metre line. Here Bristol’s defence was solid and the hosts were forced back and Bristol were awarded the scrum put in. Once more the ball should have been in and out of the scrum quickly, instead release was delayed and then knocked-on. This handed possession to Nottingham for a desperate assault on the Bristol line. Again and again Notts drove forward, again and again the Bristol tackles smashed in. Now Bristol exhibited a great degree of discipline and control as they strove to halt the onslaught. At the death, as the referee indicated the last play of the game, Nottingham were turned over and Tipuna hoofed the ball into touch.