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By Ian Todd
September 18 2017

A very poor first half will have left few Championship clubs quaking in their boots at the might of relegated Bristol.  In fact you might have thought Bristol were the promoted side with a lack of incisiveness and both set-pieces struggling to deliver quality possession.  The hosts just about had enough quality to edge away in the second half but it was an uncomfortable opening to the Championship season, possibly worse than anything served up in the Premiership.  If anyone thought promotion was going to be a cakewalk then this will have soundly disabused them.

Bristol kicked off the first game of the new Championship season beneath leaden skies and with rain threatening.  Promoted Hartpury, featuring several former Bristol stalwarts in their ranks. Were penalised and Bristol went for touch only for debutant Ian Madigan to kick the ball dead.  However, Hartpury struggled at the scrum (as, frankly, did the ref throughout) and Bristol scrambled the ball back.  Madigan judged this crossfield kick to perfection and his fellow debutant Luke Morahan loped over for a converted try.  And that was about the last thing to go right for Bristol for the rest of the half.

That first scrum was virtually the only one to go right for Bristol with the referee’s interpretation of what was going on subsequently leading to penalty after penalty.  It was no surprise at all, with Bristol under severe pressure, to see Gilbert surge over the line for an unconverted try.  Things went from bad to worse when head-injury-assessment replacement Soane Tonga’uiha came on and then went off again having been shown a yellow-card for his first involvement.  Hartpury  went in front from the consequent penalty.  Bristol were quickly down to 13 when Sam Jeffries was also sin-binned as the visitors powered ever-closer to the line.  Hartpury went for touch and drove over from the lineout only for the officials, after a lengthy consultation, to rule the ball was held up.  After all this there were ironic cheers from the crowd when Hartpury were finally penalised at the scrum for doing something they had been doing throughout the half.  Do referees actually just make stuff up?

The length of time taken up by various shenanigans at the end of the half meant that Bristol were quickly back to a full complement in the second.  It was a very pragmatic, not to say conservative, approach from Bristol in the second half.  Two early penalties were duly slotted between the uprights to edge Bristol in front before a very sloppy bit of play handed the ball to former Bristol player Elias Caven who, with the line at his mercy, managed to lose control of the ball and let Bristol off the hook.

Grateful for the reprieve, Madigan pushed his new side further in front with another well struck penalty as Bristol managed to exert a degree of control over the game.   Control which was emphasised by a lovely break from Dan Turner right up to the line and replacement Max Crumpton on hand to pick up and smash over.  Inexplicably the referee did not need advice on this one.  Hartpury were not out of things though and managed to narrow the gap when Flook squeezed over to leave the final score at 26 - 15.

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