By Ian Todd
January 8 2012
Bristol struggled to impose themselves against a determined and awkward visiting side. Three tries to Bristol and perhaps three other chances that saw the final pass into Esher hands were enough to seal the victory, but Esher looked better than their league position would suggest and Bristol had to work hard throughout and lacked the fluency and precision that were needed to come away with a more convincing victory.
Esher kicked off the game but it was Bristol who made the early running, forcing a turnover. A pass from Matty James found Jon Goodridge, but he was forced to juggle with the ball, and this just slowed the pace of the move. Bristol were penalised the breakdown. Esher moved into the Bristol half where Bristol were penalised. The long-range effort was off target.
Esher managed to keep hold of the ball for a few phases before the Bristol defence, solid throughout, forced a knock-on. Captain Iain Grieve got Bristol going forward, and the ball went out to George Watkins who was well tackled, but still Bristol managed to spin the ball back to the opposite wing, where sadly Bristol were penalised for crossing. Bristol managed to reclaim the possession and moved back onto the attack. James Merriman broke clear but his pass went to Esher hands and allowed the full-back to sprint clear down the right wing. Excellent cover tackling forced him into touch. An Esher lineout, following a Bristol kick, was far from straight, but Bristol managed to reclaim the ball and worked away at the Esher defence. Finally, Josh Ovens raced into space, handed off an attempted tackle and then crashed over beneath the posts for a converted try. Seven-nil to Bristol after 17 minutes.
A high tackle from Rhys Lawrence gave Esher a kickable chance just seconds after the restart. However this too was off target. Bristol then forced a good turnover, but a knock-on halted the promising move. The kick ahead from Goodridge bounced into touch rather than into his hands, much to his frustration, but it was the right idea. This time the lineout throw was straight, and Bristol promptly claimed the ball! The pack pressed hard but poor handling let them down and Esher cleared touch. Bristol continued to apply the pressure and Esher were penalised for offside right in front of the posts. James had a drop goal effort with the advantage, but made no mistake with a penalty kick to take Bristol to a 10-0 lead.
Bristol were then undone when a speculative kick ahead from Chisholm bounced fortuitously back up into his hands. Arms extended, he flipped the ball on to the supporting Wright, who sprinted in unopposed for a converted try.
Bristol tried to hit back quickly and Ovens seized on loose ball when Esher failed to claim the restart. However, the move came to nothing and play was then halted for a serious looking injury to Ian Kench. The long break in play disrupted the pattern of the game, and Esher were penalised soon after it recommenced. James' effort was well short. Bristol claimed the restart and Fautua Otto raced onto the ball. He was half tackled but had the strength to break clear for a converted try and 17-7 lead. The half drew to a close with a lovely break from Lawrence which sparked the crowd to life, only for him to knock-on as he reached the halfway line.
Otto got Bristol moving again in the second half and Esher were penalised as they struggled to cope with his power. James was spot on with his penalty effort and Bristol lead 20-7 at the beginning of the second half. Bristol competed well the breakdown and should have won a turnover, before the referee ruled that Esher had knocked on. Bristol went through the phases, James showing his strength in the tackle. Bristol went close, only for a lax pass to release Esher's Wright on a storming run down the left wing. George Watkins showed great pace to track him down and prevent a breakaway try.
Bristol drove the lineout well and were awarded a penalty when Esher joined from the side. The kick was sent to touch but sadly the throw was not straight. Frankly, I've no idea what happened at the scrum; but it looked a total mess and Esher's clearance kick was well fielded by Watkins, who once more got his side going forward.
Watkins was starting to come into his own, and he made a fine break which saw him make excellent ground. He was well backed up by Lawrence, but more sloppy passing handling then gifted the ball to Esher. A marvellous long kick took play to the Bristol 5 m line and Sean Marsden was bundled into touch by the chasing Esher players. Bristol weathered the storm and Marsden managed clear to the edge of the 22. Watkins once more made a nice break around the fringes of the scrum, but Bristol continued to stutter and make unforced errors. Instead, Esher started coming to things on the back of the Bristol errors. They were awarded a penalty and kicked to the edge of the Bristol 22. However the Bristol lineout was dominant and pinched the Esher throw to relieve the pressure. The visitors though were in no mood to give up and a penalty allowed to kick down into the Bristol 22. The throw, not the first time, was not straight and Bristol were able to make their way back towards halfway, when Esher were penalised. Down to touch with the kick. The throw was to the tail of the lineout and Bristol took full advantage of the space thus created. Watkins cut a great line and cruised in by the posts for a converted try and a 27-7 lead.
Bristol tried to let Esher back with more sloppy passing, but remained solid in defence with powerful tackling holding Esher 5 m out. The visitors were awarded the scrum, despite what looked a clear penalty to Bristol, and they went looking for a consolation try. A knock-on terminated the move and they were then penalised at the scrum. A nice break from replacement Tom Slater opened up Esher, and he set Watkins loose. He in turn popped the ball up for replacement Mitch Eadie but the Esher defence just managed to regroup just in time. With the ball just metres short of the line Bristol sought a way through the suffocating defence. However, progress was glacial and Bristol were unable to score the bonus point try before the match drew to its close.