By Di Manning
April 15 2012
Bristol win to top the group (for now) and both teams qualify for the semis. London Welsh squandered five or six gilt-edged chances in the first half, whilst Bristol scored points from three out of four visits to the red-zone. The second half saw Bristol keeep hold of the ball in the face of a tricky wind and dominate up front until seemingly preplanned front-row replacements completely reversed the situation and allowed Welsh to narrow the gap to just three points. A cool head from Matty James pegged the hosts back to ensure Bristol edged another narrow contest.
Following a well observed minutes silence, Bristol kicked off the game. A nice early run from Sean Marsden unfortunately led to a penalty for Bristol going over the top. Welsh broke dangerously, only to knock-on at the last. In what proved to be a major theme of the game, Bristol scrummaged powerfully and won a penalty. From the consequent lineout drive Welsh were penalised to give Matthew Jones a go at the posta and nil-three score. The hosts were quickly back into the Bristol half and Tonga'uiha went close before Welsh knocked on again.
Another excellent thrust from Welsh put Bristol under real pressure and Marsden just managed to catch Jackson's ankle to bring the move to a halt and the hosts knocked on. Fautua Otto broke away into the Welsh half when the ball went loose. It was end-to-end stuff and then back the other way with Welsh ending up with the lineout just inside the Bristol 22. Sadly it was well overthrown. Bristol were then turned over to set Welsh off onto another fine attack, the final pass this time into Dan Montagu's hands. Bristol managed to regroup and good work from forwards allowed Jones to send over another penalty for 0-6. As before, Welsh struck back at Bristol, with the defence struggling to get organised. Redford Pennycook, in his first game for the club since re-signing, competed well and forced Welsh into giving away a penalty. Foolish backtalk saw the Welsh side marched back a further 10 metres. The penalty kick went to touch and the catch and drive from the Bristol forwards was flawless. The only response Welsh had was to pull the maul down and David Rose had no hesitation in trotting beneath the posts for a penalty try and a 0-13 score for Bristol.
As is so often the case, Bristol then promptly gave away a penalty to let Welsh into the game at 3-13. Welsh were not willing to stop there and launched another excellent attack from deep, right into the Bristol 22, only to once again knock-on at the last. Welsh maintained their enterprising play, constantly changing the point of attack, and edging Bristol back. A penalty was the inevitable result, the tricky kick went well off target. The hosts kept up the pressure however and looked certain to score but Bristol just managed to hold out. Will Helu broke wide in his attempt to take Bristol away from the danger zone. The ball went back right and Jones kicked for position. The Bristol chase was good and forced a penalty that James sent to touch. The initial catch and drive from Bristol was not well executed but the forwards reorganised and Welsh were penalised. Bristol elected to go for touch again, but this lineout was hopelessly overthrown and Welsh boldly attacked from their own five metre line down to the Bristol equivalent. The visitors went offside and Welsh had the chance to score with the last kick of the half, but again it was wide of the posts.
Bristol got the second half under way with a nice trundle from Jason Hobson and for the first time in the match went through several phases of play. Welsh were penalised and Jones punted into touch. Replacement Jason Harris-Wright had to throw into the lineout with his first touch the ball, but perhaps unsurprisingly, was well off the straight. The Bristol scrum was well on top now and Welsh were penalised as they attempted the wheel the scrum. Ian Grieve, possibly thinking of the penalty decision at the end of the first half, chose to go for goal. The wind gusted and it drifted across the face of the posts.
The forwards were in control, demolished the Welsh scrum and turned over possession. Jones kicked the ball ahead and the charge down of the attempted clearance gave Bristol 5 metre scrum. A penalty and then another. Another collapse and Mr Rose had no hesitation in awarding another penalty try and, for good measure, a yellow card to the Welsh prop. The hosts were determined to strike back and neat kick from Ross split the Bristol defence but once more last pass was loose and knocked on. The resulting scrum was, and this was no surprise, collapsed by Welsh and a penalty to Bristol resulted. This catch and drive from the lineout moved up to halfway, Welsh pulled it down, and were again penalised. Bristol were reluctant to change a winning formula and this catch and drive mauled its way up to the edge of the 22. However, when the ball was moved fractionally wider it was Bristol's turn to be penalised.
Another penalty to Welsh and suddenly we were back down at the Bristol 22. They worked patiently away at the Bristol defence and were rewarded with a penalty for offside as the sin-binning ended and so the score move to 6-20. Bristol then received a yellow card of their own when Helu was fractionally too early with his challenge of a Welsh player in the air. Welsh attempted to take advantage of the situation but struggled to impose themselves and gave away a couple of soft penalties that allowed Bristol to push them back. Yet another one followed and Jones cleverly hit his kick low over the bar to take his side into a 6-23 lead, shortly before a rush of Bristol replacements.
To the surprise of no one in the crowd, Bristol having been utterly dominant set piece were promptly penalised at the scrum. Welsh kicked for a 5 metre lineout and a final burst from the back of the maul from Ma’asi saw him over the line. Davies converted for 13-23. Now it was Bristol's turn to launch an excellent backs move and Helu cut a lovely line to slice through the defence, but a loose pass ended up in Welsh hands and allowed Ross to hoof the ball well downfield. Marsden was caught in possession by the excellent chase and was forced over the try line for a Welsh 5 metre scrum. They took their chance ruthlessly as Tonga'uiha smashed his way over for a converted try and 20-23.
It was a time for cool heads and replacement Matty James turned the Welsh defensive line with a nice dink through. Bristol were awarded a penalty as a Welsh player came in at the side in his eagerness to get hold of the ball. It was well out wide and with the seconds ticking away, a penalty kick at the posts was inevitable. Calmly, James took up all the time he could in his preparation, and with 80 minutes up he not only made sure that the ball went dead but that it sailed between the uprights for a final score of 20-26.