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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Friday, October 16th 2020

In focus: the road to the Challenge Cup final

Bristol Bears face RC Toulon in the final of the Challenge Cup - but how did Pat Lam's men book their place in a maiden European final? Check out the Bears' road to the final.

Bristol Bears 59-21 Zebre

Ioan Lloyd steered the ship with a 22-point haul as Bristol Bears kicked off their European Challenge Cup campaign with an eight-try thrashing of Zebre at Ashton Gate.

The 18-year-old, making his first competitive start for the club, added seven conversions and a penalty to a sensational first half try in a flawless kicking display from the fly half, as Pat Lam’s men made it five wins from five at home this season.

Will Capon and Toby Fricker struck in the space of three minutes to cancel out Mattia Bellini’s seventh-minute score, before Piers O’Conor, Lloyd and Dan Thomas ensured the bonus point was wrapped up inside 26 minutes.

Bristol were forced to play 20 minutes with just 14 men after yellow cards to Ed Holmes and James Dun, and Zebre hit back through Apisai Tauyavuca and a penalty try.

But Yann Thomas, Charlie Powell and Andy Uren took the hosts past the 50-point mark late on, to seal an emphatic win in front of nearly 11,000 supporters.

Brive 0-36 Bristol Bears

A ferocious first-half display fired Bristol Bears to a spectacular bonus-point Challenge Cup victory over Brive at Stade Amédée-Domenech, as Pat Lam’s men made it two wins from two in Pool Four.

In a wonderfully hard and clinical performance in south west France, Bristol blew away their Top 14 opponents with an exhibition of attacking rugby, scoring three times in the opening 26 minutes to set up a memorable European away win and inflict a first home defeat of the season on their hosts.

Toby Fricker, Harry Randall and Piers O’Conor got the ball rolling to give Bristol a commanding lead at the half time interval, before replacements Will Capon and Ed Holmes touched down in the final five minutes to complete a rousing win and ensure Bristol top the group with maximum points from their first two outings.

Bristol Bears 37-11 Stade Francais

Bristol Bears took full control of Pool Four with a third successive bonus-point victory in the European Challenge Cup, as Toby Fricker’s late try sealed a maximum return for Pat Lam’s men against Stade Français.

Luke Morahan’s first-half score and two penalties from the boot of Ian Madigan cancelled out Lester Etien’s 19th-minute opener, as the hosts took a five-point lead into the half time break.

Madigan added a third penalty early in the second period, before Harry Thacker, Charles Piutau and replacement Fricker touched down in the final 15 minutes to complete a resounding home win for the Bears.

Madigan, on his first competitive appearance since September, finished with a 13-point haul from five successful kicks.

Stade Francais 16-18 Bristol Bears

Bristol Bears left it late to maintain their 100% record in the European Challenge Cup, as Harry Thacker’s 78th-minute try sealed a memorable victory over Stade Francais at Stade Jean-Bouin.

The replacement burrowed his way to the line from close range, leaving Callum Sheedy with the simplest of conversions, as Pat Lam’s men finally made their second half dominance pay with the game’s decisive try 90 seconds from time.

Bristol trailed by two at half time, despite Will Capon’s score on 28 minutes and a yellow card to Pablo Matera, as Waisea Vuidarvuwalu’s try and a Nicolas Sanchez penalty put Stade in front.

Sanchez and Callum Sheedy traded penalties early in the second period, before replacement fly half Joris Segonds stepped up to kick the hosts into a five-point lead heading into the final quarter.

The Bears hammered away at a resolute Stade defence and looked to be leaving Paris with just a consolation losing bonus point.

But after Ed Holmes’ had carried them within two metres, Thacker dived over to level the scores and Sheedy's conversion sealed the points, to leave Bristol just one point from a second successive European quarter final.

Bristol Bears 52-3 Brive

Bristol Bears secured a first ever home European quarter final with a seven-try thrashing of Brive at Ashton Gate, as Pat Lam’s men reached the knockout stages for the second successive season.

Piers O’Conor and Dave Attwood scored to give Bristol a commanding 14-point lead at the interval, before the home side side cut loose after the break, with five second-half tries maintaining their 100% record in Pool Four.

Alapati Leiua, Sam Bedlow, Luke Hamilton, Will Capon and Mat Protheroe all touched down to take Bristol through the 50-point barrier, while Brive had just a solitary penalty from Tedo Abzhandadze to show for their efforts.

Callum Sheedy was flawless from the tee with eight successful kicks out of eight for a 17-point haul from the fly half.

Zebre 7-7 Bristol Bears

Harry Randall’s converted try with the final play of the game snatched a dramatic draw for Bristol Bears in a European Challenge Cup mud bath at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

Pat Lam’s side trailed heading into the closing stages, after Jimmy Tuivaiti’s breakaway try late in the first half, following swathes of Bristol possession, had given the hosts a 7-0 lead.

Callum Sheedy was also sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on in the lead up, leaving his side with an uphill battle after the break.

But the 64th-minute sending off of Johan Meyer for a high tackle granted Bristol an opening, and the visitors used every available second to earn a vital draw on the road.

With penalty advantage being played, Randall sniped and dummied through the Zebre defence to touch down, with Sheedy’s simple conversion ensuring it finished all square in Italy.

Quarter-final - Bristol Bears 56-17 Dragons

Bristol Bears stormed into the last four of the European Challenge Cup with a devastating seven-try demolition of Dragons at Ashton Gate.

Despite falling 10-0 behind to Ashton Hewitt’s 13th-minute score and a Sam Davies penalty, Pat Lam’s men turned the tide in dazzling fashion, twice scoring three tries in six minutes to set up a home semi-final against Bordeaux or Edinburgh.

Ben Earl grabbed a quickfire double after Nathan Hughes had got the ball rolling – and it was more of the same after the interval, with Radradra racing over for a 60-metre solo score.

In a frenzied finale, the Bears scored three more courtesy of Chris Vui, Max Malins and Dan Thomas, to complete a commanding victory and send them soaring into the next round.

Semi-final - Bristol Bears 37-20 Bordeaux-Begles

Bristol Bears scored twice in extra time to beat Bordeaux-Bègles and book a first ever European final on a pulsating night at Ashton Gate.

With the scores level at 20-20 at the end of normal time, Piers O’Conor and Max Malins crossed within three minutes of each other to fire the Bears to a memorable victory.

Earlier, Pat Lam’s men had battled back from 13-0 down, and survived Semi Radradra’s yellow card, to take a 20-13 lead thanks to Steven Luatua’s first-half try and Malins’ first of the night.

But Bordeaux’s Joseph Dweba crossed to level the scores 13 minutes from time and send a remarkable tie to extra time.

Replacement O’Conor’s first action was to step off his left foot and cruise in under the posts just two minutes into the additional period, before Malins put the tie to bed after a quite brilliant flick on from Radradra.


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