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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Monday, May 20th 2019

Season review 2018/19: part one

Breathtaking, exhilarating and unpredictable - the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership campaign was certainly one to remember, as Pat Lam's Bristol Bears recorded a ninth-place finish in their first season back in the top-flight. 

Relive the highs and the lows of a dramatic season, as we take a look back at the events of August to December, including a blockbuster beginning and nerve-shredding festive finale. 

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin.

August: back with a bang

Bristol celebrate Alapati Leiua's winner against Bath (JMPUK).

After the build-up, the wait, the anticipation, Bristol Bears' Gallagher Premiership return certainly didn't disappoint, as a capacity crowd of 26,079 packed into Ashton Gate for a West Country thriller under the lights.

Alapati Leiua was the match-winner with a 73rd-minute try that fired Bristol to a thrilling 17-10 derby victory over their local rivals.

The Samoan wing gathered Luke Morahan’s offload to dive in seven minutes from time and send a capacity Ashton Gate crowd into raptures on a pulsating night in BS3.

Three penalties from the boot of Ian Madigan had given Pat Lam’s side a 9-0 lead early in the second-half, but Tom Homer’s 53rd-minute try – after an earlier mishap saw him spill the ball over the whitewash – together with a conversion and a penalty from the boot of Rhys Priestland, looked to have snatched it for Bath, with Tusi Pisi in the sin bin.

But Madigan’s fourth penalty on 69 minutes edged Bristol back in front, before Leiua lifted the roof of Ashton Gate with a try that will live long in the home fans' memory.

Back with a bang indeed. 

September: Spirit at Sarries, O'Conor down Quins

Piers O'Conor scores against Harlequins (JMPUK).

Pat Lam's men travelled to reigning champions, Saracens in round two and looked to be causing a huge upset until George Smith was controversially red carded for an alleged dangerous tackle on Jackson Wray.

Bristol led 13-18 at the break at Allianz Park thanks to Alapati Leiua's first-half double, before the hosts made their numerical advantage count, as Liam Williams crossed for a 24-minute hat-trick to seal a bonus-point win for Mark McCall’s men.

Nick Haining touched down late on, but it wasn’t to be for the visitors, who suffered a 44-23 defeat.

In round three, Gloucester scored 32 unanswered second-half points to condemn Bristol Bears to a 35-13 defeat at Kingsholm.

Pat Lam’s side led 13-3 at the interval after Luke Morahan’s 18th-minute try and eight points from the boot of Ian Madigan capped a breath-taking opening 40 minutes.

But the second half was all Gloucester, as the Cherry and Whites scored five tries, including a seven-minute brace from Charlie Sharples.

Round four was a fruitful one for Bristol, as a masterful kicking display from Ian Madigan edged out Harlequins at a rain-soaked Ashton Gate.

Two first-half penalties from the Irishman’s right boot - either side of Piers O’Conor’s 35th-minute try – cancelled out Danny Care’s early opener, as Pat Lam’s side fought their way back from 10-0 down to claim a 20-13 victory.

Another home game in round five saw a spirited fightback claim two losing bonus-points from an 11-try thriller against Northampton Saints at Ashton Gate.

Pat Lam’s side scored five times but conceded six, as Saints hammered home a 20-24 half-time advantage to lead 30-45 with 15 minutes remaining.

Harry Thacker and Luke Morahan touched down, while Will Hurrell powered over for the second of an impressive brace on 70 minutes, before turning provider for Alapati Leiua, whose fourth try of the season brought the hosts within seven of Saints and secured a second bonus-point in a 40-45 defeat.

October: Sixways defeat, European triumph

Andy Uren and Joe Batley celebrate scrum half's try (JMPUK).

Round six of the Gallagher Premiership was one to forget for Bristol Bears, as they suffered a 52-7 defeat to Worcester Warriors at Sixways, despite taking an early lead. 

The European Challenge Cup provided some respite from league action, as an explosive first-half display saw Bristol Bears kick off their campaign in style with a seven-try 43-22 victory over Zebre at Ashton Gate.

Pat Lam’s side scored six times in an exhilarating opening 40 minutes, with Ryan Edwards touching down for a first-half brace, and Alapati Leiua, Nick Haining, Jake Armstrong and Andy Uren also on the scoresheet.

In the return fixture the following week, Bristol Bears were sunk by a last-gasp penalty goal to leave Parma empty-handed.

Pat Lam’s men scored two first half tries through Tom Pincus, but went down to a 20-17 defeat in a tightly-contested encounter on Saturday.

The Premiership Rugby Cup campaign began with a defeat at Franklin’s Gardens, going down to a 51-24 defeat to Northampton Saints.

A first-half try from Tom Lindsay and further scores after the break from Jordan Crane, Tom Pincus and Jack Lam earned the visitors a bonus-point on the road, but it was little consolation as Saints ran in seven of their own.

It capped a tough month for Bristol, with three defeats out of four. But the current Premiership Cup campaign offered an opportunity to rediscover their best form.

Elsewhere, George Smith extended his stay with the club for the remainder of the Gallagher Premiership campaign. 

Initially signed on a six-month deal, the club and player have mutually agreed to a contract extension.

November: Cup double, Chiefs heartbreak

Ed Holmes and Dan Thomas celebrate Ryan Edwards' try versus Wasps (JMPUK).

Pat Lam’s men got back on track in a gruelling West Country derby under the Ashton Gate lights, as two tries in the final 15 minutes fired them to a 21-13 victory over Gloucester in the Premiership Rugby Cup.

And they made it back-to-back cup wins at the Ricoh Arena, as Ryan Edwards’ brace and 15 points from the boot of Callum Sheedy fired them to a 30-19 victory over Wasps.

Edwards touched down in both halves, either side of Shaun Malton’s 45th-minute score, giving Bristol the perfect preparation for a return to Gallagher Premiership action.

But a controversial 83rd-minute penalty try saw Exeter Chiefs condemn Bristol to a dramatic 29-31 defeat at Ashton Gate in round seven.

Bristol led 29-24 with the clock in the red, but after the Exeter Chiefs driving lineout had rumbled towards the hosts’ line, referee Greg Macdonald went under the posts to award the match-winning score and break Bristol hearts in the dying seconds.

Tries either side of half-time from Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan had seen Bristol surge into a 26-12 lead six minutes into the second period, but Chiefs hit back through Jack Yeandle and Santiago Cordero to make it a two-point game late on.

Sheedy’s fifth penalty – completing a 19-point haul – edged the home side further ahead as time ticked away.

But after a flurry of late penalties, the Chiefs and Greg Macdonald had the final say, as Rob Baxter’s side maintained their unbeaten start to the Gallagher Premiership campaign.

In another tight encounter in round eight, Bristol were left to rue a lacklustre start to both halves in a 32-28 defeat to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.

Harry Thacker scored a 24-minute hat-trick to almost inspired a miraculous comeback, but the visitors were forced to settle for two losing bonus-points.

December: Tigers trounced, Pincus' debut winner

Luke Morahan finishes wonder try against Leicester Tigers (JMPUK).

December started with a bang, as Harry Thacker's first-half brace led Bristol Bears to a scintillating 41-10 victory over Leicester Tigers at Ashton Gate.

Kyle Eastmond saw red for the visitors, while Luke Morahan's 50-metre wonder score capped a remarkable sealed the deal for a rampant Bristol, who recorded their biggest winning margin over Leicester Tigers for 121 years.

Back in European action, a second-half storm from visitors La Rochelle saw defeat Bristol 22-35.

Pat Lam’s side had led until the 39th minute thanks to two tries in the opening 20 minutes from Harry Thacker and Jake Heenan.

But the French side hit back to put the game out of Bristol’s reach in the final quarter.

The return fixture in France was one to remember, with Bristol recording a famous 3-13 victory at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

In torrential conditions, Jordan Crane’s second half try and a committed defensive display ensured the visitors kept their Challenge Cup hopes alive.

Three days before Christmas, a 27-10 defeat at the hands of Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium, with a fine display of goal kicking from Robert Du Preez leading the way for Sale.

Solomona squeezed in the corner midway through the first half as Steve Diamond’s men took an 11-point lead into half-time, before two more Du Preez penalties made it 20-3 on the hour mark.

Steven Luatua touched down 10 minutes from time to give Bristol a lifeline on a damp afternoon in Salford, but Cliff took advantage of some loose handling late on to seal the deal for the home side.

But it was a very Merry Christmas after all at Ashton Gate, as Tom Pincus’ late try earned a dramatic 35-28 bonus-point victory over Newcastle Falcons in front of a bumper crowd, as Pat Lam’s men overturned a 10-20 half-time deficit to earn a fourth league win of the season.

Harry Randall’s second-minute try had given Bristol the perfect start, before Newcastle hit back through Vereniki Goneva and Callum Chick to take a ten-point lead into the break.

Bristol hit their stride early in the second-half, with Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan scoring to edge the hosts back in front, before an electrifying score from Newcastle’s Adam Radwan, and a penalty apiece, made it 28-28 heading into the closing stages.

But on 76 minutes, a huge surge from Ed Holmes was rounded off by the predatory Pincus, whose maiden top-flight try sealed five crucial league points for Bristol.

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