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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Tuesday, May 21st 2019

Season review 2018/19: part two

The post Christmas period saw Bristol Bears still fighting on all three fronts, with Gallagher Premiership, European Challenge Cup and Premiership Cup campaigns still ongoing. It promised to be an all-action finale to the 2018/19 season.

From another blockbuster West Country derby, to plenty of last-gasp action on the road - the second half of the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership campaign was one that will live long in the memory at Ashton Gate. 

Now, where were we?


January: A Russian century and Chiefs edge it

Andy Uren crosses for one of five tries against Enisei (JMPUK).

The New Year began in the toughest possible circumstances, with a trip to Sandy Park to take on the runaway league leaders, Exeter Chiefs.

But Bears weren't to be discouraged, going blow-for-blow with Rob Baxter's men to earn a deserved losing bonus-point in a 14-9 defeat.

Three penalties from the boot of Ian Madigan kept Pat Lam’s side in touch throughout a spirited 80-minute performance, with tries from Santiago Cordero and Sean Lonsdale proving decisive for the home side.

The Challenge Cup resumed with a mammoth trip to Sochi to take on Russian side, Enisei-STM. 

The 2,000-mile trek ended with an emphatic 65-9 win, with Nick Fenton-Wells scoring a hat-trick and Piers O’Conor touching down twice as Pat Lam’s side scored 38 unanswered second-half points to storm to their highest ever points tally in a European away fixture. 

Following Northampton Saints’ crushing win the night before, the return fixture against Enisei at Ashton Gate left Bristol needing to win with a bonus-point and by 85 clear points to seal their place in the knockout stages of the competition. Job done.

A 17-try thrashing, thanks to five tries from Andy Uren, led Pat Lam’s side to a record-breaking 107-19 victory, to set up a quarter-final clash at La Rochelle – Bristol’s first European knockout clash for more than 12 years.

But after prolonging their European Cup journey, Bristol's Premiership Cup campaign came to halt with a 10-12 defeat to Exeter Chiefs.

A penalty try ten minutes from time saw the Chiefs snatch a two-point victory at Ashton Gate for the second time this season, thus ending hopes of qualification.

Greg Holmes’ fifth-minute try was the only score of a tightly-contested first-half, before Ryan Edwards applied a pacey finish to a well-worked set-piece move.

Ian Madigan’s penalty extended the Bristol lead to five points with 30 minutes remaining, but it was the Chiefs’ scrum who had the final say.


February: Stung at home, Leiua snatches late bonus

Charles Piutau opens the scoring at The Stoop (JMPUK).

February proved a fruitless month for Bristol in the Gallagher Premiership, with two defeats from two - but they didn't leave empty-handed on either occasion with two losing bonus-points secured.

Against Wasps, the Bears were made to pay for a lacklustre first-half as they slipped to a 22-29 defeat.

Thomas Young, Tom Cruse and Nizaam Carr all crossed in a dominant opening 40 minutes from the visitors, but three tries in 15 minute second-half minutes saw Bristol claw their way back into the contest.

But Bristol were unable to land another blow as Wasps stood firm late on.

Next up was a trip to The Stoop to face an in-form Harlequins side, with Alapati Leiua’s 79th-minute try earning Bristol Bears a consolation bonus-point in a 36-26 defeat.

The afternoon started brightly for Bristol as Charles Piutau touched down for the first try of the afternoon.

But Quins hit back to secure the bonus-point before half-time, despite Leiua's first of the game, before Nathan Earle looked to have finished Bristol off.

But Madigan's kick was collected by Protheroe late on, and the full back fed Leiua to earn a vital point on the road. 


March: Late drama as Bears go back-to-back

March started with a bang as Bristol edged an exhilarating West Country derby to earn a first Gallagher Premiership victory over Gloucester in more than 11 years at a fully-charged Ashton Gate.

A penalty try 12 minutes from time and Ian Madigan’s late penalty sealed a crucial 28-24 win for Pat Lam’s side in front of nearly 17,000 supporters in BS3.

And the following week, Bristol made it back-to-back league wins for the first time this season in the most dramatic of circumstances, as Ian Madigan held his nerve to land a last-gasp touchline conversion against Northampton Saints, who finished the game with just 11 men on the field.

The replacement fly-half stepped up seven minutes into stoppage time to convert Piers O’Conor’s try - Bristol's fourth of the afternoon – to seal a 24-26 win.

It capped an astonishing ten-minute period in which Conus Reinach, Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood and Alex Waller were all sent to the sin-bin as Bristol piled on the pressure in the closing stages. 

But a gripping finale came to an equally gripping conclusion, as Sheedy and Madigan combined to send O'Conor over on the left-hand side, before Madigan dealt the killer blow from the tee to seal a memorable bonus-point win on the road for Pat Lam's men.

But after the elation of two latewins, Bristol found themselves on the wrong end of the drama as Worcester condemned them to a 24-26 defeat.

An early penalty try and Luke Morahan’s 18th-minute score had edged Bristol in front on the half-hour mark, but three tries in 19 minutes from the Warriors saw them take the impetus, with two penalties from Duncan Weir firing them into a nine-point lead in the final quarter.

Bristol hit back with a well-worked try from Callum Sheedy, who had earlier added two penalties, to set up a tense finale in BS3.

But with Ben Te’o in the sin-bin, Bristol were unable to make the numerical advantage pay.

Europe returned, but it wasn't to be for Bristol who bowed out of the European Challenge Cup at the quarter final stage, falling to a 39-15 defeat at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

In a compelling clash played at breakneck speed, it was La Rochelle’s day, as Jono Gibbes side avenged their pool stage defeat to Bristol to book their place in the last four.


April: Defeat at HQ, Sarries sunk at the Gate

Ian Madigan kicks decisive penalty to down Saracens (JMPUK).

At The Clash, Dan Thomas’ 71st-minute try earned a losing bonus-point, but it was Bath Rugby who took the derby spoils in front of more than 60,000 supporters at Twickenham.

First-half tries from Jonathan Joseph, Jamie Roberts and Joe Cokanasiga gave Todd Blackadder’s side the perfect start at HQ, but four penalties from the boot of Callum Sheedy kept Bristol in the contest at the break.

Rhys Priestland hacked ahead to touch down midway through the second half and extend the Bath advantage, before Thomas rounded off a sweeping Bristol move to fly over in the corner, with Ian Madigan’s touchline conversion earning his side a losing bonus-point in a 26-19 defeat.

Back at Ashton Gate, and for the second time in five weeks, Ian Madigan held his nerve in stoppage time to steer Bristol Bears to a dramatic 23-21 victory, this time over reigning champions Saracens.

The Irishman stepped up to land an 80th-minute penalty as Pat Lam’s men withstood the onslaught from a star-studded Saracens bench to clinch a sensational win in front of nearly 15,000 supporters.

From one historic win to another, where Harry Thacker returned to haunt Leicester Tigers with a 75th-minute try to earn Bristol Bears a 20-23 victory at Welford Road in more than 17 years.

The hooker powered over from a driving lineout late on, as Pat Lam’s side came from behind to snatch another dramatic win and complete a first-ever league double over the Tigers.

From one historic win to another, where Harry Thacker returned to haunt Leicester Tigers with a 75th-minute try to earn Bristol Bears a 20-23 victory at Welford Road in more than 17 years.

The hooker powered over from a driving lineout late on, as Pat Lam’s side came from behind to snatch another dramatic win and complete a first-ever league double over the Tigers.

Bristol had trailed right up until Thacker’s decisive score, as 15 points from the boot of George Ford and Jordan Olowofela’s first-half try, cancelled out Callum Sheedy and Dan Thomas, who touched down either side of half time.

But with five minutes left on the clock, Bristol held their nerve to piece together a formidable drive at the lineout, with Thacker applying the finishing touches to a second away win of the season for the visitors.


May: Honours even at The Gate, final day triumph

Charles Piutau powers over against Sale Sharks (JMPUK).

In the final home fixture of the season, a breathless finale Bristol Bears and Sale Sharks eventually share the spoils in a 20-20 draw that had drama right up until the final whistle.

Faf De Klerk’s stoppage-time penalty rebounded back off the post, just a minute after Ian Madigan’s effort had faded agonisingly wide of the upright.

But the theatre wasn’t finished there, with De Klerk’s miss sparking a dazzling Bears counter-attack that saw the hosts, roared on by more than 20,000 supporters at Ashton Gate, storm 80 metres upfield where Tom Pincus was hauled down five metres short of the line.

In the ensuing melee, the loose ball found its way into the hands of AJ Macginty, who briefly threatened to release De Klerk, before nudging into touch to conclude an absorbing contest.

On the final day of the regular season, tries from Charles Piutau, Piers O'Conor and Jack Lam ensured Bristol would sign off the season with a 12-19 win, to seal a ninth-place finish in the Gallagher Premiership.