Bristol Bears suffered their third successive high-scoring defeat to Harlequins on Sunday, going down 38-29 at Ashton Gate as the West London side completed a season double.
Last June, Harlequins triumphed 43-36 in an earth-shattering play-off semi-final to derail Bristol's season and this time around the Londoners triumphed 38-29 in a game of 10 tries having won 52-24 at the Twickenham Stoop back in October.
Bristol crucially conceded 14 points in the first four minutes on Sunday before losing flankers Steven Luatua and Sam Jeffries with injuries and their ill-luck continued when another back-rower, Fitz Harding, picked up a dubious yellow card in the closing quarter to hand Harlequins the advantage they needed to claim victory.
Perhaps tellingly, Bristol’s tries came from forwards, with Luatua, Jeffries, Dave Attwood and Bryan Byrne touching down and Callum Sheedy converting three and adding a penalty.
Cadan Murley scored the two early tries for Harlequins, with Tom Lawday, Hugh Tizard, Jack Walker and Luke Northmore adding one apiece while Will Edwards kicked four conversions.
South West rugby writer John Evely takes a closer look at the individual performances from the Bears players at Ashton Gate....
Making his debut having signed for the club on loan just over a week ago from Championship side Bedford Blues, the standout full-back in the second tier of English rugby drew praise from his new director of rugby for his ‘good contribution.’
Lane got done for pace for Murley’s first try but there are plenty of players in that club. He gave the winger the outside and the Quins man took it, diving into the corner to avoid going into touch.
Over than that he was lively in attack and looks likely to near next weekend against Bath in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
The Samoan winger was dangerous throughout as he burst holes through the Harlequins defence with at least two wonderful clean breaks.
Perhaps even more importantly he was incredibly reliable in his basics, although perhaps understandably was unable to prevent the close-range drive of Lawday when he found himself in the guard position on the edge of a ruck with the big backrower picking and going right at him.
The Fijian offered very little to the Bears who are now mainly using him as a decoy runner. He simply doesn’t look at the races physically.
The French centre had probably his best game for the club as he is stealthily making the 12 jersey his own.
He played pivotal roles in two of the tries, giving the scoring pass to Luatua having sucked in two Quins defenders with an exaggerated hitch kick.
The winger made an immediate impact on the game as he burst on an outside arching run in the opening minutes and was a constant threat.
The fly-half was pinging passes with speed and accuracy on Sunday while also breaking the line with his running game. His bullet flat pass to Jeffries in the first half, having made the break to get his side into striking position, allowed the flanker space to power over.
Perhaps missed by many, Sheedy also put his shoulder into the contact to help propel Luatua over the line for his try as well.
A decent all-round performance.
Making his debut having recovered from a minor wrist injury that has kept him out until now after arriving at Bristol on loan from Bath last month, the scrum-half did nothing flashy but was very solid in his play, box kicking well, delivering sharp passes from the base of the scrum and being decisive in his actions.
Should have played the full 80 as things went downhill when he left on 69 minutes for Theo Strang.
Magic hands from big Yann put Attwood over for Bristol’s third try of the game as he rode the attempted tackle of Quins lock Tizard and slipped an offload to his second row.
Solid in the scrum
The hooker scored a try off a driving maul eight minutes into the second half and showed some impressive mobility to step his way through the Quins defence on a couple of occasions.
The Bears are blessed with top-quality depth at hooker.
Considering tighthead is meant to be an area of weakness for the Bears at the moment with Kyle Sinckler away with England, there was very little evidence of that on Sunday.
Proving his worth as a squad player with every game.
An absolutely dominant second-row performance from the veteran who scored a try, made breaks and melted a couple of visiting players with dominant tackles.
Outstanding for all 80 minutes on the pitch.
Back starting lock having had a prolonged run at blindside, the Samoan didn’t end up staying in the engine room for long as he was moved back to the flank following an early injury to Luatua - and didn’t he excel there.
The lock was a marauding ball carrier as he repeatedly got Bristol on the front foot while being a top lineout source.
Back to skipper the side from the start having come off the bench in recent weeks due to a troublesome calf, the former All Black’s game only lasted 10 minutes as he was forced to depart with a dislocated wrist.
However, before that he did enough to warrant an almighty score with a simply sensational try in the corner to drag his side back into the match after going 14-0 down, racing down the wing and then holding off the attempted combined tackles of Danny Care, Tyrone Green and Andre Esterhuizen.
Picked at openside over Jake Heenan and Dan Thomas who is fit but not in the matchday 23, sadly the backrower injured his knee while scoring a try in the 12th minute as he took on Murley on the outside and then carried the Harlequins winger on his broad back while powering through the head-on tackle of Tyrone Green.
Back in the starting side having missed the last two games after cutting his finger cooking, the number eight had one of his poorer games for the club.
A no-look, out the back pass intended for Callum Sheedy in just the fourth minute of the match was picked off by Murley who raced home from 65m to score.
He was harshly yellow carded for a ‘high’ tackle on opposite number Archie White in the 64th minute and Quins scored 12 points in his absence to win the game.
16. Jake Kerr - 6
17. Ashley Challenger - 5
18. John Afoa - 7
19. Joe Joyce - 7
20. Jake Heenan - 8
21. Theo Strang - 2
Poor Strang had a disastrous 11 minutes on the pitch as he lost the ball at the back of an attacking scrum 5m out to allow Quins to hack it on and gain a huge territory advantage with the Bears poised to strike.
Then in the 73rd minute he made a complete hash of falling on a brilliant kick in behind from opposite number Danny Care, knocking the ball back for Northmore to gather and touchdown for a decisive score.
After clangers against Wasps and Bath in recent weeks, the harsh reality of professional sport is he can’t cut it at this level.
22. Tiff Eden - 6
23. Piers O’Conor - 8
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