Best of the Weekend: Bristol Bears Start With a Bang

George Smith

Newly promoted Bristol Bears have started their Premiership campaign in front of a packed out Ashton Gate with a gruelling victory over West Country rivals Bath. Bath made a catalogue of errors and Bristol dug in so hard to win and while it wasn’t pretty, it was certainly a compelling affair, with the likes of captain Luatua, new signing Harry Thacker and man of the match Luke Morahan putting in a great shift, it’s just so good to see Bristol back. However, the Bears have a tough spell on the road to come, they have to face defending Champions Saracens at Allianz Park before visiting Gloucester at Kingsholm.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t the golden start for new Saints head coach Chris Boyd as Northampton were beaten 27-16 by Gloucester at Kingsholm. Danny Cipriani provided sublime handling skills in front of England head coach Eddie Jones while Billy Twelvetrees was superb from the tee and in open play but it was mainly the work of the front row that dismantled the Saints and they made a comedy of errors at times and Dan Biggar had a particularly poor debut.

In other results on Saturday, a strong Leicester side were worryingly thrashed by an Exeter Chiefs side not at their best. There were promising debuts for Will Spencer and especially David Denton but it was far from enough to save Tigers from a horror-show, fans are very angry and are demanding the departure of Matt O’Connor already. Harlequins got off to a really bright start under new head coach Paul Gustard with a comprehensive 51-23 victory over Sale at the Stoop. Meanwhile, new boy Billy Searle’s penalty meant that Wasps survived a scare against a spirited Worcester Warriors with Duncan Weir agonisingly missing a drop goal in the last play of the game.

Finally on Sunday, a man of the match performance by slimmed down Wallaby Will Skelton helped Saracens win their 1st game of the season against Newcastle at Kingston Park. It was by no means an easy victory with Saracens down to 13 men at one point with Alex Goode and Nick Tompkins in the sin bin. But Mark McCall’s men will still be happy to leave with a bonus point victory.

North stars for Ospreys as Pro14 kicks off:

Wales winger George North crossed twice for the Ospreys as the returning superstar helped his side nip Edinburgh 17-13, Cardiff came so close to a surprise victory over defending Champions Leinster but a Bryan Byrne double meant the Irish province survived an almighty scare. Meanwhile John Cooney kicked all the penalties as Ulster surprised Scarlets and new-look Dragons were beaten 17-21 at home by Benetton Treviso.

Munster thrashed the Cheetahs 38-0, the South Africans really missing the likes of Clayton Blommetjies, Uzair Cassiem, Torsten van Jaarsveld and François Venter while captain Oupa Mahojé is worryingly injured. A stunner of a drop goal from Stuart Hogg ensured that Glasgow nipped a spirited Connaught and Zebre comprehensively beat the Southern Kings.

What happened elsewhere?
In the Top14, there were wins for Montpellier, Pau, Stade Français, Toulouse and defending champions Castres. All Blacks Julian Savea and Liam Nessam making their competitive debuts for Toulon whilst former Stormers winger Cheslin Kolbe has been given a well deserved call up to the Springbok squad.

In the Currie Cup, Western Province thrashed the Pumas, the Sharks edged th Free State Cheetahs (who are of course without their 1st-teasers playing for the Pro14 side) and the Lions edged the Blue Bulls in a high-scoring affair.

In the Mitre 10 Cup (the domestic competition in New Zealand), Ben Lam continued his impressive strike rate with a hat-trick in Wellington’s thrashing of Southland being the game of note.

Finally in Australia, the Fijian Drua put on a magnificent display of sensational attacking rugby as they thrashed Melbourne Rising.

Hero of the Week:
Alapati Leiua is a contender for his try which sealed the deal against Bath in their opening win, the other winger Luke Morahan deserves a mention too. Meanwhile in the Pro14 there are plenty of contenders, Bryan Byrne made a telling contribution and scored the two tries that secured the comeback win for Leinster but my hero of the week goes to Stuart Hogg for his thrilling drop goal that meant the Warriors got the victory over Connaught.

Villain of the Week:
No red cards or foul plays to talk about really, but my Villain of the Week goes to referee Ian Tempest for being a spoil-sport by not letting Vereniki Goneva score a quite ingenious score by dummy placing the ball after collecting a wide Owen Farrell drop kick and running 90 odd metres to score only for Tempest to bring by the game back for a 22 drop out, saying that it contradicted the values of the game! Very odd indeed and in the end denied the Falcons a crucial losing bonus point.

Key Talking Points
– Was it a try by Nicky Goneva? Does it contradict the game’s values?
– Do you think Leicester Tigers head coach Matt O’Connor should be sacked? Is he entirely to blame?
– Do you think the Bristol Bears have a genuine chance of staying up?
– Which is the better league at the moment? Guinness Pro14 or the Gallagher Premiership?

By Jacob Bassford (add me on Twitter @jacob_bassford and subscribe to my Youtube channel @FlyingG_Sports)

14 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Bristol Bears Start With a Bang

    1. Not convinced that Ford or Youngs could have done much else really, they were playing behind a beaten pack in the face of Exeter’s relentless and stifling defence. The person who needs the sack is whoever planned pre season training at Tigers. The pack looked completely unfit. No excuse.




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      1. Have to agree Staggy, the pack looked well out of shape, as did Manu. He looked so lacklustre and knackered after about 30 minutes. Not sure what they’ve been doing (or not, as the case may be) in training, but it clearly hasn’t worked for some players.




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      2. The Tigers head of strength and conditioning a bloke called Alex Martin of Loughborough Uni stock, is actually really good. The reason Tigers were unfit was because O’Connor named players like O’Connor, Bateman hadn’t had any preseason game time and was thrown straight into the mix, if Matt O’Connor had started Fe’ao, a young bloke called Tommy Reffell (remember his name!) and Eastmond things would have different. Involving Toomua and Polota-Nau was catastrophic and hugely detrimental on the players. But no Matt O’Connor has to be the big stubborn g*t of an Aussie he is, doesn’t he?




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        1. Ought to be more careful over yr choice of words about O’Connor being an ‘Aussie’ git. Appears to have racial connotations. Also a more emotive statement rather than an objective 1. It’s only 1 game FCOL!




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  1. Was it a try by Nicky Goneva? Does it contradict the game’s values? No & No. Wasn’t a try because the ref whistled for the drop out. Wasn’t against the games values at all…perfect dummy and loved his knowledge of the rules and desire to think which is often missing in contemporary rugby….
    – Do you think Leicester Tigers head coach Matt O’Connor should be sacked? Is he entirely to blame? Yes – he stated in that their first choice forwards were undercooked and hadn’t had enough pre-season minutes – that is a major coaching error. He also apparently turned up to training two weeks late. He can’t seem to build a cohesive attack.
    – Do you think the Bristol Bears have a genuine chance of staying up? They need all of their home games and one or two away from home to nick it. I will be honest and say Bath lost it, more than Bristol won it, but it is a win and a brilliant way to start their campaign off – you can build off those
    – Which is the better league at the moment? Guinness Pro14 or the Gallagher Premiership? Prem, but that said the quality was inconsistent and error strewn this weekend which left me feeling a bit flat.

    Can I offer who I believe was best player of the weekend by a long shot? Val Rapava Ruskin.




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    1. Have to agree that VRR was outstanding. Most Glos fans had him down as their MOTM over Cipriani, but that wouldn’t have given the television pundits as much to purr over compared to Cips passing!




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    2. Spot on re the first point, i.e. not a try; personally I think Tempest got a bit caught up in the games values bit, he should have stuck to his guns and said whistle’s gone, 22 drop out has been called, and that’s that.




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  2. After week 1 I have definitely revised my estimate of where Northampton will finish this season upwards, with the jury out on Tigers, as to be fair they aren’t the only team in the last few years to be completely overrun at Sandy Park. However my gut feeling is that they will end up being like Harlequins from last season.




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  3. Bristol were a lot better then i expected. They seemed to be well organised, resilient under pressure and capable of some enterprising play. They’ll have a shot at staying up, but i’m not convinced their squad has the depth required.
    Tigers were given the run around at SP by a very good Exeter. What should concern the faithful is how little they seemed to have moved forward from last season. Exe were in a different class to be honest.
    It wasnt a try for Goneva as the ref blew his whistle, believing, quite reasonably, that the ball had been grounded in goal. If you are going to try and con opponents and officials, you can’t moan when they make a decision based on what you appear to have done.




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      1. Even if the TMO did look it, still can’t be a try, whistle had been blown, therefore Sarries players could rightly argue that play had stopped and therefore they didn’t chase Goneva, doesn’t matter if it was incorrect in that instance, it’s not a decision the TMO can overturn. Same as if the ref blows early during and advantage having not spotted the runner just about to break through a gap.




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  4. Matt O’Connor has left the Tigers with immediate effect, skills Coach Geordan Murphy to become interim head coach. 8 Premierships, 2 Heineken Cups, British and Irish Lion, a Grand Slam, prestigious playing career and helped Tigers to the Anglo-Welsh Cup glory in 2017, the club’s 1st trophy in 4 years!




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