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Bristol run riot at Harlequins but in vain as both miss out on playoffs
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Bristol run riot at Harlequins but in vain as both miss out on playoffs

This was never going to be boring, no matter what the stakes. Sure enough, we had another breathless, see-sawing encounter, the Premiership’s two most entertaining sides, which means very, very entertaining, running in tries against each other with abandon. The wonder is, it all came to naught.

Neither side could ever feel quite comfortable with their leads, so unpredictable are both, but Bristol must have thought they had done enough. Alas, the least likely result of the day, across London, saw to it that this seven-try away win was not enough. Sale’s first league win at the StoneX Stadium meant Bristol fall two points short of the playoffs.

The Bears did not know whether to laugh or cry. To finish in such emphatic style a season they have lit up since the Six Nations and be denied by a misstep by Saracens, of all teams. Having been comprehensively beaten by the champions last week, ending the run of victories that had put them into contention, Bristol rode some horrible luck on the injury front in the first half to put Harlequins away on their own turf.

For Quins, the emotions post-match were more clearcut. Even by their standards, this has been a wild season of fluctuations in form, but they said farewell to some of their favourite sons in disappointing style. They had the lead just shy of the hour with a bonus-point fourth try of their own, having trailed 26-14 early in the second half, but Bristol pulled away with three tries and 24 points in the final quarter.

Max Malins had been forced into emergency duty at fly-half after those injuries. Callum Sheedy and Ellis Genge left the field together a couple of minutes before the break, both in serious pain. With BJ van Rensburg, probably Bristol’s player of the season, off in only the fourth, Bristol were forced into some tricksy reorganisation.

But they had their first try before even that, James Williams finishing on 56 seconds, after Gabriel Ibitoye had terrorised his former teammates with a run down the left. Quins levelled a few minutes later, Chandler Cunningham-South worked over between the posts for the first of his two tries. But Genge was next to score, dummying and stepping his way to the line after a carry by Bristol’s other winger, the excellent Noah Heward.

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Alex Dombrandt equalised, as with Cunningham-South’s try, from a penalty routine to the corner. We had barely played 20 minutes.

Cunningham-South was removed for a head injury assessment, which he passed, but his first contribution on returning was to send a pass to the floor. Ibitoye was on to it and away to earn Bristol the lead at half-time, which they extended to 26-14 early in the second half. No one for a moment thought they were safe.

The flaws in Quins’ game were evident again when they conceded a fourth try to fall those 12 points behind. They quite suddenly lost their coach, Jerry Flannery, during the Six Nations, who left for South Africa and seems to have taken any semblance of a defence with him. The way James Dun was allowed to burst through midfield did not bode well and Harry Thacker drove over for that lead when Bristol kicked the resultant penalty to the corner.

Sure enough, within 10 minutes Quins were ahead, Luke Northmore pouncing on a handling error for their third, before Cunningham-South drove over for his second. But in the final quarter the home team wilted under Bristol’s focus.

Shock, horror, a penalty that was kicked at goal put Bristol back ahead on the hour. This time they would not surrender the lead. Malins created two tries – for Max Lahiff and a beauty for Heward, either side of another penalty by Williams. By the time Gabriel Oghre scored their seventh, though, the Bears knew it was all in vain.

Source: theguardian.com