MATIAS Moroni’s yellow card proved crucial as Leicester conceded 14 points in the Argentinian’s absence, which ulti- mately proved difference between the two sides.
A severely under-strength Tigers – they made eleven changes from last week’s convincing win over Wasps – had led 3-0 against an increasingly frustrated Bears before Moroni’s 32nd minute sin-binning turned the game decisively against them. If you’re interested in Premiership odds check out the best new customer betting offers.
Bristol skipper man-of-the-match Steven Luatua said: “I wasn’t surprised by Leicester’s efforts as they were a young side with a lot of enthusiasm and energy for the shirt.
“They tested our skill to the limit and I was pleased that we were able to grind out a win as our guys had to front up.
“Our goal is to remain at the top of the table for as long as we can.”
They will certainly have to play a lot better than this if they are to do so for they had to rely on the wholehearted efforts of Luatua, Will Capon, and Dan Thomas to keep Leicester at bay as Tigers built up a real head of steam in the second half.
With a plentiful supply of possession in the first half Bristol should have wrapped the game up but their backs lacked cohesion. Sure enough there were moments of magic from crowd-pleasers Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan, but fumbles and forced passes proved costly.
This allowed Leicester to gain a foothold in the match and they will take heart from spirited performances from youngsters Joe Heyes and Ollie Chessum up front while Welsh flanker, Tommy Reffell, was a thorn in Bristol’s side at the breakdown.
However behind the scrum Tigers’ play was laboured with only powerful wing Kobus Van Wyk causing any threat to the hosts’ defence.
Bristol began as if they intended to blow away their weakened opponents with an all-action display.
But the Tigers’ defence held firm although Bristol should still have built an early lead by kicking three straightforward penalties. Instead they opted for attacking lineouts and on each occasion they bungled the opportunity without getting past first base.
Even with very limited chances, Leicester should have taken the lead but Joaquin Diaz Bonilla missed with two penalties.
Close-up: Andy Uren v Jack van Poortvliet
Uren was at the centre of Bristol’s all-action game. He popped up all over the field to keep Bears playing with perpetual motion. He rarely kicked but was still unable to make a telling break. Van Poortvliet, 19, emerged with credit in difficult circumstances. He sent out an early bouncing bomb to his threequarters but recovered to play with poise and commitment.
However, Bonilla did succeed with his third before his side suffered a hammer blow when Moroni was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.
This proved disastrous as first Capon finished off a driving lineout before a well-constructed move from a scrum ten metres out saw Morahan send Piers O’Conor over. Ioan Lloyd converted both to give his side a deserved 14-3 lead.
Lloyd extended Bristol’s lead with a simple penalty but that was the sign for Tigers to have their best period of the match as the visitors’ front five, boosted by the introduction of Dan Cole and Calum Green, caused their counterparts continual problems in the scrum but they lacked the attacking nous to capitalise.
Hence Lloyd’s penalty was the only score of an evenly contested second half with Leicester finishing the match with a flourish but they couldn’t manage the try that their performance deserved.
Defence was so improved says Lam
BRISTOL director of rugby Pat Lam praised Leicester for testing his side to the full.
He said: “Leicester threw everything at us and it was an invaluable experience for some of our younger players.
“We had to defend a lot because of our errors as we regularly turned over ball at the breakdown. Our ballcarrying was loose and that’s an important part of our game, which is based on continuity.
“I’m pleased with our defence after last week’s game when we conceded three tries in 20 minutes but nothing’s easy when we are top of the table.”
Leicester skipper Tom Youngs was proud of the commitment shown by his young side.
“The youngsters showed a lot of steel,2 he said. “Steve (Borthwick) has brought in a lot of guys so it’s a new group and it takes a lot for them to get used to each other.
“We are not far away but the last five per cent in terms of improvement takes time. I am very pleased with the fight we are showing and that will soon turn into results.”
■ By ROGER PANTING
Bristol Bears 17-3 Leicester Tigers – player ratings
BRISTOL: Piutau 8 (Eden 78, 6), Morahan 8 (Adeolokun 44, 6), O’Conor 8, Leiua 7, Naulago 6, Lloyd 6, Uren 7 (Kessell 74, 6), Woolmore 7 (Armstrong 74, 6), Capon 8, Afoa 7 (Y. Thomas 47, 6), Vui 7, Joyce 7 (Holmes 55, 6), Luatua (c) 8, Heenan 6 (Harding 60, 6), DThomas 7
LEICESTER: Murimurivalu 6, Van Wyk 8, Moroni 5, Kelly 6, Porter 6 (Simmons 76, 6), Bonilla 6 (McPhillips 50, 6), van-Poortvilet 6 (White 65, 6), Leatigaga 6 (Whitcombe 50, 6), Youngs (c) 7 (Clare 51, 6), Heyes 7 (Cole 44, 6), Henderson 6, Lavanini (Green 44, 6), Wells 7, Chessum 7, Reffell 8 (Wallace 60, 6)
Star man: Steven Luatua – Bristol Bears
REFEREE: Christophe Ridley