Gallagher Premiership Round 1: Bristol v Bath

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Bristol Bears
Bristol's Alapati Leiua celebrates his try with Will Hurrell during the Gallagher Premiership match at Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

With a new name and plenty of new faces, the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership Round 1 fixtures were sure to be explosive.

Last year’s champions Saracens have brought in several exciting talents and look to carry on their momentum while the Exeter Chiefs continue their dominant form having topped the pile last season. High contenders of recent times, Wasps also look to quench their trophy drought, as the established teams of the English top division all battle for their places in the European Champions Cup.

With such a strong Bristol side having been promoted from the Championship it’s hard to tell who will be fighting the relegation battle. With twenty two rounds of domestic league action ahead, only time will tell how this season will play out.

Opening game of 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership

Round 1 kicked off in Bristol in front of a Friday night record 27,000 fans. Having also taken a new name, the Bristol Bears hosted Bath in a fiery derby fixture.

First Half Highlights

Last season’s promoted team took an early lead with a penalty; kicked by Ian Madigan,  before Bath thought they’d scored a superb team try. Rhys Priestland was halted before his conversion attempt to allow the TMO to validate the score – the masses of Bristol supporters having made enough noise in complaint to nudge referee JP Doyle to check with the television assistant.

From the review it was clear that Tom Homer had dropped the ball before he touched it down, suspicion had been raised after he performed a somewhat unusual roll after scoring. Play was brought back and Bristol cleared from the scrum.

They extended their lead to 6 points a few minutes later and that’s where the scoring stopped in the first half. Overall it had been relatively scrappy, both teams seeming capable of some dangerous moves but neither able to execute them fully.

This lack of precision can be expected at the start of a new season, particularly from a promoted team so unfamiliar to a challenge. Bristol coasted through the 2017/18 Championship falling to only one defeat, a luxury far, far away from the hardships in the top flight.

Thrilling Second Half

The second half started much like the first but this time brighter for the visitors. Madigan added another penalty for Bristol before Bath came in for a try. This time there was no question of its validity.

Once more, Tom Homer crossed over the tryline with the ball well secured under his arm; not willing to make the same mistake again. The successful conversion from Priestland took Bath right back into the game, bringing the score to 9-7.

Priestland added another 3 points for Bath after Tusi Pisi was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on. The visitors now led and had a great chance to capitalise on the Bristol binning however, luck wasn’t on their side.

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Bristol’s fly half slotted his fourth penalty, after Bath were penalised for holding on. Madigan’s prolonged place kick gave a few extra seconds for his teammate’s yellow card time to end. Pisi’s time in the bin elapsing before Bath could create anything.

The thrilling conclusion to the game came from the hosts. Man of the Match Luke Morahan made a clean break and offloaded to Leiua, who collected the pass brilliantly, and dived over the line.

Even while the conversion hit the post, the scoreline advantage to Bristol would remain until the final whistle, despite tryscorer Leiua thinking he was in again. The assistant referee adjudged a pass to have been forward and so his second score was disallowed.

Bristol clung to their seven point lead, despite some hard pressure from Bath. The visitor’s efforts were to no avail though. A handling error right at the death handed possession back to the hosts, who cleared to touch from their scrum and claimed their first win of the 2018/19 season.

Bath would leave Ashton Gate, with only a consolation bonus point and be the first victim of a Bristol Bears mauling.

Bristol make an season opening Statement

Key standouts from the fixture were headed by Bristol captain Steven Luatua, lock Chris Vui and winger Luke Morahan. The Kiwi skipper took leadership to the next level, forcing several key turnovers and linking up nicely with forwards partner Vui. The Samoan lock in turn, made multiple abrasive runs and breaks, for an impressive season start.

Likewise Morahan proved his international experience to be pivotal. The pace and footwork of the Australian too much for most of the Bath defence to handle.

Both sides were fairly even in fairness, as was reflected by the scoreline, yet the Bristol Bears were obviously intent on making a statement on their return to the Premiership. A deserved win, to underline their credentials – and for Pat Lam’s men to lay down a marker, for any challengers to note.

In week two, Bristol face up against last season’s champions, Saracens, at Allianz Park. While Bath take on Gloucester from the comforts of their home base, the Recreation Ground (the Rec).

Follow Last Word on Rugby throughout the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership, for match results and analysis.

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