Resilient Bristol Bears secured a late 30-11 bonus point win over Stade Français to retain their 100% record in the Challenge Cup pool stages.
Late tries from Harry Thacker, Charles Piutau and Toby Fricker added to the early Luke Morahan try to claim their third bonus point win in Pool 4.
The away side frustrated the hosts as they matched them upfront and got off to a good start when star winger Lester Etien capitalised on poor Bears play to score. However, the Bears resilience saw them dig in late on to get on top of the travelling side.
Bristol Bears top Pool Four
The win takes Bristol clear at the top of Pool four as Zebre defeated Brive in the other game in the group.
Pat Lam made 6 changes to his side from last week’s game, with Ian Madigan coming back into the starting line up and Dave Attwood and Jake Heenan returning to the pack.
The first half started as an even contest with the underdogs Stade matching the Bears upfront as well as in defence. The French side thwarted the hosts’ offloading game, causing problems at the breakdown and slowing the pace of the game.
Bristol Bears had been prone to overplaying in the wrong areas last season and they seemed to fall back into that as Stade applied pressure. This pressure came to fruition as Madigan decided to run from his own 22 rather than exit and was turned over under the posts.
Stade take early lead
The visitors then got the ball wide to winger Etien, who had been their star performer this campaign, who rode the challenges to dot down in the corner in the 19th minute.
Bristol got lucky on multiple occasions as Stade gave away sloppy penalties over the ball which gave Madigan the opportunity to put the home side on the board.
The Bears’ lucky streak continued as Stade looked to clear after a Morahan break came to nothing and captain Steven Luatua charged down. The Australian winger was at hand to flick the ball of his toe and into his hands to score in the 26th minute against the run of play.
Before the half was up Madigan and Joris Segonds traded penalties with both sides returning to the sheds with the score 13-8 in favour of the hosts.
Bristol came out quickly after their talk with Lam at half time and for the first ten minutes of the half looked the better side.
However, a number of mistakes and turnovers, coming from isolated play, allowed Stade back into the game. Segonds took three points after they had threatened the line with Alex Arrate looking certain to score only to cut back inside.
The Bears’ faithful began to respond to their sides needs and helped shift momentum back towards the hosts. This forced Stade into stopping a driving maul illegally resulting in a yellow card for the visitors.
From the resulting lineout, the Bears backs piled in to the maul to drive Thacker over for their second score in the corner.
The yellow card period saw a late onslaught from with strong carries from Nathan Hughes and Chris Vui putting Bears in a good position for Piutau to dive over.
Bonus point secured
The Bears then secured the bonus point in the last play of the game after the forwards were unsuccessful with their pick and go’s so the ball was shipped wide. Piutau dazzled the defence with his feet and offloaded to replacement Fricker who squeezed in at the corner.
The Bears will now travel to Paris to face Stade again in the reverse fixture next week and can secure a home quarter final if they’re to get another bonus point win.
Bristol Bears: Piutau; Morahan, O’Conor, Bedlow, Leiua; Madigan, Randall; Woolmore, Thacker, Afoa, Attwood, Vui, Luatua, Jake Heenan, Hughes.
Replacements: Capon, Lay, Thomas, Holmes, Hamilton, Stirzaker, Lloyd, Fricker.
Stade Francais: Lapegue; Naivalu, Mapoe, Arrate, Etien; Segonds, Hall; Mavinga, Da Silva, Melikidze, Pyle, De Giovanni, Chapuis, Kordi, Godener.
Replacements: Latu, Camara, Tagi, Gabrillagues, Azagoh, Daguin, Danty, Tui.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images