Carling and Quins have last laugh

Bristol 25 Harlequins 31
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ONE thing is quite certain, hardly a day goes by at the moment without rugby making the headlines and the talk yesterday at the Memorial Ground before this pulsating league match was whether Bristol are about to provide England with a new captain. Fine timing, too, considering Harlequins and Will Carling were in town.

At any rate, no one here could confirm whether or not Kyran Bracken was about to step into Carling's shoes, least of all the scrum-half himself, who was keeping tight-lipped. Watch this space, as they say, though the hard news concerning Bracken was that he has given up the day job - legal training, that is - so you read what you like into that.

On the pitch, meanwhile, it was Bracken who reminded Carling of his presence with some fine support play as Bristol enjoyed fun in the sun after David Pears had missed a penalty attempt from 40 yards out. Too much chat from Quins and quick thinking by Bristol resulted in a lesson for the visitors and joy for the locals.

Having been marched back 10 yards by Daniel Gillett, a French referee who obviously had an ear for an English curse or two, Quins failed to contain a Bristol tap penalty move started on the right. Dean Wring made ground and, after Nick Smith and Ian Patten had played support roles, Bracken picked up and dived over on the left.

Bristol continued to pick up the points as Mark Tainton, looking over his shoulder now that Arwel Thomas has joined Bristol from Neath, converted Bracken's try and then landed a penalty.

The Quins answer followed a line-out, a big hole opening up in the middle of the Bristol defence and Daren O'Leary making good his escape to score on the left. Tainton and Pears next swapped penalties, which left Bristol to go into the break leading by 13-8.

Yet Carling and company had the last laugh, Carling in every sense, in a nail-biting finish once Will Greenwood and Martin Corry had had their tries converted. Two penalties from Pears and a Spencer Bromley try after Carling's long break put Quins 26-20 ahead.

Paul Hull, though, somehow weaved a path to the line and while there were groans when Tainton missed the conversion, it mattered little in the end. An interception try from O'Leary preserved Quins' all-conquering record.

Bristol: P Hull (capt); K Maggs, N Smith, D Wring, J Keyter; M Tainton, K Bracken; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, G Archer, R Armstrong, M Corry, I Patten.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, W Carling, W Greenwood, S Bromley; D Pears, R Kitchin (capt); S Brown, B Moore, A Mullins, A Snow, P Thresher, M Russell, C Sheasby, R Jenkins.

Referee: D Gillett (France).