Rugby Union: Bristol let off hook by Lee punch

London Scottish 29 Bristol 25
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AN ACT of madness has possibly cost London Scottish a place in the Premiership next season. In the first leg of a ruthless play-off against Bristol at the Athletic Ground yesterday, the Second Division club had their opponents by the throat, literally at times, before throwing away what appeared to be a decisive advantage.

The Exiles were leading 29-13 in the 62nd minute when their international full-back Derrick Lee flattened David Corkery with a full blooded left hook. It was the umpteenth off-the-ball incident in a match - so important to both clubs - which threatened to get out of control.

After Lee had been sent off, Bristol came back into the game and next Saturday will be confident of overhauling a four-point deficit in the second leg at the Memorial Ground.

"I was on the point of picking up the ball when I was elbowed in the jaw," Lee said. "It was the third time I had been hit and I just lost control. I regretted it the moment I did it."

It was regrettable not only for Lee but also for London Scottish. The full-back, selected for Scotland's tour of Australia, last night flew to Edinburgh to join the Scottish party. With the club unable to hold a hearing in the player's absence, it seems certain that the matter will be left in the hands of the RFU disciplinary committee. That means Lee will be able to fly out to Australia today.

With a lone piper raising the tartan spirit, the Exiles had outplayed Bristol for long periods but, reduced to 14 men, they conceded two tries in the last six minutes.

The first, by Kevin Maggs, resulted from another foolhardy act by David Millard. The Scottish had been awarded a penalty in front of the Bristol post and instead of kicking for goal, the scrum-half took a tap penalty, possession was fumbled and Bristol scored at the other end.

Bristol, who have won only two games this season, made the perfect start, Paul Hull scoring behind the posts from a well worked move. London Scottish responded with 21 points in 14 minutes.

Stirling work by Ronnie Eriksson, the Exiles' captain, led to a try by Conan Sharman. Eriksson, who was chosen for Scotland's tour party, has withdrawn from the trip because of a broken finger. The injury didn't stop him from playing yesterday and nor will it for the rematch on Saturday.

Eriksson's co-centre, Rhodri Davies, added a second try and Jamie Cameron brilliantly scored a third. With Lee, who had been floored by Craig Short in a late assault in the 18th minute (it earned the flanker a yellow card) converting all three, London Scottish opened up a 21-7 lead. When Simon Holmes went over for another try midway through the second half it looked as if the West Country side were destined to drop out of the top flight for the first time in their illustrious history. There were times yesterday when they looked like a Second Division side.

London Scottish: Tries Sharman, Davies, Cameron, Holmes. Conversions Lee 3. Penalty Lee. Bristol: Tries Hull, Maggs, Chesney. Conversions Burke 2. Penalties Burke 2.

London Scottish: D Lee; R Todd, R Davies, R Eriksson (capt; J Bonney, 75), C Sharman; J Cameron, D Millard (S Cook, 79); P Johnstone (M MacDonald, 66), J Allan, P Burnell, R Hunter, M Watson, S Fenn, C Tarbuck, S Holmes.

Bristol: P Hull; K Chesney (A Larkin, 80), S Martin, K Maggs, B Breeze, P Burke, R Jones (capt; G Baber, 37), M Morgan (J Wring, 63), F Landeau (K Dunn, 70), K Fullman, C Eagle, T Devergie (P Adams, 51), E Rollitt (J Brownrigg, 51), C Short, D Corkery.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).