Rugby Union: Bristol puff but are less than chuffed

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The Independent Online
Bristol. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

Orrell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

MORE THAN a quarter of the way through the league programme and Bristol are firmly installed as the No 3 club in England after a game against Orrell which they could have won by another 20 points. However, according to their Kiwi coach, Brian Hanlon, the post-victory atmosphere in the home dressing-room was more like a wake than a celebration.

The Bristol engine, its pack, is big and powerful and other coaches would envy the smooth delivery of possession it is able to supply. But the half-back gearbox, despite the busy style of Mark Chudleigh, standing in for Kyran Bracken, the man they rely on so much, lacks synchromesh.

And the back wheels - or should that be centre wheels? - have a worrying tendency to fall off. Bristol also missed the blind-side flanker Bob Armstrong, out with a broken left thumb but expected back for either Wasps at the end of the month or Leicester on Fireworks Day. Craig Barrow is good, Royal Marine Armstrong is better.

So a glorious afternoon, when the celsius temperature matched Bristol's score, belonged to just one man, Derek Eves, captain for five years. He was making his 250th appearance, scored the first two tries, was unchallenged man of the match and, in addition to leading from the flank of the scrum, looked sharper than the centre-threequarters with the ball in his hands.

Orrell, also missing an England scrum-half, their captain, Dewi Morris, still managed to look sharper when forced to run every scrap of hard, sometimes abrasively won possession. They have two good playmakers in Gerry Ainscough at stand-off and Simon Langford at full-back, but are clearly half a league away from the top of the First Division.

'It is said that we have a First Division forward line and a Second Division back line,' said a remarkably forthright Hanlon, who added that this had been Bristol's worst game of the season. 'But I do not go along with that, we are just not clicking. We did against Sale and I am waiting to get it together again.

'The next training session will be a tough one. Of course we are practising the handling moves, but they were breaking down under pressure. The wrong options were being taken. Bristol have a knack of playing up to good opposition and down to bad opposition.'

Bristol: Tries Eves 2, Denney; Conversion Tainton; Penalty Tainton. Orrell: Penalties Langford 3.

Bristol: P Hull; D John, M Denney, N Matthews, G Sharp; M Tainton, M Chudleigh; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, A Blackmore, C Barrow, I Patten, D Eves (capt).

Orrell: S Langford (capt); J Naylor, I Wynn, P Johnson, A Healey; G Ainscough, D Topping; J Russell, A Redmond, A Rimmer, C Cooper, C Brierley, D Cleary (S Hayter, 55), S Bibby, P Manley.

Referee: C Henderson (Kelso).