Rugby Union: Bristol squander the chance to go top

Bristol 20 Calvisano 6
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THE FRENCH, we are told, are not minded to take the European Shield seriously, while the Italian clubs are not good enough to be seriously competitive. Bristol's coach, Bob Dwyer, has insisted that his players ignore these assessments, arguing that the Shield is a serious foundation stone, as he continues the building process that began when Bristol won promotion to Division One of the Premiership last May.

In almost impossibly difficult playing conditions at the Memorial Stadium yesterday, Bristol never really established control against Calvisano, who policed the midfield effectively, snuffed out the threat of Jamie Mayer and Spencer Brown, and scrummaged well throughout. In the second half, Calvisano waxed stronger as Bristol lost their way and missed out on the chance to go top of Pool A on points over Begles-Bordeaux.

It will be a more accurate measure of how far Bristol have travelled under Dwyer, when they meet Gloucester on Saturday. They will be obliged to do so without Brown, who broke a rib, though they will look forward to welcoming back Henry Honiball and Agustin Pichot, whose control at half-back was sadly missed.

It did not take Bristol long to make the first dent in the Italians' defence, Adam Vander and Craig Short testing their resolve in the tackle as they drove and rolled to the posts. No try resulted, but the danger signals were clear. When Bristol next got a sniff of the Calvisano line, Barry Williams was driven over for the opening try, in a manner suggesting there was more to follow. It proved to be a mirage.

While for the most part the Italians were on the back foot, they also had a raging wind at their backs, which their outside-half David Hill exploited at every opportunity. Hill kept Bristol pegged back in their own territory with some booming kicks, allowing Gert Peens to judge the gale to perfection and slot two penalties from 35 metres wide on the left.

This made it 10-6 to Bristol, Vile having converted Williams' try to add to an earlier penalty. With the Italians growing in confidence and Bristol making a rash of elementary errors, Calvisano could and should have gone ahead. But Peens, with two penalty shots - both from easier positions than from where he had earlier succeeded - missed with them both. Vile then missed with a penalty as the half closed, so Bristol had to be content to turn round with a four-point advantage. With surer handling it would have been more.

What we did not know at this stage was that all the meaningful rugby - except a splendid try for the creative Adam Vander, converted by Vile, who also kicked a penalty - had been played. All that was left for those shivering in hope for something to warm them was a couple of brawls, yellow cards for both Calvisano props, and the same for Dean Ryan and Ockert Booyse.

While it was never a dirty contest, the referee's patience broke in the 80th minute, and Massimo Cuttitta's replacement, Mauro Vaghi, was dismissed for punching and was handed a 21-day ban for his pains.

Bristol: Tries Williams, Vander; Conversions Vile 2; Penalties Vile 2. Calvisano: Penalties Peen 2.

Bristol: Marsden; L Nabaro, P Whittaker, J Mayer, S Brown (M Back, 29, M Salter, 67); S Vile, G Baber; P Johnstone, B Williams, D Crompton (P Lemoine, 70), O Booyse, D Ryan (capt), C Short (C Evans, 52), A Vander, J Brownrigg (S Morgan, 80).

Calvisano: M Ravazzolo; G Peens, M Tamati, C Zanoletti, P Scanziani (S Arboit 78); D Hill (Marcello Cuttitta, 45), J Dragotto; Massimo Cuttitta (capt, M Vaghi 71), A Marengoni, D Davo (L Castigilia H-T), S Racca (L Mastrodomenico, 53), G Croci (D. Beretta, 64), C Meyerhofler, E Meneses (Massimo Cuttitta 80), D Stead.

Referee: F Maciello (France).