Rugby Union: Eves smarts after Bristol are stung

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Bristol 24 Wasps 25 The game is a-changing. Pub pundits are being invited to discuss either the flatter, faster passing philosophy that has been enthusiastically transported from Australia by such as Clive Woodward, or the Pierre Villepreux creed of attacking spaces rather than defenders. And all the time the fitness and skill levels of the players are moving ever upwards.

So there was plenty to discuss in this sweeping encounter in which, by way of sideshows, the rival back rows were making national selection points, the long-term plans of the two coaches were making some hesitant progress, and both teams could feel aggrieved at losing.

In spite of the predictions that there would be a divide between three or four elite clubs at the top and the rest, results are generally close enough to make a thing of memory the crowds drifting away with 10 minutes still to play. Unless injuries dictate otherwise, there will be no easy games in the second half of the season.

Against Gloucester a week ago, Bristol lost by just two points in 36 and could have won the match with a penalty from Mark Tainton in injury time. At home to Wasps, they went down by one point in 49 and again Tainton could have turned it round if a difficult kick into the difficult wind had succeeded.

While Derek Eves, Bristol's captain and often sole playmaker, played scrum-half, stand-off and centre as well as flanker during Saturday's game at the Memorial Ground, he turned schoolmaster afterwards, locking the dressing- room door to spell out his 'must do better' message.

That left Brian Hanlon, Bristol's New Zealand coach, fuming outside and spitting tacks about 'atrocious' and 'appalling' refereeing, inconsistency with the application of the laws, and refusing to accept the penalty-try decision. 'We were refereed out of a win,' he said.

His opposite number, the Bristolian Rob Smith, did not quite see things that way. Wasps, he said, were involved in the five-year development of a game requiring new attitudes and approaches and hungry for league success this season.

They had the game sewn up with the wind in the first 20 minutes of the second half when the overlaps, gaps and threats left Bristol gasping and Rob Andrew to both direct and kick punishingly for position.

Then they let Bristol back into the game, Andy Blackmore disrupting a not exactly soaring Norm Hadley in the line-out, collectively matching the excellent Wasps back row, and fighting for their territory.

The difference, however, was quite clear. Outside the packs, Wasps were fearsomely threatening, while Bristol were long on tradesmen, short on craftsmen.

Bristol: Tries Patten, Williams; Conversion Tainton; Penalties Tainton 4.

Wasps: Tries penalty, Ufton, Pilgrim; Conversions Andrew 2; Penalties Andrew 2.

Bristol: P Hull; G Sharp, R Knibbs, D Wring, A Williams; M Tainton, K Bracken; A Sharp, M Regan, D Hinkins, P Stiff, A Blackmore, C Barrow, I Patten (T Griffin, 79), D Eves (capt).

Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, G Childs, D Hopley, S Pilgrim; R Andrew, S Bates; D Molloy, P Delaney, J Probyn, M Greenwood, N Hadley, L Dallaglio, D Ryan (capt), C Wilkins.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).