Rugby Union: Knibbs steps out as winter warmer

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The Independent Online
Bristol. .21

Newport. .16

THIS might appear to be the silly season so far as club rugby is concerned, but round about the middle of the long league break in England the main concern is to keep ticking over. First Division status is all important and Bristol, although better placed than most to steer clear of the four-lane highway that ends in a drop, cannot afford to go cold.

In this respect, they are worse off. They have a free day when the leagues start up again on 9 January and, since beating Orrell last month, will have gone 12 weeks without sampling a drop of Courage action by the time they travel to Harlequins on 13 February. Running on reserve is a real danger.

Bristol, though, were missing some vital components. Andy Blackmore is a Lanzarote-bound lock with England and prop Alan Sharpe has been summoned to a Murrayfield trial. In league terms, Bristol's four wins to Newport's five suggested a certain parity, but on paper at any rate the Welshmen look stronger.

Frankly, it was not long before the chilly faithful present were fearing the worst. But Bristol had a secret weapon tucked up their sleeve. Without Mark Tainton to kick their goals, they turned to Ralph Knibbs and his nibs certainly did them proud during a sticky opening spell during which Newport appeared to be making all the winning noises.

Before the start Knibbs had been out rehearsing his Christmas role, which the crowd initially greeted as something of a panto. Seriously, though, he kept Bristol in the hunt with three first-half penalties from four attempts. It was a remarkable feat considering that since making his first-team debut as a 17-year-old 12 seasons ago Knibbs had only ever landed five penalties.

'I had no idea what my kicking record was,' Knibbs said after sailing past 500 points in his 368th game for the club. Which is hardly surprising bearing in mind that the majority of his points have come from the 111 tries he has put past opponents. Meanwhile, Saturday's piece de resistance was reserved for the second half.

By the break, Newport were leading 13-9 thanks to tries from Alun Carter and Andy Lewis plus a Jason Williams penalty. But Bristol struck back through the hard working wing David John and Knibbs even added the touchline conversion. Williams then potted another penalty to level the scores but Mark Regan, a hooker under pressure for much of the time in the tight, finally escaped for the winning try as Bristol began to motor.

Bristol: Tries John, Regan; Conversion Knibbs; Penalties Knibbs 3. Newport Tries Carter, Lewis; Penalties Williams 2.

Bristol: H Duggan; D John, R Knibbs, S Bennett, J Johnston; W Waghorn, R Kitchin; A Gunningham, M Regan, D Hinkins, P Stiff, J Morrison, I Patten, T Griffin, D Eves (capt).

Newport: S McCracken; I Jeffreys, K Orrell, M Yendle, A Lewis; J Williams, M Roderick; A Dibble, A Peacock, M Thomas, M Voyle, D Waters, C Scott, M Arthur, A Carter (capt).

Referee: A Savage (North Midlands).