Harlequins 3 Bristol 17: Age is no barrier as Bristol's old guard set sights on Paris glory

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The Independent Online

They are no oil paintings, but Bristol head coach Richard Hill's collection of old masters is proving priceless. There were seven 30-somethings on duty at the Twickenham Stoop where Bristol ended a dismal away run with their first victory since January.

In playing terms they are borderline rugby antiques, but Bristol's old 'uns earned praise from former All Black Andrew Blowers, himself an over-30.

"I think this has to be the side with the most players over 30 that I have ever been involved with," said No8 Blowers. "I haven't been with the team that long, but I do think this is a special bunch of guys.

"I reckon that when it comes to the crunch games, the really big ones, having our front row (Regan and Crompton, both 35) and the likes of Gareth Llewellyn (38) in the pack counts. Those sorts of games you need guys who know how to win them."

Apart from ending that long run of away defeats, the victory, in appalling conditions, also kept alive Bristol's hopes of reaching the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.

They face Harlequins in the Pool Three return at home on Sunday, but then in the New Year have to tackle Stade Franais in Paris. But Blowers reckons the West Country club could pull off the unexpected.

"Playing any French team away from home is going to be very tough," said Blowers, who produced a near immaculate performance in the driving rain and on a treacherous surface. "But if you ask any player you have to believe you can go there and win, whatever their record at home. If it comes down to having to beat Stade then I'm going to go out there believing that if we play to our best then we can win in Paris."

First though they have to beat Quins again and one thing is for sure, Hill and his old masters are unlikely to be met with as sloppy a performance second time around. They are unlikely to find an uncovered channel to the line which let in Alfie To'oala for their first try, nor will they be presented with a soft interception try, like the one which let in David Lemi for the second of their three touchdowns.

"That was our worst performance in my two and a half years here," said Dean Richards, the London club's director of rugby. "It is impossible to pinpoint any one thing. It is partially a loss of form, we have also played against some good sides, we have played in some awful conditions. we have also played with some terrible referees. On days like today you appreciate how good Premiership referees are."

Scorers: Harlequins: Drop Goal Care. Bristol: Tries To'oala, Lemi, Arscott; Conversion Hill.

Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams (N Spanghro, 58-68; T Masson, 68), D Strettle, D W Barry, U Monye; A Jarvis, D Care (S So'oialo, 61); C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 61), M Ross, O Kohn (N Spanghro, 68), J Evans, C Hala'Ufia, P Volley (capt; W Skinner, 68), N Easter.

Bristol: L Arscott; L Robinson (S Cox,34), R Higgitt, N Brew, D Lemi; D Hill, S Perry; A Clarke (D Crompton, 61-72), M Regan (D Blaney, 76), J Hobson (D Crompton, 72), R Winters, S Hohneck, M Salter (capt), A To'oala (J El Abd, 54), A Blowers.

Referee: P Allen (Scotland).

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