Rees sprints to put giant-killing beyond Bristol

Bristol 33 - Wasps 43
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The Independent Online

The spirit of glories past swirled across the Memorial Ground as Bristol came within a whisker of pulling off a wonderful giant-killing act over Wasps yesterday.

The spirit of glories past swirled across the Memorial Ground as Bristol came within a whisker of pulling off a wonderful giant-killing act over Wasps yesterday.

The ground reverberated to ecstatic locals' screams when the home fly-half Jason Strange thumped over a 43-metre penalty in the 86th minute of the match. The kick signalled the end of normal time, and there followed a pulsating 20 minutes of extra play.

That penalty had come about as a result of a rash moment from Wasps' openside flanker Tom Rees, who late-tackled Bernardo Stortoni. The England Under-21 player made up for that rush of blood to the head with an opportunistic try from a lung-bursting 35-metre run in the 16th minute of added time.

Mark van Gisbergen, who had already been successful with five out of five penalties, retained his 100 per cent record with a fourth conversion. It was enough to drain the last drop of resistance from an exhausted home team.

Wasps, who had beaten Bristol a lot more easily at the same stage of the Powergen Cup last year before crashing out to another National League One side, the Pertemps Bees, in the quarter-finals, had arrived with a lot of their first choice players either rested or sidelined through injury.

Their team coach was involved in a scrape with a car on its way into the ground and although they pulled into an early lead they allowed Bristol to drag themselves back into the tie at 10-10. They also had their tighthead prop Henry Nwume yellow-carded, just before Bristol drew level.

That happened after a quarter of an hour, when for a brief and crazy spell Boxing Day came early and the front rows - and within nanoseconds the remainder of the two packs - exchanged punches rather than presents. Nwume, perhaps a trifle harshly, paid for everyone's else's sins with 10 minutes in the sin bin.

It was a little while longer before Bristol breached the Wasps defence with a splendid try by their hulking No 8 Jim Brownrigg, who, fed by the scrum-half Ross Blake following a penalty line-out, shimmied through what cover there was and sprawled over the line. Strange converted.

That squared up the tie, but only for five minutes. Wasps were permitted a forward pass to Lawrence Dallaglio in an otherwise unpromising move and were suddenly able to open up to send over the former Bristol player Josh Lewsey.

When Tom Voyce sprinted through with half-time looming it looked a formality for the Premiership champions, who had opened up a 14-point lead. That was trimmed before the interval with Strange's second penalty and another kick by the Bristol fly-half early in the second half further ruffled the visitors.

Then Strange's attempted chip over the advancing defence took a deflection off a Wasps player's back and the alert Bristol centre Rob Higgitt collected the ball and ran through unopposed. Strange converted that and Bristol's third try six minutes later, when Stortoni appeared from deep in his own half to collect the ball and slash through to the line. The conversion of that score brought Bristol level for the second time in the match.

Bristol kept out a shellshocked Wasps for a further quarter of an hour before rattling the Wycombe-based side again when Strange knocked over his third penalty. At that point Wasps regrouped, levelled matters with a penalty of their own then eased ahead again through their full-back's flawless kicking.

But Bristol never gave up, eventually doing enough to rattle young Rees. His moment of madness led to 20 minutes of tension for both teams and the 9,542 crowd, Bristol's biggest of the season.

Bristol: Tries Brownrigg, Higgitt, Stortoni; Conversions Strange 3; Penalties Strange 4. Wasps: Tries Biljon, Lewsey, Voyce, Rees; Conversions Van Gisbergen 4; Penalties Van Gisbergen 5.

Bristol: B Stortoni; S Marsden, R Higgitt (A Billig, 5-13, 58-59), S Cox (Billig, 89), L Nabaro; J Strange, R Blake; D Hilton (A Clarke, 68), S Nelson (N Clark, 68), D Crompton (capt), O Kohn, O Hodge, E Pearce, J Brownrigg, C Morgan.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, S Abbott (P Richards, 26), R Hoadley, T Voyce; J Brooks, H Biljon (D Cipriani, 100); A McKenzie, B Gotting (J Barrett, 68), H Nwume (W Green, 87), J Hart, G Skivington (R Birkett, 53), L Dallaglio (capt), J Haskell, T Rees.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Gloucestershire).