A hat-trick of tries by Bristol centre Daryl Gibson kept alive what faint hopes remain of the West Country team reaching the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.
But despite its electrifying start it was not a great match, the scoreline flattering the losers. Bristol defended superbly and attacked, when the referee's whistle permitted them to, with pace and panache but as spectacles go this was of the mystifying and misted-up variety.
How Swansea managed to edge out Bristol in the first Pool Four meeting last week remains a mystery, rather like many of referee Paul McDowell's decisions. Peter Thorburn, the Bristol head coach, gave McDowell credit for his control of the game. "There was no nonsense, there were no fights and no scores from last week being settled. I think he handled it quite well."
But a reversed penalty left Thorburn confused and other decisions had the Home fans howling their derision. At least they were partially mollified by the sight of their side crossing the opposition line on five occasions, which, should it come to a countback for qualification as one of the best runners-up.
In one respect the match got off to a similar start to the first encounter, but this time it was Bristol's turn and Gibson's opening try, converted by Shane Drahm, was certainly worth more than Gavin Henson's drop goal at St Helen's last week.
The match was just 26 seconds old when Gibson struck. "That try broke their heart," said Thorburn. "It knocked them back on their arse." And they did not really get back on the feet after that.
All the creativity came from Bristol. Gibson's second try saw slick handling from forwards and backs before the New Zealander was put over.
Agustin Pichot and Drahm directed affairs clinically throughout from halfback and the pair of them ensured him his third try after 47 minutes, by which time Swansea were well out of the match and out of contention for anything else in the tournament as well.
In addition Drahm and fullback Lee Best's kicking from hand was unerringly accurate and, from a Swansea standpoint, sickeningly long.
And when the ball was not collecting snow after Drahm had put his boot to it, then it was being scuffed over the cold pitch, through the sluggish defenders, to put outside centre Andrew Higgins through for Bristol's third try some 90 seconds into the second half. Pichot then rounded off the move of the match which saw Bristol run the ball from deep in their own half before the Puma powered his way over from 15 metres.
Swansea's late rally was sparked chiefly by former Wales international fly-half Arwel Thomas, who had replaced the ineffectual Henson after an hour. But while Thomas collected a try and a couple of goals it was merely tokenism. Bristol had done enough by then.
Bristol: Tries Gibson 3, Higgins, Pichot; Conversions Drahm 2; Penalties Drahm 4.
Swansea: Tries Henson, Farley, A Thomas; Conversion A Thomas; Penalties Henson, A Thomas.
Bristol: L Best (J Williams, 79); D Rees, A Higgins, D Gibson, P Christophers; S Drahm (M Carrington, 71), A Pichot (P Richards, 71); D Crompton (A Crompton, 59), P Johnstone (S Nelson, 54), J White, G Archer (capt; S Morgan, 66), A Brown, M Salter (B Sturnham, 46), R Beattie, R Oakley.
Swansea: S Payne; R Rees, M Taylor, S Gibbs (S Winn, 80), M Robinson; G Henson (A Thomas, 63), S Cordingley (R Jones, 63); D Morris (capt; D Dorsey, 69), C Balshen (C Wells, 75), B Evans, J Slade, A Farley, D Thomas (J Thomas, 60), J Bater, C Charvis (R Francis, 80).
Referee: S McDowell (Ireland).
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