Bristol stepped off the table with a tenacious win over Harlequins, thanks in large part to Gabriel Ibetoye’s moment of magic against his former team, plenty of missed chances for their hosts and all in one of their probably best flicks ever. to see.
Harlequins were absolutely dominant in the second half in terms of space and possession but could not find an advantage. The weather was not favorable but Bristol weathered the storm until it looked like Andre Esterhuizen was in the clear and certain to score with almost a minute remaining. AJ MacGinty had second thoughts, however, and clipped his heel at full stretch, forcing the Springbok to fumble and allowing Tom Whiteley to force the ball out of his grasp before his momentum took him over the line. When things like that conflict with you, suffice it to say that this is not your day. For Bristol, it was called revenge for the semi-final defeat in 2021 from which they never recovered.
Earlier Ibitoye had put Bristol well ahead, continuing his fine form of recent times after overcoming injury problems upon his first arrival in the Western country. It came in the first half – Bristol, playing in wind and rain, didn’t score a point in the second half and never looked likely – but it was the extravagance of the Harlequins that didn’t matter. It would be easy to say that Harlequins weren’t entirely at fault on the manicured lawn at Twickenham – where this match was supposed to take place – but it’s no excuse and it hurts Bristol. They haven’t won the league since September and when they are at races like this, wins like that are hard to come by.
They took a well-deserved 10-point lead at half-time after a poor first half in which Harlequins only threatened when Esterhuizen managed to make an impact in the visitors’ defence. They lost Ellis Genge before kick-off – absent from England to attend the birth of his second child – but began as a team desperate to climb off the table.
The Harlequins were not helped when Will Evans, who has had a lot of injury trouble lately, was substituted less than a minute later after a hard collision with Semi Radradra and soon after, MacGinty kicked the opening penalty. Harry Thacker boosted the driving charge, after the Bristol hooker won a penalty halfway through, from the advantage.
The Harlequins pressed the gear then and after countless stages and with Esterhuizen’s standout appearance, Josh Bassett finished well into the left corner to continue his fine start to life after the Wasps. Tommy Allan missed the conversion and then Joe Marchant’s try was disallowed after doing all the hard work with Danny Kerr’s guess kick, with the Harlequins playing advantage, but failed to put the ball down after rising high to collect it.
Things turned nasty when Joe Marler appeared to lure Jake Heenan in reaction just minutes before taking a penalty for Harlequins when Care got too hot under the collar. Bristol took full advantage by passing the ball wide to Ibetoye, who had space to cut in from the left and finish off a fine attempt.
Harlequins, with the wind at their backs, were in the lead at the restart but Care was denied a good result – again after countless stages – simply for touching off the left. They kept pressing, and despite coughing up a slippery ball when well placed on more than one occasion, it was Kerr who set up the second try on the hour mark, kicking across the field to Cadan Morley.
Bristol held their ground – aided by some poor handling of the Harlequins – until six minutes remaining, but Allan opted for a corner penalty rather than go for the three points which would have leveled the scores. Another victory left in sight for the visitors. That was until referee Karl Dixon discovered an infringement and sent Ibitoye into the sin-box for a hard tackle on Esterhuizen. However, the line-up went awry, and with the last chance the Harlequins had, MacGinty and Whiteley combined to deny them.
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