Bristol Bears gave away an 18-point lead with 23 minutes to go to draw 34-34 with London Irish at the Brentford Community Stadium.
The Bears scored four first half tries and at one point found themselves 31-6 up with Siva Naulago crossing twice and Chris Vui and Piers O’Conor adding tries of their own.
But a late Steve Mafi try in the first half and three in the second from Theo Brophy-Clews, Nick Phipps and Tom Parton levelled the scores for Irish with Bristol managing just a lone Callum Sheedy penalty in the second half.
Pat Lam’s side come away from the game with three points, but the Bears director of rugby admitted it felt more like two points lost rather than three points gained.
Post match Lam quite rightly said it was a game of two halves which makes it arguably the hardest player ratings to give so far this season; rugby reporter Sam Bytheway takes a closer look at the individual performances:
15. Charles Piutau – 9
Charles Piutau’s first half performance was one of his best in a Bristol shirt in recent time, in fact maybe in any shirt, and was well worthy of a man of the match award, however BT Sport gave it to Irish’s replacement scrum half Nick Phipps.
Phipps was good but Piutau was better, playing rugby in a different stratosphere.
Piutau was a danger every time he touched the ball and showed outstanding skill numerous times throughout his 56 minute stint on the pitch.
The full-back was a threat from the opening minutes, intercepting a London Irish pass to break down field before a no look pass assisted Piers O’Conor.
He also threw some ridiculously good offloads, five in total and he added a second assist for Siva Naulago’s second try where he first bounced Ben Loader, before linking up outstandingly with the Fijian winger.
Piutau almost had a third assist late in first-half when Bedlow’s try was ruled out which capped an excellent display from a world class talent.
14. Luke Morahan – 6
With both his back three colleagues having outstanding games in attack, perhaps it was a mildly disappointing day in attack, with Morahan making just 13 metres in attack.
However, the Australian winger showed his defending capabilities with Morahan making a total of nine tackles, including a couple in key defensive areas.
13. Piers O’Conor – 6
It was a mixed performance for Piers O’Conor in London, with the centre showing attacking threat making 43 metres in attack from just 6 carries.
But despite making 11 tackles, the third most of any Bears player, O’Conor missed four tackles with the 25-year old being exposed by London Irish’s midfield and back three on a number of occasions.
Lam had clearly given him the roll of blitzing up in the outside centre channel to cut out the wide passes to London Irish’s dangerous speed merchants out wide but the hosts figured it out and adjusted with inside passes to runners who caused significant damage.
12. Sam Bedlow – 6
On his first start since December, Sam Bedlow was extremely lucky to complete the full eighty minutes as the centre was only sin binned for a late tip-tackle for Theo Brophy-Clews inside the first three minutes.
BT Sport’s commentators believed Bedlow should of seen red, but referee Karl Dickson and TMO Ian Tempest judged the offence to just be a sin-binning as Brothy-Clews marginally landed on the top of his back rather than his head.
During the period Bedlow was off the Bears scored 17 points and once the 25-year old returned he made up for his card by putting in a good performance.
Bedlow missed just one tackle, making eight and he was also strong in attack making 30 metres from two carries beating two defenders and finished his try scoring chance well, only for it to be ruled out through no fault of his own for an accidental offside in the build-up.
A good performance let down by his unnecessary yellow card.
11. Siva Naulago – 9
The rugby league convert fully announced his arrival in rugby union this weekend.
It was another very good performance which only extended the ever growing credentials of Siva Naulago.
Naulago added two tries to his season tally and showed differing qualities in both.
For the first, Naulago exceptionally read the pass of Blair Cowan to pick the ball and race 95 metres down field.
And for the second, the 29-year old linked up with Piutau down the left wing like the pair were telepathically connected before finishing the try well under pressure. However my favourite moment was an outrageous one handed pick up of the ball which he make look insanely easy.
He still has work to do on his defensive positioning, with the former league man drawn infield a number of times, but to give him credit Naulago did make 12 tackles, more than anyone except Dan Thomas in the Bristol Bears team.
The Fijian’s kick chasing was also superb, using his speed to get under the high ball.
192m in attack is simply staggering.
10. Callum Sheedy – 8
During the first half performance, Bristol Bears attacking shape was flowing and at times almost majestic and the key to this was Callum Sheedy.
Sheedy’s handling and the pace he brings to attack perfectly fits the Bears’ style of play and the way he gets his back three running is a joy to watch.
The Welshmen was also exceptional off the tee, kicking all four of his conversions and also showed his game management ability when he took a tap penalty and was denied a try after his drive to the line, however his quick thinking led to Chris Vui’s crossing.
9. Andy Uren – 6
It was a mixed performance from Andy Uren who played another full eighty minutes in the absence of Harry Randall.
In the first half Uren was lively in attack, controlling the tempo of the game in the favour of his side.
Uren also supported Charles Piutau well before assisting Piers O’Conor for the Bears opening try.
But it was his defence that let the 25-year old scrum-half down.
Uren missed 5 tackles, the most of any players on the pitch and he also conceded two turnovers for his side.
1. Yann Thomas – 6
Like his starting prop colleague Afoa, it was a strong,solid performance from Yann Thomas.
Thomas held his own in the scrum and despite a missed tackle that led to Steve Mafi’s try, he was good in defence with a total of 5 tackles made.
2. Will Capon – 7
Like Thomas and Afoa alongside him, it was a solid yet not sensational performance from Will Capon as he stepped into the starting berth in Bryan Byrne’s absence.
Capon looked a danger with ball-in hand on a few occasions and he also put himself about the park defensively making 6 tackles which included a monster hit on an Irish back.
The Bears line-out was shaky at times, but with Kloska struggling too perhaps the blame lies elsewhere.
3. John Afoa – 7
A solid forty-minute shift for the former All-Black, with Afoa showing all his qualities before he was replaced at the break.
Afoa carried strong, had parity with his opposite man at the scrum and was also impressive in defence, making four tackles across the first half.
Once he left the pitch, the Bears’ levels seemed to drop, showing the leadership and grit Afoa brings to this Bristol side.
4. Ed Holmes – 7
Filling Dave Attwood’s shoes after the Bristol-born second row was replaced by Holmes before kick-off was always going to be a tough ask, especially after Attwood’s recent performances but Holmes stepped in admirably.
Holmes didn’t miss a tackle during his full eighty-minute performance – making eight – as well as carrying hard with ball-in hand.
5. Chris Vui – 7
Like Holmes alongside him in the engine room, Chris Vui’s performance mainly revolved around his defensive display.
Vui made nine tackles and alongside this caused havoc at times for Irish at both the ruck and the maul.
The Samoan second row also showed exceptional strength to power over from close range for his first try of the season.
6. Steven Luatua (C) – 8
As strange as it sounds, the strength of Luatua’s performance was seen in the drop of the Bears levels when he was replaced with twenty minutes to go.
Although it wasn’t his best display in a Bristol shirt, Luatua still managed eight tackles without missing one and the Bears captain also earned is side a turnover as well as disrupting an Irish line-out in a dangerous position.
Once Luatua left the field, Bristol seemingly lacked control and leadership and this just shows how key the former All-Black is to Pat Lam’s side.
Got isolated and turned over a couple of times which perhaps shows a bit of ring rust after being out for a couple of weeks with a calf injury.
7. Dan Thomas – 8
When you look down the tackle stats for a Bristol game, there is no surprise when you see Dan Thomas in and around the most tackles for the game and once again he topped the tackle charts against Irish.
In total the Welsh back-row made fourteen tackles, missing just one as well as winning his side a turnover.
Thomas’s displays in recent months make you think he can’t be far away from an international call-up as he consistently puts his body on the line for the shirt he’s wearing
8. Mitch Eadie – 6
Making his first start of the season after sub appearances against Worcester and Northampton, Mitch Eadie showed he is still a quality Premiership performer and potentially a key asset to this Bristol Bears side.
Eadie was strong in attack making 59 metres while beating four defenders in the process.
The Bristolian was also strong in defence, making nine tackles without missing one.
The back-rows performance was let down slightly by a yellow card which although harsh, seemed entirely avoidable.
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16. George Kloska (on for Capon 66‘) – 6
17. Jake Woolmore (on for Thomas 53‘) – 6
18. Jake Armstrong (on for Afoa 40‘) – 5
19. John Hawkins (Unused) – N/A
20. Jake Heenan (on for Luatua 59‘) – 6
21. Tom Kessell (Unused ) – N/A
22. Ioan Lloyd (on for Piutau 56‘) – 7
23. Alapati Leiua (on for 69‘) – 6
It is difficult to argue that the performances of the Bears “impact players” that led to their downfall against London Irish.
Competing against a bench that boasts 254 international caps between them is always going to be a tough ask, but the impact the Bears subs had will have disappointed Pat Lam.
Although no player was distinctly at fault, the substitutions of key players led to a fall in performance levels from the 15 on the field.
In the front-row, both the scrum and line-out struggled with Jake Armstrong giving away three scrum penalties and George Kloska having issues at the line.
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