Bristol comeback stuns Exiles

By Paul Higham  

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Bristol produced a superb second-half display to claim a 23-11 victory against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.

Tries from David Lemi and Lee Robinson (pictured) and 13 points from Jason Strange's boot allowed the visitors to come from 11-3 down at half-time.

The Exiles had dominated the opening 40 minutes but had only a Kieran Roche try and two Riki Flutey penalties to show for their efforts.

Bristol were pinned in their own half during the early exchanges as the home pack made a strong start to their first appearance in Reading this season.

The solitary try of the first period arrived on 23 minutes as Mike Catt's vision opened up the visitors' defence.

The England centre's first long pass allowed Topsy Ojo to burst down the right flank leaving his opposing wing Christopher Morgan in his wake, before being hauled down deep inside Bristol territory.

With the visitors defence now concentrated on the right, Catt immediately threw another long pass the other way to allow Olivier Magne to put his back-row colleague Roche in for an unopposed run to the line.

Worse followed for Bristol as flanker Joe El Abd was stretchered from the field with a dislocated ankle to be replaced by Alfie To'oala.

Bristol finally got on the board courtesy of Strange's 34th minute penalty but, having lived on the fringes of the law at the breakdown throughout the opening half, referee Rob Debney finally lost patience with their spoiling tactics.

Prop Dave Hilton was sent to the sin-bin for failing to roll away from the tackle area and Flutey slotted the resulting penalty to take the Exiles to the break with a 11-3 lead.

But having dominated the opening 40 minutes, it went badly wrong for the hosts after the break.

Strange reduced the deficit to 11-6 with his second penalty before Exiles' hooker Danie Coetzee was sent to the sin-bin for cynically halting scrum-half Shaun Perry from taking advantage of a quick tap penalty.

While Coetzee was off the field, Bristol took the lead for the first time with another Strange penalty and a converted try from Lemi.

The try came from nothing as London Irish full-back Delon Armitage had a woeful chip ahead picked off in midfield and Lemi was sent in for long-range run to the line.

Strange stroked the touchline conversion for a 16-11 lead and his side seized on that momentum to take total control.

Only a superb last-ditch tackle from home scrum-half Paul Hodgson prevented Robinson scoring in the 61st minute, but the wing made no mistake four minutes later.

Sam Cox floated a pass across the Exiles' defensive line to allow Robinson to come onto the ball at pace and touch down in the right corner.

Replays suggested Cox's pass went marginally forward but Strange slotted another conversion for a 23-11 and some strong defence during the final stages ensured Bristol secured their second win of the season.

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