Harry Thacker and Gabriel Ibitoye scored tries for Bristol Bears, and though Josh Bassett and Cadan Murley replied with tries for Harlequins, a final-minute tackle by Bristol’s AJ MacGinty saved a certain try, forcing an Andre Esterhuizen knock-on near the try-line to confirm victory
Last Updated: 27/12/22 7:44pm
Bristol defied a second-half onslaught from Harlequins to claim a 15-12 victory at Twickenham Stoop that lifts them off the foot of the Gallagher Premiership.
Despite relentless pressure from Quins, who dominated just about every metric other than the scoreboard, the Bears held out through a mighty defensive performance that produced its finest moment in the final two minutes.
Andre Esterhuizen appeared to be racing in the decisive try only for AJ MacGinty to tap tackle the South Africa centre before Tom Whiteley dislodged the ball from his arms as he slid over the line.
It protected Bristol’s slender lead that looked sure to be overturned once wing Cadan Murley had plundered a brilliant try with 23 minutes left amid a half of one-way traffic.
In the first half a significant scuffle broke out when Quins’ Joe Marler appeared to provoke Bristol openside Jake Heenan, who was clearly incensed by what the England prop had said.
Bears captain Steven Luatua urged Karl Dickson to take action and while the referee declined, revenge came when Gabriel Ibitoye produced a powerful finish soon after to extend the interval lead to 15-5.
Bristol’s win came without Ellis Genge, who was attending the birth of his second child, and reversed the recent trend of falling to fightbacks staged by their opponents from London.
Semi Radradra made an early impression, although not for the dynamic running skills that have been lost to the Bears for most of the season because of a knee injury.
First a tackle on Will Evans ended the openside’s afternoon inside the opening minute before another challenge left Tommy Allan needing treatment.
By the end of the first quarter it was a try apiece with Harry Thacker crossing to finish a line-out maul before Quins replied when Josh Bassett slid over with centre Esterhuizen prominent in the build up.
Bristol led 10-5 through MacGinty’s kicking but the hosts were engineering all the attack, with Joe Marchant almost touching down after leaping high to collect a Danny Care kick.
The steady drizzle that had fallen for the opening 30 minutes intensified but Quins still looked to stretch the visitors’ defence with Esterhuizen particularly effective.
Dickson spoke to captains Alex Dombrandt and Luatua after the packs clashed for the second time in quick succession.
Bristol were awarded the penalty following the scuffle and they used it well, striking off the line-out through Ibitoye who stepped inside and showed power to score.
Ibitoye then produced a try-saving tackle on Care in the left corner as Quins made a rousing start to the second half, and the hosts gathered momentum as they hammered away at the Bristol line.
Only courageous Bears defence was keeping them at bay but it finally cracked in the 58th minute when Care hoisted a kick to Murley and the wing used footwork and a burst of acceleration to beat three tacklers.
It was becoming easier to play without the ball as the rain lashed down, but still the hosts pressed for the try and their prospects improved when Ibitoye was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Esterhuizen.
Esterhuizen was stopped with seconds remaining as Bristol celebrated victory, but the entire second half had been one long act of stubborn refusal to concede.