Another Ashton Gate nightmare for Saints as Bristol Bears rack up half-century again

Saints endured another Ashton Gate horror show as the Gallagher Premiership table-toppers were thrashed 52-21 by Bristol Bears on Friday night
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Little more than a year after they suffered their record Premiership defeat at the same ground, the black, green and gold endured more misery at the home of the Bears.

Bristol made the most of some early errors to move into a 17-0 lead and though Ollie Sleightholme scored two superb tries for Saints, they were never really at the races.

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Instead, they continued to ship tries at an alarming rate as they returned from the break from league action in terribly sluggish fashion.

Harry Randall scored for Bristol during the first half (photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)Harry Randall scored for Bristol during the first half (photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Harry Randall scored for Bristol during the first half (photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Saints had gone into the game sitting seven points clear at the top of the Premiership but they struggled to get out of the blocks.

Just as the game kicked off, the rain came pouring down, with both sides getting soaked in the opening stages.

Bristol lost an early lineout and also conceded a penalty at the scrum, but Saints were unable to take advantage of the early territory and possession.

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And the bad start on the attacking front was followed by a nightmare at the other end as Archie McParland, on his first Premiership start, saw his kick charged down and Joe Batley gathered to score.

AJ MacGinty easily converted to make it 7-0 early on to the Bears, who had scored from their first venture into Saints' half.

It was turning into a tough start for McParland as he tackled a man without the ball after struggling to get the ball out from a Saints scrum, giving Bristol a great attacking platform.

Lewis Ludlam managed to hold the hosts up over the line but it was only a temporary reprieve as Bristol kept coming, winning a penalty, which MacGinty slotted.

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At 10-0 down, Saints were desperate to get a foothold in the game, but Bristol soon carved them open with ease as Harry Randall finished off a flowing counter-attack.

The final pass could possibly have been forward, but referee Craig Maxwell-Keys saw nothing wrong with it and the try was given.

MacGinty converted to make it 17-0 and nightmares were flooding back from a year earlier, when Saints suffered their record Premiership defeat to Bristol at Ashton Gate.

Saints tried to summon a response but James Ramm was stopped by a fine tackle from full-back Noah Heward out wide.

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Bristol were holding firm and Steven Luatua made a statement hit on Ludlam as Saints were stopped in their tracks during a long spell of pressure on the home line.

Bristol were hit by a sin-binning six minutes before the break as wing Siva Naulago was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on.

Saints took immediate advantage as Sleightholme showed incredible strength to hold off the Bears defence and stretch out an arm to score.

Fin Smith added the extras and Saints were hoping to do more damage before the break.

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But Bristol refused to let the away side take control, instead responding well and even giving themselves a chance to extend their lead before the break.

Randall took a quick tap penalty and it took fine work from McParland and Lawes to hold him up and earn Saints a scrum.

But the Bears won a penalty with a big push, only for MacGinty to miss from the tee with the final kick of the half.

Saints just couldn't get any sort of momentum as the second half started, allowing Bristol to continue in largely serene fashion.

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And soon Saints were under siege, shipping penalty after penalty close to their own line before skipper Ludlam was sent to the sin bin.

Bristol scored immediately after as Kyle Sinckler went over, allowing MacGinty to add the conversion and make it 24-7.

It was a disastrous double whammy for Saints, who had to play the next nine minutes with 14 men on a night when they were struggling badly.

But Saints hit back in fine fashion as Smith sent a crossfield kick into the path of Sleightholme and the ball bounced up nicely for him to beat his man and score.

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Smith converted to cut the gap to 10 points with 54 minutes gone, but Bristol were soon back at the away door, scoring with ease as James Dun spun his way over the line.

MacGinty converted and there was a mountain to climb once again for the black, green and gold.

It got even worse soon after as Bristol used a lineout in the Saints half to set up a try for Max Malins, who came flying through to grab his team's fifth score.

Saints were all at sea in defence, and they suffered another blow as George Hendy was forced off for a head injury assessment.

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But the player who replaced Hendy had a rapid impact as Jake Garside latched on to another superb crossfield kick from Smith to score.

Smith slotted the conversion but the gap was still an eye-watering 17 points with 13 minutes to go.

And Bristol just would not let the away side get any consistency in the game as the hosts soon piled forward again, with a lineout drive allowing replacement hooker Fred Davies to score.

MacGinty converted to make it 45-21 and there was still time for a lightning move down the left, which ended with Gabriel Ibitoye diving over in flying fashion.

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James Williams converted and Saints headed home with nothing on a sobering night.

Bristol Bears: Heward (Marmion 78); Naulago (Malins 57), van Rensburg, Williams, Ibitoye; MacGinty (Ravouvou 73), Randall; Thomas (Genge 45), Oghre (Davies 63), Sinckler (Lahiff 57); Dun (Owen 63), Batley; Luatua (Heenan 73), Harding (c), Bradbury.

Saints: Hendy (Garside 62); Ramm, Odendaal (Litchfield 74), Hutchinson (Dingwall 52), Sleightholme; F Smith, McParland; Iyogun (A Waller 62), S Matavesi (Langdon 52), Davison (Prowse 67); Mayanavanua (Lockett 62), Coles; Lawes, Ludlam (c), Graham (Augustus 54).

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

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