Bristol Bears welcomed fans back to Ashton Gate, and they did so with panache and passion.
Midway during the first half of the Gallagher Premiership fixture between Bristol Bears and Gloucester, BT Sport’s Sara Elgan sat down with Giles. The enraptured Bristol Bears fan was relishing his return to Ashton Gate, finally reunited with his team. The wide grin on his face covered by his mask, but you could see it in his eyes, that sheer joy and elation. It meant the world to him and all those around him.
It started with Callum Sheedy, who with less than 40 seconds since the match’s inception, played a cross-chip to Ben Earl out wide. Instantly, you knew this was going to be an exciting match. This was the match, this was the team, to welcome fans back to Ashton Gate.
Such an early show of ambition has become routine for Bristol, whose attacking attitude empowers them to surge towards the opponent’s try line at all times, be it from 20, 50, or 90 metres away. It is a joy to watch them when they play with such purpose, made all the better by the elated noise of 3,000 fans, who sounded more like 30,000.
Sheedy typifies that attacking intent. Post-match, he labelled his man of the match performance in front of the returning fans as ‘One of the best nights of my life’. (Bears TV)
He spoke with pure joy and animation and fans chanted his name as his smile beamed around the stadium, unable to hide his delight at finally playing in front of them again.
The Wales fly-half deserved the award for his sublime performance. He was orchestral in his conducting of the Bears’ backline, and his halfback connection with Andy Uren made things tick. Sheedy added to his already compelling highlight reel with two no-look try assists.
Callum Sheedy this is ridiculous 😂😍 pic.twitter.com/hZVdKuyDbH
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) May 17, 2021
The first of those assists, which sent Max Malins over for Bristol’s only *awarded* try of the first half in the 27th minute, was followed six minutes later by a 40m run in try from Sheedy, which was then called back for a knock-on by Malins.
Sheedy was not alone in man of the match worthy performances. Chris Vui, who Pat Lam described as the ‘silent assassin’, showcased a mix of deft handling and tremendous carrying which hit a crescendo when he assisted Piutau’s try. Dummying numerous Gloucester players down the right wing before letting Piutau do the easy work.
Then there is Steven Luatua. The captain was ruthless in defence, putting in big after big hit, with a handful of important turnovers to boot.
It was the sort of performance from Bristol that makes you jealous to be sat at home. Watching from afar as those lucky 3,000 or so Bristolians were treated to the glorious delight of watching Semi Radradra run wild or the pure aggression of Ben Earl.
Gloucester, despite their eventual heavy defeat, were full of resilience.
Matias Alemanno was red-carded in the 16th minute for his reckless tackle on Steven Luatua. Six minutes later it was Rapava Ruskin who was carded, this time yellow. For Gloucester to concede just the single try in those 10 minutes was a victory in itself.
After 36 minutes of Bristol assaults, Gloucester responded with their own dose of x-factor exuberance.
Making a rare appearance in the Bristol 22, second-rower Jordy Reid bumped off Sheedy before Billy Twelvetree’s magnificent, perfectly weighted pass sent Santiago Carreras diving into the corner. But little came after that. It was all about surviving the onslaught.
For all their immeasurable qualities, it was certainly not perfect from Bristol. At times they were sloppy and inaccurate in a 32 point win that should have been so much more. Their seven disallowed tries attest to this. But it was exhilarating.
Rugby union is not always a simple game, shrouded in controversy and uncertainty off the pitch. Bristol are a breath of fresh air. They make rugby simple, they make it fun. X-rated and family-friendly in equal parts.
In a year of such misery and uncertainty, the Bears have lit up the faces of rugby fans sitting at home. And now, they’re finally lighting up the faces of fans at Ashton Gate.