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Stephen Myler grabs last-gasp draw for 14-man London Irish at Bristol | Sport


Bristol wasted the chance to return to the top of the table when they failed to take advantage of London Irish playing a man short for the entire second half after Ollie Hoskins was sent off for a dangerous challenge. A match in which the lead changed hands eight times finished in a draw when Stephen Myler kicked a penalty in the final minute to leave the Bears rueing four missed opportunities from the tee.

It was a sobering afternoon for Bristol who were on a high after securing the signing of the Fiji three-quarter Semi Radradra last week. London Irish played the two halves in contrasting styles: tight in the opening 40 minutes when they risked nothing in their own half and kicked for position – trusting their defensive line to frustrate the home side in the manner of South Africa – but, a man down after the break, keeping the ball in hand and more purposeful than the Bears.

Bristol lacked control on an afternoon when their half-backs faltered. Andy Uren’s early box kick that went out on the full set the tone and Callum Sheedy, as well as missing three attempts at goal from eminently kickable positions, threw a careless pass after the home side scored their second try that was intercepted by Waisake Naholo, who ran 55 metres to score.

Radradra would not have made the difference in this match because Bristol struggled at the breakdown, not helped by Dan Thomas’s early injury, and despite the efforts of Harry Thacker, who looked to have scored the winning try with four minutes to go, they struggled to inject pace into the game. They provided most of the match’s few moments of individual brilliance, led by Charles Piutau, but Irish were the stronger collectively before and after Hoskins’ departure.

“Sloppy” was how the Bristol head coach, Pat Lam, described his team’s performance on a day when he challenged the players to live up to their claim to the league leadership against a side that a year ago was in the Championship, but Irish are considerably more durable than the last time they were in the top flight and their other two away Premiership matches this year saw them win at Wasps and lose late on at Saracens.

Here neither side could follow up a score with the next one. Bristol never led by more than five points and played as if afflicted with anxiety. Irish may have lacked the flourishing touches of the home side but they showed the greater coherence and, when Hoskins’ absence forced them to keep hold of the ball rather than boot it away, they were armed with menace.

A draw was the least they deserved and their third try, from an uncontested scrum after Irish ran out of props, summed up a difference between the sides: Bristol were at their best in broken play but Irish were the more structured and, by controlling the breakdown, they set the tone.

Sheedy gave Bristol the lead with his one successful penalty out of three on 27 minutes but Irish led 7-3 at the interval after a fast move down the blindside was finished by Ben Meehan. Hoskins’ red card gave the crowd voice and, when Nathan Hughes scored five minutes after the restart following Thacker’s pass out of the back of his right hand, the home faithful sensed a procession.

Hughes then conceded a penalty to allow Myler to restore Irish’s advantage and the tit-for-tat continued. Piutau’s try after Piers O’Conor’s smart pick-up was followed by Naholo’s interception. Back came Bristol through Luke Hamilton’s rampaging run along the right wing but, after John Afoa was sent to the sin-bin for slowing the ball down, Tom Parton scored from the scrum after Irish had turned down the chance to draw level through a penalty under the posts.

Home despair turned to delight when Thacker got the try his dynamism merited but, with 90 seconds to go, Hamilton needlessly played the ball at a ruck 40 metres from his line and Myler maintained his 100% record from the tee. “Attitude is something you cannot coach,” said Irish’s director of rugby, Declan Kidney, “This was one of the better draws I have been involved in.”


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