Irish Rally London from 25 points to claim a spectacular draw against the Bristol Bears; The first half trials of Piers O’Connor, Ratu Naulago (2) and Chris Vui had Bristol in charge; Steve Mafi, Theo Brophy-Clews, Nick Phipps and Tom Parton try to catch the Irish level late
By PA Media
Last updated: 02/21/21 17:38 pm
The London Irish fired back from 25 points to clinch a remarkable 34-34 draw with Premiership leader Bristol.
Led 31-6 shortly before halftime, the Exiles strengthened their resistance in the third quarter before going wild with trials from Theo Brophy-Clews, Nick Phipps and Tom Parton.
Parton’s touchdown in the 77th minute gave Paddy Jackson a share of the booty off the tee and Irish would have won it to death had it not been for a loose pass from Parton with players lining up in front of him to score.
The exiles were galvanized by reinforcements from the bench including Man of the Match Phipps, Irish flanker Sean O’Brien and Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy as Bristol fell.
Fijian winger Ratu Naulago ran in two tries while Piers O’Connor and Chris Vui also touched down in a devastating first half for the Bears, who had completed the bonus point before the break.
Naulago was particularly dangerous with his speed and footwork, especially when teaming up with full-back Charles Piutau, but the leaders had fired all their shots to get the Irish back.
Bristol rebounded from the first setback in Sam Bedlow’s defeat to a yellow card for a peak tackle to be executed in two interception tries in the first 10 minutes.
Both scores came against the play of the game with the Irish offense, but the Bears were alert to opportunities with Piutau picking Jackson for O’Conor to hit the ground.
And as the exiles drew closer to the visiting whitewash, the lurking Naulago leapt over Blair Cowan’s unloading in heavy traffic and traveled the length of the pitch to score.
With Callum Sheedy adding both conversions and a penalty, Bedlow returned to a team that was 17-3 ahead and starting to dominate.
A second penalty from Jackson interrupted Bristol’s point flow, but the relief was temporary as the pressure started to build up again on their line and ended when Vui forced his way at close range.
And the bonus point was issued five minutes from the end of the first half, Piutau and Naulago counterattacking in tandem at 50 meters with the Fijian wing weaving a path over the whitewash.
Exiles lock Steve Mafi recovered from the scrimmage and as tackles slipped out of him he charged across the line, reducing the halftime deficit to 31-13.
The Irish continued to show recovery spurts in the third quarter as their field began to trade on a level playing field with a purple patch giving turnover and a scrum penalty to keep Bristol pinned in its own half. .
But the scales tilted against them when a back movement broke down, and then Ben Loader was sent to the trash for a deliberate knock-on, allowing Sheedy to make a six of six off the tee.
Replacement flanker Sean O’Brien dumped at Brophy-Clews for the Irish center to score in the 64th minute and when replacement scrum-half Phipps slipped shortly after, the comeback was on.
Parton ended a brilliant period of play for the home side to give Jackson the shot on goal, but the substitute’s rebellious pass in added time ruined a last chance for glory.