Bristol 25 Leeds Carnegie 30
Leeds Carnegie deservedly won their British & Irish Cup semi-final at the Memorial Stadium – their second victory of the season at Bristol.
The visitors looked the hungrier side throughout and exploited the home side’s defensive weaknesses, with centres Rob Vickerman and Joe Barker looking especially dangerous. The Leeds pack looked the more impressive unit for most of the game, while scrum-half James Doherty was a constant menace.
Bristol were the first to score when full-back Adam D’Arcy crossed for a try on the left. Outside-half Tristan Roberts missed the conversion, and Leeds were soon level after winger David Doherty latched onto a crosskick from Glyn Hughes to score a try after outpacing home winger Ryan Edwards.
Hughes failed to convert, but the outside-half put his side 8-5 up with a penalty soon afterwards.
Bristol then mounted a series of forward drives, with flanker Redford Pennycook being held just short of the try line. However, Leeds defended well, and the home side lacked both penetration and invention. Bristol did however waste one great chance when winger Charlie Amesbury was unable to hold onto a tricky pass from scrum-half Ruki Tipuna when the line was in sight.
Each side lost a player to the sin bin in the first half, with Bristol’s Pennycook and James Doyle of Leeds both falling foul of referee Gary Conwell. Hughes missed a straightforward penalty, but the visitors stretched their lead after 38 minutes when winger Jonah Holmes scored a try following a superb break from his own half by Vickerman.
Hughes added the conversion to make the score 15-5, but Bristol cut the deficit to five points just before the break when centre Luke Eves took a flat pass to cross for an unconverted try.
Flanker Chris Walker took a pass from Hughes to score the third Leeds try shortly after the restart with Hughes again converting. But Bristol made a rapid response when replacement winger Lucas Slowik scored wide on the right after Tipuna caught Leeds napping with a quick tap penalty. Roberts added an excellent touchline conversion.
James Doherty was yellow carded after 54 minutes, and shortly afterwards Bristol drew level when hooker Ross Johnston was driven over for a try from a lineout.
Roberts could not convert, and Leeds were soon back on the attack. They dominated the final quarter, and even managed to score a try while Doherty was still off the field. Barker was the creator on this occasion, sending Doyle over the line in the right corner.
Hughes missed the conversion, and the visitors’ lead was cut to two points when Roberts kicked a penalty.
With time running out, replacement outside-half Jonny Bentley landed a penalty for Leeds, after which James Doherty and the visitors’ forwards ran the clock down superbly, ensuring that Bristol had no chance to mount a late challenge.
Leeds and Bristol have now met five times this season, with Leeds currently 3-2 ahead. No other side has defeated Bristol at home, and this victory means that Leeds will now face Leinster A in the final of the cup on Friday, May 23 in Dublin.
Head coach James Lowes was delighted with his side’s performance and praised both sides for playing entertaining rugby: “We were the better side and we deserved to win.
“Both sides showed what they could do, and to keep Bristol out at the end was very pleasing. We now have to do our best to get past London Welsh in the play-off semi-final. It’s a great situation to be in.”
Bristol: D’Arcy, Edwards (Cooke 13), Rennie (Slowik 41), Eves, Amesbury, Roberts, Tipuna (Braley 58), Traynor (Genge 61), Johnston (Hayes 61), Hall (Hobson 61), Joyce, Townson, Grieve (Sambucetti 40), Pennycook, Skirving.
Leeds: Georgiou, Holmes, Vickerman, Barker, Doherty, Hughes (Bentley 66), Doherty, Imolek (Beech 26), Walker (Baines 66), Hill (Currie 66), Smith, Green (Hannay 53), Casson (Barnard 58), Walker, Doyle. Not used: M Dudman.
Referee: G Conwell.