Saints suffer late agony at Ashton Gate as Ibitoye secures dramatic win for Bears

Tom James started at scrum-half for Saints (photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)Tom James started at scrum-half for Saints (photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)
Tom James started at scrum-half for Saints (photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)
Gabriel Ibitoye scored a dramatic late try as Saints were edged out 39-38 in a Premiership Rugby Cup thriller at Ashton Gate.

Toby Thame's score looked set to give Phil Dowson's men a bonus-point success in a roller-coaster clash, but Bristol refused to be deterred, and after a long spell of pressure on the Saints line, Ibitoye made it count.

It was a thrilling end to a thrilling game, in which both sides struggled to gain any sort of control.

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Saints had looked the stronger team during the second period as they sent on the likes of George Furbank and James Ramm at half-time.

But the Bears were ruthless in their execution as they made the most of their visits to the Saints 22.

And in the end, it was to be a second defeat in three cup matches for Saints, who are next in action at home to Bath next Saturday.

Saints head headed to Ashton Gate on the back of a big win against Cambridge Rugby, and they included more senior stars in their squad for the trip to Bristol.

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Dowson's men almost made a flying start to the match as some nice interplay between Curtis Langdon, George Hendy and Tom James opened the door before the scrum-half was floored just short.

Bristol won a penalty to relieve some pressure, and they were soon flying forward down the right, but they were also unable to make the most of their opportunity as Saints scrambled well.

It was end to end, and Saints soon pieced together a superb move from left to right, where Tom Seabrook finished in incredibly acrobatic fashion.

Seabrook produced an 'are you not entertained?' celebration with his arms wide open before Fin Smith lined up the conversion, but the fly-half sent it just wide.

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Bristol responded almost immediately though as Saints made a mess of the kick-off receipt, allowing Harry Thacker to go over for his almost customary try against the black, green and gold.

AJ MacGinty converted and, out of nowhere, the Bears were ahead.

It got worse soon after for Saints as they were opened up, allowing lock Josh Caulfield to saunter over for his side's second score.

MacGinty converted and suddenly it was 14-5 to the home side with Saints seeking a response of their own.

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They got the response they wanted as lovely hands across the board opened up the space for Hendy to score out wide.

Smith missed the conversion but he made amends on 24 minutes after a try that was made by James and finished by Tommy Freeman.

James slotted the ball through with the outside of his boot, and Freeman showed great desire and speed to get there first and ground it.

Smith's conversion made it 17-14 to Saints, but the scores were level moments later as MacGinty slotted a long-range penalty.

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In a game that was swinging like a pendulum, Bristol were back in front as Benhard Janse van Rensburg made the initial inroads and Jack Bates held off the Saints defenders to get over the line.

MacGinty converted but Bristol weren't able to hold their lead to half-time as Saints once again hit back with some lightning attacking play.

Hendy started things off and then it was great composure from James to find the final pass for Freeman to score his second of the match.

Smith converted and the scores were level again with four minutes of a breathless first half remaining.

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The second half started in a more serene fashion with several scrum resets, but when Saints got hold of the ball, the danger was clear.

Some lovely handling from Ramm, on at the break, and Sam Graham gave Hendy a chance, but the full-back knocked on with the line in sight.

Bristol had barely been in Saints' half in the formative stages of the second half, but they were able to take three points through the boot of Callum Sheedy when Manny Iyogun, making his first appearance since January, was caught offside.

Saints hit back quickly with Furbank showing his class as he created a chance for Ramm. The Australian ace kept his feet incredibly well and finished with aplomb.

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Furbank, who had made a real impact after coming on at the break, converted and Saints held a four-point lead with the clock having ticked past the 60-minute mark.

Bristol had enjoyed few chances to apply some pressure, but after kicking a penalty to the corner, they produced a sustained attack.

And after Saints got sucked in under the posts, replacement scrum-half Kieran Marmion found acres of space to score.

Sheedy converted and Saints were 34-31 down with 13 minutes to play.

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But once again, the away side delivered a rapid riposte, Thame showing great strength to resist the attentions of James Dun and score his third try in the space of two games.

Furbank converted and Saints looked to close the game out.

But Bristol kept coming and after wave after wave of pressure on the Saints line, the resistance was finally broken as winger Ibitoye went over out wide.

Sheedy missed the conversion but it wasn't to matter as the Bears celebrated their first win of the season.

Bristol Bears: Lane; Bates, van Rensburg (Jenkins 55), Williams, Ibitoye; MacGinty (Sheedy 40), Randall (c) (Marmion 61); Woolmore (Turner 69), Thacker (Capon 69), Lahiff (Kloska 50); Caulfield (Dun 53), Holmes; Batley, Thomas (Heenan 69), Bradbury.

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Saints: Hendy; Freeman, Dingwall (c) (Ramm 40), Thame, Seabrook; Smith (Furbank 40), James (McParland 55); E Waller (Iyogun 51), Langdon (Smith 51), Davison (Millar Mills 51), Moon (Atuanya 69), Lockett; Coles (Augustus 55), Scott-Young, Graham.

Referee: Joe James

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