There were fireworks on and off of the pitch as Bristol beat the Blues 34-31 in a thrilling game on Tuesday night.
Oxford came up just short despite a spirited second half come-back which brought about a nervy end to the game for the hosts, but the game was ultimately won and lost in the first half with Bristol dominating possession and scores.
There were tries for second-rows Tom Reeson Price (2) and Graeme MacGilchrist as well as a last-minute try from Christopher Goodfellow. But a fine performance from prop forward, Ian Williams earned him the man-of-the-match award for the Blues.
Bristol started the game with blistering pace and raced into an early 19-0 lead. Tries from Jermaine Jones, Ellis Genge and James Stephenson punished Oxford who failed to hold any possession in the opening stages.
After an assured start by Bristol, Oxford finally got on the score sheet when a powerful drive allowed the Blues to inch closer to the Bristol try line before Reeson-Price broke-away to get Oxford’s first points of the game. Cullen calmly converted to bring the score back to 19-7.
Just before half-time MacGilchrist was sin-binned for Oxford’s persistent infringement at the break down and Bristol were quick to take advantage. Tom Beck managed to find a gap in the weakened Oxford line to give Bristol a convincing 26-7 lead at half-time.
A second-half comeback started early for the Blues as they came out with real venom, determined to find a way back into the game. Eventually, after many phases, Tom Reeson Price wriggled free of the pack and bundled over the line. Cullen converted to narrow the Bristol lead to 8 points with most of the second half still to play.
However, the Blues joy was short-lived as Jermaine Jones scored his second try of the night. After quick play Jones was left open and simply ran-in to score but Sheedy’s conversion went just shy of the posts.
On the hour mark Bristol were reduced to 14 men as Josh Ovens was sin-binned. Oxford piled on the pressure and eventually the Bristol defence succumbed giving away a penalty-try for repeat offences at the scrum. Cullen coolly converted which reduced the Bristol lead to 31-21.
With just over ten minutes to play the Blues added further pressure on Bristol with a brilliant try from MacGilchrist. A series of inspired passes opened up the Bristol back-line to allow MacGilchrist to redeem himself from his earlier yellow card, and sprint home.
However the comeback wasn’t to be as Bristol opted to kick from a penalty and Sheedy extended the lead to eight points with just six minutes remaining.
Oxford’s encouraging second half was rounded off with a flourish as substitute, Goodfellow found space on the left and raced over to narrow the score to just three points. This proved to be the last action of the game and confirmed a narrow 34-31 defeat for the Dark Blues.
Next up, Oxford host Worcester on Remembrance Day at Iffley Road as Oxford continue in their preparation for Varsity in December.
Team Lewis Anderson, Nick Gardner, Ian Williams, Graeme MacGilchrist, Tom Reeson-Price, Will Thomas, Gus Jones, George Messum, Samson Egerton, George Cullen, Henry Lamont, Basil Strang, Matt Janney, Edward Doe, Jacob Taylor
Subs Tom Quayle (on for Nick Gardner), James Scaife (on for Lewis Anderson), Guy Western (on for Ian Williams), Tom Hilton-Stevens (on for Graeme MacGilchrist), Sam Peter (on for Will Thomas), Henry de Berker (on for Samson Egerton), Christopher Goodfellow (on for George Cullen), Alastair Adams-Cairns (on for Henry Lamont)
Scores T: Tom Reeson-Price (2), Christopher Goodfellow (1), Graeme MacGilchrist (1) C: George Cullen (3)