Bristol Bears make history




Bristol Bears secured their first European trophy as they beat Toulon 32-19 to win the Challenge Cup. Tries from Harry Randall and Max Malins added to Callum Sheedy’s 22-point haul as Pat Lam’s side were crowned deserved champions after a dominant display in Aix-en- Provence. Their French opponents did hit back through a Bryce Heem try and 14 points from the boot of Louis Carbonel but were comfortably beaten by the Ashton Gate outfit, who won their first major trophy since 1983.

Lam’s side were dealt a blow on the day of the game as influential captain Steven Luatua was ruled out as his partner was giving birth to their child. That meant Chris Vui moved to flanker, Joe Joyce came into the starting line-up and Ed Holmes jumped onto the bench.

Any problems those late changes might have caused the Bears were blown away as they scored directly from the kick-off. Carbonel’s kick found Semi Radradra who released Alacati Leiua. He sped up the left wing before passing inside to the Fijian, who used Randall. The diminutive scrum-half had the speed to beat the trailing defenders and touch down after just 15 seconds. The Bears were utterly dominant in the first ten minutes and Sheedy’s first penalty of the night made it 10-0 – but an uncharacteristic mistake allowed the French side back into it.

A set move from the backs unravelled and Randall lost the ball and Toulon moved the ball swiftly to Heem who cantered in to cut the deficit. Bristol should have had a second try shortly after as a monstrous driving maul saw them drive over the line but Harry Thacker saw his try disallowed after failing to ground it cleanly. They then had another try chalked out as Joe Joyce’s effort was chalked off for a forward pass from Radradra.

Their opponents grew in confidence from the Bears’ frustration and two Carbonel penalties gave them a 16-10 lead at half time.

After the break, Sheedy’s boot dragged the Bears back into it and the game was decided by a moment of brilliance from Malins as the Saracens loanee silenced 1,000 fans inside the Stade Maurice David.

The full-back received the ball roughly 40 metres out, goose-stepped inside Isaiah Toeava, fended off the inside man and galloped home to screams from the Bristol players and management.

Late on, a huge scrum won Bears another penalty and Sheedy celebrated his recent call-up to the Wales squad with another penalty to wrap up the win.

After the game, Lam said: “I’m extremely proud that we were true to ourselves, that’s all I asked of the boys before the game. I said let’s celebrate who we are, the Bristol Bears, and what that means. It is not just a name, it’s our culture. I said let’s have no fear in the final and be true to ourselves – and we were.”

Bristol Bears: Max Malins, Luke Morahan, Semi Radradra, Siale Piutau (capt), Alapati Leiua, Callum Sheedy, Harry Randall, Yann Thomas, Harry Thacker, Kyle Sinckler, Dave Attwood, Joe Joyce, Chris Vui, Daniel Thomas, Ben Earl. Replacements: George Kloska, Jake Woolmore, John Afoa, Ed Holmes, Jake Heenan, Tom Kessell, Piers O’Conor, Niyi Adeolokun.

RC Toulon: Gervais Cordin, Bryce Heem , Isaiah Toeava, Duncan Paia’aua, Gabin Villière, Louis Carbonel, Baptiste Serin, Jean Baptiste Gros, Anthony Etrillard (capt), Beka Gigashvili, Eben Etzebeth, Romain Taofifenua, Charles Ollivon, Raphael Lakafia, Sergio Parisse. Replacements: Bastien Soury, Florian Fresia, Emerick Setiano, Brian Alainu’uese, Swan Rebbadj, Julien Ory, Tane Takulua, Masivesi Dakuwaqa.