Bristol back in the big league with a bang

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Bristol made a dream return to the Gallagher Premiership as they toppled Bath 17-10 on a record-breaking night at Ashton Gate.

Fly-half Ian Madigan’s four penalties and a late Alapati Leiua try proved enough, with a 26,000 crowd – Bristol’s biggest home attendance – roaring them to victory.

Bath fought back from nine points adrift to lead when full-back Tom Homer scored a second-half try and Rhys Priestland kicked a conversion and penalty.

But the visitors were ultimately punished for a terrible 15th-minute blunder when an unmarked Homer remarkably failed to ground the ball after crossing Bristol’s line.

Bristol, last season’s Championship winners, were indebted to huge performances from the likes of skipper Steven Luatua and lock Chris Vui, while Madigan missed just one kick off the tee, keeping his composure amid intense pressure.

Bristol were without star signing Charles Piutau, who will see a specialist this weekend to gauge the full extent of a shoulder injury, while Wales international centre Jamie Roberts was among three Bath debutants, being joined by his midfield partner Jackson Willison and wing Joe Cokanasiga.

Roberts made his presence felt inside two minutes with a crunching tackle on Bristol full-back Luke Daniels, but he was penalised for the challenge being too high, before Luatua stripped Semesa Rokodoguni of possession to set up a first home attack.

And Madigan kicked Bristol into a ninth-minute lead, only for Bath to blow a try in astonishing fashion.

Having broken Bristol’s defence through the power running of wing Cokanasiga, number eight Taulupe Faletau and Roberts, Priestland delivered a scoring pass to Homer.

Referee JP Doyle initially awarded the try, but then consulted with his television match official as video footage showed Homer had missed the soccer equivalent of an open goal, although Priestland would have scored himself and did not need to pass.

Bristol could hardly believe their good fortune, but Bath began to dominate the scrums, piling pressure on the home side’s front-five before Bristol broke free of the shackles and it took a superb Cokanasiga cover tackle to thwart Luke Morahan’s brilliant break.

Madigan doubled Bristol’s lead with a penalty 12 minutes before the break, and Bristol continued to press against an error-strewn Bath despite seeing Daniels limp off nursing a hamstring injury, leading 6-0 at half time.

Former Ireland playmaker Madigan completed his penalty hat-trick early in the second half, and Bath’s early physical onslaught temporarily disappeared into the west country night as Bristol continued to grow in confidence.

The visitors needed a flash of inspiration, and it came from flanker Zach Mercer, who left a trail of Bristol defenders in his wake, then found a supporting Underhill and Homer this time finished things off.

Priestland’s conversion narrowed the gap to two points, and Bath continued pressing through their forwards as Bristol had centre Tusi Pisi sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.

The Wales international then kicked his first penalty at the third attempt, edging Bath ahead early in the final quarter, only for another Madigan to restore Bristol’s lead six minutes later.

Leiua then sealed the deal through a brilliant finish eight minutes from time, leaving Bath with a losing bonus point, but precious little else.

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