Bristol Bears rue turbulent start to second half as maiden title slips away

Dave Ward's Bristol Bears lost narrowly in their maiden Premiership Women's Rugby final

By Fin Simmons

Dave Ward lamented a disastrous 15-minute spell as his Bristol Bears side surrendered a half-time lead to lose 36-24 in the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby final against Gloucester-Hartpury at Sandy Park.

Ward's side led 17-7 at half-time but were outgunned after the break as Gloucester-Hartpury showed the mettle of champions to claw back their crown from Bears' grasp.

Bears arrived as underdogs having lost each of their last six matches against Gloucester-Hartpury - who had lost just once all season - but there will be a huge sense of ‘what if’ when it comes to reviewing their first final.

“They’ve lost one game all season and that was by two points, it was always going to be an uphill battle and we absolutely believe we could have won today,” said head coach Ward.

“The fact it got away from us in the second half like it did, that’s a bit disappointing. The third try in quick succession was the killer punch and that was the one where it was always going to be really hard work to come back from.”

Bears had already upset the odds to make the grand final, downing Saracens on their patch in the semi-finals and carried that momentum with them into the early proceedings in the south west.

Ward’s side hit the front through Courtney Keight and extended their lead to 10 points at half time thanks to tries from Lark Atkin-Davies and Hannah Botterman, with just the one concession via Gloucester-Hartpury’s Natasha Hunt.

“The message at half time was to continue what we’ve been doing, but just tighten up a few areas,” said Ward.

“We knew we had to be better but we also knew we had to compete. We probably competed a little bit too much and that was the problem.

“All credit to the Gloucester coaching team and the way they changed up at half-time. Everything we set out to do in the first half, we got most of it right.

“I thought our front row was outstanding in the first half, especially Hannah Botterman. In the second half, with fatigue and the sun shining, it’s always going to be a tougher challenge.”

Indeed, it was one-way traffic after the break and the onslaught started when Gloucester-Hartpury were denied an early retort via the TMO – Bethan Lewis’s try had already been converted by Emma Sing before referee Sara Cox took a closer look at the grounding and judged that Meryl Smith had got something underneath the ball.

Gloucester-Hartpury were not deterred by that decision and quickly turned the game on its head, scoring four tries in 14 minutes.

Pip Hendy cut the gap and full-back Sing’s try pushed Sean Lynn’s side ahead before Mia Venner and Hannah Jones also touched down in a frenetic quarter which ultimately cost Bristol.

Ella Lovibond scored with her first touch to give Bears faint hope late on, but Sing’s penalty at the death finally saw off the spirited Bears challenge.

“It was 15 minutes of Gloucester territory, us not getting our break down right, giving them that easy penalty and field position,” said Ward.

“You can’t defend a ball getting kicked over your head unfortunately and Gloucester made it count.

“There’s the overthrow that went their way but that’s why they’ve lost only one game all season.

“We saw that and we knew if we gave them that momentum they were going to take it.

“When you go five and 10 behind it’s not so bad, but when it’s 14 and 21, it becomes a different challenge and we probably didn’t have enough to get it back in the second half.”

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