Bristol staring at Championship return after Gloucester's bonus-point win makes it 15 losses this season

Andrew Baldock
Ludlow crashes over for Gloucester: Getty

Bristol's hopes of Aviva Premiership survival are hanging by a thread after west country rivals Gloucester nudged them closer towards relegation at Ashton Gate.

Bristol remain bottom of the Premiership pile, seven points behind 11th-placed Worcester with just four games left.

Their remaining fixtures include clashes against the league's current top-three teams in Wasps, Exeter and Saracens, which underlines the enormous degree of difficulty facing them.

Wings Charlie Sharples and Jonny May, flanker Lewis Ludlow and fly-half Billy Burns scored tries, while Burns added 12 points from the boot, as Gloucester's 32-14 bonus point success gave them a first Premiership away win since mid-September.

Burns' opposite number Billy Searle booted three penalties and replacement hooker Max Crumpton claimed a late try, yet Bristol look set for a quickfire Championship return just one season after regaining top-flight status following a seven-year absence.

Bristol were without injured trio Tom Varndell, Siale Piutau and Gavin Henson, while hooker Marc Jones captained a team that included flanker Sam Jeffries making his first Premiership start.

Tom Savage wins a lineout for the visitors (Getty)

Gloucester also showed a number of changes following their second-half implosion against Harlequins last time out, including starts for England international May, centre Henry Trinder and lock Tom Savage.

Burns kicked a second-minute penalty after Gloucester attacked from the start, but then May and his opposite number David Lemi both required treatment following a crunching collision, with a bloodied May forced off.

Bristol had two scoring opportunities in three minutes after May departed. Yet Jason Woodward missed off the tee both times, before Searle replaced him when Gloucester infringed again, and he made no mistakes from 20 metres out.

Gloucester, though, responded in quickfire fashion, carving out a high-class try after Wales international hooker Richard Hibbard's impressive approach work helped create space, and Sharples, who was on as a temporary replacement for May, showcased his pace by finishing off in style.

Billy Twelvetrees put in a powerful performance (Getty)

Burns kicked the touchline conversion, but that was the cue for Bristol to dominate possession, pinning Gloucester back, yet the final pass either went astray or the visitors had sufficient defensive numbers to thwart their opponents.

Both teams lost a centre through injury as half-time approached. Gloucester's Andy Symons and Bristol back Tusi Pisi went off - in Pisi's case, on a stretcher - and play resumed following a lengthy stoppage, with Jack Tovey replacing the stricken Samoan.

And Sharples returned to the action, this time as a permanent replacement, when his fellow wing David Halaifonua went off, as Gloucester pressed for another score before the break.

Burns kicked another penalty, only for Searle to cancel that out after Gloucester full-back Tom Marshall was sin-binned by referee JP Doyle for a deliberate knock-on.

Searle opened the second-half scoring by completing his penalty hat-trick, but no sooner had Bristol moved within striking distance, Gloucester stung them by scoring a second try.

Bristol substitute Luke Arscott looked as though he might have carried the ball into touch under pressure from livewire May, but he remained in-field, and May then popped up a pass to Burns, who galloped over unopposed before adding the conversion.

It was a killer blow for the home side, and Gloucester sealed the deal 12 minutes from time when Ludlow finished off a powerful driving maul to touch down and leave Bristol's resistance in pieces, despite a 77th-minute Crumpton score from close range, before May scored with the game's final play.

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