Bristol Bears ended 2022 on a high, defeating Harlequins 15-12 at the Twickenham Stoop on Tuesday, thanks largely to some incredible last-ditch defence from AJ McGinty and Tom Whiteley.
Pat Lam’s charges saw off a comeback from Harlequins, with centre Andre Esterhuizen coming inches away from scoring the match-winner at the Stoop.
Half-backs save the day
Bristol held a 15-5 half-time lead thanks to tries from Harry Thacker and Gabriel Ibitoye, the first converted by MacGinty, with the American adding a penalty.
Cadan Murley gave Quins hope of pulling off another come-from-behind win after collecting a stunning crosskick from Danny Care, with the winger tearing down the touchline, Tommy Allan’s conversion making it 15-12 with 20 minutes to play.
With five minutes left, Ibitoye was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Esterhuizen, meaning the Bears had to play out the remainder of the match with 14 men.
The visitors fronted up to the task and managed to stay in the lead despite relentless pressure from Quins.
With just two minutes remaining, Harlequins executed a set move from the lineout, which saw Oscar Beard speed through a gap. He linked up with the dangerous Esterhuizen, who charged towards the try-line.
However, MacGinty dived at the centre’s ankles and got just enough contact to knock him off his stride and fall short of the try-line. Esterhuizen attempted to reach out and place the ball, but Whiteley swooped in and managed to dislodge the ball out of the Springbok’s grasp.
Celine Dion treatment
Bristol’s social media team hailed Whiteley’s efforts posting a picture of the scrum-half denying Quins the match-winning try with the caption: ‘@T_whiteley95 coming up clutch. A defensive play from the top drawer.’
They then posted a clip of the match-winning moment dubbed over with the Celine Dion soundtrack for the Titanic.
Lam hails ‘gutsy performance’
Bristol Bears’ director of rugby Lam hailed his side’s gutsy performance against Quins as well as the competitiveness of the Premiership, with his team joining Newcastle Falcons and London Irish in defeating a top-three side.
“It was a gutsy second half from us. We’ve been working on the areas of our game we needed to around defence, chasing down and close contact stuff,” Lam told BBC Radio Bristol after the match.
“What an unbelievable competition we have – when the bottom three teams knock off the top three teams on the same weekend.
“I’m really pleased for the coaching staff and the players. When you’re bottom of the table, there’s a lot of pressure coming from outside.”
Bristol finish up the year with a much-needed win, their first in the Premiership since September, and return to action on January 8 with an away trip to London Irish.
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The article WATCH: AJ MacGinty and Tom Whiteley’s last-ditch defence gets the Celine Dion treatment appeared first on Planetrugby.com.