Bristol snatch thrilling win from Harlequins with late Kyle Sinckler try

As Bristol celebrated Kyle Sinckler’s last-gasp try against his former club in the final move of the match, Danny Care remonstrated in vain with the referee Hamish Smales who had awarded the score after a review. Defeat was hard on the scrum-half, who had run the game tactically, and also on his transformed team, but it was the fifth time this season the Bears had turned defeat to victory at the death – a result confirmed by Callum Sheedy’s excellent conversion with the last kick of the game.

Marcus Smith’s third penalty had made it 33-21 to Quins with eight minutes to go: just reward for their unflinching commitment. They unsettled Bristol by competing hard for the ball on the floor, tacklers quickly getting back to their feet to contest and win penalties. They were far removed from the side that had crumpled in the second half when they entertained Bristol on Boxing Day. It turned out to be the penultimate match for their then head of rugby, Paul Gustard, and since his departure they have grown into title contenders, fired by their long-serving England trio of Care, Joe Marler and Mike Brown.

Bristol three times took the lead in the first half only to be hauled back, running from deep for the first scored by the second-row David Attwood, working a lineout move for the second finished by Fitz Harding before the returning Semi Radradra stood at fly-half at a scrum 25 metres out, charged at Smith and Care before slipping the ball to Piers O’Conor.

Quins responded each time, first with a penalty try after Ben Earl prevented Dino Lamb from touching the ball down following a rolling maul. Earl was also sent to the sin-bin and had only just returned when he received a poor pass from Andy Uren on his line and was immediately dispossessed by Care, who scored.

Smith’s first penalty cut Bristol’s interval lead to four points and within 14 minutes of the restart, Quins were ahead through another Smith penalty and a 25-metre drop goal by Care, who stood out in front of the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, kicking astutely, manoeuvring space and keeping his side on the front foot.

Bristol lacked position and were forced to raid from deep, but all the ground made by Luke Morahan and Henry Purdy was wasted by the penalties they conceded under pressure at the breakdown. When Care’s pass to André Esterhuizen led to a Joe Marchant try and Smith converted his third penalty, Quins led the penalty count 15-4 and were ahead on the scoreboard 33-21.

The Bristol director of rugby, Pat Lam, reminded his players they had been there before this season – against Northampton, twice, Gloucester and Worcester. There were five minutes to go when they were awarded a penalty try and Marchant was sent to the sin-bin for thwarting Dan Thomas, and time was up when they kicked a penalty to touch. Their driving maul looked to have stalled when it suddenly regained momentum and Sinckler took possession. The England prop touched down and Sheedy’s fine conversion from wide on the right put Bristol 12 points clear at the top.