Bristol’s joy at securing their first win of the season was swiftly diluted on Friday night after it emerged their star player, Semi Radradra, will be sidelined for the next four months. The Fijian centre will undergo a knee operation on Monday and is unlikely to be sighted again on a rugby pitch until late January at the earliest.
Radradra originally sustained the injury in the semi-finals of the sevens competition at the Tokyo Olympics and it has now been decided that surgery is required. “The good news is that the surgery will fix it 100%,” said Pat Lam, Bristol’s director of rugby. “There is a lot of rugby to be played when he gets back but we will certainly be on the lookout for a replacement to come in for the period of time when he is out.”
Any side in the world would miss Radradra’s compelling blend of power and dexterity but at least Bristol now have a victory to ease their frustration at this latest blow to their best-laid plans. Having lost their opening two matches they were suitably grateful for the two second-half yellow cards which reduced Bath to 13 players and a 67th-minute converted try for replacement hooker Jake Kerr which finally put them ahead in a breathless contest.
This latest West Country ding-dong was never remotely dull and often entertainingly helter-skelter, with Bristol never entirely able to establish full control despite largely dominating the set scrums. Not without good reason was Kyle Sinckler, on his first game back following the summer British & Lions tour, named the man of the match.
Sinckler had personally sought permission to resume playing ahead of schedule, having sent a message to Lam last week pleading to be involved. “I had a duty to step up,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to get on with it. I can’t just sit in meetings and train and not contribute. I know there was a mandatory rest time but I pride myself on being virtuous and I try to be so committed in everything I do. I love the game and I love playing.”
How Bath could have done with a pumped-up Lion in their front five. Clearly these are early days but a third successive Premiership defeat represents their worst start to a league season for 16 years, even if there were sufficient flickers of promise from their young backs to offer some longer-term encouragement.
Max Ojomoh and Orlando Bailey were highly impressive on a raucous Bristolian evening. The Bears, beaten by Saracens and Wasps in their opening two fixtures, displayed some slick early ball-handling but their defensive positioning was less sure, allowing the galloping Will Muir to slice through for the game’s first try after 18 minutes. With Bailey adding a penalty to his conversion, Bath were 10-3 up and clearly beginning to fancy it.
If so, they underestimated their hosts’ determination to strike back hard and fast. Bristol’s inspirational captain, Steven Luatua, is no one’s idea of a jinking midfield back but the big man dummied his way into acres of space and finished with an extravagant dive. Even Radradra would have struggled to do it much better.
The watching England head coach, Eddie Jones, will also have admired the lovely combination of passes down the blindside just before half-time which created Bath’s second try for Semesa Rokoduguni in the right corner. At 15-11 with half an hour to play it felt like anyone’s game, only for a brilliant 52nd-minute score from Bath to extend their advantage. Having been presented with yet more turnover ball, Bailey put in a smart cross-kick from which Muir exchanged passes with Ojomoh to surge over for his second try.
Once again, though, it served merely to rouse Bristol afresh and a concerted 58th-minute forward drive yielded a penalty try and a yellow card for Tom Ellis for collapsing the maul. When Bath also lost Tom Dunn for a similar offence, with the home crowd now baying for blood, there was no way back. A bye weekend is set to provide them with some temporary respite but, with tricky fixtures against Saracens, Quins, Wasps, Leicester and Exeter to follow, they badly need to shore up their set piece before heavier winter pitches become the norm.