Worcester win to push Bristol closer to relegation trap door
Bristol's bid for Aviva Premiership survival suffered a crushing blow at Sixways as their relegation rivals Worcester cruised to a 41-24 victory.
The Warriors had a bonus point secured by half-time following a penalty try, plus touchdowns from scrum-half Francois Hougaard, lock Will Spencer and wing Bryce Heem, while Ryan Mills added four conversions and a penalty.
Bristol, two points behind 11th-placed Worcester before kick-off, are now seven adrift at the basement, and three of their remaining five games this season are against title contenders Wasps, Exeter and Saracens.
A return to the Championship after just one season back in English rugby's top flight now looks likely, yet they could have few complaints after being horribly outplayed, despite full-back Jason Woodward's try and a Gavin Henson penalty and conversion briefly giving them hope.
Heem added a second touchdown midway through the second period and centre Wynand Olivier posted a sixth try in the final minute, while Bristol's replacement hooker Max Crumpton and wing Tom Varndell claimed consolation scores - Woodward and Jack Wallace converted - but the damage had long been done.
South African star Hougaard ran the show for Worcester, capitalising repeatedly on woeful Bristol defending as the Warriors delivered arguably their most dominant 40-minute display of the campaign before a second Heem try underlined Worcester's superiority and Olivier rubbed salt into a gaping Bristol wound.
Worcester made a late change in their starting line-up, with hooker Joe Taufete'e replacing Niall Arnett, who failed a late fitness test. Bristol, meanwhile, showed one switch from last weekend, with prop Anthony Perenise being ruled out due to a hamstring injury and Gaston Cortes being handed a start.
The game began in dramatic fashion as Worcester were awarded a penalty try after just 68 seconds.
Warriors skipper Donncha O'Callaghan was driven to within inches of Bristol's line, only to be illegally halted by Dan Tuohy, and referee Wayne Barnes had no hesitation in giving the penalty try, with Mills converting.
Tuohy was also sin-binned, and Bristol were all over the place during a frantic opening that saw Mills increase Worcester's lead through a sixth-minute penalty.
Bristol initially struggled to get out of their own half, yet on their first excursion into Worcester territory, Warriors had Heem sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on prop Ryan Bevington, and Henson kicked a penalty that opened the visitors' account.
Worcester, though, resumed normal service just two minutes later after Bristol hooker Marc Jones overthrew a lineout and Hougaard accepted the gift before sprinting 35 metres without any defender touching him, and Mills' conversion made it 17-3.
The game's frantic nature continued at pace, and with Worcester still a player down, Bristol took advantage following close-range pressure as scrum-half Alby Mathewson's pass found Woodward, who breached weak tackling for a try that Henson converted.
But it was only a temporary reprieve for Bristol as Worcester posted two converted tries during the closing six minutes of an ultimately one-sided first period.
Spencer powered over for the first after Worcester's forwards spread-eagled their opposite numbers from close range, then a stunning Hougaard break sent him clear in space before he delivered a scoring pass to Heem.
Mills kicked both conversions, and Worcester trooped off 31-10 ahead with a try-scoring bonus point already in the bag.
Bristol enjoyed territorial supremacy during the third quarter - Varndell went close to scoring in the corner - yet Worcester's defence held firm as they looked to consolidate on their impressive first-half work.
And Heem's second try 16 minutes from time sealed the deal, putting Worcester within sight of Premiership safety and pushing Bristol closer to the drop as they remained in 12th place - a Premiership position they have occupied since mid-September - despite late scores by Crumpton and Varndell.