Bristol Bears fly-half AJ MacGinty was happy to come away with victory in their opening round EPCR Challenge Cup game at USAP on Friday – even though it wasn’t a vintage performance from his side.
The 2020 winners grinded out a 19-5 triumph at Stade Aimé Giral thanks to three first-half tries, but they were under pressure from the TOP 14 outfit for long spells after the break.
MacGinty, who converted his team’s first two scores, says starting their campaign with a win was the most important aspect, even though they were unable to cross for a bonus-point try.
“We flew out of the blocks, we were flying, two really nice scores from our set piece, really good execution,” the USA international told Bristol’s club media after the game.
“There’s definitely stuff to look back in that first half where we could have converted and [it was] similar in the second half.
“[We] made hard work of it ourselves, but we got ourselves into good areas to put it away in the second half and unfortunately, we couldn’t fire.
“But then I think on the back of that, [they] gave us some penalties and the defence and the effort from the lads to hold them out was excellent.
Classic quick hands from @bristolbears as they saw off USAP last night 👏
Extended #ChallengeCupRugby highlights 👉 https://t.co/5QWEF4FGdB pic.twitter.com/6wrnauTjjD
— EPCR Challenge Cup (@ChallengeCup_) December 10, 2022
“We got an ugly win, which we needed, which is brilliant, and we move on from here.”
On a cold, damp evening in Perpignan, the hosts enjoyed plenty of the ball after half-time and tested Bristol’s fringe defence with a relentless supply of big runners.
“With the conditions, the game started to favour them, [it] started to slow down,” MaGinty pointed out. “Set pieces [allowed them] to get their maul going and then their pick-and-goes and big ball-carriers.
“They got over for one but keeping them out [despite] all the possession they had and all the pressure they had was really good.”
As Bristol prepare for a Round 2 clash with Zebre Parma at Ashton Gate on Sunday, MacGinty says they will be looking to improve their efficiency at the breakdown and be more clinical when they get try-scoring chances.
“I think that’s a big focus moving into next week, the breakdown and the accuracy of that, the numbers we can clear out and keep boys on their feet,” he said.
“That’s definitely a focus and then just the patience. I think we got ourselves into great positions on the pitch and it didn’t go our way, and then maybe there was a lull and a lack of focus and they managed to out of their 22.
“Ways we can rectify that is probably the focus. We are satisfied but we know we can be much better, which is great. There was potential there for another three or four tries.”