Bristol climbed to second in the table after recovering from a first-half Christmas hangover to condemn Harlequins to a fifth straight home defeat.
Quins led 9-0 with less than a minute of the first-half remaining having largely traded on Bristol’s willingness to run from their own half despite players operating on different wavelengths. Two of Marcus Smith’s three penalties followed Bristol players being caught in possession within the outside-half’s range and the home side were unfortunate the prop Wilco Louw was denied a try despite claiming to have grounded the ball.
Just as Bristol were anticipating the half-time words of their head coach Pat Lam, whose mood was likely to be more Scrooge than Santa, Dan Thomas and Steven Luatua exchanged passes after a ruck and Thomas finished off on the left wing from 25 metres.
The rest of the game belonged to Bristol. Luatua gave them the lead four minutes after the restart following Harry Randall’s quickly-taken penalty and the scrum-half then scored after Nathan Hughes, who had wasted an early opportunity from close range, had charged through Smith and left the outside-half hanging on.
Smith had earlier equalised with his fourth penalty but, with Bristol no longer isolated in contact, they had to run from their own half and found themselves further and further behind the gainline. Their one solace was the display of wing Louis Lynagh, the son of the former Australia outside-half Michael, who followed an early low, hard tackle on Max Malins with three sniping runs. It was the home side’s misfortune that Lynagh, who was making his first Premiership start, was peripheral to the action rather than central.
Quins remain an enigma, without a home win this season but boasting two bonus point victories on the road. They are not a reactive side and once the replacement wing Niyi Adelokun had secured Bristol’s bonus point, running on to Luatua’s pass and instantly accelerating away from the cover before stepping inside Mike Brown, they did not even have a bonus point to chase. Smith’s late try was no consolation.