By John Harding

IRELAND international Ian Madigan marked his Ashton Gate debut by kicking sixteen points as Bristol began their GKIPA Championship campaign with a 26-15 victory over last season's National One's unbeaten champions Hartpury.

Madigan, a summer signing from French Top 14 club Bordeaux-Begles, landed four penalties and the conversion of wing Luke Morahan's early try and the second half touchdown of replacement hooker Max Crumpton.

Bristol head coach Pat Lam had warned his players that they would underestimate Championship newcomers Hartpury at their peril, and he was right to do so though on this performance they didn't totally heed his words.

It was welcome to the Championship for Lam, and it was exactly what he expected - uncompromising and tough - but credit has to go to Hartpury who had a slender 8-7 lead which they thoroughly deserved.

"We knew that if we allowed them, then they would come at us and that is exactly what they did," said Lam. "We got off to a good start but missed a few opportunities to pull away and allowed them into the game.

"The set piece is a big part of our game and if we don't get it right, then we won't survive. At half time we talked about the conditions and play a bit more field position and put pressure on them. That is taking the points and the win."

Bristol were reduced to 13-players when first prop Soane Tonga’uiha, who had been on the pitch a few minutes while Ryan Bevington had a head injury assessment, was sent to the sin-bin followed quickly by lock Sam Jeffries.

The home side were forced to sacrifice full back Jordan Williams to allow Tyler Gendall to join the front row. But with their line under pressure, centre Will Hurrell was drafted in to bring the pack up full strength.

TMO David Rose was a busy man with referrals confirming flanker Mat Gilbert's first half try and that of replacement prop Mike Flook's last gasp touchdown, which James Williams converted, but ruled out two others. Jacob Perry kicked a first half penalty.

"I think we certainly competed which is what we want to do in every game and certainly this was a challenge though the weather was a leveler on this occasion," said Hartpury's director of rugby John Barnes.

"We had the slight edge at half time and had a try held-up plus a few scrums, and we could have pulled away. It would have been great to go in at half time with a bigger lead. But we started the second half poorly, gave away a few penalties.

"Bristol took a nine point lead, so it is always hard to chase a game in that weather. The guys put in a massive effort against a very good team and I am very proud of them. We now move on to Saturday's home game against Jersey Reds."

Bristol United face Exeter Braves at Sandy Park on Saturday in their opening Premiership A League opener, kick off 5.15pm, with the first team playing Cornish Rebels at the Mennaye Field on Sunday, kick off 2.30pm.