Leeds slid a step closer towards relegation from the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP as Bristol overturned a half-time deficit to canter to a bonus-point 30-13 victory at Headingley Carnegie.
It was a must-win game for the Yorkshiremen and an 13-6 interval lead encouraged hopes of only a second win of the season to keep alive their hopes of survival.
Bristol had other ideas, however, and after Leeds wing John Holtby was sinbinned in the 50th minute, they ran in three tries during a devastating purple patch.
Scrum-half Shaun Perry was the prime beneficiary, touching down in the 51st and 57th minutes before centre Rob Higgitt added a third on the hour mark.
The hat-trick of tries put Bristol in total control and skipper Joe El Abd added a late fourth to secured his side a bonus point.
It was Bristol’s first away win in the league since January 2007 and condemned Leeds to their 14th defeat from 15 Premiership outings this season.
Stuart Lancaster’s men are rock-bottom of the table with a pitiful tally of six points and not even their most ardent follower would back them to survive now.
And yet their customary spirit has never wavered, despite being outplayed and outclassed on such a regular basis.
They opened the scoring after just one minute and six seconds when Samoa centre Andy Tuilagi darted through a gaping hole in the Bristol defence to claim his first try of the season.
Alberto Di Bernardo added the extras but Bristol responded strongly when fly-half Ed Barnes landed a sixth-minute penalty to his side off the mark.
With skipper Stuart Hooper, Kearnan Myall and Jon Dunbar all making their presence felt in a towering Leeds pack, Lancaster’s men drove forward at every opportunity.
There was craft, too, from behind the scrum in the shape of Di Bernardo and scrum-half Joe Bedford, who pinned Bristol back with a series of astute kicks.
Leeds should have extended their lead in the 12th minute when Di Bernardo skewed a penalty wide and they came desperately close to registering their second try three minutes later.
Dunbar, back in the side at flanker after injury, typified the spirit within the Leeds ranks when he charged down a kick from Perry and gave chase with the try-line begging.
The Scot hacked forward and looked certain to ground the ball but two Bristol defenders put paid to his progress and Leeds were denied.
Two minutes later, Di Bernardo missed another opportunity to put another three points on the board when he missed a penalty from distance.
However, in the 25th minute he did not err with the boot and his first successful penalty from his third attempt put Leeds 10-3 ahead.
That came moments after Bristol second row Sean Hohneck was sent to the sin-bin for persistent infringement.
Yet Perry and Barnes dovetailed effectively for Bristol throughout and another penalty from Barnes in the 29th minute kept the visitors right in contention at 10-6.
Four minutes before the break, Di Bernardo claimed his second successful penalty but shortly before the break it took an outstanding last-gasp tackle from Tom Biggs to deny Anthony Elliott a certain try.
Holtby was sent to the sin-bin 10 minutes after the break for infringement around the ruck and Leeds were quickly made to pay.
Perry touched down for a scrappy score barely a minute later and had his second six minutes later, again from close range.
Bristol were camped in the Leeds half and it came as no surprise when Higgitt was given the space to cross the line.
It was a remarkable turnaround and effectively settled the game, but Bristol still had time to claim a bonus-point when El Abd waltzed over the line in the 75th minute to further expose Leeds’ weaknesses.
Barnes ended the game with two conversions to add to his two earlier penalties.