Having had a fairly solitary Christmas Day I headed to Bedford on Boxing Day for the 2nd year in a row. I treated myself to hospitality so arrived nice and early; only to find there was no ticket for me at the Ticket Office! Disaster! Except the lovely ladies dolling out the tickets sorted that situation out for me, phew! Again I found myself in a large room, well marquee this time, where I didn’t know a soul. But, sport is wonderful for sorting that out, I sat with some very friendly Bedford Blues fans and enjoyed a tasty 3 course lunch; good value for a mere 25 English Pounds! Some great chat was had too!
Game time was looming so I went in search of my ‘apron’ seat – at times I’ve found the seating in the stand at Bedford a little uncomfortable and last year I had what turned out to be a restricted view. My seat this time was 4 rows from the front, had a back, so was quite comfortable and was just under cover so I was kept dry. A result all round.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know I’m not a lover of the whole Play Off for a place in The Premiership thing; Bristol Rugby finished 9 points ahead of their competitors last season and for me should therefore have taken their place in the top flight. I can feel a piece coming on about the whole scenario once a Championship team takes their place in the Premiership; but I firmly believe Bristol would have been better placed to hold their own. Before this game was played, with 8 games down they were sitting at the top of the table on 37 points.
Bedford on the other hand were 7th with a mere 15 points. Those statistics along with the fact that Bristol boasted a number of very big names amongst their line up suggested to me we might see a one sided affair. However we’re in the months of wet and cold rugby and that can be a great leveller; and so it was to be at Goldington Road.
One of Bristol’s big names David Lemi made himself apparent with an early streaking run right through the Blues defence; a favourite of mine from his Wasps days it was great to see he still has that wonderful turn of pace. The 1st scrum of the match brought the 1st penalty; going the way of the visitors Nicky Robinson, another former Wasp ht the posts and Blues cleared their lines.
The 1st score was to be for Bristol however as they went on a mighty rolling maul from what seemed to be virtually the halfway line after a lineout. Olly Robinson emerged with the ball in hand and Nicky Robinson’s conversion was on target to put the visitors ahead. The power of the maul had been so immense it felt that the afternoon was going to be a very long one for Blues!
However after Jake Sharp missed a long range penalty; in fact he really got nowhere near, the Blues Fly Half showed true skill with the boot however not long after, as he chipped the ball over the heads of the on rushing Bristol defence; Mike Le Bourgeois caught the ball brilliantly making some distance before he passed out to James Pritchard who took advantage of the overlap to score what was a superbly worked try. The conversion was missed.
We had a series of errors and penalties as Bristol had a throw in after a penalty deemed not straight; Blues were then awarded the next scrum penalty – scrums really do seem to be penalty machines rather than a way of restarting the game, far too frequently for the good of the game! Nicky Robinson had a kick charged down then Bristol had a series of penalties awarded against them close to their line. A warning was given to David Lemi but a further penalty saw Mitch Eadie see yellow and a 10 minute rest. Blues took advantage of the extra man and powered over the line themselves; Harry Wells being the beneficiary of a forwards try. The conversion was again missed but the home team took the lead.
Nicky Robinson had what was a speculative kick at goal after yet another penalty; the kick missed but time was wasted while Bristol were a man down. Blues were awarded another scrum penalty and they made the most of the territory gained with Darryl Veenendaal running at pace from the back of a ruck passing the ball to Dean Adamson who evaded the defender to score. James Pritchard converted at this 3rd attempt taking the score to Blues 17 Bristol 7 at half time. A great half for the home team!
The 2nd half started in the error/penalty style as both teams paid for the conditions and a lack of composure; none more so than when Bristol were given a further 10 for back chatting by Blues – bit of a schoolboy error that one! Nicky Robinson and David Lemi linked in what I’ve noted as a display of pure class to send the ball out to Andy Short who scored what was a well worked try. Nicky Robinson converted the try to close the gap to 3.
With conditions getting worse as the rain lashed down a slippery ball was knocked on several times and we saw a further two penalties awarded in the penalty mechanism – sorry, scrum, to Bristol. The visitors next try was to come from another display of forwards strength as they again rolled over the Blues line; this time Chris Brooker emerged triumphant – Robinson added another valuable 2 points.
Having scored a nailed on forwards try Brooker promptly showed he what he could do with a bit of open space as he stormed over the Blues line unchallenged to score Bristol’s bonus point try. The conversion was an easy one and scored by Robinson. Although the visitors had turned the tables in the 2nd half Blues were to have the last say as they didn’t give up the ghost.
Pat Tapley who had been prone moments before with what looked like a back injury backed himself ; turning the speed on to pass the Bristol defender he scored the 4th try for Bedford; the successful conversion took the score to Bedford Blues 24 Bristol Rugby 28. That was how the game was to finish; in spite of losing the performance by Bedford will I imagine have given them a lot of confidence as the season moves into 2015 as well as a deserved 2 points. For Bristol the game will have reinforced just how hard rugby can be in these ‘grotty’ weather months.