RFU Championship, semi-finals first-leg: Bedford Blues 26 (9) Nottingham 17 (10)
Bedford Blues hold the advantage in their RFU Championship semi-final against Nottingham after a 26-17 first-leg victory at Goldington Road this afternoon, writes Michael Hann.
The Blues have suffered disappointment at the semi-final stage in the last two seasons, however Myles Dorrian kicked them into an early lead with a well-taken penalty.
Nottingham’s response was instant as James Arlidge made no mistake with a penalty, but Dorrian gave the Blues a 9-3 lead thanks to two sweetly-struck penalties.
Yet with half time approaching Arlidge charged down Ben Ransom’s clearance for the afternoon’s first try as the Green & White’s took a slender 10-9 lead into the break.
The home side were undeterred though and Mark Atkinson touched down a minute into the second half, before Dorrian kicked another penalty.
The Blues were now in control of the match and Ransom’s converted try gave the home side a 16-point lead.
However, Nottingham were given a lifeline as an injury-time penalty try means that everything is still to play for in less than a week’s time.
Bedford kept faith with the side that narrowly lost out against Newcastle last weekend as there were no changes to the starting line-up, however there was one alteration on the bench as the fit-again Ben Gulliver replaced Tom Armes.
It was the Blues that applied the early pressure inside five minutes as Brendan Burke offloaded to James Short who slipped a grubber kick down the right touchline to win a lineout.
The home side dominated possession and it paid off on 13 minutes as the Blues won a penalty that Dorrian swept through the uprights.
The lead didn’t last long though as Burke’s kick out of defence ran dead and, from the resulting scrum, Nottingham were awarded a penalty that Arlidge converted.
With the rain now pouring down Bedford restored their lead on 18 minutes as Nottingham conceded a penalty at the breakdown and Dorrian superbly converted from 40 metres.
After a brief rush of points both sides traded possession and, from a lineout, Atkinson went in search of the game’s first try as he broke through the Green & Whites’ defence.
The visitors recovered as Bedford knocked the ball forward just before the line, yet the pressure was still on Nottingham as the Blues won a series of lineouts inside the 22.
But they couldn’t make the most of them as Nottingham eventually cleared their lines.
And it was the visitors who were next to attack as they won a lineout in the Blues 22.
Nottingham looked to use the ball quickly, but Nick Fenton-Wells and Darren Fox combined superbly to rip the ball back off the visitors and set up an attack, with Ransom looking to be played in down the touchline.
The Green & Whites scrambled back to play the ball to touch, however Bedford were rewarded on 37 minutes as they won a penalty after Nottingham were caught crossing trying to set up a maul.
Dorrian nailed his kick, but with half time minutes away disaster struck as Ransom’s kick was charged down and Arlidge was left with a simple finish for a converted try.
Nottingham took a 10-9 lead into the break and would be playing down the slope in the second half.
However, that didn’t seem to make a difference as less than a minute into the second period Bedford scored their first try with an almost carbon copy of that of the visitors.
Green & Whites fly-half Arlidge’s clearance was charged down by Atkinson and the ball fell to Burke, who hacked on.
Atkinson was quickest on to it, taking a couple of touches with the boot and then diving over the whitewash for a converted score.
Back came the visitors once more and they produced a sweeping move across their backline and looked set to score, only for centre Andy Forsyth to spill the ball with the line at his mercy.
Bedford then missed a chance to extend their lead on 56 minutes as Dorrian sent a penalty wide after Nottingham failed to roll away at the breakdown.
Just four minutes later Dorrian had another chance from the tee as a high tackle on Neil Cochrane gifted the Blues a penalty and the fly-half this time made no mistake.
And Bedford had the visitors on the ropes as they scored again soon after.
The home side worked their way up the slope patiently and with precision, enabling Ransom to spot a gap and scorch his way over as the ball was spread wide.
Dorrian, who was in fine form with the boot, converted, and the Goldington Road crowd voiced their appreciation as the Blues now led 26-10.
Another opportunity came Bedford’s way moments later as they earned a penalty, but Dorrian kick faded wide.
The Blues could smell blood as Ransom tried to play Short in with a grubber kick and, with David Jackson struggling to collect it, Short knocked the ball on as he came under pressure.
With time past 80 minutes, Nottingham got themselves back in the tie.
Bedford replacement prop Phil Boulton was sin-binned four minutes into stoppage time when he pulled down a rolling maul for a second time and referee JP Doyle quickly tired of Bedford’s spoiling tactics and awarded Nottingham a penalty try at the death, which Alridge converted with the final kick of the game.
It’s advantage Bedford, but with just nine points in it they know everything is still to play for at Meadow Lane on Friday night.
Blues: Darren Fearn (Phil Boulton 50), Neil Cochrane (Scott Spurling 74), Dan Seal, Mike Howard (Don Barrell 74), Paul Tupai (Ben Gulliver 50), Gregor Gillanders, Darren Fox (C), Nick Fenton-Wells, Luke Baldwin (Darryl Veenendaal 74), Myles Dorrian, James Short, Mark Atkinson, Brendan Burke, James Stephenson, Ben Ransom. Replacements not used: Jake Sharp, Ollie Dodge. T: Atkinson, Ransom. C: Dorrian 2. P: Dorrian 4.
Nottingham: Matthew Parr, Joseph Duffey: (Shaun Malton 67), Michael Holford, Daniel Montagu, Nicholas Rouse, Rupert Cooper (Tom Calladine 67), Brent Wilson (C), Alexander Shaw, Sean Romans, James Arlidge, Rhys Crane, Joe Munro, Andy Forsyth, Alex Lewington, David Jackson. Replacements not used: Ryan Bower, Tom Price, Harrison Lee-Everton, Rory Lynn, Jack Cobden. T: Arlidge, Penalty Try. C: Arlidge 2. P: Arlidge.
Referee: JP Doyle.
Touch Judges: Roger Baileff and Simon McConnell.
Star Blue: Myles Dorrian. The Blues fly-half was in fine touch with the boot as he kicked four penalties and two conversions in an excellent display.