RFU Championship: London Scottish 26 Bedford Blues 23
Bedford Blues fell to a narrow 26-23 defeat to London Scottish at the Athletic Ground this afternoon, writes Michael Hann.
Confidence should have been high for the Blues coming into this fixture as the three previous Championship meetings between the two sides had resulted in Bedford scoring 139 points.
But they faced a Scottish side resurgent after a narrow defeat to Newcastle two weeks ago and it showed as Andy Reay and Tyler Hotson ran in two first half tries.
James Love kicked two penalties for the hosts as, despite two from James Pritchard, Bedford trailed 17-6 at the break.
The Blues fought back in the second period as Josh Bassett scored two converted tries, but it proved to be in vain as Love continued two kick penalties at regular intervals, leaving Bedford with only a losing bonus point.
The visitors made just three changes to the side that started against Rotherham on Boxing Day. Ricky Reeves and Dan Seal started in the front row in place of Darren Fearn and Phil Boulton, while Luke Baldwin came in at scrum-half.
It was the London side that came out of the blocks quickest and they were ahead two minutes in. James Stevenson was pinned to the floor in the tackle, giving Love a penalty chance from 35 metres which he duly took.
Bedford went in search of an early response and, after several passes, Pritchard tried to set up Paul Tupai with a neat grubber, but the number was ruled offside.
The ball was now in Exile hands and they didn’t have to wait long for their first try.
An excellent maul got the move started and scrum-half Stevenson then ran at the Blues defence before playing in Reay for the easiest of finishes.
Love converted and, as the bagpipes rang around the Athletic Ground, Bedford trailed by 10 points.
An offside call gave Pritchard the chance to reduce the deficit with a penalty, but what Bedford really craved was a try.
And just as the Blues looked to be getting back into the match they found themselves further behind as they conceded a second try.
A neat passing move enabled the Exiles to gain valuable yardage and Hotson was on hand to get the ball over the line as the bagpipes once again rang out.
Love converted, but a second Pritchard penalty followed for Bedford after they had camped themselves in the Scottish 22.
The visitors had grown into the match and Jake Sharp put the Exiles under further pressure when he chased his own kick down as it headed for the Scottish line.
Love collected it, but fly-half Sharp was on hand to dump him back into the goal area for a five-metre scrum.
The resulting scrum saw the Blues again keep the pressure on but they could not find a way through the rugged Scottish backline.
As half time approached Jim Thompson was sent to the sin bin for Scottish, but it didn’t prove too costly as they were able to see out the half for a 17-6 lead.
Bedford needed a second half to remember if they were going to get anything out of the match, but they were facing a determined Scottish side.
The hosts started the second half in similar vein to the first and they were rewarded for their efforts as Love converted a monster penalty from 40 metres.
The situation was starting to get a little desperate for the Blues, but a series of penalties got them some territory.
And they finally got their first try of the afternoon when the ball was worked wide to Bassett who dived over in the corner.
Pritchard converted magnificently from the touchline and there was now just seven points in it.
But no sooner had Bedford scored than the gap was restored as Love converted his third penalty of the afternoon.
PJ Gidlow then saw yellow for repeated infringements, which did allow Pritchard to claw another three points back, but when Love scored his fourth penalty as the game looked to be beyond Bedford’s reach.
However, the Blues’ never-say-die attitude again came to the fore when Bassett grabbed his second converted try of the afternoon and the game was back on with two minutes to go.
But Bedford couldn’t quite complete another memorable comeback as the Blues tasted defeat for the first time in seven games.
Scottish: Nick Mayhew (Darryl Marfo 56), Adam Kwasnicki, (Gareth Evans 66), Colin Quigley, (Alex Mackenzie 66), Paul Spivey, Tyler Hotson, Chevvy Pennycook, Lewis Calder, (Joe Trayfoot 56), Mark Bright (C), Jamie Stevenson (Richard Bolt 60), Phil Godman, Miles Mantella (PJ Gidlow 30), Andy Reay, Oli Grove, James Love, Jim Thompson. Replacements not used: Josh Thomas Brown. T: Reay, Hotson. C: Love 2. P: Love 4.
Blues: Ricky Reeves, Neil Cochrane (Chris Locke 56), Dan Seal, (Ben Cooper 55), Mike Howard, Ben Gulliver, Alex Rae (Gregor Gillanders 55), Darren Fox, Paul Tupai (Don Barrell 56), Luke Baldwin (Darryl Veenendaal 66), Jake Sharp (Ian Vass 66), Josh Bassett, Mark Atkinson, Brendan Burke, James Stephenson (Ben Ransom 56), James Pritchard (C). T: Bassett 2. C: Pritchard 2. P: Pritchard 3.
Referee: John Meredith.
Touch Judges: Keith Lewis and Dino Madden.
Star Blue: Darren Fox. The Blues flanker produced an all-action display and was imperious in the tackle.