RFU Championship: Bristol 23 Bedford Blues 13
Bedford Blues fell to a first defeat of the season as they lost 23-13 to Bristol at the Memorial Stadium this afternoon, writes Michael Hann.
In adverse weather conditions the Blues took an early first half lead through a James Pritchard penalty.
Bristol responded with a penalty of their own, but Pritchard’s try gave Bedford a 10-6 lead in a cagey opening period.
Bristol battled back at the start of the second half and put quick points on the board thanks to the boot of Tristan Roberts and two Luke Eves’ tries.
The Blues couldn’t respond as they fell to their first defeat of the season, continuing their record of only winning once at Bristol in their 126-year history.
Bedford made several changes to the side that ran riot against Stirling last weekend.
Phil Boulton, Mike Howard and Sacha Harding returned to the Blues’ pack, while Henry Staff and Ollie Dodge were included amongst the backs.
As the rain poured down, Bedford took the initiative when they won a penalty 22 metres out and Pritchard nailed his kick to put the Blues 3-0 in front.
The away side were looking to put points on the board at every opportunity and they came close again when Jake Sharp attempted a drop-goal – only for it to go wide.
Bristol, who had lost their last three Championship games, were starting to affirm themselves in the game and they were passing the ball round nicely despite the conditions.
The Blues defence was standing firm, but there was a break in play when winger Dodge suffered a serious injury and was replaced by Ben Ransom.
The rain was having an effect on the game as there was very little fluidity to it, with both sides trying to apply pressure with long kicks downfield.
Bristol finally levelled things up when Roberts converted a penalty after the Blues failed to release in the tackle.
The hosts were now on top and enjoying most of the possession. Prop Kyle Tarynor tried to create an opening when he broke down the right hand side only to be stopped by a brilliant covering tackle by Ransom.
Then, against the run of play, the Blues sparked into life and grabbed the game’s first try in a superb running move.
The Blues won a lineout 10 metres from their own line and Luke Baldwin raced up to halfway. The ball was worked out to substitute Ransom who did brilliantly to fight off a series of challenges and off-load to Pritchard to score.
The try re-energised the Blues and they looked certain to score again when Brendan Burke had the ball in a good position with men over.
However, the Bedford centre elected to go on himself only to knock the ball forward just before the line.
As half time approached Bristol pulled three points back when the Blues conceded another penalty for failing to bind in the scrum.
Roberts made no mistake, but the visitors led 10-6 at half time with everything still to play for.
The rain eased at the start of the second half and Bristol won a penalty just after the restart, but Roberts dropped his kick short.
Nevertheless they had their first try of the afternoon minutes later. Paul Tupai charged down a drop-goal attempt, only for the ball to fall kindly to Eves who spotted a gap in the Blues defence and went over.
Roberts converted and Bristol were now in front for the first time in the match.
The Bristol fly-half then moved his side further in front when he kicked his third penalty of the afternoon.
Bedford needed to reduce the deficit and Pritchard had a chance to do that when the Blues won a penalty, but he sent his kick wide.
Bristol prop Traynor was then sin-binned after not getting back 10 metres when Baldwin attempted a quick tap penalty.
Pritchard converted the resulting penalty but the Blues were still trailing.
Despite playing with an extra man Bedford could not make their numerical advantage count and they fell further behind when Eves slipped through the Blues backline to score his second of the afternoon.
Adrian Jarvis, now on kicking duty, converted as Bristol led 23-13.
With time running out the Blues tried desperately to salvage something from the match and, despite putting a series of good phases together, they couldn’t get through the resolute Bristol defence.
Bedford huffed and puffed some more, but it proved to be in vain as Bristol took the points, leaving the Blues tasting defeat for the first time this season.
Bristol: Kyle Traynor, Ross Johnston, Gaston Cortes (Bruce Douglas 57), Ben Glynn, Roy Winters, Redford Pennycook, James Merriman (Iain Grieve 75), Mitch Eadie, James Grindal (C) (Ruki Tipuna 60), Tristan Roberts (Adrian Jarvis 57), Mike Tagicakibau, Jack Gadd, Luke Eves, Ryan Edwards, Jack Tovey. Replacements not used: Tom Channon, Glen Townson, George Watkins. T: Eves 2. C: Roberts, Jarvis. P: Roberts 3.
Blues: Darren Fearn (Dan Seal 60), Neil Cochrane (Scott Spurling 73), Phil Boulton, Alex Rae, Mike Howard, Gregor Gillanders, Sacha Harding, Paul Tupai (Joe Vandermolen 73), Luke Baldwin (Darryl Veenendaal 73), Jake Sharp (Mark Atkinson 68), Josh Bassett, Henry Staff, Brendan Burke, Ollie Dodge (Ben Ransom 17) James Pritchard (C). Replacements not used: Ben Gulliver. T: Pritchard. C: Pritchard. P: Pritchard 2.
Referee: Darren Gamage.
Touch Judges: Philip Davies and Brian Ravenhill.
Star Blue: Gregor Gillanders. The Blues flanker put in a combative performance and helped breakdown several Bristol attacks.