RFU Championship: Bedford Blues 20 Newcastle Falcons 29
Bedford Blues can count themselves hugely unlucky to have lost 29-20 against Championship leaders Newcastle at Goldington Road this afternoon, writes Michael Hann.
The last time these sides met was in 2000 when the Blues triumphed 32-22, but there was to be no repeat of that this time around as Newcastle put themselves in a commanding position thanks to first half tries from Richard Mayhew and Tom Catterick.
Bedford battled back in the second half and James Pritchard scored two fantastic tries, but with Newcastle fly-half Jimmy Gopperth kicking penalties at regular intervals Bedford were condemned to consecutive Championship defeats.
The Blues made just two changes to the side that was defeated by Bristol. Ben Ransom, who looked lively on the wing last time out, replaced the injured Ollie Dodge, while Don Barrell returned in place of Alex Rae.
Newcastle, playing down the slope in the first half, took just three minutes to get the first points of the match.
The Falcons applied some early pressure after kick off and were rewarded when they won a penalty after the Blues didn’t release in the tackle.
Gopperth converted and the Newcastle fly-half should have extended the visitors’ lead when he had another penalty chance but he put it wide.
The match had started at a frantic pace and Bedford were back on level terms soon afterwards.
The Newcastle defence were offside at the breakdown and Pritchard stepped up to bring the match back to all square.
However, the home side were reduced to 14 men as Paul Tupai was sent to the sin bin for bringing down the Newcastle maul.
It proved costly as, from the resulting play, the Falcons drove the ball towards the Blues line, allowing Mayhew to bundle it home.
But the home side were not deterred and continued to play their famous attacking brand of rugby that was causing problems for the Championship leaders.
Former Blue Sean Tomes then conceded a penalty and saw yellow for his efforts.
Pritchard stepped up but his kick shaved the outside of the post and went wide.
Nevertheless the Bedford skipper did pull three points back when Newcastle failed to bind fully in the scrum and Pritchard this time nailed his kick.
And the home side could have reduced the deficit further when they won another penalty 40 metres out but Jake Sharp’s kick fell short.
It was then Newcastle’s turn to win a penalty 23 metres out. Gopperth confidently put his effort through the posts and the visitors now led 13-6.
And with half time approaching Bedford were hit with a sucker punch as Newcastle produced a superb passing move to score their second of the afternoon.
Pritchard looked to have cleared the Blues lines with a long kick downfield but the Falcons ran the ball back towards the Bedford line and Catterick spotted a gap in the oncoming defence to go over.
Gopperth converted and somewhat cruelly Bedford went into the half time break 20-6 behind.
The Blues came out in the second half looking to score some quick points, but they couldn’t quite find the killer pass to unlock the sturdy Newcastle backline.
But their determination to play good rugby was rewarded when substitute Mark Atkinson picked out Pritchard with a pass and the full-back hit top gear down the wing – powering his way over the line.
The Blues skipper converted from a tight angle and they received a let off when Newcastle looked to have scored as Alex Tait broke through several tackles and off-loaded to Joel Hodgson who knocked the ball forward on the line.
However, the Falcons did extended their lead with another Gopperth penalty and the fly-half scored again moments later.
But Bedford were not out of it yet and captain fantastic Pritchard produced a moment of sheer brilliance to score his second of the game.
The Blues skipper received the ball down the left flank and he grubber kicked it between the oncoming defenders to score. He then converted as Bedford now trailed just 26-20.
Gopperth could have put the game beyond doubt when he had another penalty chance but unusually he missed it.
However, it didn’t prove costly as Newcastle managed to pitch themselves on the Blues’ 22 metre line and the ball was played back to Gopperth threaded the posts with a drop-goal.
There was no way back for Bedford though and, although the result will go down as a defeat, that will only tell half the story.
Blues: Darren Fearn (Ricky Reeves 40), Neil Cochrane (Scott Spurling 60), Phil Boulton (Dan Seal 50), Paul Tupai, Mike Howard (Alex Rae 60), Gregor Gillanders, Sacha Harding, Don Barrell (Darren Fox 53), Luke Baldwin (Ali Price 80), Jake Sharp, Josh Bassett, Henry Staff (Mark Atkinson 49), Brendan Burke, Ben Ransom, James Pritchard (C). T: Pritchard 2. C: Pritchard 2. P: Pritchard 2.
Falcons: Jonny Golding, Rob Vickers (Matt Thompson 72), Oliver Tomaszczyk (James Hall 80), Sean Tomes (Chris York 72), Scott MacLeod, Mark Wilson (Taiasina Tu’ifua 55), Richard Mayhew, Ally Hogg (C), Rory Lawson, Jimmy Gopperth, Tom Catterick (Joel Hodgson 49), Tane Tu’ipulotu, Alex Crockett (Jamie Helleur 68), Ryan Shortland, Alex Tait. Replacements not used: Jordi Pasqualin. T: Mayhew, Catterick. C: Gopperth 2. P: Gopperth 4. DG: Gopperth.
Referee: Martin Fox.
Touch Judges: Ross Campbell and Roy Maybank.
Star Blue: James Pritchard. The Blues captain led by example scoring all the points for his side and can count himself unlucky to be on the losing team.