Goldington Road received a ringing endorsement from Premiership giants Saracens and Leicester Tigers as Sarries triumphed 38-21 in their LV= Cup at the home of the Bedford Blues on Friday night, writes Mark Wood.
The floodlit encounter proved a real spectacle as 3,168 squeezed into the Blues’ ancestral home, which oozes character and boasts its quirky sloping pitch.
And despite being on the losing side, Tigers’ director of rugby Richard Cockerill revealed he would have no qualms leading out his side there if the Blues can gain promotion.
He said: “I think I’ve played for Leicester here with them in the Premiership, so it’s not a problem for me.
“Promotion, relegation is what it is. I’ve played at Coventry in my younger days and I’ve coached at Rugby Lions when they were in the Championship.
“If you want sides and owners to have the ambition to put money into sides like Bedford or whoever in the Championship to come to the Premiership then there’s got to be promotion.”
And he continued his glowing endorsement by adding on the slope: “If this was a Premiership ground you come and it’s home advantage isn’t it.
“We have home advantage at Welford Road for different reasons you come to Bedford and Goldington Road and the home team has the advantage for different reasons and that might be the slope or use of the slope or the size of the ground or whatever it may be.
“So for me it’s not an issue, I’d happily bring Leicester here and play in the Premiership because that for me is part of the game.”
Sarries’ defence and forwards coach Paul Gustard felt it was one of the best atmospheres his nomadic side had played in front of this season and backed the Blues to improve on last season’s play-off semi-final defeat.
On a potential Premiership tussle, he said: “Hopefully and hopefully we wouldn’t have to put our players with them that year if they do!
“But I think the fact that was a huge turnout in the crowd here, there’s a great atmosphere, one of the best atmospheres we’ve had this season to be honest, it was quite partisan to us as well which is brilliant considering the proximity of Leicester to Bedford as well.
“We’re really pleased and we obviously wish Bedford all the best and if they can continue that campaign and continue the good form that they showed last year, and were probably a bit unlucky with the end result, and if they get up to the Premiership then good luck to them.”
Saracens named five players who have pulled on a Bedford Blues shirt in their matchday squad as they handed starts to George Kruis, James Short, Duncan Taylor and Ben Ransom, with Luke Baldwin named on the bench.
On the night Saracens proved far to strong as they converted their 27-0 half time lead into victory.
Jamie George, ex-Blue Taylor, Joe Maddock and Andy Saull all touched down with skipper Nils Mordt kicking 18 points, while Tigers responded through tries from Joe Cain, Michael Noone and Harry Thacker, all three converted by captain Matt Cornwell.
Blues chairman Geoff Irvine hailed the night a huge success, saying “I think it was a great occasion wasn’t it.
“Both Saracens and Leicester officials and coaches and players have been very complimentary about the ground and the facilities.
“And all the fans that I’ve spoken to have enjoyed their night out, a good game of rugby. I thought the ground looked magnificent under our new lights and everybody’s had a good time.
“Once again Bedford are at the forefront of leading the way when it comes to these games.”
On the attendance, he continued “We think we were affected a little bit by the crash on the motorway which made it very difficult for people to get here from all directions.
“We think there possibly could have been a few more, but again Saracens and Leicester were very pleased and it was nice to see Rory Underwood back here in his official capacity of director of Leicester Tigers.”
And on whether Goldington Road would be cut out for the Premiership, he added: “That’s another question and hopefully we will get ourselves in a position one day where we’re able to ask that question.
“I never get ahead of myself, there’s plenty of cliches I can give you, one game at a time...
“But we’re enjoying it, we’ve got a great bunch of lads and I think one of the great things is our dual-registered boys out there, Duncan Taylor gets man of the match.
“I think Ramo (Ben Ransom) was impressive in the first half, Luke Baldwin played well and that again is the great thing Saracens are so pleased with the way the dual-registration is working out.”