Blues stars call for Championship XV to become a regular fixture

Bedford Blues
Bedford Blues

The RFU can’t let Saturday’s Championship representative game against the Maori All Blacks remain as a one-off according to those Bedford Blues involved, writes Mark Wood.

Some scintillating rugby was played at Castle Park as the touring side ran out 52-21 winners on the day against a plucky Championship side coached by Bedford Blues director of rugby Mike Rayer, which boasted Blues stars Josh Bassett, Jake Sharp, Luke Baldwin and Mark Atkinson in its ranks.

Enthusiastic on-loan Saracens scrum-half Baldwin said: “If there was any other opportunity to be involved in a team like that in the future I would jump at the chance.

“It could even be an idea to get a preliminary squad and have a few camps where we meet up. The turnaround was very short, we met up on the Wednesday and played on the Saturday.

“Considering we had very little training time together we did very well.

Late inclusion Atkinson also wanted to see it become a regular occurrence, but questioned whether the Maori were perhaps a step too far.

On what he took from the occasion, he said: “I think quite a lot of pride in the idea of a Championship.

“I think it’s quite important (to do it again). A yearly team would be amazing, but the choice of opposition is important.

“Obviously with just three training sessions together the Maori may have been a stretch too far. Maybe a lesser international side would have been better, I’m not too sure what a good level would be but something less powerful than the Maori.”

Fly-half Sharp paid tribute to the Championship’s strength in depth that enabled it to compete against the formidable Maori.

“They weren’t unbeatable but their firepower was pretty unrelenting to be honest,” Sharp said.

“The Championship’s no longer two leagues with one half stronger and one weaker. There’s such strength in depth to this league now.

“It is turning out great young players like Tom Youngs. It should be more than a one-off.”

Sharp’s also hoping that the hiatus away from the league will help the Blues to come back refreshed as they bid for a top four finish and promotion to the Premiership.

He said: “For me it’s a nice way to break up the season and push on for the next four to five weeks leading up to Christmas and then it’s into the business end of the season fighting for the top four spot and relegation as well.

“There’s basically more than four of us who could have been in that squad.

“Our strength is our strength in depth from one to 30. You can’t really call a starting team.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we can’t do it.”

Blues boss Rayer was also enamoured by the unique event and is hopeful something similar can be repeated.

He added: “I really enjoyed it. I was never going to do anything else than enjoy the week, it’s something different, something unique.

“It was such a positive experience and such a good vibe in the camp all week. It would be a shame if it was just a one-off.

“There’s certainly an appetite among the group of players and the coaching staff.

“The Championship is having a big role and it’s certainly right it should be given some air time and exposure at the very least.”