RFU Championship: Nottingham 25 Bedford Blues 17
Bedford Blues suffered a 25-17 defeat against Nottingham in front of the Sky cameras at Meadow Lane this afternoon, writes Michael Hann.
Only points difference separated the two sides coming into this game, however Bedford had won the last six Championship meetings against the Green and Whites.
But it was Nottingham who started the match brightly and they raced into an early lead as James Arlidge scored two quick penalties.
Bedford struggled to get out of their half for much of the first period and Tim Streather and Sean Romans both got on the scoresheet as the hosts led 18-0 at half time.
Nottingham continued to press at the start of the second half and were awarded a penalty try to further their advantage.
However, the visitors did stage a late fightback as Josh Bassett and James Stephenson went over, but it proved too little too late.
The Blues made wholesale changes to the side that narrowly beat Stirling two weeks ago. Most notably there were recalls for Neil Cochrane and Ben Gulliver, while Ben Ransom started his first match since November at full-back.
As the teams ran out in front of the Sky cameras it was the home side that took an early lead as Arlidge converted a penalty after the Blues infringed in the scrum.
The home side were already looking like a force to be reckoned with and they doubled their advantage minutes later as Arlidge converted a second penalty.
Bedford were really struggling to get to into the match and Nottingham’s expansive brand of rugby meant much of the play was inside the Blues’ 22.
And the Green and Whites’ dominance eventually paid off as a sweeping move saw winger Alex Lewington spot a gap in the Blues defence and he offloaded to Streather, who dived over in the corner. Arlidge missed the conversion though as Bedford trailed 11-0.
It was one-way traffic and Nottingham had a chance to further their lead as they won another penalty, but Arlidge missed from 48 metres.
The Blues’ troubles were then made worse as prop Phil Boulton saw yellow and shortly afterwards the Green and Whites thought they had scored a second, only for the TMO to rule that David Jackson’s effort had been held up.
However, from the resulting five-metre scrum the home side did score as scrum-half Romans bundled the ball home and Arlidge converted to make it 18-0.
Nottingham continued to press and they could have had their third try when Lewington stole the ball from Ransom and raced for the line.
Fortunately Jake Sharp was on hand to put the winger into touch and spare the Blues’ blushes.
With half time approaching Bedford did have a chance to pull three points back with a penalty, however James Pritchard sent his kick wide.
And that proved to be the final action of a fairly miserable first half for the Blues as they went into the break 18-0 down.
An offside at the start of the second period gave Bedford the chance to reduce the deficit, which Pritchard took to bring the scores back to 18-3.
Yet Nottingham continued to dominate proceedings and a string of penalties moved them deep into Blues’ territory.
And a scrum five-metres out gave the Green and Whites their third try of the afternoon as they were awarded a penalty try after the scrum rolled over.
Arlidge converted, but the travelling Blues fans were then given something to cheer as Ollie Dodge played in Bassett to score and Pritchard converted as, with 20 minutes to go, Bedford were still in with a shout.
But Nottingham were in no mood to let their lead slip like they had in September and Rhys Crane thought he had killed the Blues off with a try, only for it to be deemed that he had knocked the ball on as he crossed the line.
With five mintues to go Bedford did spark back into life with a superb try. Ransom’s break got the move started, before Darryl Veenedaal took over.
The ball was worked to Mark Atkinson who side-stepped his man and offloaded to Stephenson to score.
Sharp converted and with the scoreline now at 25-17 there was a nervy few minutes for the home side.
But the Green and Whites had done enough to triumph and the result means Bedford stay third in the Championship table, four points behind Nottingham.
Nottingham: Matt Parr, Joe Duffey (Shaun Malton 72), Michael Holford (Ryan Bower 69), Dan Montagu, Nic Rouse, Rupert Cooper, Brent Wilson (C), Alex Shaw (Tom Calladine 68), Sean Romans, James Arlidge, Rhys Crane, Joe Munro, Tim Streather, Alex Lewington, David Jackson. Replacements not used: Joe Quinn, Finlay Barnham, Rory Lynn, Joe Cobden. T: Streather, Romans, Penalty Try. C: Arlidge 2. P: Arlidge 2.
Blues: Ricky Reeves, Neil Cochrane (Chris Locke 75), Phil Boulton (Dan Seal 50), Mike Howard, Ben Gulliver, Gregor Gillanders (Alex Rae 50), Darren Fox, Paul Tupai (Don Barrell 50), Luke Baldwin (Darryl Veenendaal 75), Jake Sharp, James Pritchard (C) (James Stephenson 69), Ollie Dodge, Brendan Burke (Mark Atkinson 65), Josh Bassett, Ben Ransom. T: Bassett, Stephenson. C: Pritchard, Sharp. P: Pritchard.
Referee: Matthew Carley.
Touch Judges: Brian Ravenhill and Simon McConnell.
Star Blue: Ollie Dodge. The Blues centre continued his comeback from injury with another decent performance and had a hand in Josh Bassett’s try.