Bedford Blues went crashing out of the Championship playoff semi-finals as they lost 45-19 in the second leg at Ashton Gate on Sunday afternoon.
The Blues made the long trip down to Bristol for the second leg of the play-offs, knowing full well they would need a change of luck to overcome the 29-point deficit on aggregate but it just wasn’t to be for Mike Rayer’s men.
Trailing 45-16 from the previous leg at Goldington Road, the Blues were sent out to play rugby under no pressure and they put in a superb performance.
Three tries for Bedford came courtesy of Paul Tupai, Dean Adamson and a penalty try, but Bristol ran in six tries to secure their place in the Championship play off final.
Bedford made the perfect start as Josh Buggea went over within the opening 18 seconds but referee Dean Richards called for the TMO who ruled out the try.
Bristol looked to gain motivation from their early mistakes and it didn’t take long for them to open the scoring through Martin Roberts as the fly-half spotted a gap in the Blues defence before charging over the line. Callum Sheedy sent over the conversion to make it 7-0.
Bristol didn’t take long to double their lead as David Lemi broke with the ball before offloading it to Nick Koster who dotted down with Sheedy adding the extras.
Bedford were handed the advantage five minutes afterwards, though, when both Sheedy and Nick Koster were shown yellow and the Blues were awarded a penalty try before Jake Sharp added the conversion.
Bedford levelled the scores six minutes after when Tupai broke with possession before popping the ball to Adamson who darted over the line with Jake Sharp easing over the extras.
Bristol looked shaken but they responded minutes later through Martin Roberts, and the returning Sheedy sent over the conversion to make it 21-14.
Bristol looked highly motivated at this point and it wasn’t long until they added their fourth try of the afternoon. Lemi broke with possession before sending it on to Ben Mosses who dotted down and Sheedy sent over the conversion to make it 28-14.
Sheedy extended the hosts’ lead after sending over a close range penalty and it looked to be the last play of the half. The Blues had other ideas, though, as they set up a dangerous driving maul which sent Tupai crashing over the whitewash, but Sharp’s effort bounced off the uprights to signal the half time whistle.
Bedford started the second half on the back foot but Bristol were reduced to 14 men once again when Luke Arscott was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-on.
The second half saw a battle of two fantastic defences and, with both teams having a number of try scoring opportunities, it was surprising to see neither team going over.
Bristol managed to open the Blues defence up once again but it took until the 74th minute. Matthew Morgan broke with pace from inside his own half before sending it on to Mosses who offloaded it to Varndell who went crashing over before Sheedy added the conversion.
Bristol added one final try through Andy Uren. The scrum half scooped up the loose ball before sprinting clear of the covering Pat Tapley. Sheedy added the final conversion to secure the 45-19 victory for Bristol.
Bristol: Arscott, Varndell, Maule (Carpenter 40), Mosses, Lemi (Morgan 40), Sheedy, Roberts (Uren 71), O’Connell (Traynor 40), McMillan (Brooker 40), Perenise (Ford-Robinson 40), Evans, Glynn, Koster, Lam (Joyce 40), Phillips
Bedford Blues: Jones (Tapley 59), Perkins, Le Bourgeois, Dodge, Adamson, Sharp (Dorrian 64), Taylor (Burns 64), Parilli-Ocampo (Alo 64), Clare (Fields 66), Boulton (Lundberg 64), Howard, Flanagan, Buggea (Wells 53), Nagle-Taylor, Tupai