Championship: Bedford 25 Jersey 20
Bedford Blues managed to continue their good form with a 25-20 victory over Jersey at Goldington Road on Saturday.
In a match that was evenly contested, it was a late try from Bedford’s fly-half Jake Sharp that secured a victory that moved the Blues up to sixth in the Championship table, above their opponents.
Jersey will feel aggrieved to have lost a match they led for the majority, as tries from Drew Locke, Martin Garcia-Veiga and Nicholas Griffiths looked to have been enough for victory, however strong character from Bedford was enough for the four points.
With an attendance of 2,394 at Goldington Road, it was the visitors whom started the strongest.
Jersey, playing down the slope in the first half, managed to win territory inside Bedford’s 22 following a penalty.
The rolling maul then moved infield and forced the Bedford pack onto the back foot, however they stood strong and resisted the nudge enough to force the Islanders to shift the ball wide.
A grubber kick through by Jonathan Bentley was well covered by veteran full-back James Pritchard, and that allowed Sharp to kick clear.
However his clearance could only find Mark McCrea on the Jersey left wing and he decisively ran the ball straight back at the Blues’ defence.
The winger looked to have scored himself, but for a last ditch tackle by Pat Tapley before the line, yet that wasn’t to stop Jersey from scoring as the winger offloaded to Locke on his shoulder and the centre dived over to score.
That score arrived with just three minutes on the clock, and it could easily have nerved a Bedford side that were thrashed 42-15 by Rotherham in their only other home match of the season prior to this.
Yet two impressive away performances since showed signs of a team more than capable of competing at this level, and Saturday’s show of character only enhances that opinion.
An example of that was how quick Bedford responded, by scoring a penalty just four minutes later via the boot of Pritchard.
Much of the first half provided few attacking opportunities for either side, as the wet conditions forced players into kicking for territory than running from deep.
The only other score in the first half was another penalty, this time for Jersey. An outstanding effort from Tommy Bell inside his own half punished a Blues defence that strayed into an offside position and stretch Jersey’s lead back to eight points.
With both teams showing signs of frustration at the lack of opportunities arising, both teams then had men sent to the sin-bin.
Firstly Jersey’s tight-head Sam Lockwood was carded for a spear tackle, and then later in the half Bedford’s Mike Howard was disciplined for getting involved in an altercation with a Jersey player.
The visitors looked like they would punish Howard soon after when they worked an overlap well on the left wing, but a poor pass to McCrea on the left meant the winger knocked on just in front of the line when he looked certain to score.
The half drew to a close and Bedford knew they were still in it, and they drew level just a minute after the restart.
Paul Tupai won the restart, and the Blues were straight on the attack. The ball was shipped to the left where Sharp spotted space in the corner for a grubber kick, one that was grabbed by Pritchard and as a result drew the scores level.
The hosts then took the lead for the first time through a Pritchard penalty, but their lead quickly disappeared a minute later.
Bedford’s rush defence was penalised for another offside, and Jersey chose to kick for the corner rather than the easy looking three points. That decision was justified as scrum-half Nicholas Griffiths spotted space round the corner of the mall that went infield, and dived over to give Jersey a four point advantage.
The hosts showed great character and were close to scoring soon after conceding when a strong Tapley run nearly brought out a try for captain Nick Fenton-Wells, but the number eight was unable to collect a pass above his head.
However the winger soon made amends for his poor pass by scoring on the hour mark, fellow winger Jim Wigglesworth ran across the pitch to find Tapley, and the right winger went on his own this time to spot a gap in the defence that allowed him to run under the posts.
The lead changed hands five times in the second half, and Jersey thought they had done enough with just 15 minutes left when Martin Garcia-Veiga scored following another powerful Jersey maul, and give the Islanders a two point lead.
Yet Sharp arrived on the 70th minute to beat his opposite number with a simple step to score and ensure Bedford’s upturn in form continues in the Greene King Championship.
The Blues now take a break from league action as they travel to Penzance to play Cornish Pirates in the British and Irish Cup next Sunday.
Bedford: Billy Moss (Camilo Parilli-Ocampo 68), Charlie Clare (Jared Saunders 65), James Currie, Mike Howard, Eoin Sheriff (Harry Wells 70), Paul Tupai, Justin Blanchet (Joe Vandermolen 76), Nick Fenton-Wells (c); Darryl Veenendaal, Jake Sharp, Jim Wigglesworth, Ollie Dodge (Viliami Hakalo 76), Michael LeBourgeois, Pat Tapley, James Pritchard.
Replacements not used: Peter White and Steffan Jones.
T: James Pritchard, Pat Tapley and Jake Sharp C: James Pritchard (2) P: James Pritchard (2)
Jersey: Sam Lockwood, Martin Garcia-Veiga (Gareth Harris 70), Danny Herriott (Jon Brennan 55), Pierce Philips (Ignacio Lancuba 78), Alex Rae (c), Nick Haining (Dave Markham 59), Ryan Hodson, Michael Noone; Nicky Griffiths, Jonny Bentley (Tobias Hoskins 70), Mark McCrea, Lewis Robling, Drew Locke, Grant Pointer, Tommy Bell.
Replacements not used: Paula Kaho and Ryan Glynn.
T: Drew Locke, Martin Garcia-Veiga and Nicholas Griffiths C: Tommy Bell P: Tommy Bell
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant Referees: Darryl Chapman and Dino Maddern