Varndell injured in Bedford romp
National Division One
Waterloo Drummers 13 Bedford Blues 42
The Blues jumped up to second place in the league after a seven try to one romp at the seaside on Saturday.
But no-one at Waterloo was going overboard because everyone knows that, because of the way the fixtures came out, Bedford should be top. Second at the end of October will be special, and second by Christmas will really be something to celebrate in a league that is much more competitive and exciting than last season.
Supporters expected nothing less than a maximum five-pointer at Blundellsands against a club struggling in the nether regions of the table. But for a while in the match, memories of what happened at Moseley kept flashing up. Then, the other promoted team raised its game against the Blues and won.
What happened, though, in the end was nearer to what happened at Newbury when the opposition suddenly lost concentration and ran out of steam and streetwise Jon Phillips and co put the boot in.
On that day it all went crazy with a winger and a full back in the sin bin. This time the game broke up after the Leicester loan speed merchant Tom Varndell hobbled off the pitch with an injury 15 minutes from the end of normal time and the Blues ran up four more tries to make it look like an easy afternoon jog around the nearby Aintree racecourse. It was anything but.
Varndell opened the scoring on 12 minutes after a neat chip over the top from scrum-half Karl Dickson - his strength rather than speed getting him through from just outside the 22.
He could have had a second try just before half-time when no-one was near him, but the ball went inside and eventually the livewire Dickson himself scrambled over. James Pritchard converted for the second time and with his early penalty, the Blues turned around to face the sea breeze with a 17-6 lead.
Soon it was 22-6 after Dickson broke again. He collected his own chip ahead and put Pritchard in for a try which he was unable convert.
Though all the attention was on the England pace of Varndell, the Waterloo cogniscenti who have seen the likes of Kieran Bracken, Will Greenwood, Austin Healey, Ben Kay, Paul Grayson and others come and go, thought Pritchard was the quickest thing they had seen for a long time. Early in the first half he was going so fast to a certain score down the right wing that he tripped himself up.
Waterloo actually got to the line twice – once in each half - only to fumble the touchdown. But they did get on top for a while and hit back, after sustained pressure, with a quick tap penalty from number eight to make it 27-13.
They cannot hang on to star players in the modern era and do not attract big crowds in a soccer-mad area with famous rugby league teams. But they did beat the Cornish Pirates in round two of this campaign and for a moment the keenest of their fans thought they might just take another big scalp.
The Blues, though, have enough players who have been around the block and they probably knew they would run away with it at the end. They are certainly missing their great ball carriers of last season, as everyone knew they would. But they are changing the way they play from the sort of all-out forward power that saw hooker Chris Johnson touch down to start the rout to one based on speed of pass, thought and foot – even at prop forward where in the young Australian Ben Alexander and the 19-year-old Dan Cole they have new front row ball players to make old-timers wonder what the game has come to.
Rather than trudge from scrum to scrum, these boys sell dummies, spin out weighted passes and run like backs and can look spectacular against the Waterloos of the world.
Cole, racing in from the left wing got a cheer from passengers on a train from Stockport to Liverpool that passed behind the goalposts. Maybe they thought he was the Tom Varndell the whole country has been reading about. He was electric, and not to be outdone in the sprint stakes, the pugnacious wing Mike Staten, on his 95th first-team appearance, and the insouciant outside centre Emyr Lewis raced in as well - just to show what should happen when a club at the top of the table plays one at the bottom.
Blues: Matt Volland (Ben Alexander 69), Chris Johnson (Chris Whitehead 69) , Dan Cole, Jon Phillips, Marc Comb (Mauritz Botha 69), Nic Strauss (Sacha Harding 55-57), Adam Kettle (Nic Strauss 57, Shaun Brady 69), Ben Piennar, Karl Dickson (Dominic Malone 69), Ross Broadfoot, Tom Varndell (Mike Staten 65), Tom Youngs, Emyr Lewis, James Pritchard, Ben Patston.
T: Varndell, Dickson, Pritchard, Johnson, Cole, Staten, Lewis. C: Pritchard 2. P: Pritchard.
Referee: R Draper.
T&C MoM: Karl Dickson – livewire scrum-half who scored one try and set up two others before the floodgates opened.