The 998 people who were at Goldington Road on Friday night were treated to 17 tries at James Pritchard’s testimonial match under the lights, with a number of past and present Blues players entertaining the strong crowd.
The match ended with ‘Skippy’s’ invitational beating the Bedford Blues XV 60-41, but all involved will be delighted to end Pritchard’s testimonial year in what was a truly enjoyable evening.
The night started off with 150 junior Blues competing on the Goldington Road pitch with great energy and enthusiasm, as they set the tone of the night with playing the sport they love with smiles on their faces.
After the future of the club finished showing off their skills, it was down to the current and past players to come together to celebrate Pritchard’s contribution to the club that he first played for in 2001.
It was clear from the outset that all involved were looking to throw the ball around, and it didn’t take long for the first try to arrive via the only female on the field.
Skippy’s Invitational, playing in black, had Saracens scrum-half Georgia Gulliver starting and she spotted a gap in the Blues’ defence to slide under the posts.
The Blues select, who were in white, had a number of first-teamers in their squad and it was inside centre Ollie Dodge who scored their first try after showing good pace to finish off a lovely move.
The opening exchanges were a sign of how the rest of the night would pan out, and on the 13th minute, the man of the night got involved in the try-scoring.
Nottingham bound Darryl Veenendaal peeled down the right hand side before offloading to the Canadian Pritchard, who jogged over the line to the delight of all in attendance.
A try from Emyr Lewis restored the Invitational’s lead as he used the infamous slope to his advantage, but it didn’t last long as Dodge scored his second as he showed off his emphatic pace to restore the Blues selects lead.
Certain players became more desperate for air after 20 minutes as the rolling substitutions began to make an impact, but it didn’t on the entertainment levels as hard men Paul Tupai and Jon Phillips began to put in some huge hits for either side.
The try-scoring continued though as Gavin Henning and James Ross dotted down for the invitational XV to send them back ahead. With the high tempo being maintained by all, drop goals were the order of the day and a mention has to go to Ian Vaas for his nonchalant effort to convert Ross’ try and give them a 24-17 lead after half an hour.
Bedford captain Nick Fenton-Wells, who looked to show off his attacking talent whenever possible, displayed electric pace in the 34th minute to dot down in the right corner after putting the ball under his right arm and pinning his ears back.
After showman Jake Sharp’s conversion, it was 24-24 at the break as both sides took the opportunity to refuel and enjoy some half-time ‘refreshments’.
The third quarter was a true sense of ‘anything you can do, we can do better’ as both teams almost politely, it seemed, took it in turns to score tries.
Pritchard swapped over to the Invitational XV during the break, and his replacement showed outstanding speed to score and give the Blues the lead with just a few minutes gone after the break.
James Shanahan and then Gulliver’s second try sent Skippy’s squad back in front, before the Blues’ full back – whose name was unknown to those in the press box – showed off his acceleration again to go over for his second and level the score at 36-36.
Fenton-Wells bagged his second to send the Blues into a 41-36 lead, but then it was all the Invitational team in the remaining minutes.
They agreed to have the advantage of the slope throughout, and that began to show as Pritchard was on hand to display his ability to spot a gap in the opponents defence and accelerate through to go over the line.
Don Barrell, Shanahan and Mark Kohler all added more tries to the evening, and with them all coming for those in Black, the Invitational side secured the high-scoring victory after the referee called it a day after 70 minutes.
However the result wasn’t important, the entertainment levels were and it’s fair to say the majority of those who supported the event left having viewed one fitting of the man it was organised for, James Pritchard.
Bedford Blues Select XV: 15. James Pritchard, 14. Chris Bajak, 13. Liam Roberts, 12. Ollie Dodge, 11. James Hinkins, 10. Jake Sharp, 9. Darryl Veenendaal, 1. Dan Seal, 2. Chris Locke, 3. Sam Walsh, 4. Ben Gulliver, 5. Mike Howard, 6. Sacha Harding, 7. Darren Fox, 8. Nick Fenton-Wells.
Replacements: 16. Paul Tupai, 17. Simon Lincoln, 18. Matt Allen, 19. Liam Lancaster, 20. TBC, 21. TBC, 22. TBC.
Skippy’s Invitational XV: 15. Emyr Lewis, 14. Mark Kohler, 13. Andrew Llewellyn, 12. James Shanahan, 11. Lee Anker, 10. Ian Vass, 9. Georgia Gulliver, 1. James Ross, 2. Matt Price, 3. Michael Ormesher, 4. Tyler Hotson, 5. Jon Phillips, 6. Richard Candlin, 7. Laurence White, 8. Don Barrel.
Replacements: 16. Neil Harris, 17. Gavin Denning, 18. Andy Phillips, 19. Jon Wells, 20. Gavin Williams, 21. Paul Rollason, 22. TBC.
Referee: Darren Gamage