A strong second half performance wasn’t enough for Bedford Blues as they lost 36-20 in the British and Irish Cup at pool four leaders Doncaster Knights on Saturday afternoon.
The defeat leaves Bedford nine points adrift of Doncaster, who have a maximum of 15 points in the pool and look favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals.
The Blues made a number of changes off the back of the last minute defeat to Cross Keys last week, with only eight players retaining their place in the starting XV and in contrast to last week’s strong start, it was Bedford’s turn to fall behind early on.
Professional outfit Doncaster, who were promoted form National One last season, looked to take the game to the visitors in the opening exchanges and that was converted into points after six minutes.
Doncaster full-back Paul Jarvis collected the ball on the right wing with his back to the on-rushing defence, and managed to scavenge his way through four weak tackles in the Bedford line and score in the corner.
Bedford may look at it as poor individual tackling, but Jarvis’ skill and tenacity to get his way to the line was superb and deserving of his score.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to be on the back foot again, this time it was due to ill-discipline from the Blues.
Two penalties conceded allowed Doncaster territory and a quick tap and go meant the Bedfordshire side’s defence was unorganised. This created an easy overlap on the right that was spotted by Andy Bulumakau, his vision then allowed him to pass to Sam Wilson on the right wing to easily run in a simple score.
Bedford may have been 12-0 down after just 15 minutes, but they were more than matching their opponents, but for poor individual errors.
Despite that, they managed to get themselves on the score sheet when ill-discipline from the opposition allowed Jake Sharp to score a simple penalty and reduce the Blues’ deficit to nine.
However Doncaster’s strong off-loading game was epitomised after 27 minutes when they managed to score their third try.
Front row forward Tom Davies spotted a gap at the side of the ruck on half way and ran straight through it, the prop forward then offloaded to back row forward Latu Makaafi, who was stopped just before the line.
However scrum-half Tomasi Palu was on hand to ground the ball over the line.
Bedford fought back strong though and full-back Jim Wigglesworth spotted a gap in the opposition defence before side-stepping his opposite number and scoring a deserved try for the visitors.
Sharp converted and Bedford trailed by nine points, a deficit that was kind to the hosts.
Despite matching their opponents, Bedford conceded two more tries in the first half that ultimately proved costly in how the result was decided.
Firstly, Doncaster’s bonus point try arrived via a driving maul and captain Michael Hills was the man who grounded it, before a lovely set move by the hosts allowed outstretched centre Bevon Armitage the chance to ground the ball under the posts and send the Knights 31-10 ahead at the break.
Bedford clearly regrouped at the interval and played the second half much better, ultimately winning the half five points to ten.
The Blues’ second half try arrived via a rolling maul of their own, and the ever-green Paul Tupai was the man to ground the ball for the visitors.
Doncaster looked nervous at how they would cope with Bedford’s attacking threat, but ultimately their defence was able to withstand the visitors’ pressure for much of the half.
The Knights were able to score another try of their own through substitute Ricardo Brugara when they were able to turnover Bedford ball in their 22, and release the prop forward to score with minimal fuss.
Bedford’s second half performance was strong though, and they had the final say when Sharp spotted an overlap on the left and release the pacey winger Pat Tapley to score.
However it was a case of too little, too late for the visitors as their British and Irish Cup hopes look all but over after the first three matches.
Doncaster: Tom Davies (Richard List 58), Jack Bergmanas (Ben Hunter 51), Colin Quiqley (Ricardo Brugara 67), Matt Challinor (Tyler Hotson 51), Jon Phelan, Latu Makaafi (Will Foden 63), Michael Hills (c), Phil Eggleshaw; Tomasi Palu (George Tressider 55), Jamie Lennard, Tyson Lewis, Bevon Armitage, Andy Bulumakau (Paul Roberts 25), Sam Wilson, Paul Jarvis.
T: Paul Jarvis, Sam Wilson, Tomasi Palu, Michael Hills, Bevon Armitage, Ricardo Brugara. C: Jamie Lennard x3.
Bedford: Camilo Parilli-Ocampo, Jared Saunders (TJ Harris 57), James Currie (Phil Boulton 12), Mike Howard (Harry Wells 58), Eoin Sheriff, Paul Tupai (c), Justin Blanchet, Joe Vandermolen (Nick Fenton-Wells 51); Darryl Veenendaal (Peter White 62), Jake Sharp, Darrell Dyer (Steffan Jones 62), Ollie Dodge, Michael Le Bourgeois (Viliami Hakalo 51), Pat Tapley, Jim Wigglesworth.
T: Jim Wigglesworth, Paul Tupai, Pat Tapley. C: Jake Sharp. P: Jake Sharp.
Referee: John Meredith.
Assistant Referees: Jamie Leatry and Robin Goodliffe.