Bedford Blues’ 100 per cent start to 2015 came to an end at Clifton Lane on Saturday as they were on the wrong end of a 34-19 defeat to Rotherham Titans.
Rotherham, who were a place and a point above the Blues prior to kick-off, ran in five tries to three and ensured a win that keeps alive their hopes of finishing in the top four come the end of the season.
Bedford were always playing catch-up in a match that was a game of two halves: the first with plenty of try-line action and a second that was dominated by the Yorkshire rain.
The visitors made eight changes to the side that beat Doncaster last weekend, and it was they who got the game underway via Steffan Jones, who was making his first start since returning permanently to the club earlier this month.
However Mike Rayer’s sides got off to the worst possible start, conceding a try inside a minute.
The Blues had a line-out on the Titans 22, but scrum-half Peter White chose to pass inside and it was intercepted by Tom Cruse, with the hooker running 60 metres to score as Thomas Barrett converted to make it 7-0.
Bedford appeared to have not got off the coach as they conceded their second try of the match after just seven minutes.
A series of penalties allowed the Titans possession deep inside their opponents’ half, and they were clinical as they converted their pressure into points on the board once more.
A strong rolling maul sucked in the Blues’ defence, and created an overlap on the other wing, where the ball moved through the Titans hands to allow left winger Sean Scanlon to score in the corner.
Barrett made it two from two from the tee, and the Titans were 14-0 ahead.
The try-fest continued after 10 minutes, and this time it was in favour of Rayer’s side.
A penalty to the visitors allowed a five metre attacking line-out, and they were clinical from there.
A strong rolling maul was held up by the Titans pack, and as a result, the ball went into midfield. Tongan international Viliami Hakalo made a big carry, and with the home side being forced to put numbers into the tackle to stop him, it allowed Jones the chance to run in an easy try under the sticks, to put the Blues on the board.
The incredible scoring start continued on the 14th minute, as the visitors made it two tries apiece. It was a carbon copy of their first in many ways, with a Bedford line-out well defended by Rotherham’s front eight, but then the ball moved wide.
With the ball moving from one wing to the other, the hosts’ defence were being tested, and they eventually crumbled as a strong Pat Tapley burst moved the gain line to the try line.
With the defence scrambling back, scrum-half White spotted a gap at the side of the ruck to score.
After a terrible opening seven minutes, Blues only trailed 14-12 with a quarter of the match gone, and were dominating territory.
However, Rotherham were clinical though whenever they smelt blood; and their third venture into the Blues’ 22 produced their third try of the afternoon.
Another quick penalty by the Yorkshire team created quick ball and captain Thomas Holmes was in space on the left wing to score an easy try.
It was a sense of, anything Rotherham could do; Bedford could match as with 27 minutes gone, they scored their third try of the afternoon.
A turnover on halfway allowed Jones to hack the ball through, and with the defence rushing back, Titans full-back Lloyd Hayes illegally played the ball on the floor.
With it being a clear try-scoring opportunity, Hayes was carded, and the Blues punished his ill-discipline.
The five metre line-out meant a sense of déjà vu, as the Blues maul was strong allowing man of the match Paul Tupai the opportunity to dot the ball down.
With Rotherham playing with 14 men and the scores level, Bedford were desperate to take the lead.
Yet the home side were wise as they kept the ball tight, before a Barrett penalty meant Rotherham didn’t concede any more points whilst they were a man down, instead they entered the half-time interval 22-19 in front.
The second half failed to live up to the same start as the first, as both teams battled for territory on a pitch that was slowly deteriorating.
Titans were the first team to apply serious pressure, as they had the ball in Bedford’s half.
It looked like they were certain to score, but a superb interception by White meant Cruse was unable to get his second of the afternoon.
However, the pressure didn’t end there as a series of penalties meant it was Blues’ turn for a yellow, as Harry Wells was carded for a high tackle on the line.
Like Bedford, Rotherham immediately used their extra man to their advantage as a strong nudge from the line-out allowed Jack Preece to score their bonus point try.
That score meant Blues trailed by 10 points, as the substitutes and rain started to make an impact on the match.
The hosts started to dominate the final quarter as Barrett almost ran the length of the pitch, but Tapley showed great acceleration to sprint across the field and make a last-ditch tackle to prevent the score.
With the torrential rain thrashing down, the Titans played the conditions the better as they forced the ball deep into the Blues’ half.
They then grabbed their fifth try of the match via a turnover, before Jack Roberts touched down to the delight of those in attendance.
Bedford attacked desperately in the closing stages in search of a four try bonus point, but they were unable to do so as Titans ran out 34-19 winners.
Rotherham: Robin Hislop, Tom Cruse (Marshall Gadd 62), Mark Tampin (Lewis Thiede 62), Barney Maddison, Tom Holmes (c), Max Argyle (Ali Birch 55), Jack Preece, Alex Rieder; Dan White, Tom Barrett (James McKinney 69), Sean Scanlon, Jack Roberts, Jordan Davies, Michael Keating, Lloyd Hayes.
Replacements not used: Perry Parker, Ben Morris, James Mitchell.
T: Jack Roberts, Sean Scanlon, Thomas Cruse, Thomas Holmes, Jack Preece. C: Thomas Barrett x3. P: Thomas Barrett.
Bedford: Johnny Harris (Tom Williams 50), TJ Harris (Charlie Clare 50), Phil Boulton (James Currie 56), Mike Howard (Ben Gulliver 60), Harry Wells, Paul Tupai, Justin Blanchet (Josh Buggea 56), Joe Vandermolen; Pete White (Darryl Veenendaal 56), Steffan Jones (Michael Le Bourgeois 62), Dean Adamson, Viliami Hakalo, Henry Staff, Pat Tapley, James Pritchard (C).
T: Steffan Jones, Peter White, Paul Tupai. C: James Pritchard x2.
Referee: Greg MacDonald
Assistant Referees: Wayne Falla and Lionel Spooner