Bedford Blues kicked off their Greene King IPA Championship season in the best possible fashion on Sunday afternoon as they beat Bristol 29-23 at Ashton Gate.
A brace of tries for George Perkins on his competitive debut along with one apiece for Jake Sharp and Dean Adamson did the damage as the Blues picked up the full five points despite a late fight back from the hosts.
Things may have looked ominous for the Blues early on when they were reduced to 14 men in the second minute after Henry Staff was binned for slapping the ball out of Will Cliff’s hands. Adrian Jarvis duly slotted home the resulting penalty to make it 3-0.
Despite being down a man, Bedford took the game to Bristol and when the chance presented itself, Sharp coolly struck a drop goal from 40 metres out to tie the game.
Things got a lot better for the Blues though when they ran in the opening try of the afternoon moments before Staff’s return. Sharp spotted a huge amount of space behind the Bristol defence and sent a delightful chip over the top for Perkins to chase. The young winger galloped forward, kicked the ball on and then grounded it before Sharp converted.
Bristol looked for an immediate response and came close to getting it when Olly Robinson made his way towards the try line only to knock on at the last moment.
Another Bristol penalty was sent over the uprights by Jarvis shortly afterwards to narrow the deficit but then Sharp pulled the strings once again set up the second try of the game. The 24-year-old chipped the ball over the oncoming Bristol defence before taking in the ball and then offloading to Staff who then released Perkins to dot down his second. Sharp converted and the Blues were 6-17 ahead.
But there was still time for Sharp to cap off a fine day’s work before the interval as he intercepted a pass intended for Mitch Eadie and then turned on the afterburners to elude Tom Varndell much like a hare avoiding a Lurcher. Unfortunately his conversion attempt went astray, but the Blues led 22-6 at the break.
On Boxing Day, the Blues had led Bristol 17-7 at the interval only to concede three second half tries in a 24-28 defeat, but there was to be no repeat of that.
Seven minutes into the second half and Bedford secured the bonus point when Adamson reacted quickest when Varndell failed to take a pass from Robinson. The winger showed a clean pair of heels and went over with Sharp adding the two points.
Bristol crossed for their first try four minutes later when Jack Tovey showed good strength to break through a tackle before offloading to Cliff who scored with Jarvis converting.
Cliff and Jarvis made way for Craig Hampson and Gavin Henson and it was the introduction of the returning Henson which kicked Bristol, and the Ashton Gate crowd, into gear.
The home fans were cheering once again when Nick Koster crashed over the line but they soon turned to boos when the referee pulled play back for a forward pass in the build-up.
Bedford put in a massive defensive shift as the game entered the final quarter, but Bristol persevered and were rewarded with 15 minutes left on the clock when Hampson found Ben Mosses who powered over with Henson converting to make it 20-29.
Myles Dorrian had a chance to make it a 12-point lead for the Blues but his long range effort pulled just left of the uprights. Dorrian was then presented with another opportunity but again the kick went wide.
It was the Henson’s turn to strike a penalty wide from the halfway line but the former Welsh international made no mistake with a second opportunity moments later from long range.
There was still time for some heroic Bedford defending deep in stoppage time. Bristol sent a penalty into the Blues 22 and looked to drive over from the lineout only for Bedford to hold firm and go on to win a penalty which Dorrian struck into the stand to seal victory.
Bristol: Wallace, Varndell, Tovey, Mosses, Amesbury, Jarvis (Henson 53), Cliff (Hampson 53), O’Connell (Cortes 64), Jones (Brooker 70), Hall (Ford-Robinson 49), Phillips (Townson 60), Glynn (Joyce 79), Koster, Robinson, Eadie.
Bedford Blues: Jones (O’Conor 79), Perkins, Staff, Le Bourgeois, Adamson, Sharp (Dorrian 54), White (Burns 40), Parilli-Ocampo (Culverhouse 57), Clare, Currie, Howard (Tupai 68), Flanagan, Blanchet, Buggea, Thompson-Stringer (Fenton-Wells 54).
Replacement not used: Wilkinson.
Referee: Tom Foley.