Bedford Blues started their Championship campaign with a 19-10 defeat away at Nottingham on Friday night.
A debut try in the first half from Tom Williams wasn’t enough for victory as the boot of Will Maisey kicked 14 points for Nottingham.
However the first half was overshadowed by a horrific injury to Nathan Earle, with the 19-year-old winger having to be stretchered off with a suspected snapped Achilles.
James Pritchard kicked off for the Blues at Meadow Lane, with both teams looking to gain territory early on via a kicking game.
Nottingham though won that battle early on and laid down a marker for how most of the match was to be contested.
Referee John Meredith penalised Joe Vandermolen for entering the ruck from the side and Nottingham fly half Maisey scored the first points of the Championship season via that penalty.
The kicking battle continued early on and it was the hosts who managed to win the small battle for a second time in quick succession.
An up and under from Pritchard was collected by team-mate Ollie Dodge, but the outside centre was deemed to be in front of the Canadian when he kicked it, thus allowing Maisey a chance to double Nottingham’s lead with a penalty from the half line, a chance he gladly accepted.
The backline of Bedford had very few opportunities to attack the Nottingham defence, but when they did they looked like they were capable of causing them problems.
New signing Jim Wigglesworth created the first clear break for Bedford, the winger found space in the middle of the park before passing to Earle, but the dual registered player from Saracens was bundled into touch.
The Blues did score on 21 minutes, Pritchard wasn’t released after being tackled, and the full-back stepped up to score the first points of the season for Bedford.
However poor discipline meant Nottingham restored their six point advantage straight from the restart. Mike Howard obstructed Nottingham second row forward Toby Freeman from the kick off and Maisey’s left boot punished the second row forward by adding three points to the hosts’ total.
It looked like it would be an exchange of penalties on a greasy Friday night that would determine the match, but on 26 minutes, Nottingham’s Thomas Calladine entered the ruck through the side gate, thus giving Bedford the opportunity for what looked like a straight forward three points.
Yet captain Nick Fenton-Wells wanted more and decided to kick for the corner.
His bravery was rewarded as the line-out was successfully won, before the inevitable driving maul that was actually just a diversion to allow prop forward Tom Williams to go round the side and dive over the try line.
Pritchard’s conversion was good and Bedford were in front for the first time.
Despite that, the night was only to get worse for the Blues from there on in.
Just two minutes after Williams’ try, Nottingham’s number eight Paul Grant made a lung bursting run that looked destined for the try line, only for a great last ditch tackle from Daryl Veenendaal to stop him.
The following phase was intercepted by Earle, and the England U20 international looked certain to run the length of the pitch to score, but in the process of intercepting the ball, he damaged his Achilles and collapsed on the floor with a loud anguish heard by all.
Earle was stretchered off minutes later requiring oxygen, and is likely to be out of action for much of the season with what was confirmed after to be a snapped Achilles.
The first half got worse for the Blues soon after that though as Harry Wells was sin-binned on 34 minutes after entering the ruck through the side when defending on his try line. The referee had no choice but to yellow card Wells, and Nottingham capitalised moments later.
Opting for a five metre line-out, the hosts forward pack utilised their numerical advantage by driving over the line and allowing captain Brent Wilson the opportunity to fall over the try line with the ball in his hands.
Maisey’s conversion was good, and Nottingham entered half time with a 16-10 lead.
In the second half, Bedford’s poor discipline prevented them from putting Nottingham’s defence under sustained pressure, instead just giving their opponents possession and territory.
The closest they were to scoring a vital second try though was in the 46th minute when, back to a full 15 after Wells’ sin bin ending, Fenton Wells opted for another five metre lineout rather than the three points, much like the build-up to Williams’ try, but his brave decision wasn’t going to be rewarded with a try this time around.
The driving maul was unsuccessful and the Blues were forced to play the ball into the midfield, only for James Currie to knock the ball on 10 yards away from the whitewash.
On a greasy surface at Meadow Lane, both teams were struggling with their handling in truth, thus giving the defences little work to do in the second 40.
As such, this suited the Green and Whites and continuing ill discipline from Bedford prevented any sustained period of possession in the second period.
On the 58th minute, substitute Ben Gulliver was adjudged to have been pushing at the angle in the scrum, allowing Maisey to convert his fourth penalty and force Bedford to score twice to regain the lead.
In reality that never looked like happening and as a result the visitors left Meadow Lane empty handed.
The Blues will be hoping to put this 19-10 defeat behind them next weekend when they welcome Rotherham to Goldington Road on Saturday afternoon.
Nottingham: Campese Ma’afu, Shaun Malton (Carey Conor 75), Michael Holford (Brownlie Benjamin 75), Toby Freeman (Rupert Cooper 73), Dan Montagu, Tom Calladine, Brent Wilson, Paul Grant, Sean Romans (Alex Smit 64), Will Maisey (Louis Grimoldby 70), Viliame Iongi, Joe Munro (Javiah Pohe 70), Edward Styles, Ryan Hough, Billy Robinson.
T: Brent Wilson. C: Will Maisey. P: Will Maisey 4.
Replacements not used: Matthew Everard.
Bedford: Tom Williams (Camilo Parrilli-Ocampo 52), Charlie Clare (Jared Saunders 68), James Currie, Mike Howard (Mike Howard 52), Paul Tupai, Harry Wells, Joe Vandermolen (Josh Buggea 52), Nick Fenton-Wells, Darryl Veenendaal (Peter White 75), Jake Sharp (Steffan Jones 62), Jim Wigglesworth, Ollie Dodge, Mike Le Bourgeois, Nathan Earle (Henry Staff 36), James Pritchard.
T: Tom Williams. C: James Pritchard. P: James Pritchard.
Referee: John Meredith.
Assistant Referees: Brian Ravenhill and Phillip Watters.
Star Blue: James Pritchard - Did everything asked of him at full back and never made a mistake despite being put under pressure from the Nottingham kicking.