RFU Championship: Bristol 38 Bedford 14
Bedford Blues gave one of their best performances all season at Ashton Gate on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t to be as they went down 38-14 to the league leaders Bristol.
The Blues travelled west off the back of four straight defeats in the Greene King IPA Championship, but played with confidence and ambition, threatening a side full of international experience.
The result could have been better for the visitors but for a referee who harshly sent four Bedford players to the bin, three of which coming just before the half-time whistle.
Two second half tries from Paul Tupai was the least Mike Rayer’s side deserved, but Nick Fenton-Wells, Harry Wells, James Pritchard, and Tupai all saw yellow as the match ended in controversial circumstances.
Bedford started the match with true purpose and detail, as the front row dominated their opposite numbers by winning penalty after penalty at scrum time.
Their set-piece dominance almost led to the first score as a Tupai offload found Tom Williams, but the prop forward accidentally bumped into Ben Gulliver with the line just a metre away.
Bristol, who spent the week at a warm weather training camp in Portugal, slowly grew into the game and scored their first try of the afternoon after six minutes.
Skipper Dwayne Peel fired in a flat pass to Mitch Eadie, and the number eight spotted a gap in the heart of the Blues defence to run 25 metres before grounding under the posts.
Despite that Bedford continued to play on the front foot as their set-piece control enabled them strong field position and possession.
However on 19 minutes, with their second period of lengthy possession, Bristol scored their second try of the afternoon and showed why many are tipping them promotion to the Premiership.
An attacking line-out five metres out was defended well by Bedford’s pack, and with the visitors’ rhythm momentarily shaken by the sight of seeing teammate Gulliver stretchered off, the hosts struck.
Peel spotted a gap down the blindside and freed Olly Robinson with a quick pass and the returning back-row forward scored his 13th try of the campaign via sliding over just inside the right touchline.
Trailing 14-0 after 20 minutes was harsh on Bedford, and a Viliami Hakalo intercept almost opened up Bristol.
The Tongan centre freed Pat Tapley but the winger was somehow clawed back by Peel, who seemed to be all over the park.
Bedford turned over ball again moments later though, and some insightful passing from Henry Staff, Michael Le Bourgeois found Tapley again.
The right winger this time decided a grubber kick was the best opportunity to score, and with Pritchard collecting it, a try looked imminent.
Yet referee Steve Lee decided it was held up, and the Blues were unable to capitalise from the resulting five metre scrum.
With the half time score looking destined to be 14-0, then came the controversy.
On 33 minutes Fenton-Wells was carded for entering a ruck via a side entrance, while a minute later Harry Wells joined him for pulling down a ruck, and just three minutes after that Pritchard made it a hat-trick of cards for deliberately knocking the ball on when defending.
All looked harsh in their own right, but with it being 15 men playing 12, Bristol did the inevitable, Eadie bagging his second score of the afternoon after a five metre scrum was shoved over the line, and the hosts went in to the sheds 19-0 ahead.
Bedford hung on after the interval, knowing they were three men down, but that could only last seven minutes as Gareth Maule dotted over in the corner even though the ball looked to squirm out of his hands in the contact.
Being back to full strength, Rayer’s side finally got their just rewards for their strong performance via scoring a try of their own.
Wells charged down Peel’s kick on the 22 line, and with Matthew Morgan scurrying back to his in goal area, Tupai was there to turn the ball over and leap over the fly half to get Bedford on the board.
Just five minutes later arrived Tupai’s second. Another strong scrum put Eadie in trouble just 15 metres from Bristol’s line and Blues captain Fenton-Wells was there to welcome him with a turnover in the ruck.
It was superb back-row play by the South African and he gave the ball to his back-row partner in crime Tupai to collapse over the line.
Jake Sharp sliced the uprights with both conversions and the score was 24-14 to Bristol, with that still being rather kind to the hosts.
However as the match wore on, Bristol began to show why they have lost just once all season.
David Lemi stepped past defenders to score a superb individual try and reassure those in attendance that Andy Robinson’s team wouldn’t be defeated.
With the match reaching its closing stages, a brawl broke out on the near touchline and Tupai was adjudged to be the sole culprit in the affair, being the only player carded in a tussle that involved a number of players from both sides.
With them having an extra man on the field, Bristol rounded off the match with another score that proved to be the final play of the game.
An overlap out right allowed full-back Jack Wallace to score a try that secured a 38-14 victory for the league leaders.
Bristol: Kyle Traynor, Ross McMillan (Rhys Lawrence 58), Gaston Cortes (Anthony Perenise 47), Joe Joyce (Nick Koster 59), Ian Evans (Ben Skirving 68), Ryan Jones, Olly Robinson, Mitch Eadie; Dwayne Peel (C) (Craig Hampson 68), Matthew Morgan (Nicky Robinson 62), David Lemi, Gavin Henson, Gareth Maule (Tommaso Benvenuti 72), George Watkins, Jack Wallace.
T: Mitch Eadie x2, Olly Robinson, Gareth Maule, David Lemi, Jack Wallace. C: Matthew Morgan x3, Nicky Robinson.
Bedford: Tom Williams (Camilo Parilli-Ocampo 65), Charlie Clare (TJ Harris 58), Phil Boulton (James Currie 65), Harry Wells, Ben Gulliver (Justin Blanchet 19), Paul Tupai, Josh Buggea, Nick Fenton-Wells (C); Darryl Veenendaal (Peter White 71), Jake Sharp (Baden Kerr 68), Henry Staff, Viliami Hakalo (Steffan Jones 68), Mike Le Bourgeois, Pat Tapley, James Pritchard.
T: Paul Tupai x2. C: Jake Sharp x2.
Referee: Steve Lee.
Assistant Referees: Wayne Falla and Darryl Chapman.