Bedford Blues finished 2016 with a valiant 36-21 defeat against former Premiership side London Irish on Saturday.
Against the hosts, who are the Championship’s leaders this year, Blues took a surprise 7-0 lead when George Perkins went over after slick work by Jake Sharp and Tom James, Sharp, who had missed an earlier penalty, converting for a 7-0 lead.
The Blues then had to go on the defensive as the Exiles began to put phases together.
Superb tackling stopped Tom Court and Blair Cowan from going over, but nothing could be done as the Irish scrum shoved Bedford back from five metres out and Ofisa Treviranus dotted down in the 18th minute with Tommy Bell levelling things from the kicking tee.
Sharp pulled another penalty wide and despite all their good efforts, Bedford were trailing at the break.
Irish secured the ball in the corner as hooker Dave Porecki drove over the line for the score with Bell converting once more to end the half 14-7.
It was more of the same after the break as another London Irish rolling maul did the damage with the referee running under the posts as it was stopped illegally and Bell slotted the extras to make it 21-7.
But Bedford didn’t back down and were rewarded for their efforts as they continued to play fast-flowing rugby.
James Marshall was sin-binned in the 52nd minute for knocking down the ball as Bedford looked certain to score.
The Blues regrouped well, maintained momentum and more superb handling saw Mike Rayer’s side attack the left wing before coming inside and Tom Whiteley crossed for the score with Myles Dorrian converting.
Bell kicked another penalty to make it 24-14, before Treviranus secured the try-bonus for the hosts as he crashed his way over in the 78th minute for an unconverted score.
Camilo Parilli-Ocampo burrowed his way over from close range with Dorrian converting to make it a right finish but Irish struck again with replacement Jerry Sexton powering over the line and Bell converted once more to round things off at 36-21.
Blues have the weekend off and are back in action when they host Yorkshire Carnegie in the B&I Cup on January 14.