RFU Championship: Bedford 21 Cornish Pirates 31
A strong second half performance wasn’t enough to give Bedford Blues victory on Friday night as visitors Cornish Pirates recorded a 31-21 victory in the Greene King IPA Championship.
Having trailed 24-7 at the break; second half tries from Viliami Hakalo and Pat Tapley gave the Blues hope of an extraordinary come back but in truth their poor first half display gave them too much to do.
Pirates, who beat Bedford 65-14 in the reverse fixture in Penzance, secured a bonus point victory after tries from Matt Evans, Tom Kessell and two from Craig Holland.
As for the Blues, it is their fourth defeat in a row and they now head into the remaining four fixtures of the season knowing they need one more victory to prevent the unlikely scenario of relegation to National One.
With an impressive 2,633 in attendance under the Friday night lights, many of which were probably still finding their way in the ground when the Blues made a horrible start.
Unable to collect possession from kick-off, Bedford allowed the Pirates to force possession down the Goldington slope and dictate the opening exchanges.
With their dominance arrived early points; a strong Cornish scrum turned the ball over in an attacking position.
The ball popped up left allowing the first maul of the evening and with backs piling themselves in, a huge nudge from those in Yellow allowed Kessell to score.
The scrum-half who is joining Northampton Saints in the summer grounded near the posts to give those who made the long journey east the opportunity to make themselves heard.
Just three minutes later it went from bad to worse for the boys in Blue as some weak tackling allowed fly-half May an easy trundle past the gain line and into the 22.
With Tapley making ground fast, May released full back Evans whom sprinted over into the corner to score the Cornish’s side second try in the opening eight minutes.
May expertly converted both scores from the tee and the Pirates stole a 14-0 lead on the scoreboard.
Bedford showed signs early on that they were desperate to play some running rugby, wherever they may be on the park, however some poor handling prevented them gaining some momentum and string some phases together.
Despite that slow start, Mike Rayer’s side scored their first points of the match with just 16 minutes on the clock.
A couple of penalties allowed good field position before it was the forward pack of Bedford who began to steamroll their way through the Pirates’ defence after a line-out.
With it destined for the whitewash, the side from Penzance illegally brought it down and referee for the evening Tim Wigglesworth trundled his way under the sticks to award a penalty score.
In truth, the seven point deficit was kind to Bedford after their slow start and they immediately allowed the Pirates to stretch their lead to 10 via the right boot of May, who sliced the posts from a penalty after Wigglesworth penalised Bedford for not releasing in the tackle.
The Blues made the odd break as the half wore on but their poor handling prevented their second score, even though there were half chances there for the taking.
With the Bedfordshire team in possession right up until the closing moments of the half, the worst possible thing happened for those with Bedford close to their heart.
Back-row forward Josh Buggea made a barnstorming run down the centre of the park. An overlap out right was spotted by Baden Kerr, but the New Zealander failed to spot the on-rushing Holland who collected the pass before running 70 metres to ground under the sticks.
It was a few seconds that had a 14 point swing on the scoreboard – a pendulum in favour of the Pirates whom gate crashed the Friday night party well to enter the break well in front.
It wouldn’t have been a shock to assume stern words were exchanged in the home changing room during the 10 minute interval, but whatever was shared seemed to inspire as Bedford flew out the blocks in the second 40.
On the 48th minute the Blues’ ticket back into the match arrived via Tongan hands, Viliami Hakalo.
The powerful centre received the ball on the left after a good kick and tackle by Steffan Jones and Paul Tupai respectively.
Hakalo’s score was deserved for Bedford’s display after the interval, and with Kerr’s conversion, Blues were back within 10.
A flurry of changes for Bedford around the 50 minute mark increased the tempo and stretched the Cornish defenders in open play.
Those coming on made a positive impact on the Bedford performance, and on 66 minutes, a comeback looked very much on.
A couple of passes in midfield freed Jones to run, the full-back had some great line speed to accelerate through a gap and head towards the line.
The Welshman was being crowded out but Tapley was on hand to complete the former sevens internationals hard work, and bring the deficit to just three after Jake Sharp’s conversion.
It was a superb second half display up until then, as Bedford looked a completely different side to that which showed up in the opening half.
However Pirates capitalised on a couple of moments of ill-discipline by Bedford to move the play deep into the hosts half.
With just seconds to play, Holland collected a perfectly timed pass by Kieran Hallett to skate past the defence and secure a bonus point victory for those from the South West.
Bedford: Billy Moss (Tom Williams 47), TJ Harris (Charlie Clare 60), Phil Boulton (James Currie 47), Mike Howard (Harry Wells 43), Ben Gulliver, Paul Tupai, Josh Buggea (Joe Vandermolen 62), Nick Fenton-Wells (c); Darryl Veenedaal (Luke Baldwin 47), Baden Kerr (Jake Sharp 47), Henry Staff, Viliami Hakalo, Mike Le Bourgeois, Pat Tapley, Steffan Jones.
T: Penalty try, VIliami Hakalo, Pat Tapley. C: Baden Kerr x2, Jake Sharp.
Cornish Pirates: Paul Andrew, Rob Elloway, Alan Paver (Jamal Ford-Robinson 52), Laurie McGlone, Darren Barry (Will Graulich 63), Chris Morgan (c), Joe Atkinson, Matt Bolwell (Jake Parker 65); Tom Kessell, Laurence May (Kieran Hallett 68), Craig Holland, Rheon James, Alex Dancer, Mike Pope, Matt Evans.
T: Tom Kessell, Matt Evans, Craig Holland x2. C: Laurence May x3, Kieran Hallett. P: Laurence May.
Replacements not used: Dean Brooker, Marlen Walker, Bertie Hopkin.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth.
Assistant Referees: Clare Daniels and Simon Adams.