Bedford's star turns

Bedford 41 Nottingham 23
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The Independent Online
It Was like a coronation without the king. Thousands of fans pitched up at Goldington Road yesterday expecting to witness the Bedford debut of Martin Offiah, rugby league's try-scorer supreme. But the most energetic things they saw him do were wave enthusiastically before the game and sign autographs after it. After a run-out yesterday morning, he decided not to risk his toe injury against Nottingham.

Even without Offiah, though, Bedford have a star-studded new line-up. Their co-owner, Frank Warren, has recruited Geoff Cooke, the former manager of England, as the director of rugby. Paul Turner, late of Sale, has become the director of coaching, and the experienced internationals Jeff Probyn and Mike Rayer have also signed up. The mayor of Bedford was there to see the curtain go up on these glamorous new players.

The stars glittered only fitfully to begin with, however, and Nottingham were first to score. Richard Tomlinson, the away team's centre, cut through an alarmingly weak defence to drop the ball down under the posts after just 12 minutes.

This was just the kick in the pants Bedford needed. Not that their revival had much to do with kicking. Turner has a wholly commendable, but almost pathological aversion to kicking penalties. He waited until the 71st minute before taking that option. Ignoring home supporters' cries to "get some points", in the first half hour he ran a dozen kickable penalties. From one of these, the ball was spun to Matthew Oliver, who crashed through several tackles to score. Three minutes later Stuart Crossland scuttled over in the corner and Rayer slotted the conversion from the touch-line.

Either side of half-time Nottingham scored forward-dominated tries through John Brennan and Andy Jackson. But Bedford again hit back with two penalties by Rayer and two penalty tries as Turner was repeatedly impeded. In the 76th minute a dazzling cross-field run by Rayer to set up Ben Whetstone rounded off a rousing home win.

Bedford play an attractive brand of rugby, more akin to seven-a-side and one can only salivate at the prospect of Offiah's imminent involvement.

Bedford: M Rayer; S Crossland, B Whetstone, M Oliver, M Cooke; P Turner, J Farr; S Brown, M Pepper, J Probyn, M Upex, R Thomson, I Skingsley, P Hewitt, R Winters.

Nottingham: R Byrom; R Bygrave, M Craig, R Tomlinson, J Webster; N Carroll, A Royer; M Freer, C Claydon, A Jackson, S Spensley, R Sussum, G Beese, J Brennan, P Atkinson.

Referee: C Rees (London).

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