Lions wing on a prayer

Bedford 34 Newcastle 28
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The Independent Online
TONY UNDERWOOD'S Lions tour place last night hung in the balance after he suffered a fractured jaw in a rugged, but enthralling Second Division match, which resulted in a marvellous victory for Bedford. An X-ray revealed that the Newcastle wing has a fracture, but he will not need surgery.

"It'll need three weeks before the bone has knitted, but ideally they'd like about five or six weeks before I play again," explained Underwood, who broke his jaw during a Divisional match in 1989. The Lions leave for South Africa on 17 May, so it will be touch and go. Bath's Adedayo Adebayo is a likely replacement should Underwood miss out.

Sadly, Undwerwood was not the only casualty of a sometimes mad, occasionally bad and frequently magnificent game. Bedford's achievement was marred by an ugly incident early in the second half when the Newcastle prop Nick Popplewell was shown the yellow card for a punch on Scott Murray. The Bedford lock went to hospital and, according to reports, could not see out of his left eye which was streaming with blood.

The casualties did not stop there. The Bedford captain Paul Turner finished the game nursing a suspected fractured jaw. In total, the referee Steve Lander showed three yellow cards, but his decision not to send off Popplewell angered spectators. However, Lander said he did not see the incident which led to Murray's injury. Bedford later said they hoped Newcastle would take disciplinary action against the Irish international.

Newcastle were really knocked back shortly before the interval when scrum- half Darren Edwards sneaked in for a try. The Falcons had already been brought to earth by some fine work from the Bedford pack and in particular the back row.

Junior Paramore's entry into the line after half an hour and the pass he threw to the right wing Paul Hewitt produced the first of the home side's tries.

When Andrew kicked Newcastle's second penalty, Turner promptly displayed a touch of class with a perfectly timed pass that would have split a log, let alone the Newcastle defence, and impressive centre Ben Whetstone thundered behind the near-stationary visitors to touch down under the posts and present Rayer with yet another formality of a conversion.

The prop Clem Boyd's try 10 minutes later should have settled things, but Newcastle battled back to within half a dozen points thanks to tries by Alan Tait, Pat Lam and George Graham and a penalty by Andrew.

Finally, it needed a killer of a touchdown by Martin Offiah to dash the Falcons. Even so, Bedford had to hold out for more than five minutes of injury time.

Underwood, sadly, has a longer wait. And a frustrating one on the touchlines as his team-mates pick themsleves up and renew their promotion chase.

Bedford: M Rayer; P Hewitt, B Whetstone, S McCurry, M Offiah; P Turner (capt), D Edwards; C Boyd, P Simmonds (N McCarthy, 78), J Probyn, S Murray (M Deans, 49), N Hadley, R Winters, R Straeuli, J Paramore.

Newcastle: T Stimpson; J Bentley, A Tait, V Tuigamala, T Underwood (G Childs, 53); R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell, R Nesdale (capt), G Graham, G Archer, D Weir, S O'Neill (H Vyvyan, 30-40), P Lam, R Arnold.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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