Rugby Union: Bedford look on bright side

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Bedford 31

Northampton 42

QUITE WHAT the new consortium who have taken over the ownership of Bedford thought of this riot of scoring is anyone's guess. Their charges, beaten but unbowed, outweighed up front yet the scorer of two thunderous tries from rolling mauls, put up a spirited display in what was a much closer contest than the margin of victory suggests.

When the consortium members made their way to the main stand before kick- off, there was muted, almost embarrassed, applause, and by the end of a match in which Bedford were without their two best forwards, Scott Murray and Junior Paramore, the new owners did at least have a clear idea of what they had taken on.

Their task is far from hopeless. There were times in fact when Bedford made Northampton look distinctly second rate, and their ability to form themselves into an irresistible ball of muscle from the lineout produced first-half tries by Jason Forster and Adrian Olver. They came within inches of scoring from the same manoeuvre on a couple of other occasions and had they had a goal-kicker of any quality Bedford would undoubtedly have exerted additional pressure on a surprisingly careless Northampton side.

Furthermore, Bedford showed a willingness to run, their enthusiasm fired by Northampton's curious reluctance to close them down. On one occasion, Darragh O'Mahony was given so much time and space that, try as he might, he couldn't find any volunteers to tackle him. Quite naturally then he just kept running, passed to Ben Whetstone before receiving the return pass to score.

There was only one fly in the ointment. For every try Bedford scored Northampton matched it, and as they also possessed in Ali Hepher a player who could kick the ball over the crossbar they stayed in front. It was, nevertheless, a jaded performance from Northampton which, against higher calibre opponents than Bedford, would have been suitably punished.

Like Bedford they were without two front-line forwards in Tim Rodber and Richard Metcalfe, but this cannot fully excuse the shoddiness of much of their play. There was a tendency for the backs to run across field and countless promising scoring opportunities were lost.

They did at least have the consolation that they were not alone in this. Bedford's lack of finishing power was equally in evidence, one of the chief culprits being Scott Stewart who, given a clear run for the line early in the second half, dropped the ball. But irrepressible soul that he is, Stewart opened the way for Alistair Murdoch's try a few minutes later which closed the gap to four points.

With Hepher having kicked three penalties and converted a penalty try after Moir had been high-tackled, and Cohen's try following good work by Federico Mendez and Grant Seely, Northampton were in front if not fully in control as half-time approached. Olver's try was then countered by one from Seely, but from that point on and until late in the second half Northampton lost the initiative.

They committed all manner of errors and their defence was truly awful. Had Bedford not displayed the same profligacy Northampton would have been in serious trouble. A few seconds before Pat Lam started the move which he himself finished 80 yards up field, Bedford made two crucial wrong turns. Lam's second try from Matt Dawson's inside pass eight minutes from the end gave Northampton a lead their play had scarcely merited and Bedford's spirit certainly didn't deserve, an injustice partially righted by Joe Ewens try in injury-time which Tony Yapp converted. It sent one of Bedford's biggest crowds of the season away in good heart.

There is old-world appeal at Goldington Road even to the repetitive band whose relentlessly monotonous beat is surely the most questionable form of relaxing ever invented. It is Bedford's sole concession to pre-match entertainment. There are no pyrotechnics, no ear piercing or ear-pierced DJs, just a traditional homeliness generated by genuine rugby followers, and at the very least one one wishes them a less turbulent future.

Bedford: S Stewart (R Underwood, 72) B Whetstone, A Murdoch (capt), D Harris, D O'Mahony (J Ewens, 65); T Yapp, R Elliott (C Harrison, 74); A Olver (V Hartland 77), J Richards (A Davis, 77), C Boyd, D Zaltzman, A Codling (A Duke, 18; P Hewitt, 72), J Cockle, R Winters, J Forster.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, A Northey, M Allan, B Cohen; A Hepher, M Dawson (capt); G Pagel, F Mendez, M Hynes (M Volland, 74), J Phillips, A Newman (S Hepher, 67), P Lam, G Seeley, B Pountney.

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).