Rugby Union: Bedford sign the road to agony

Bedford 10 West Hartlepool 23
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The Independent Online
THIS is what comes from losing your chief executive, Geoff Cooke, and from spending so long treading on quicksand and living on crumbs since the start of the season.

The internal problems besetting Bedford during Frank Warren's chairmanship have concealed the fundamental truth that Bedford are, first and foremost, an old fashioned rugby club built in the best traditions of the game. They are not some remote and inanimate organisation but their heart and soul beat time with the local community who, since the start of the professional era, have become disaffected.

It is this local identity which the present regime have failed to exploit, but it seems better times are ahead. A change of ownership and direction are in the offing. One hopes for the future of this fine club that the changes are not too late and that they can survive long enough to benefit from the new mood of pragmatism which is at last filtering through to some of the clubs.

West Hartlepool, with their recently announced cost cutting programme, are at least heading the right way financially and, as a result of this surprise success, are upwardly mobile in the league as well. This was their first win in 12 league starts and they confirmed yesterday that Bedford's immediate problems are not confined to the boardroom.

Apart from a brief spell on either side of the interval, Bedford were distinctly second best, labouring for lengthy periods against a team displaying superior energy and speed. Without their athletic Scottish lock Scott Murray the Bedford forwards were ponderous, not only in their movements around the field but in their release of the ball to the backs.

In the wet and greasy conditions this delay in transmission was critical. Bedford were constantly back-pedalling in the face of opponents who were sharper in both deed and thought. West Hartlepool also had a number of very lively backs, in particular their fly-half, Steven Vile, and the centre Mike Mullins, both of whom went close to scoring tries in the first half when West Hartlepool had the additional advantage of the slope.

The loss of their scrum-half Tu Nu'uali'itia, who was knocked unconscious, temporarily disrupted their flow and, having completely dominated the first half both tactically and territorially, they now lost their concentration. That they didn't also lose a significant number of points was due first of all to Sam Howard's missed penalty and then Emmet Farrell's last-ditch tackle on Alistair Murdoch, who had broken through with only the West full-back to beat.

These were important moments. A score of any sort at this stage would have revived Bedford's spirits and with the slope in their favour would have made them formidable opponents in the second half. Bedford pressed forward and in the last minute of the half received their due reward when Howard atoned for his earlier miss, taking Tony Yapp's looping pass to score a fine try. West's 13-point cushion was therefore severely deflated. Vile had kicked two penalties and, immediately after Nu'uali'itia's departure on a stretcher, had hit the post from long range with a third. Their try, following a lightning exchange of passes between Tim Lough and Farrell, ended with the full-back scoring in the corner.

Bedford's commitment and spirit levels rose appreciably at the start of the second half. They took up what appeared to be permanent residence on the West line only to be thwarted by excellent defence and by some breathtakingly bad options. Most of their running was lateral and when calm and composure were required Yapp at fly-half gave a passable imitation of a headless chicken. Even when the West hooker Shane McDonald was despatched to the sin-bin, leaving his pack short handed, Bedford were unable to profit from their numerical advantage. Not only did West succeed in raising the siege during this period but they also rang the alarm bells in Bedford's defence.

Perversely, with McDonald's return to the field and West's pack restored to full power, Bedford scored their second try, Joe Ewens racing over in the corner after their forwards had for once recycled the ball quickly enough for the backs to out-flank West's defence.

Surely now the winning score was only a matter of time. It came five minutes later, but not from Bedford as the home support had fondly and understandably imagined. Farrell pounced on a loose ball and fly-hacked up to the Bedford line. West won possession from the line-out and Mike Brewer was driven over for the try which Vile converted. From almost the same spot Vile kicked his third penalty three minutes from the end. So West are up, if not yet running, in the league.

For Bedford this is a serious setback to their plans and their hopes for Premiership survival. They have come close on a number of occasions to beating superior opposition through their resolve and spirited team- work, but yesterday they looked in need of a major transfusion of talent, which in the present circumstances will simply not be possible.

There is clearly a long and difficult road ahead but all true lovers of rugby will wish them every success in their attempts to stay afloat.

Bedford: S Howard (R Underwood 72 min); B Whetstone, J Ewens, A Murdoch, D O'Mahony; T Yapp, C Harrison; A Ozdemir (C Cano 48 min), J Richards, V Hartland, J Beardshaw, R Ward, R Winters, J Paramore, J Forster.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; T Lough, M Mullins, J Connolly (P Tanginoa, 17min), S John; S Vile, T Nu'uali'itia (R Stone, 28min); J Van der Esch, S McDonald, P Beal, P Farner, M Giacheri, J Ponton, M Brewer, D Monkley.

Referee: C White (RFU)