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RUGBY UNION; Bedford under board scrutiny

IT IS one thing to rest your entire first-choice side and go down by three figures, but quite another to undermine the status of the Allied Dunbar Premiership as the most competitive domestic club competition in the British Isles.

Bedford's laughable performance against Richmond at the weekend - the Londoners set a raft of records in winning 106-12 - did not amuse the English Rugby Partnership, the body charged with administering the tournament, and the issue will be discussed at the next board meeting.

Ironically enough, ERP had reminded all Premiership clubs of their duty to field their strongest available sides only days before Sunday's game at Goldington Road. Bedford, however, were not prepared to risk their first-choicers in a "dead" match with two infinitely more important play- off games with Rotherham on the immediate horizon. "We just cannot afford injuries with our Premiership place at stake," insisted Rudi Straeuli, their South African coach.

Richmond proceeded to score 16 tries, including hat-tricks for Mel Deane and Brian Cusack (As one disgruntled Bedford supporter was heard to say: "Cyril Cusack would have scored a hat-trick against this lot."). Concern was immediately expressed in ERP circles and Howard Thomas, the Parternship's chief executive, said yesterday: "We'll take another look at it, certainly. This doesn't do the Premiership any good whatsoever."

At the more prosperous end of the table, Northampton yesterday announced the successful conclusion of two more sets of contract negotiations. Nick Beal, the England full-back, and Mattie Stewart, the Scotland prop, both agreed three-year deals, thus joining Federico Mendez, Garry Pagel and Grant Seely in re-committing themselves to the Premiership runners-up.

Sadly, two more current internationals, Kenny Logan of Scotland and Scott Gibbs of Wales, found yesterday rather more of a trial.

Logan, who needs surgery to remove floating bone from an Achilles tendon, effectively withdrew from his country's summer tour of South Africa - "It will be a month before I can resume training, so that's about it for me this season," he acknowledged - while Gibbs declared himself unavailable for the red dragons' two-Test visit to Argentina.

The Swansea centre broke a bone in his hand while leading the club to Swalec Cup victory over Llanelli at the weekend.