Rugby Union: Cunningham keeps Europe in sight

Bedford 21 London Irish 36
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The Independent Online
FOR BEDFORD the waiting is over. They face the play-offs. For Irish the suspense continues, although this comprehensive victory will have gone a long way towards a passport to Europe next season.

But it was not a great match. Indeed at times it was desperate, especially in the early stages. Bedford looked resigned to the play-offs from the kick-off. If they approach them in the same way then relegation will be a certainty. Poor Rory Underwood, coming on for the injured Darragh O'Mahony after quarter of an hour, and in his final couple of games before retiring, found he had entered a nightmare where everything that could go wrong, did.

No one could have had a worse start to their day at the office and the way things went wrong for him it was a relief he was not airborne yesterday. Nothing bounced for him, if there was a knock-on to be committed, Underwood was the patsy, if a pass was going to go astray, Underwood would be behind it.

He handed London Irish their first try when he succeeded only in palming a Brendan Venter cross chip obligingly into the path of Jarrod Cunningham who had a clear run to the line.

He could not be blamed for Irish's second try though; that came courtesy of a Cunningham break before Niall Woods sped away to touch down under the posts. Bedford did not help their cause at all and were guilty of too many infringements within kicking distance. Cunningham kicked two successful first-half penalties to establish a comfortable lead.

Bedford still had plenty of enthusiastic support and the Goldington Road ground was crammed, mainly with standing people since the big temporary stand has gone, the bottom half to the cricket World Cup, the top half to the Badminton Horse Trials. The hospitality boxes come down tomorrow to go to Silverstone.

The rain rendered the pitch something of a skid pan and the skids were certainly under Bedford. The loss of O'Mahony was compounded when Joe Ewens failed to take the field after the interval. The tackling was not that great before his departure there were a lot more missed after he had gone.

Underwood was able to atone somewhat for the injustices of fate when he was put clear by Sam Howard, but Irish were still in the driving seat as a further try from Conor O'Shea underlined their superiority three minutes later. Steve Bachop's charge down of a Howard chip saw the former All Black run over unopposed.

And amid all this Cunningham kept kicking goals until he had amassed 21 points. Charlie Harrison's interception and 50-yard sprint for a second Bedford try and Tony Yapp sneaking in for a third was poor consolation. But at least they were showing some spirit by the end. Irish were left kicking themselves for allowing their points differential to be eroded by the late fightback.

Bedford: S Stewart; B Whetstone, A Murdoch, J Ewens (S Howard, h-t), D O'Mahony (R Underwood, 14); A Yapp, R Elliott (C Harrison, 50); C Boyd (A Ozdemir 6-12 & 64), J Richards (A Davis, 67), V Hartland, D Zaltzman, S Murray (A Duke), J Cockle, R Winters, J Forster (P Elphick, 72).

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Cunningham, N Burrows, B Venter (J Bishop, 59), N Woods; S Bachop, P Richards; N Hatley, R Kirke, R Hardwick (K Fullman, 62), R Strudwick, N Harvey, J Boer (M Bird, 36-38), I Feaunati, K Dawson.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).