Rugby Union: Hard times roll for Bedford

Bedford 21 London Irish 36
FOR 55 MINUTES of this match the Bedford players looked beaten. They looked like a club that had been consigned to the play-offs before it had become a reality. It has to be said they have put up with a lot this season and even now apparently the worries are not over.

No one is yet convinced about the intentions of the new consortium.

According to reports, having spent the last months of Frank Warren's ownership wondering if they were going to get paid, they are no better off under the new regime. Their latest pay cheques were a week late, apparently being handed out on the eve of this match.

Everything is in flux and will remain so until they have safely negotiated the play-offs against Rotherham or whoever. The immediate futures of the likes of Scotland international lock Scott Murray and coach Rudi Straeuli remain in doubt, more so since Doug Braddock, the front man for the new consortium, hinted that if Bedford dropped down a division then he, for one, would not blame ambitious players for leaving.

The play-offs promise to be tough, whoever it is. Dick Best, the London Irish director of rugby said: "I know what it means, having been in that position last year, and I can say it is a most unpleasant environment." Rotherham were Irish's opponents in 1998 and Best added: "I would not like to say whether Bedford would survive."

They will survive against whoever if they show the same fire, the same spirit, that brought them 21 second half points through three converted tries. It matters not that two of those tries were real softies, the important thing was that Bedford were looking for and creating those opportunities.

In the first half it was Irish who were the creative party and with New Zealander Jarrod Cunningham not only scoring their opening try but also kicking 14 points before Bedford had replied it was looking like one way traffic. Bedford's opening try by Rory Underwood woke the Irish up long enough for the captain, Conor O'Shea, and Steve Bachop to re-establish their commanding lead with a couple of opportunistic tries, before they slackened off again.

Afterwards O'Shea said: "It was great to be coming here with the possibility of qualifying for Europe instead of being the side worrying about the play-offs." And, although Europe remains an outside chance for a little while longer, Irish have achieved much this season thanks to O'Shea, who is to be offered the same job next season, and imports such as Cunningham, Bachop and especially Brendan Venter.

"Irish have come a long way this year," said Venter, who has a medical practice at home in South Africa. "We have trained really hard and I have never been involved in a set-up where people are as committed and as professional as these guys. It is far more intense and professional than in Free State."

Bedford: Tries Underwood, Harrison, Yapp; Conversions Yapp 3. London Irish: Tries Cunningham, Woods, O'Shea, Bachop; Conversions Cunningham 2; Penalties Cunningham 4 .

Bedford: S Stewart; B Whetstone, A Murdoch (capt), 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, 60), 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).