Rugby Union: Mapletoft laughs last

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The Independent Online
Gloucester 31

Bedford 21

POINTLESS in score and play in the first half, Bedford engineered a magnificent fight back to cut a 22-point deficit at the interval to only seven with only six minutes remaining, before Mark Mapletoft's boot finished them off.

From willing spectators at a Gloucester forward display, Bedford came out for the second period full on invention, pace and ambition, an effervescent cocktail that stunned the home side. It was just as well as the Kingsholm faithful were preparing to enjoy a massacre.

All season Bedford have needed a jolt to stir them into action but so often the early points conceded meant the difference between narrow victory and narrow defeat. Yesterday, tries by Chris Fortey, Steve Ojomoh and Chris Catling put Gloucester almost out of sight by half time.

Tony Yapp started the comeback in the 52nd minute after the scrum-half, Charlie Harrison, had slipped the clutches of Nathan Carter to score. This inspired Jason Forster to embark on a storming 15 minutes where he appeared to be everywhere. His excellent support allowed Harrison to keep driving Gloucester back by refusing to lower the tempo.

The Bedford backs were stretching the home defence by throwing the ball wide, a tactic borne in desperation because of the granite-like defence of the Gloucester midfield, Richard Tombs and Terry Fanolua. Even as the transgressor Tombs could do no wrong as his trip to the sin-bin - two minutes after Jimmy Richards scored - for killing the ball was described by Richard Hill, the Gloucester director of rugby, as "a try-saving sin bin".

Bedford's efforts, although mightily impressive, were not enough as Mapletoft kicked Gloucester out of reach. The first-half dominance that started with Scott Murray's third white card of the season in the 11th minute for a line-out offence was nothing but a distant memory. If they are going to challenge for honours, Hill will have to inject some flair and variety into the Gloucester play.

Gloucester: C Catling; B Johnson, T Fanolua, R Tombs (capt), A Lumsden; M Mapletoft, S Benton; T Windo, C Fortey, A Deacon, R Fidler, M Cornwell (D Sims, 83), S Ojomoh, N Carter, S Devereux (P Glanville, 69).

Bedford: S Howard; R Underwood, A Murdoch, J Ewens, D O'Mahony (B Whetstone, 14); T Yapp, C Harrison; C Boyd, J Richards, V Hartland, D Zaltzman, S Murray, J Cockle, J Forster, R Winters.

Referee: T Fisher (Manchester).