Rugby Union: Troubled Bedford's positive response

Bedford 31 Northampton 42
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BEDFORD'S HIGH-WIRE act continues. They have teetered between success and failure throughout an uncertain season. Frank Warren may have sold up but it is not clear whether Doug Braddock, Gary Woods and the rest of the new owners at Jefferson Lloyd International will be able to arrest the decline.

The five wins Bedford have managed this season have only underlined what they can achieve when they are firing. But off-field activity and the exodus of so many key personnel means consistency has not been maintained. They now face play-offs if they are to survive in Premiership One.

The new backers are not promising miracles. Braddock, a 40-year-old Londoner with a background in stockbroking, is clearly a pragmatist with bags of common sense as well as financial clout. After watching a spirited performance against second-placed Northampton he said: "Rugby is not a business, it is a game. We have to create the peripherals that make the money to support the rugby. The club will be made financially secure very quickly."

He must have been referring to the brawn drain, aka over-inflated contracts to keep players at Goldington Road. "We are all realists," he went on. "We are not going to have massive contracts if we are playing in the wrong division next year."

There is no intention of increasing the pounds 750,000 annual wage bill (modest by Premiership One standards) by much, if at all. That means that the dark clouds of doubt hovering over the future of essential players such as Junior Paramore and Scott Murray, the Scotland lock, remain in place. Both players, according to the rumour mills, are on the brink of leaving, Paramore to Gloucester, Murray to Newcastle.

Bedford performed encouragingly on Saturday. Their forwards were heroic and won enough possession to suggest that, with the addition of one or two more experienced heavyweights, in the forward world they could take the club places. Out wide they were always dangerous.

And they matched Saints try for try in a thrilling spectacle which kept a near-5,000 crowd buzzing. But Bedford did not have players of the calibre of Pat Lam and Federico Mendez who, apart from their deeds in the set pieces, caused mayhem in the loose.

Money is going to have be made available to keep their quality players and to attract others if Bedford are to compete with the best. Right now the only certainty is that no one yet knows if the uncertainty is over.

Bedford: Tries Forster, O'Mahony, Olver, Murdoch, Ewens; Conversions Stewart, Yapp 2. Northampton: Tries Penalty try, Cohen, Seeley, Lam 2; Conversions Hepher 4; Penalties Hepher 3.

Bedford: S Stewart (R Underwood, 73); B Whetstone, A Murdoch (capt), D Harris, D O'Mahony (J Ewens, 65); A Yapp, R Elliott (C Harrison, 76); A Olver (V Hartland, 78), J Richards (A Davis, 78), C Boyd, D Zaltzman, A Codling (A Duke,19; P Hewitt, 68), J Cockle, R Winters, J Forster.

Northampton: N Beal (A Blyth, 80); C Moir, A Northey, M Allen, B Cohen; A Hepher, M Dawson (capt); G Pagel, F Mendez, M Hynes (M Volland, 75), J Phillips, A Newman (S Hepher, 66), P Lam, G Seeley, B Pountney.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham, Berkshire).