Rugby Union: Whetstone blunts Sale

Bedford 31 Sale 20
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The Independent Online
A HAT-TRICK of tries from Bedford's hard-running threequarter Ben Whetstone saw off the challenge of Jewson League One side Sale and earned the Midlands side a place in the final of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Cup, to be held at Northampton's Franklin's Gardens on 3 April.

The runaway leaders of the Allied Dunbar Premiership Two last appeared in a cup final back in 1975, when they beat Rosslyn Park in what was then the John Player Cup. Yesterday's effort will have had added sweetness for the Bedford coach Paul Turner, since he was sacked two years ago by Sale. But any cup final appearance is a good one, especially for a club that is clearly going places. The champagne is on ice until Bedford discover whether they will lose two league points for fielding a third non-EC player in January, but they are so far ahead of their rivals that they will certainly join the top flight. Judging by the committed forward display and the explosive abilities of the backs they should end up celebrating a double.

The Bedford chairman Frank Warren is expected to announce later in the week that the club are to remain in the town at their present Goldington Road premises. There would have to be the inevitable development of the ground, but that would be no bad thing. And while the C&G competition may have been dubbed a Mickey Mouse tournament when it was first mooted, the Goldington Road ground was no Disney World on a chilly afternoon. From the way both sides hammered into each other from the outset there was little doubt that they were taking the cup seriously enough.

Whetstone's three tries, one while he was on the wing, the others when he had moved into the centre after Daniel Whiston had limped out of the action, had brought the 3,293 spectators to their feet. The first in the 19th minute came courtesy of some fabulous handling, not least by Bedford's captain, the South African Rudi Straeuli, who provided the scoring pass after receiving the ball at his ankles.

Whetstone's second saw him speeding in on the right and the third - his 22nd of the season - underlined his power as a runner. As bravely as Sale fought back in the second half, with two tries from Matt Moore and another through Chris Yates, they were always playing catch-up.

Bedford also had the edge in kicks on target in the form of their full- back Mike Rayer. The former Wales international landed four penalties and two conversions. His counterpart, the former All Black Shane Howarth, missed three penalties - two hitting the upright - and two conversions to let Bedford slip away.

Bedford: M Rayer; B Whetstone, D Whiston (J Wells, 20), M Pechey, R Underwood; A Yapp, S Crabb; N Hatley, J Richards, C Boyd (D Hinkins, 55), J Cullen, S Platford (S Murray, 55), J Paramore, R Straeuli, J Forster

Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, J Baxendell, M Tetlow (S Davidson, 51), C Yates; S Howarth, R Smith; P Winstanley, G Dawe, M Driver, D Baldwin, S Raiwalui, D Erskine, D O'Cuinneagain, D O'Grady.

Referee: A Rowden (Thatcham, Berkshire).