Bedford 20 Harlequins 26: Rayer concedes promotion race as Quins tough it out

No one can prevent Harlequins returning to the Premiership - that is the verdict of Mike Rayer, Bedford's director of rugby. His side had looked to have the best chance of inflicting a first defeat of the season on the leaders of National League One.

Rayer's team surrendered an unbeaten home run stretching back to last season. "It is going to take a hell of a performance to turn them over," he said.

Bedford did rattle them, but having been shaken Quins were merely stirred into some fine rearguard action to protect their lead after the Blues' second-half revival, which saw them score two tries.

It was no more than Quins had expected. Dean Richards, their director of rugby, was happy to admit that the Londoners had been apprehensive in the build-up to this match against the third-placed team. "It was a very touchy week in training coming into today's match," he said. "We knew if we did not turn it on we could lose."

That they did not was down to their being well organised up front, pacy out wide and canny through the middle. Their defence held up well enough under the intense pressure applied by Blues during a riveting second half.

Richards was impressed with the opposition. "The two sides playing today would not disgrace the Premiership," he said. "In some respects games at this level are more physical than the Premiership."

They do not come much more physical than Bedford's gargantuan prop Soane Tonga'uiha. The Tongan is built not so much like a house as a whole estate, and his ball-carrying feats were at the heart of many Bedford attacks.

The giant islander was brought to Bedford by last season's coach, Rudi Straeuli, on a two-year visa which expires next November. Bedford's chances of keeping him look slim. Reports from South Africa say he is wanted by Straeuli's new side, Natal Sharks."All I know is we've got him to the end of the season," said Rayer. "He is a good player and he is going to attract attention. There is nothing we can do about that."

At least Bedford had the consolation of a sell-out. On a good day they take between £30,000 and £35,000 in gate receipts and catering profits. Harlequins' visit generated £80,000 - and almost everywhere they play clubs are reporting record crowds. In some ways the First Division will be sorry to see them go.

Bedford: Tries Moir, Phillips; Conversions Harris 2; Penalties Harris 2. Harlequins: Tries Keogh, Williams; Conversions Mehrtens 2; Penalties Mehrtens 4.

Bedford: M Harris; C Moir, M Allen, E Lewis, M Staten (L Roberts, 66); A Hepher, D Malone (A Page, 74); S Tonga'uiha, C Johnson, J Brooks, J Phillips, A Brenton, N Strauss, A Kettle, J Paramore (S Brady, 66).

Harlequins: T Williams; S Keogh, G Duffy, T Masson, U Monye (G Harder, 63); A Mehrtens, S So'oialo; C Jones, T Fuga, R Nebbett, J Evans, S Miall, A Vos, L Sherriff (C Robshaw, 63), N Easter.

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).

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