Bedford 25 Leeds 21: Irvine takes the patient route to the promised land

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The Independent Online

There were over 3,000 pairs of eyes watching this top-four National League One match from the stands, but one was looking a little further ahead than all the others.

The issue of automatic promotion to, and relegation from, the Premiership is back on the agenda, but Bedford's chairman, Geoff Irvine, is resigned to the fact that the National League clubs are excluded from discussions. "We are like the little boys in the playground, holding on to the coats of the bigger boys while they fight," he said.

Irvine is unwilling to invest millions in bringing Bedford's homely facilities up to Premiership standards when there is no guarantee of promotion. He is, therefore, prepared to bide his time.

"The key year is the season that the Long Form Agreement ends," he said. "If you are going to get into the Premiership then it has to be in season 2008-09, because after you go up the trapdoor closes behind you."

Irvine accompanied the National League One executive director, Geoff Cooke - the former England manager - and Otley's Paul Jaques to an apparently fruitless meeting with the Rugby Football Union's chairman, Martyn Thomas, and chief executive, Francis Baron, at Twickenham on Friday.

"The Premiership already effectively consists of 13 clubs," Irvine said. "They have allowed Leeds to play in the Guinness A League this year, and the side that comes down does so with a £1 million parachute payment. It's like a game of musical chairs. But what happens when the music stops and someone is sitting in the wrong chair?"

Leeds are more uncompromising on the issue, with the club's chief executive, Gary Hetherington, saying: "We believe that promotion and relegation are minimum requirements, provided that the club who win National One can prove that they have the facilities to add real value to the Premiership."

And the Tykes' view is supported in the South West, where any talk of ring-fencing the Premiership is greeted with passionate rejection.

Robin Turner is chairman of the rebranded Cornish Pirates, formerly Penzance & Newlyn, who have now decamped further east, to Camborne. He said: "We believe Cornish rugby deserves a place in the Premiership. And we want the RFU to ensure that the game is kept open, with sides below the Premiership all being given a fair chance of promotion into the top flight."

If the quality of rugby in the First Division for the rest of the season matches yesterday's fare then the top dogs had better look out next year.

There was some excellent rugby and a thunderous finish, with Leeds looking to have clinched it when their fly-half, Ian Humphreys (the brother of Ireland's David), landed a 50-metre drop goal in the sixth minute of added time. But four minutes later James Pritchard, Bedford's leading points scorer this season, was sent over for the winning try.

Bedford: G Lewis (B Patston, 67); J Pritchard, O Dodge, M Allen (capt), M Staten; R Broadfoot (T Youngs, 80), K Dickson (D Malone, 75); M Volland (B Alexander, 50), C Johnson, J Graham, J Phillips, A Brenton (M Comb, 72), N Strauss, S Harding, B Pienaar.

Leeds: L Hinton; R Welding, A Rock, J Hepworth, T Rock (J Holtby, 55); I Humphreys, J Rauluni; M McDonald (J Isaacson, 80), P Nilsen, C Noon (M Cusack, 55), P Bouza, K Myall, R Oakley, M Lock (capt; S Worral, 74), R Bryan (M Schusterman, 40).

Referee: L Apgeraint-Roberts (Yorkshire).

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