Bedford give Bristol a reality check

Bedford 33 - Bristol 20
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is difficult enough getting into the Premiership, but even trickier staying there. Ask Rotherham or Worcester or Bedford... or Bristol. The West Country club, who were relegated a couple of years ago, will rejoin the top flight next season. Promotion from National League One is assured despite yesterday's result, which was only their fourth defeat in 25 games.

It is difficult enough getting into the Premiership, but even trickier staying there. Ask Rotherham or Worcester or Bedford... or Bristol. The West Country club, who were relegated a couple of years ago, will rejoin the top flight next season. Promotion from National League One is assured despite yesterday's result, which was only their fourth defeat in 25 games.

Having passed the test on the field, a year ahead of their grand plan, Bristol are confident of satisfying the criteria for entry to the Premiership, particularly the two main requirements, primacy of tenure at the Memorial Ground - it opened in 1921 and is so called in honour of Bristolian rugby players killed in the First World War - and a suitable capacity. Only the dirty tricks department can stop them from going up.

"Hopefully Bristol will be promoted without any of the usual nonsense," Geoff Irvine, the Bedford chairman, said. "Bristol are worthy champions and have demonstrated that they are ready to return to the highest level. We wish them well, secure in the knowledge that their views on promotion and relegation will not change and that they will be great ambassadors for National Division One."

Bristol share their ground with Bristol Rovers, which means they play on Sundays, but if they were required to play on a Saturday they could use Bristol City's Ashton Gate. Auditors were inspecting both venues last week.

Bristol opened up a handsome lead in National League One, smashing all-comers in their previous six matches, scoring 288 points at an average of 48. Yesterday, it was Bedford who looked as if they were going places.

Inspired by last week's triumph in the Powergen Challenge Shield at Twickenham, Bedford, who have a victory parade through the town on 8 May, got better and better as the match progressed. In the second half they obliterated a deficit of 20-13 and in the last quarter outplayed Bristol at their own game.

An idea of Bristol's style is that the wing Sean Marsden had scored 26 tries this season and the full-back, Bernardo Stortoni, 13. Stortoni, an Argentinian, was signed from Rotherham after the Bristol supporters raised £12,000 to contribute to his salary. Had he managed to deliver a final pass here, it would have rounded off a move which began behind his own line.

Whether Bristol will be allowed to play such an expansive game next season is extremely doubtful. They have got to get the ball first, but the youngsters who have served them so well this season have earned the chance to play in the Premiership.

They were restricted here to just two tries, both brilliant solo efforts. After 23 minutes the stand-off Jason Strange sold a dummy which was bought by the whole of Bedford to go over at the posts. His conversion to add to two penalties meant that the Welshman had scored all of Bristol's points in the first half and passed 300 for the season.

Bedford's response was a try after 18 minutes, created by their captain Matt Allen, formerly of Northampton, and finished by the No 8 Junior Paramore, ex-Gloucester. Leigh Hinton contributed a conversion and two penalties.

It was looking good for Bristol when the centre Sam Cox bedazzled the Bedford defence for a stunning try four minutes into the second half, but then Bedford hit back. Hinton kicked them to within a point with two more penalties before Rudi Straeuli made a substitution which had an immediate impact.

Straeuli, who was South Africa's coach in the 2003 World Cup (he resigned after the Springboks' tame exit to the All Blacks in the quarter-finals), took off the stand-off Ali Hepher, another former Saint, and within a minute his replacement Karl Dickson exchanged passes with the man of the match, the scrum-half Ian Vass, to score a great try in a move started in their own half. The fact that the final pass was forward did not bother anybody, least of all the referee Mark Wilson.

In the 66th minute Mr Wilson issued yellow cards to Stortoni and the Bedford lock Arthur Brenton. Neither should have gone and the guilty party, the flanker Ben Lewitt who threw a blatant punch, escaped scot-free.

Having hit the front, the Blues rubbed Bristol's noses in it with a third try eight minutes from time, Nic Strauss providing the final waltz.

A consolation for Bristol is that they will experience a higher grade of refereeing in the Premiership. Gaining promotion, though, is an extremely expensive business and one of their first tasks will be to wine and dine their bank manager. If he wasn't aware of it before, Richard Hill, the Bristol coach, was reminded yesterday that a lot of money will be needed to strengthen the squad.

Bedford: M Harris; J Hinkins, L Hinton, M Allen (capt), S Brown (W Saayman, 67); A Hepher (K Dickson, 67), I Vass; M Volland (S Tonga'uiha, 40), C Johnson, J Brooks, J Phillips, A Brenton, N Strauss, J Paramore (S Brady, 67), B Lewitt.

Bristol: B Stortoni; S Marsden, S Cox, J Pritchard, M Stanojevic; J Strange (D Gray, 75), H Martens; A Clarke, S Nelson (N Clark, 58), D Hilton (J Hobson, 58), O Hodge (O Kohn, 40), J Brownrigg, M Salter (capt), R Martin-Redman, J El Abd (C Short, 75).

Referee: M Wilson (Yorkshire).

Comments