Bedford soak up the blows

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The Independent Online

Bedford, the punch-bags of the Premiership, took another standing count yesterday but not before throwing a series of impressive counter-attacks. Few clubs have been as bloodied as the Blues and even fewer show such a capacity for soaking up punishment and bouncing back for more. Their motto should be, "Heroic but Futile".

Bedford, the punch-bags of the Premiership, took another standing count yesterday but not before throwing a series of impressive counter-attacks. Few clubs have been as bloodied as the Blues and even fewer show such a capacity for soaking up punishment and bouncing back for more. Their motto should be, "Heroic but Futile".

Twelve months ago Bedford, whose assets were frozen as the former owner Frank Warren fought a legal battle with fellow boxing promoter Don King, were close to relegation, only surviving in two play-off legs against the Premiership Two heavyweights Rotherham by virtue of scoring more tries, although not more points, than the Yorkshire club.

It seems for most, if not all, of this season, Bedford's summit of ambition has been to stay in the Premiership by precisely the same manner - a return bout with Rotherham - although on this evidence Lady Luck does not believe in giving a sucker an even break. Far from being punch drunk, Bedford displayed many admirable qualities in a fiercely fought contest that could easily have gone their way.

London Irish have had a mixed bag of a season but have not given up hope - an extremely faint hope - of qualifying for the Heineken Cup by finishing in the top half of the Premiership. They are still in Europe, albeit in the Shield competition, the poor relation of the two trophies. Despite viewing it as a dented shield - the Irish had said their priorities lay elsewhere - it may yet look good in an empty cupboard. Beforehand Dick Best, the London Irish coach, had a dig at the fixture list, which had both clubs playing their third match in seven days. "This is obviously not the way to preserve the shelf life of players," Best said. "Yet almost lemming like, we continue to make these errors which often undermine performance."

It was the Irish who looked on the ropes for much of this match, despite establishing a 9-0 lead, Jarrod Cunningham kicking three penalties within 17 minutes. However, in the 19th minute Bedford scored the first try when Andy Gomarsall switched the direction of an attack to the short side following a lineout and London Irish were completely wrong-footed as the scrum-half slipped a try-scoring pass to the right wing Paul Sackey.

A few minutes later the Irish, under immense pressure at the scrum, responded when Justin Bishop found space in midfield following a sustained attack. Ryan Banks, a real handful at No 8, lost the ball in the act of scoring before Gomersall landed a penalty to make it 16-10 at half-time.

Bedford deservedly hit the front when Gomarsall added another penalty and then the power of their pack resulted in a try for the excellent Chris Pearson. Gomarsall's conversion put his side 20-16 ahead but, of course, it was too good to last.

As Best brought on some fresh forwards in an attempt to counteract the Bedford eight, Conor O'Shea managed to offload a try-scoring pass to Ben Whetstone after 53 minutes to regain the lead for the Exiles.

Midway through the second half Gomersall kicked his third penalty to level the scores at 23-23. Cunningham replied in kind to make it 26-23 and in the 81st minute Bedford, who have won only one game all season, finally were forced to accept defeat when Nick Harvey took a close range pass in full flight for his side's third try. Far from favouring the brave, fortune put the boot in.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); M Rivaro, J Bishop, B Whetstone, J Cunningham; S Bachop, J Tonu'u; N Hatley (K Fullman, 59), R Kirke, S Halford (M Worsley, 59), R Strudwick, B Cockbain (N Harvey, 48), R Gallacher, R Hunter (M Gabey, 48), A Mower.

Bedford: S Stewart; P Sackey, J Connolly, A Murdoch, A McLean; D Hughes, A Gomarsall (capt); A Black (P Beal, 68), C Pearson, V Hartland, C Eagle (D Sims, 40), R Winters, J Cockle, R Banks, F Rossigneux (M Webber, 53).

Referee: S Leyshon (RFU).

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