Pountney's men show class divide

Northampton 41 - Bedford 8
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The Independent Online

This was a case study in the still-developing business of the professional club game. Bedford have history and support in a good rugby town. But they do not fit into the increasingly hermetically sealed big-time Premiership because, having tried and failed once to spend their way in, they do not wish to be hurt again. Two clubs, separated by 20 miles, existing in different worlds.

This was a case study in the still-developing business of the professional club game. Bedford have history and support in a good rugby town. But they do not fit into the increasingly hermetically sealed big-time Premiership because, having tried and failed once to spend their way in, they do not wish to be hurt again. Two clubs, separated by 20 miles, existing in different worlds.

So we had a Powergen Cup tie which ended with Northampton making the right noises about giving it the gun for 60 minutes, then assessing the situation, when to neutral eyes the match was over after a quarter of an hour. Bedford conceded three or four successive penalties at the breakdown, and had a lock, Arthur Brenton, sent to the sin bin, at which moment their neighbours fashioned an easy try through the threequarters. Five more Northampton tries later and the hosts, missing nine first-choice players and bottom of the Premiership, were comfortably through to the last eight of a tournament which gets more loaded in the big boys' favour every year.

Whither Bedford, then? They already support their senior partner's A league team, and had 13 former Saints in their 22. If their supporters are prepared to stomach the reduced status, they and others like them in National League One can act as a nursery for the pro teams, providing somewhere to play for those surplus to the moneyed ones' requirements.

As Bedford's coach, Rudi Straeuli, put it: "We have youngsters who are good enough to go into the Premiership, and others who are heading for retirement." Among the former category is a 22-year-old New Zealand Under-21 and Pacific Islands Test prop, Soane Tonga'uiha, who will surely be signed up elsewhere soon. Bedford might finish fourth this season. And, more importantly, solvent.

Saints have their eyes on different prizes - the Powergen, the Zurich, the Heineken: any of the baubles at the disposal of the dozen elite outfits. In the meantime, of course - but without anyone admitting it - they expect the labyrinthine rules of promotion and relegation to save them if it comes to that. Their head coach Budge Pountney has "run out of fingers and toes" counting the injuries sustained in pursuit of the pots. Fewer matches would be one answer. Whither the Powergen, then?

Northampton: Tries Rudd, Tucker, Clarke 2, Human, Seely; Conversions Grayson 3, Drahm; Penalty Grayson. Bedford: Try Tonga'uiha; Penalty Hinton.

Northampton: J Clarke; J Rudd, M Tucker (N Starling, 61), M Stcherbina, W Human; P Grayson (S Drahm, 73), M Robinson (J Howard, 64); C Budgen (S Emms, 67), S Thompson (capt; J van Wyk, 73), R Morris (B Sturgess, 67), G Seely, D Browne, R Beattie, M Soden, B McNamee (D Richmond, 56).

Bedford: L Hinton; B Whetstone, M Staten, M Allen (capt), C Moir (J Hinkins, 77); A Hepher (D Malone, 67), I Vass; M Volland (S Tonga'uiha, 61), C Johnson (M Price, 77), M Stewart (J Brooks, 19), J Phillips (A Phillips, 77), A Brenton, N Strauss, J Paramore (S Brady, 67), B Lewitt.

Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).

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