As the fuzzy heads start to clear and we say a warm hello to 2014 it seems an appropriate time to take a look back at what has been a quite fantastic 12 months in the history of Bedford Blues Rugby Club.

No one will have any doubt about what the highlight of the year was when – after three times trying – we final got over the final hurdle to reach the Championship Final. Sadly, Newcastle proved too strong over the two legs but the town of Bedford was proud of what had been achieved by a close-knitted group of men who showed that the underdogs can always cause an upset.

But let’s go back one year when we had celebrated the festive period with the exact opposite of fixtures as this season. Boxing Day had been spent at Goldington Road with a good win over the always impressive Rotherham Titans while the first game of 2013 was against today’s opponents London Scottish at the Athletic Ground in Richmond. The Exiles had vastly improved from the side that went down 55-20 in the reversed fixture and put in an impressive defensive display to take the spoils 26-23.

The Blues certainly didn’t come firing out of the blocks in 2013 but they did enough to pick up a 21-24 win away at Stirling in the B&I Cup before coming back to earth with a bump when we were beaten in front of the Sky cameras at Meadow Lane by Nottingham. A 64-0 annihilation of Bedwas followed before the Championship campaign got back on track with a good home win over Jersey and then a very narrow victory over Plymouth at Brickfields.

The next game was to be a preview of the final when the Blues made a Friday night trip up to Newcastle to take on the Falcons in a quite remarkable game. Myles Dorrian had converted a penalty and Mark Atkinson had struck an audacious drop goal to give Bedford a 0-6 lead with halftime approaching but then the Championship saw something very strange. Jimmy Gopperth struck a penalty attempt which cannoned on both posts and the bar before falling kindly to Jamie Helleur to score with Gopperth converting. Bedford didn’t give up though and they went into a 7-15 lead thanks to two Dorrian penalties and a second impeccable Atkinson penalty. Sadly, Gopperth added three points and then in stoppage time Noah Cato went over for a converted try to win the game.

A freezing March meant that the Blues game against Doncaster was postponed but the extra week’s preparation certainly did wonders as Bedford travelled to Cornish Pirates and picked up a vital 18-26 win at The Mennaye which made the possibility of a top four finish even more likely although a 24-33 home defeat against Leeds did mean that it was sweaty palms time with games running out.

The midweek rearranged game against Doncaster was an electrifying one with the Knights needing a bonus point victory at the very least to stand any chance of staying in the Championship. Sadly for them, Bedford had a bonus point in the bag by halftime and two further tries meant the final score read 38-26 and the Yorkshire club were relegated to National One.

A final 29-41 win away at Moseley meant the Blues finished the season in third position and were paired up with Nottingham in the Championship semi-final with the first leg at Goldington Road a week after another narrow defeat to Newcastle – this time 15-18 at home in the B&I Cup. Despite being tested strongly at the scrum by the Green and Whites, Bedford controlled the game over the 80 minutes to rack up a 26-17 win. The following week, and with a very different outcome at the scrum, Bedford finished off the job with a 21-23 victory at Meadow Lane.

The season finale was an attritional won which ultimately went the way of Newcastle who racked up a 9-18 lead in the first leg and finished the job 31-24 at Kingston Park. Regardless of the outcome, Bedford – and the Championship – proved that the gap between the top two tiers of English rugby is narrowing each season.

There were plenty of coming and goings over the summer with five players joining Premiership clubs. In came Mike Le Bourgeois, Neville Edwards, Charlie Clare, Corey Hircock, Sam Stanley and Nico Steenkamp while Nick Auterac, Tom Jubb, Matt Hankin, Nick Fenton-Wells, Scott Spurling, James Short and - the now Bristol player – Luke Baldwin all arrived on deals from Saracens. Further additions came in the form of Argentinian prop Tomas Gilardon Paz and hooker TJ Harris.

However, the new season didn’t start brightly for the Blues as the lost the ‘Double-Header’ against London Welsh at Allianz Park. Further defeats followed to Jersey, Leeds, Bristol and Rotherham before Bedford recorded their first win of the campaign against Llanelli in the B&I Cup and this was followed by a league win over new boys Ealing Trailfinders. Losses again followed to Nottingham, Cornish Pirates and Moseley but the tide turned in Plymouth when a superb second half display saw the Blues win 16-27.

Bedford showed that they had turned the corner when unbeaten league leaders London Welsh visited Goldington Road at the end of November. The Blues put in an astonishing defensive and tactically sound performance to beat the Exiles 28-26 in a truly thrilling encounter. A defeat against Connacht was quickly forgotten when the reversed cup fixture resulted in a seven try mauling at Goldington Road with the Blues winning 50-12.

Although this has been written ahead of the Boxing day encounter against Rotherham, one thing is for sure – 2014 is going to be another fantastic ride for Bedford Blues fans!


Sam Roberts Highlight:

Highlight of the year for me has to be the first half against Nottingham in the playoff semi final second leg. If you remember, we went up there having to protect a lead and I was worried that we’d not play with the same ethos that had got us so far. Defending a lead in sport has many well-noted casualties. But within minutes it was Nottingham who were forcing the play and it was James Short who was under the sticks, running in an intercept try.

Their lineout malfunctioned, much to the delight of the man alongside me in commentary that night Darren Fearn, and their scrum creaked. Penalties went our way and after Nick Fenton-Wells found Luke Baldwin after breaking off the back of a scrum, and with Dorrian’s boot faultless, we were twenty points up on the night and twenty-nine points in front on aggregate.

Even the most cynical of Blues fans were now starting to dream. The game against London Welsh most recently certainly comes close but for playing well when it mattered, the victory up at Meadow Lane in May takes it for me.

Pictures courtesy of Nigel Rudgard - see more Bedford Blues pictures at http://frontrow.photium.com/

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