Bedford Blues v Cardiff
Little can be read into the results of pre-season encounters, but if Bedford Blues play anything like this when the Championship kicks off in two weeks’ time then there will be few teams that can match them after a clinical second half display saw them dispatch a youthful Cardiff side in a twelve try rout.
Yet at the interval this looked like being a much more even contest. True, the Blues held a four-point lead, but the side once revered as amongst the best club teams in the world during the amateur era were proving more than a match for the hosts. However, the away side – who, in fairness, were missing 19 players - suffered a dramatic implosion when play resumed, shipping ten tries.
Blues director of rugby Mike Rayer, who played over 300 times for Cardiff in two spells during his playing career, will have been delighted with the performance of his team. He may also have been heartened by the showing of the two trialists – Heath Stevens and Joe Vandermolen – who were both given starts and managed to make an impression on the game.
It was a bright start from the hosts and they were able to make early inroads with some of their trademark running rugby. An early penalty for offside was then kicked for touch, and although the line-out was not the cleanest, Bedford recovered the ball and moved it across the field for Stevens to send over Stephenson in the corner in the fourth minute. Brendan Burke stroked over the conversion, and the Blues were seven points ahead.
Cardiff were also committed to play some expansive running themselves, with centre Adam Thomas made some vital yards with the old show-and-go that opened up a gap for him. Although that move came to nothing, the Welsh side continued to enjoy a spell of possession in the Bedford half and got on the board through a Joe Griffin penalty on 14 minutes.
The see-saw nature of the contest continued after that score, with Bedford nearly made to pay after Will Thomas intercepted a wayward pass inside the away side’s 22. The full back streaked clear and it took a last-gasp tackle from Stevens to prevent him from going all the way. The Blues then forced the turnover and threatened to score themselves, only for Ben Cooper to knock on close to the line.
Cardiff were next to score though in the 23rd minute and it was a fine individual score from Richard Smith. The Welsh sevens international picked off a loose pass from Josh Bassett and raced in from 45 metres to score behind the posts, giving Griffin a simple conversion.
The lead lasted just three minutes. A quickly taken tap penalty saw the Blues word the ball out wide, with Burke providing the final pass that sent club stalwart Sacha Harding crashing over for a try. Burke then nailed the conversion from out wide again to restore the Bedford lead.
It remained the same at half time, but the home side moved further ahead within four minutes of the restart. Bassett made the break before passing inside to Burke, and although he was held up just short of the line the ball was recycled back out to Cooper with the prop diving over from close range for a converted score.
Bedford’s forwards then showed their power in the 48th minute. Cardiff had conceded a five metre scrum and they found themselves driven back before No.8 Vandermolen dived on the ball at the base of the scrum for an unconverted score. The raft of replacements then followed, but that did not blunt the Blues as an attacking force.
They were over again in the 51st minute, with replacement Jake Sharp making one of his familiar line breaks before passing to Alex Rae, who in turn fed sub Don Barrell for their fifth try of the night which Sharp converted. Barrell was then on hand to finish off another fine move that tore the Cardiff defence apart.
It was now a question of how many more the Blues would get and they were over again on the hour. Sharp pulled off an outrageous one-handed pass to Henry Staff and the centre sped over from 30 metres out for another converted try. Bedford passed the half century mark eight minutes later after referee Steve Lee had awarded a penalty try against the visitors for pulling down a maul.
There was still more to come and a scrum on halfway saw the ever-alert scrum half Darryl Veenendaal sprint clear after picking up the ball before releasing fellow replacement James Pritchard to score under the sticks, with Sharp again adding the extras. The Canadian international full back then grabbed his second try out wide on the right inside the final five minutes, and completed his hat-trick in the closing stages after taking a quick tap from a penalty for a high tackle.
There was still time for Ransom to add insult to injury by scoring a try right on the stroke of full time, with Sharp converting to bring an entertaining game to a close.
Bedford Blues line-up – Ransom; Stephenson, Burke, Stevens, Bassett; Vass, Baldwin; Seal, Spurling, Cooper, Howard, Gulliver, Rae (captain), Harding, Vandermolen
Replacements – Cochrane, Fearn, Boulton, Gillanders, Fox, Barrell, Veenendaal, Sharp, Staff, Kohler, Pritchard