Bedford Blues v Neath
Bedford Blues all but confirmed their place in the quarter-finals of the British & Irish Cup with a 69-23 victory over Neath at Goldington Road.
The Blues have never lost a home tie in this competition, but a spirited first half display from an injury ravaged Neath side saw them take the lead through a Dean Cummins penalty.
However Bedford responded well and scored four tries in the first period thanks to James Stephenson, Chris Locke, Darryl Veenendaal and a penalty try.
The Blues continued their dominance in the second half scoring a further seven tries, including a hat-trick from Josh Bassett, as Neath’s ill-discipline saw them reduced to 13 men.
Bedford made wholesale changes to the side that beat Neath in the reverse fixture last weekend. Most notably Locke came in for his first start of the season at hooker, while Ricky Reeves and Ben Cooper joined him in the front row. There was also a place on the bench for young academy star Aaron Morris.
After last weeks demolition of the Welsh side anyone who expected the Blues to walk this one would have been shocked when Dean Cummins’ second minute penalty put Neath 3-0 ahead.
However normal service was resumed as Bedford responded instantly. Ian Vass kicked a penalty to touch and from the resulting lineout the Blues forwards drove up the slope and towards the line.
The ball was then worked out wide after several phases and Stephenson raced over the line. Pritchard’s conversion cannoned back off the post, but Bedford were in front.
Neath responded brightly and were showing no signs of a team that were depleted in numbers.
After the restart a neat passing move looked to have set the Welsh All Blacks up for their second try but a pass was misplaced at a crucial time.
Nevertheless, the Welsh side kept the pressure on and after a string of passes Steffan Jones managed to get the ball over in the corner. Cummins missed the conversion but Neath led 8-5.
By this stage it was clear Bedford were going to be made to work for this win and yet again they responded instantly. Another Vass penalty to touch allowed the Blues to win a lineout five metres from the Neath line and a strong maul gave hooker Locke the chance to score.
But the Welsh side were not disheartened and centre Ryan Evans showed a quick turn of pace as he went in search of the Blues line.
He was stopped in his tracks by an excellent Tom Armes tap tackle, but from the breakdown in play Neath were awarded a penalty that Cummins converted to move his side within a point.
However that proved to be as close as they got to the home side as Bedford scored their third try soon after.
Bassett gained valuable yards with a burst up field and despite Neath turning the ball over 10 metres from their own line, scrum half Luc Jones’ clearance was charged down by Veenendaal who scored the Blues third.
Bedford looked to have finally worn their opposition down and had camped themselves in the Neath 22 towards the end of the first period.
As they began to turn the screw Alun Wyn Davies was sin binned for disrupting the play illegally and Bedford were awarded a penalty try for repeated infringements
The Welsh side did have chance to pull three points back right on half time as they were awarded a penalty, but Cummins failed to convert and Bedford led 24-11 at the break.
The Blues continued to apply pressure at the start of the second half and after some patient build up play prop Ben Cooper bullied his way over the line to score.
As Bedford’s lead increased Neath began to lose their cool and as tempers flared Gareth Howells was deemed to have struck a Blues player in the face and was dismissed by referee Mark Patton.
A converted penalty try to Bedford shortly followed and Brendan Burke played a crucial role in the Blues next score as his break enabled Stephenson to go over for his second.
Bedford were now running riot and Bassett got his first of the afternoon when he broke clear of the Neath defence 40 metres out and touched down.
Neath’s misery was then compounded as Davies saw a second yellow for a high challenge.
With a two-man advantage in Bedford’s favour Locke then scored his second of the afternoon and a tenth followed shortly after as Bassett latched on to Vass’ chip over the Neath backline.
The young Blues winger completed his hat-trick in superb fashion moments later. Pritchard kicked the ball downfield from 22 metres and with the Neath defence out of position Bassett showed an incredible burst of speed to run 80 metres and dive on the ball in the goal area just before it went dead.
The Welsh All Blacks did pull two quick tries back thanks to a second from Steffan Jones and winger Kyle Davies, but the damage had already been done and Bedford triumphed.
Blues: Ricky Reeves, Chris Locke (Neil Cochrane 65), Ben Cooper (Phil Boulton 59), Paul Tupai, Ben Gulliver (Mike Howard 61), Gregor Gillanders, Tom Armes (Don Barrell 54), Joe Vandermolen, Darryl Veenendaal (Luke Baldwin 54) (Jake Sharp 72), Ian Vass, Josh Bassett, Mark Atkinson, Brendan Burke, James Stephenson (Aaron Morris 59), James Pritchard (C). T: Stephenson (2), Locke (2), Veenendaal, Penalty Try (2), Cooper, Bassett (3). C: Pritchard (7).
Neath: Nicky Downs (C) (Owain Ford 59) (Rhodri Clancy 62), Alun Wyn Davies, Tom Price; Rhys Jones (Liam Puckett 72), Gareth Howells, Nathan Ace, Leon Ward (Matthew Rees 68), Steffan Jones, Luc Jones (Ben Jones 68), Dean Cummins, Kyle Davies, Lloyd Phillips, Ryan Evans (Gareth Davies 72), Kevin James, Aaron Bramwell. T: S Jones (2), K Davies. C: Cummins. P: Cummins (2).
Referee: Mark Patton.
Touch Judges: Thomas Davis, Chris Sharp.