Bedford Blues v Newcastle Falcons
Bedford Blues fell to their second defeat in a row at the hands of relegated Newcastle Falcons in a superb game at Goldington Road. Following their 23-13 loss at Bristol last weekend, Mike Rayer would have hoped to bounce back and, in spite of a superb performance from James Pritchard, the Blues were left empty handed.
Newcastle began the match playing downhill but it was the hosts whose game got off to a worse start. The Blues failed to take Jimmy Gopperth’s up and under and after several phases, referee Martin Fox caught Darren Fearn offside -Gopperth made no mistake from 22 metres.
Only two minutes later the New Zealand fly-half was presented with another opportunity for three points, however he pulled his attempt wide of the posts. The Blues took inspiration from Gopperth’s error and were soon level thanks to Pritchard’s boot following a period of incisive play inside the Falconss 22.
Though the hosts’ newfound confidence was short-lived when a Newcastle maul was pulled down a metre out and Fox sent Samoan Paul Tupai to the cooler for 10 minutes. The chill that had replaced the early afternoon warmth in Bedford did not affect the visitors however and they made light work of the resulting maul to register the afternoon’s first try through Richard Mayhew. Gopperth converted with aplomb.
Fox began to enjoy his time in charge of the top of the table clash and, perhaps harshly, reached into his pocket for the second time as he sent Sean Tomes to the bin for failing to roll away – only 20 minutes had been played. Pritchard failed to add three points however and nine minutes of Tomes’ time in the sin-bin would elapse before the Canadian full-back brought the Blues back to within four.
As the half drew towards its conclusion, Gopperth restored Newcastle’s seven-point lead with a penalty from the same spot as he scored his first. But the league leaders were not happy to settle for that at half-time and got their reward when Tom Catterick finished off a sweeping move. Converted by his fly-half, Dean Richards’ men went into the changing rooms in far higher spirits than the Blues.
However, Mike Rayer was the happier boss for the first four minutes of the second-half as his side ran with endeavour deep into Newcastle territory. But the visitors, wearing white, refused to surrender – and when the ball was fly-hacked clear their resilience was rewarded with a penalty. Gopperth went for the jugular with a kick to touch and only stout defending from the hosts prevented Newcastle extending their advantage.
Play was halted for Darren Fox’s introduction in place of Don Barrell and Bedford caught their visitors cold when Pritchard burst onto the ball at pace and his speed saw the full-back race in from 40 metres to bring the scores to within nine. The Blues captain dusted himself down to add the extras and suddenly the game, now being played under floodlights, had burst into life.
Only a superb tackle on Ally Hogg prevented Newcastle from bouncing straight back. The Falcons pressurised the Blues at the resulting scrum, Jake Sharp’s hurried clearance kick was taken quickly by Joel Hodgson and clearly smarting from conceding Pritchard’s try, the visitors’ forwards burst onto the ball at pace, the Blues were caught offside and Gopperth kicked his third penalty.
The renowned goal kicker was on target again minutes later and suddenly Bedford’s good work had all but been undone.
Or had it? Leading from the front is seemingly impossible at full-back but Pritchard was putting in a captain’s performance to remember. His chip and chase to score his second try was up there with the best individual try you could see. Again the conversion was successful and Bedford trailed by six with 10 minutes remaining.
Newcastle’s Premiership experience began to show though – Rory Lawson and Gopperth pulled the strings and camped their side inside the Blues’ 22. The latter sat back in the pocket and his sweetly struck drop-goal meant the Falcons made the trip up the A1 victorious with an eleven point lead over their hosts in the race for a place amongst England’s elite.