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Bedford Blues v Northampton Saints
Unrelenting Bedford Blues eventually succumbed to a 45-21 home defeat to derby rivals Northampton Saints in their first pre-season friendly at Goldington Road.
Despite leading 21-19 at half time, the Blues struggled to deal with the Premiership team’s experience, fitness and power as 26 unanswered second half points saw the Saints home.
Blues full-back Mark Atkinson scored a scintillating first half hat-trick and fly-half Jake Sharp converted all three tries as Bedford held a surprise lead at the break.
Saints’ first half points came through tries from Ben Nutley, Jamie Elliott and GJ Van Velze, with two successfully converted by James Wilson.
The second half saw Saints full-back Ben Foden and substitutes Gareth Denman and Tom Collins touch down added to a penalty try, with Wilson converting two more and Harry Malinder one to give the visitors victory.
Both sides looked fired up for this local derby fright from the kick off and it took Saints just two minutes to open the scoring, Nutley forcing his way over from close range for an unconverted try after the visitors had just been unable to force their way over the line from a catch-and-drive move.
Bedford reacted well with Ollie Dodge knocking on the door and narrowly missing out on a try.
But it was just a brief reprieve for Northampton as Atkinson danced his way over the line to level the scored on seven minutes, with Sharp converting.
Northampton regained the lead when a quick passing move down the line saw Elliot cross on 11 minutes, with Wilson adding the extras
Sharp saw a drop-goal attempt drop short before Saints stretched their lead all too simple a fashion, going through the faces before Van Velze waltzed through unopposed with Wilson adding the extras.
Saints centre Luther Burrell looked the standout player for much of the first half, but Blues’ lineout worked like clockwork with new hooker Charlie Clare’s throws continually finding their target.
And Bedford hit back five minutes before the break when a string of good passes again found Atkinson in space, who jinked his way through to score with Sharp adding the extras.
The impressive Tom Armes was replaced in the 36th minute by Paul Tupai and the Blues struck again to take a surprise lead into the break.
Tupai, who has just begun his 23rd pre-season, was immediately involved, putting in some big hits against the Saints forwards.
Clever attacking play from the Blues then saw Atkinson ghost through on to his own grubber kick and athletically touch down to complete his hat-trick as Sharp’s conversion saw the hosts edge into a 21-19 half time lead.
Saints completely dominated the second half and, with both team making plenty of substitutions, the Premiership side’s pedigree finally told.
The visitors quickly retook the lead when earned when Ken Pisi played in Foden who slipped past Corey Hircock to score in the opening moments.
Both sides made changes at the break and continued to do so throughout the half and England international Courtney Lawes left his mark on Blues debutant Michael le Bourgeois with a truly monster hit that drew gasps from the wincing crowd.
Denman grabbed Saints’ next try on 54 minutes following another powerful scrum and Wilson added the extras.
Northampton’s pack were dominant at scum time and the game started to get away from Bedford as Collins scored again four minutes later following another quick Saints tap penalty. But Mallinder could only shank his kick too low.
Saints experience shone through as the game wore on and, when another Bedford scrum buckled before the end, referee Dean Richards was quick to award the penalty try with Mallinder adding the simple extras to put the finishing touches to a consummate second half Saints performance.
Blues: Darren Fearn, Charlie Clare, Phil Boulton, Mike Howard, Ben Gulliver, Tom Armes, Darren Fox, Joe Vandermolen, Darryl Veenendaal, Jake Sharp, Neville Edwards, Ollie Dodge Brendan Burke, Corey Hircock, Mark Atkinson. Replacements: Nico Steenkamp, Ben Cooper, Paul Tupai, Sacha Harding, Sam Stanley, Patrick Tapley, Chris Lord, Tom Jubb, Ben Calder, Michael Le Bourgeois, Dean Adamson. T: Atkinson 3. C: Sharp 3.
Saints: Ethan Waller, Ross Mc Millan, Tom Mercey, James Craig, Rob Verbakel, Phil Downson (C), Ben Nutley, Gj Van Velze, Kahn Fotuali, James Wilson, Jamie Elliott, Luther Burrell, George Pisi, Ken Pisi, Ben Foden. Replacements: Alex Waller, Mikey Haywood, Gareth Denman, Courtney Lawes, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Teimana Harrison, Sam Dickinson, Ryan Glynn, Harry Mallinder, Alex Day, Tom Stephenson, Tom Collins, Paul Diggin, Vasily Artemyev. T: Nutley, Elliott, Van Velze, Foden, Denman, Collins, Penalty Try. T: Wilson 4, Mallinder.
Referee: Dean Richards.
Assistant Referees: Darryl Chapman and Phil Watters.