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Bedford Blues v Saracens
Bedford Blues’ first pre-season run out ended in a 12 point defeat to Aviva Premiership side Saracens at Goldington Road on Friday evening, with the home side taking some time to shake off a bit of rustiness before producing a fine second half performance.The visitors showed their class in the first 40 minutes, with England international Charlie Hodgson controlling proceedings to put them 17 points ahead at half time. However, after conceding an early try in the second period, Bedford started to claw their way back into proceedings with scores from replacements Josh Bassett and Ali Price seeing them emerge with a plenty of credit from the encounter.Four of Bedford’s summer signings were included in the starting XV, with Mark Atkinson, James Stephenson, Darren Fearn and Ben Gulliver all making their bows at Goldington Road. Tom Armes was also amongst the replacements, as was dual registered hooker Scott Spurling.Five of the other players that will be available to the Blues via dual registration with Saracens were in action as well, although they were lining up for the visitors. Duncan Taylor, Mako Vunipola, Jackson Wray and Fraser all started, while Ben Ransom was named amongst the replacements.
The early stages of the game were fairly even, but three penalties against Sarries in quick succession saw James Pritchard kick to touch on each occasion and give the hosts possession deep inside the opposition half. However, they were unable to break down some stubborn defence despite putting together some good moves.
Eventually they lost possession after a knock on and were then fortunate that nothing more came after former Blues star Taylor intercepted a wayward pass after the away side coughed up possession themselves. However, Saracens opened the scoring on 14 minutes when the ever-alert Hodgson charged down Ian Vass’ clearance and raced away to score under the posts, duly converting his own try.
The veteran fly half then kicked a penalty three minutes later and he was starting to pull the strings as his side began to take control of proceedings. A knock on close to the Bedford line gave them a brief respite, but the Blues pack were driven back at their own scrum before it collapsed, leading to the referee awarding a 25thminute penalty try that Hodgson again converted.
Bedford did get the chance to attack the Sarries line again after a high tackle by Eoin Sherriff on Darryl Veenendaal, but that to come to naught. Then five minutes before the interval, new boy Stephenson showed why he was picked up from National Division One side Blackheath with a clever chip and chase that saw him speed down the wing, only to be denied a try after visiting full back Chris Wyles was able to touch down in his own in goal just before the Blues winger could get there.
It remained that way at half time and it was a tit-for-tat affair when play resumed. However, Saracens were next to score in the 53rd minute and this time it was two of the dual-registered players that were involved.
Blues fans will be hoping that prop forward Vunipola shows more of the running ability that he did when he burst nearly 30 metres deep into home territory before the ball was then moved across the park for Fraser to score out wide, with replacement Nils Mordt converting.
Bedford did get on the score sheet six minutes later and it was certainly a try worth waiting for. Replacement fly half Jake Sharp picked out fellow half-time sub Bassett with a perfectly-weighted cross field kick and the winger then streaked away, racing in from over 45 metres out and leaving the defence trailing in his wake. Pritchard then converted from in front of the posts.
The Blues were not done there though and with ten minutes remaining, Academy graduate Price broke the line and scampered over for an unconverted try from 20 metres out. They then held off a late onslaught from Saracens to prevent any further scores.
Bedford Blues line-up – Pritchard (captain); Kohler, Staff, Atkinson, Stephenson; Vass, Veenendaal; Fearn, Locke, Cooper, Gulliver, Rae, Gillanders, Fox, Barrell
Replacements – Seal, Spurling, Cochrane, Boulton, Howard, Van der Molen, Harding, Armes, Price, Sharp, Stevens, Bassett