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Jersey v Bedford Blues
After mounting a monumental second half revival of their own last week, Bedford Blues then found themselves having to hold off one from a spirited Jersey side in St. Peter yesterday. They still managed to take a bonus point win from their first ever match against the side, but had to do it after finishing the game with 13 men on the field.
Tries from the recalled Paul Tupai, Mark Atkinson, Sacha Harding and a penalty try inside the first 50 minutes looked to have set Bedford on course for a comfortable win. But Jersey showed that they are getting to grips with Championship rugby following promotion last year after running in three tries during the final half an hour, while the Blues had Ricky Reeves red carded and Ben Cooper sin binned in the second half.
With a history of the sport on the island stretching back to 1879, Jersey has always been something of a hotbed of rugby union. Indeed, the annual Siam Cup played between them and fellow Channel Islanders Guernsey is only preceded by the Calcutta Cup as the oldest honour contested in the sport.
It was also a popular destination for tours during the amateur era, as well as more recently providing a venue for clubs to hold pre-season training camps. But it is only in the last five years that Jersey’s own side has started to make their mark on the game following four promotions in that time.
The 37-13 win at Coventry last season ensured their promotion to the second tier of English rugby for the first time in their history after being crowned National League One champions. It has not been an easy start to life in the Championship for Ben Harvey’s men though, and going into this match they had yet to register a win.
Despite suffering a 54-31 defeat at Rotherham Titans last week, they proved that they are a side to be wary of though after scoring four tries to pick up the bonus point. Bedford boss Mike Rayer was also under no illusions that this would be a stroll in the park, particularly after their close-run win over Nottingham the week before.
The early signs were that Jersey would belie their position at the foot of the table as they enjoyed the majority of the possession and territory. However, while the Blues were guilty of some handling errors and lapses in discipline, the home side had several early penalties and a free kick go against them at the scrum.
Michael Le Bourgeois then spurned an opportunity to kick Jersey ahead on seven minutes, putting a penalty effort wide. Pritchard did not make the same mistake for Bedford on the quarter hour though, slotting over the first points following a deliberate knock on after Ransom’s penetrating run had taken the visitors deep into home territory for the first time.
Within three minutes, the Blues had their first try. Pritchard set up the counter attack after fielding a clearance kick, with sprightly Josh Bassett spotting the gap in the line and charging forward before passing to Tupai – back in the starting XV – and sending him over to score a try that the skipper converted.
Jersey rallied and surged back forward, but their good work again went unrewarded. Bedford were then able to exploit holes in their defence on the half hour, with Atkinson breaking the line before racing in from over 30 metres out and dotting down behind the sticks to give Pritchard a simple conversion.
To add insult to injury, Le Bourgeois put the ball out on the full from the restart, while on the stroke of half time Harding went over out wide for the Blues’ third try after Pritchard had passed back inside to him. The Canadian international was unable to convert though, with the away side leading by 22 points at the interval
Things did not get better for the hosts immediately after the break and on 48 minutes they found themselves temporarily down to 14 men after hooker Steve Bowden was sin binned. With eight against seven up front and just ten metres out, the Blues unsurprisingly opted for the scrum. That resulted in a penalty try, bringing up the bonus point in the process, with Pritchard adding the extras.
Despite being a man down, Jersey did manage to register a score in the 57th minute when replacement Glenn Bryce finished off a fine attacking move. Le Bourgeois also added the extras.
Jersey were now in the ascendancy and when captain Nathan Hannay went over from close range with 15 minutes to go it gave them at least a sniff of a bonus point.
Bedford’s task was then made harder when prop Reeves was sent off by referee Martin Fox after a dangerous tackle on Hannay. That was clinically exploited by the hosts who incredibly managed to score what at one time looked an unlikely third after Edward Dawson burst clear down the left wing from just inside his own half and scored in the corner for an unconverted try.
Unbelievably, Bedford would end the game down by two men after replacement Cooper was yellow carded for persistent team infringements. However, that was virtually the last action of the match and they return home with five valuable points.
Bedford Blues line-up - Ransom; Bassett, Burke, Staff (Seal 77), Pritchard (captain); Atkinson, Baldwin; Reeves, Cochrane, Boulton (Cooper 62), Howard, Gulliver, Gillanders, Harding (Rae 62), Tupai (Fox 62)
Replacements Not Used - Veenendaal, Vass, Kohler