London Welsh v Bedford Blues
Flustered Bedford were left frustrated by relegated Premiership side London Welsh as they went down 23-14 in their Greene King IPA Championship opener.
It was, at times, an ill-tempered affair as both sides had a man sent off and Bedford were even denied a last-gasp losing bonus point when captain James Pritchard’s conversion attempt thumped off a post and out.
A good contingent of Blues fans made their way to Allianz Park despite the damp conditions, but their support couldn’t stop tries from Welsh’s Will Robinson, Joe Ajuwa and Nathan Morris spurring the Exiles on to victory.
Neville Edwards got the Blues’ only try of the game right at the end of the game after a good string of passes but, unfortunately, it was too little too late.
Blues skipper Pritchard was on hand throughout, scoring three penalties, while Welsh fly-half Gordon Ross notched two penalties and a conversion as Welsh dominated at scrum time.
The match also saw two red cards in the first half for Darren Fox and Rob Andrew after a scrum had disintegrated into a mass of bodies with a bout of handbags to follow.
London Welsh got things under way in the first half and dominated most of the 40 minutes, although some controversial decisions probably helped them along the way.
In the first minute tempers flared and it was clear both sides were pumped up for the encounter as yellow cards were awarded to both Phil Boulton and Welsh’s Andrew.
Bedford saw an attack break down on six minutes which led to a Welsh scrum, where the former Premiership team dominated throughout and forced regular penalties to give them a firm attacking platform.
Welsh were awarded a penalty on halfway in the eighth minute, but number 10 Ross’s kick drifted wide. That was soon forgotten about though as Welsh broke the deadlock through Robinson on nine minutes. Some neat passing saw them create extra numbers on the overlap and the full-back scored in the right corner, although Ross was unable to convert.
Ross then made amends when he got himself on the scoresheet with a 14th-minute penalty to make it 8-0.
Bedford were awarded a penalty of their own on 19 minutes, but Canadian international Pritchard saw his attempt drop wide as both teams struggled with the boot and despite regaining possession Bedford were unable to force their way over the line.
After a frustrating start the Blues did begin to rally, with Jake Sharp smoothly kicking for touch, while creative centre Mark Atkinson and co just couldn’t find a way through.
However, just before the half-hour mark the game was turned on its head when both sides clashed following a scrum.
Bedford lock Fox seemed to be at the heart of the incident as he was shown a straight red card for punching, when he appeared never to throw a fist, in what could be a case of mistaken identity.
Darren Fearn was also sin-binned, while Welsh lock Andrew was also given his marching orders following a second yellow card.
With the Blues down to 13 men for 10 minutes, Welsh capitalised four minutes before the break when winger Ajuwa managed to crash over in the corner from what looked like a forward pass. However, former Scottish International Ross couldn’t convert as Welsh led 13-0.
The Exiles continued to press, but Bedford almost hit back on the stroke of half time when Sharp broke away following a rare completed scrum, but he couldn’t quite reach his dink over the Welsh defence as the Blues ended a disappointing half 13-0 down.
The second half saw Charlie Clare come off for Scott Spurling and the Blues came out looking far more purposeful as Pritchard’s pulled three points back with a penalty two minutes in.
A strong drive by Joe Vandermolen led to another penalty on 50 minutes as Pritchard easily converted to narrow the gap to a score, before nasty gash to the head saw the Blues skipper replaced temporarily by Michael Le Bourgeois
Le Bourgeois was immediately involved, surging forward after a big up-and-under as he pushed Welsh right back to their own try-line as the crowd roared their support for the Blues.
More substitutes followed for the Blues as Luke Baldwin and Ben Cooper replaced Daryl Veenendaal and Phil Boulton, while the stitched-up Pritchard returned in place of Sharp.
Welsh continued to dominated the scrums and amid a string of penalties Ross threaded the posts with eight minutes to go to make it 16-6.
Bedford hit back with a penalty of their own through Pritchard four minutes later as Don Barrell replaced the impressive Vandermolen.
However, poor positioning from Ollie Dodge allowed Welsh to score again as Nathan Morris crossed the whitewash and Ross converted with ease to make it 23-9.
More subs followed for both sides and Bedford finally scored the try their efforts deserved deep into stoppage-time when they moved the ball wide for Edwards to dive over in the corner.
However, Pritchard fine effort rebounded off an upright with the last play of the game as Bedford were denied a losing bonus point as they lost out 23-14.
Blues: Darren Fearn (Nick Auterac), Charlie Clare (Scott Spurling), Phil Boulton (Ben Cooper), Mike Howard (Paul Tupai), Ben Gulliver, Tom Armes, Darren Fox, Joe Vandermolen (Don Barrell), Darryl Veenendaal (Luke Baldwin), Jake Sharp (Michael Le Bourgeois), Neville Edwards, Mark Atkinson, Corey Hircock, Ollie Dodge, James Pritchard (C).
T: Edwards. P: Pritchard 3.
London Welsh: Nathan Trevett (James Tideswell), Andy Titterrell, Peter Edwards (Kai Griffiths), Rob Andrew, Matt Corker, Daniel Browne (Peter Brown), Carl Kirwan, Ollie Stedman, Rob Lewis (Ollie Frost), Gordon Ross, Seb Stegmann, Tom May (C), James Lewis, Joe Ajuwa, Will Robinson.
T: Robinson, Ajuwa, Morris. P: Ross 2. C: Ross.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Thomas Davis and Jonathan Healy
Fourth Official: Gareth Holsgrove