MATCH REPORT: PRITCHARD'S TESTIMONIAL

Goldington Road was treated to a try-fest on Friday night as Bedford Blues players of past and present came together to celebrate James Pritchard’s Testimonial Season.

Skippy’s Year is drawing to a close, but the best was saved for last as the Blues legend invited past teammates, and a few other friends, to go head-to-head with the current crop as a Bedford Select XV took on Skippy’s Invitational under the Friday Night Lights.

Ahead of kick-off, the thousand strong crowd were treated to some exceptional rugby displays from around 150 Junior Blues who had the chance to compete on the Goldington Road turf before the main event.

From the off, it was clear that the game was about running rugby and the opening score came in the sixth minute when Invitational scrum half Georgie Gulliver took a quick tap penalty and danced her way past the Blues defence to score under the post with former Blues number 8 Don Barrell converting in style with a drop goal.

The Blues response was immediate and came from the restart. Mike Le Bourgeois latched onto the ball before offloading to Nick Fenton-Wells who then played in Ollie Dodge for the try but Sacha Harding couldn’t add the extras.

Tiredness was clearly setting in and the first of numerous rolling subs started in the tenth minute and it seemed that Paul Tupai hadn’t been told this was a ‘friendly’ game as he bulldozed his way through as many opponents as possible - all except Jon Phillips…

The Blues took the lead through the man of the night when Skippy was played in by Darryl Veenendaal but Pritch couldn’t add the extras. Fenton-Wells - who was playing more and more as a centre as the game progressed - was putting some long chips over the Invitational defence trying to tire them out, but Gulliver was straight back down into the Blues 22 before she was stopped by Harding who received boos from around the ground. Play continued and Emyr Lewis used the slope to regain the lead for the Invitational XV.

Again the Blues responded quickly as Dodge turned on the gas - quite unsportingly - to gallop through and dot down before converting his own effort to make it 17-12. It was back up the other end soon afterward though and Gavin Denning levelled the scores with a nice try in the bottom corner.

It was then showboat time as passes were made through the legs, crossfield kicks were aplenty and props thought they were wingers. In fact it worked for the Invitationals who scored their fourth of the night as James Ross crossed the whitewash with Ian Vass converting superbly with a dropkick on the right wing.

The Invitationals should have moved further ahead when they had a five on two overlap but they were unable to exploit the numbers and had to pay when Pritchard played in Fenton-Wells and he kept the defending Mark Kohler at bay to score in the corner. Jake Sharp went ‘old school’ and used the heel of his boot to create a divot before firing the conversion from the touchline.

With halftime approaching and fatigue setting in, Matt Allen had to be at his best to stop Kohler from scoring a fourth and soon referee Darren Gamage brought an end to the opening 40.

Half time saw Brendan Burke performing the waterboy duties and some may have questioned just how much H2O was actually in those bottles…

Suitably refreshed, it was time for the second half and as the old boys were tiring, it was agreed that the Invitationals would have the Goldington Road slope behind them again. Pritchard decided to swap shirts and lined up with his Invitationals for the second 40.

Whoever Pritchard swapped his shirt with - we’ll call him The Ringer - made his former teammates pay as he stepped on the afterburner to score.

Team manager Matt Volland knew a change of tactic was needed so he sent on three players but didn’t take anyone off. The Invitational XVIII and it wasn’t long before James Shanahan got his name on the scoresheet to make it 29 a piece and then Gulliver darted over to make it 29-36 with a converted try.

The Blues went straight up the other end to reduce the deficit when The Ringer ran in his second of the night and then pulled level when Sharp fired another cracking conversion from the left wing. Rumour has it that kicking tees may be banned next season!

Rugby then disappeared for a few minutes as Aussie Rules Football came into effect with kicking replacing passing. The Invitational XVIII were building a good attack before Chris Bajak - who can only be described as a beefcake - stopped the move dead.

Veenendaal set up the Blues next attack with Harding showing a superb turn of pace to gallop into the Invitational’s 22. Tupai got the ball out wide and after a few more passes, Fenton-Wells stretched to score in the corner to make it 41-36.

No one could look away though as the Invitational XV - who were making full use of everyone’s subs - went on the attack again. 21 picked out 21 who found 21 who then offloaded to 21 who unselfishly played in Pritchard (wearing 21) to score and convert his own effort.

The Invitational side could smell blood and despite having his shorts half removed, Shanahan scuttled forward before playing in Barrell for a try and then scored one of his own to bring the score up to 41-53.

The game finished - maybe a few minutes earlier than scheduled - with Kohler running in a final try which was converted to bring the game to an end with the Bedford Blues Select trailing Skippy’s Invitational 41-60.

COME ON YOU BLUES!!!

To see more of Nigel Rudgard's pictures please click HERE