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Bedford Blues v Llanelli
It took a while to come but the monkey has finally been booted into touch as Bedford Blues recorded their first win of the season against a very resilient Llanelli side in the British & Irish Cup.
It was Ladies Day at Goldington Road with 2603 fans in attendance and tries from Charlie Clare, Ollie Dodge, Mike Le Bourgeois, Mike Howard and Neville Edwards ensured a bonus point win for the crowd.
Despite dominating huge chunks of the game, Llanelli kept on sneaking their way back into it but their late rally was a little too late to spoil the Bedford party.
Fly half Josh Lewis opened the scoring for the visitors despite the Welsh side barely touching the ball in the opening four minutes. Bedford – playing in pink for the opening 40 - were keeping possession and inching their way forwards but then gave away a soft penalty for coming in at the side of a ruck.
It mattered not four minutes later though when the Pinks pack put in a huge surge close to the Llanelli line. A lineout was collected and a drive almost took off but as it stalled a series of pick-and-go rucks followed with young hooker Clare popping over the line to score and James Pritchard dispatched the conversion.
It went from good to great in the 11th minute when the Pinks pulled off a superb training ground move to score try number two. The ball went through Luke Baldwin and Jake Sharp to Mark Atkinson but with Dodge coming off his wing and galloping through the middle, Atkinson offloaded and Dodge went under the posts with Pritchard converting.
Llanelli weren’t to be outdone though and their prolific winger Aaron Warren got the first of his two tries in the afternoon on the 26 minute mark. Bedford had continued to push forward but Llanelli managed to scramble the ball out to the left and as the Pinks lost concentration for a moment, the speedster made them pay by running clear and giving Lewis an easy conversion to make it 14-10.
Many people will remember Le Bourgeois taking an earth-thundering hit from Northampton Saints Courtney Lawes in pre-season – well today he got his own back. Llanelli second row Llewellyn Jones made a fantastic break and had the slope on his side as he hurtled forward but Booj made up ground and put in a hit that received a deserved ‘ooooooh’ from the Eagle Stand before rapturous applause.
The half ended on the back foot for Bedford as first Pritchard and then Darren Fox were yellow carded for a deliberate knock on and a foot trip respectively but the Pinks defence held firm and the half finished with a Sharp penalty that was pulled just wide of the sticks.
Bedford came out for the second half in their blue strip after the ref and squads agreed that there wasn’t a lot of difference between the pink and red strips worn during the first 40 minutes. Bedford capitalised on some early possession with another storming try and again Atkinson was the creator. Spotting men out wide he sent a long pass, with a bounce, to Dodge who then popped the ball up and into the arms of Le Bourgeois who dotted down but Sharp couldn’t convert.
Although 19-10 looked good 24-10 was better when Howard scored in the 56th minute. Back to full strength, the Blues were enjoying plenty of ball and when Sharp spotted a gapping great hole, he was straight through it before passing to Pritchard who, unselfishly, offloaded to Howard who smashed his way over but the extras weren’t converted.
Everything looked comfortable for Bedford but they were undone when Llanelli decided to have a run straight up the middle of the park. Everyone was a little surprised to see hooker Darran Harris as the supporting runner but he had enough in the tank to see off the covering Pritchard and score next to the uprights with Lewis converting easily.
Bedford put the game to bed in the 71st minute though and it was a deserved try for winger Edwards who had replaced Atkinson 15 minutes earlier. Many of the crowd were fuming that a late tackle on Pritchard had gone unpunished after he chipped ahead, but Bedford retained possession, played it over to the left wing and with men to spare, Edwards darted over before giving the score the dive it deserved. No conversion though.
With time ticking away and five points secured, the foot perhaps dropped off the gas a little as Llanelli got a consolation. Some swift handling saw the Welsh side break down the left flank before Aaron Warren curved his run to score under the sticks with replacement Johnny Lewis converting. Final score 29-24.
See more pictures of today's match courtesy of Nigel Rudgard at http://frontrow.photium.com