London Irish v Bedford Blues
Bedford Blues 2016 didn't end in quite the fashion that they would have liked as they went down 36-21 to London Irish, but there can be no doubting that the signs are positive following an impressive display against the former Premiership side.
While the hosts relied on their pack to secure their five tries over the course of the game, the Blues were more than happy to spread the ball around the whole squad with winger George Perkins, scrum half Tom Whiteley and replacement prop Camilo Parilli-Ocampo all crossing the whitewash.
After missing a ninth minute penalty, Jake Sharp linked up with Tom James as the Blues showed some slick hands to play in Perkins as he scored in the corner with Sharp converting superbly to give Bedford a 7-0 lead.
The Blues then had to go on the defensive as the Exiles began to put phases together. Superb tackling stopped Tom Court and Blair Cowan from going over the line, but nothing could be done as the Irish scrum shoved Bedford back from five metres out and Ofisa Treviranus dotted down in the 18th minute with Tommy Bell levelling things from the kicking tee.
Bedford continued to match London Irish across the field and made several good breaks with Justin Blanchet, Ben Adams and Jason Hill all carrying well while Mike Howard and Will Carrick-Smith threw themselves into each tackle as hard as possible. Bedford earned a penalty in the 28th minute but Sharp's effort pulled wide once again.
The front row of Jack Culverhouse, Dan George and Ben Cooper were fighting tooth-and-nail at the breakdown and when the ball did come out, Tom Farrell was once again happy to break the gain line as often as possible with the likes of Dean Adamson and George Perkins on hand to assist.
Despite all their good efforts, Bedford went in trailing at the break as Bell sent a late penalty to the corner. Irish secured the ball and then drove their way over with hooker Dave Porecki falling over the line for the score with Bell converting once more to end the half 14-7.
It was more of the same after the break as another London Irish rolling maul did the damage with the referee running under the posts as it was stopped illegally and Bell slotted the extras to make it 21-7.
But Bedford didn't back down and were rewarded for their efforts as they continued to play fast-flowing rugby. James Marshall was sin-binned in the 52nd minute for knocking down the ball as Bedford looked certain to score. The Blues regrouped well, maintained momentum and more superb handling saw Bedford attack the left wing before coming inside and Whiteley crossed for the score with Myles Dorrian converting.
Irish looked a little rattled so when a penalty went their way, Bell took the opportunity to stretch the lead to ten points as he smashed the ball over the uprights.
With only a few minutes left on the clock, there was still time for three more tries. Treviranus secured the try-bonus for the hosts as he crashed his way over in the 78th minute for an unconverted score.
It may have looked a lost cause at 29-14, but Bedford weren't going to admit defeat and they set up a tense finish as Camilo Parilli-Ocampo burrowed his way over from close range with Dorrian converting.
But with Bedford desperately trying to find a way of scoring a fourth try, London Irish struck again with replacement Jerry Sexton powering over the line and Bell converted once more to round things off 36-21.