It was certainly a case of what might have been at Ashton Gate on Sunday afternoon as Bedford Blues fought valiantly against table-topping Bristol but came away just short losing 18-13.

Ignoring the scoreline, the Blues found plenty of chinks in the Bristol armour and had the hosts on the ropes for a huge chunk of the game. Bedford’s pack deserve a huge amount of credit for disrupting scrum after scrum with Ben Cooper, Tom Lindsay and Sean McCarthy proving the proverbial pains in the backsides.

Ultimately though, Bristol’s strength came through and a tenacious spell late in the second half saw them score the try which won the game and left Blues deflated but certainly not despondent.

“We left everything on the field today and that’s exactly what we wanted,” said skipper Michael Le Bourgeois after the final whistle. “As a group I thought that we really pushed Bristol, who are clearly the favourites to go up to the Premiership, and the lads can all hold their heads up very high. It was a good day for rugby.

“Game plans change here and there, and for us it was about making it as difficult as possible for Bristol who have a good squad of players. For us, we questioned whether we could match them and the truth is that we did. There were a couple of touch and go decisions that went against us this afternoon which, had they gone the other way, could have made it really interesting. 

“You’ve got to take your hat off to the boys up front today. They put in one hell of a shift and they really shone. They put a lot of pressure on an impressive front eight for Bristol and showed what we are all about. We’ve got to be proud of today.”

Lee Dickson said in the build-up to the game that the Blues had to worry about themselves and play with a smile on their faces and that's exactly what they did in the opening 40 minutes.

From the fifth minute, it was clear that the Blues were going to have a real crack at the league leaders as they put in a series of phases that pinned the hosts back. After Jordan Onojaife collected a lineout ball, Bedford ran with Dickson and Will Hooley directing traffic while Justin Blanchet, Jarad Williams, Howard Packman and Chris Czekaj all made ground before a penalty went the Blues way.

Touch was found and then Chris Vui was carded for the hosts so Bedford went again. This time they drove over the line but were held up. A five metre scrum saw another surge for the line but Williams was again stopped from grounding the ball but it was third time lucky as the ball came out to Dean Adamson who had a clear run to the line and Hooley converted.

Bristol came back into it and had their openside Dan Thomas to thank for a fine turn over which then led to a penalty which Ian Madigan chipped over the posts to make it 3-7.

The hosts then looked to use a territorial game with a smart kick down the left wing for Tom Varndell to chase, but Rich Lane turned on the afterburners to beat the former England man and clear the ball.

Bedford took the ball back into Bristol's half and Blanchet was on hand to complete a fine turnover that set up another attack. The Blues pushed on to win a penalty and Hooley took the points on offer to extend the lead.

Bristol weren't at their best, but they got a stroke of luck when an attempted Dickson kick was blocked and chipped ahead for Luke Morahan to chase. It looked as if Czekaj had it covered, but the odd-shaped ball bounces different way and the former Welsh international didn't seize the ball and Morahan was able to collect and ground for an unconverted try.

The Blues pack was doing a fine job as McCarthy, Lindsay and Cooper having the upper hand on their opposites to keep pumping forwards and Bedford attacked again. A penalty soon followed and Hooley dispatched it with ease to make it 8-13.

Bedford continued to attack with Howard Packman kicking ahead only to be blatantly taken out by Varndell, but the ref played on and Bristol regrouped. But a loose pass almost led to another Blues try as Mike Le Bourgeois intercepted and sent the ball wide to Adamson who tried to dance over the line but was stopped short before knocking on.

There was time for one more attempt as Bristol ran from the back of the scrum only for Blanchet to turn them over. Will Carrick-Smith showed quick hands to get the ball out and Le Bourgeois grubbered through but the defence had it covered and the half came to an end.

After the interval, Bedford continued to have their way with the Bristol scrum and there was a rather comical few minutes when Bedford would fluff a lineout, but then collect a penalty from the subsequent scrum and kick to touch where the same thing happened again.

Unsurprisingly, Bristol soon made changes to their front row and started offering some resistance to the dominant Bedford scrum but still weren’t getting much change. The referees whistle helped them along the way though and Madigan pumped the ball to touch five metres from the Blues line only for hooker Jason Harris-Wright to throw a wonky lineout.

Five minutes later, Bedford were pinged at the breakdown and Madigan lined up a punt to touch again, but the kicking tee was already on the pitch so the fly half slotted the points instead to make it 11-13.

Bristol were in the ascendancy, but Bedford continued to stifle any attack they put together and almost came away with another try. A loose pass allowed Le Bourgeois to mount an attack with Alex Penny, Josh Buggea and Carrick-Smith all getting involved. Packman exchanged a pass with Dickson and hurtled through the defence to score, but the ref went upstairs where the replay revealed an obstruction had opened the gate and a penalty went the other way.

A fine punt to touch was the catalyst for Bristol’s winning try as the home side started to make ground thanks to Steven Luatua, Joe Joyce and Joe Joyce. As Bristol came close to the try line thanks to a great break from Rhodri Williams with Thomas in support, they knocked on again but this time they put a huge amount of pressure on Dickson and carried him over the line. There was no dawdling at the scrum this time and Nick Haining burst away to dot down with Madigan adding the extras.

Bedford continued their search for a score and Packman was involved again following some good link-up play with Jordan Burns and Le Bourgeois but an accidental offside was called as he collided with a man getting off the ground.

The Blues soon turned the ball over again and Bristol were fortunate not to lose a man after he hit Elliot Clements-Hill very late and seemingly with little use of his arms. A scrum soon followed and Bedford went along the back line with their final throw of the dice, but Luatua got in the mix to win a penalty and the ball sailed to touch much to the relief of the home support.

It may have been a loss, but Bedford will certainly take the plaudits from the game along with a losing bonus point. The Blues return to league action on Friday 9th February when they face Jersey at Goldington Road. 


Next Home Match

Friday 23rd August
1st XV Pre Season
Goldington Road