A look back at the rugby played at Putnoe Wood in the last calendar year.
The years 2020 and 2021 will not live happily in the memory. These pandemic years have placed strains on the family, work, health and well being in a way that was unimaginable 24 months ago. What they have also done is ushered in change and that is no different in rugby.
Bedford Athletic RUFC has seen its fair share of that change. Between 14th March 2020 and 4th September 2021, no competitive rugby was played. When it finally did return Head coach Oli Joisce having sadly suffered a family bereavement and being impacted by the RFU redundancy programme for Community coaches had returned to his old stomping ground on the South coast, albeit the club will be forever in his debt as the longest and most successful coach at the club. In his place, Andy Philips continued in his eighth year as coach and was accompanied by Stephen Woodhead in a player-coach capacity. They were both joined in the coaching triumvirate by Edd Rhodes the Director of Rugby at Samuel Whitbread School. James Wallace became the 1st XV captain succeeding Rob Watkins who retired from the position having equalled the club record of six seasons in charge.
Off the pitch, David August’s one year term as Chairman came to an end at the 2020 AGM and he was replaced by Trevor Mulvaney. Babs Rai stepped down as club secretary having filled the role for a club-record ten seasons. He was replaced by Tony Ball for one season and then Jeff Williams. Neil Paterson is now the Director of Rugby following seven seasons as Club Captain a role now carried out by Tom Orton a veteran of 238 1st XV appearances.
The team that took the pitch against West Bridgford in Midlands One East at the start of September showed 5 changes from the side that played the last home fixture of 2019-20 against Hertford in London & South East Premier, a season which saw Bedford Athletic in the relegation places when time was called early on league action. As it happened that opening game produced one of the stronger performances of the season so far against a side also featuring at the top of the table and resulted in a 39-18 win with six tries scored. The withdrawal of Rugby Lions has reduced the league to 13 teams and Bedford Athletic have lost just once in the opening 12 games of the season. Early performances were frustrating as although the side scored at will, they also leaked tries particularly late on in games, with Belgrave, Dronfield and Lutterworth all leaving with bonus points despite being heavily beaten over 80 minutes. This was offset by good performances away from home in victories over Derby (26-22) and Kettering (21-13) but the thorn in the side of the team needed to be overcome. This was done emphatically in a 68-10 rout of Oadby Wyggestonians at the end of October when ten tries were scored, two conceded and Leo Mortimer went close to setting a new record for points in a league match ending the day with 28, a personal best but short of the 34 he needed.
Defeat followed at Old Northamptonians but a grittier mindset had taken root and was in evidence at home to another top-three side Peterborough as the side toughed out a 32-15 victory. The loss of the match at Peterborough Lions was frustrating when they turned their real and problematic injury crisis into a non-existent and invented Covid scenario to force a postponement, but the year ended with two robust performances away from home with wins at Towcestrians and Belgrave, the one at Towcestrians particularly pleasing as a 9-0 half time deficit was overcome for a bonus-point victory.
Christmas was reached with the team eleven points clear of Kettering and Derby in the league but just as pleasing was the number of new players blooded in the first XV. Josh Walker, Tom Allwright, Ellis Jackson, Richie Ellingham, Robbie Taylor, Lewis Sharp and Cameron Brough (Forwards) and Luke Denman and Felix Mallalieu (backs) all made debuts as the side sought to consolidate a top-three finish and with it promotion to the new Level 5 next season.