Bedford Athletic 33 Market Harborough 27

A hard-fought encounter saw Bedford Athletic secure a well-earned victory at home to Market Harborough by 33 points to 27.

Market Harborough arrived unbeaten in their previous six matches and it took a second-half surge by the home side to secure a bonus-point victory.

The early possession belonged to Bedford Athletic and they made it pay in the 4th minute when their second lineout catch and drive of the day saw the forwards rumble over the line, Liam Walsh touching down. In windy conditions Leo Mortimer could not add the conversion. However almost immediately a lack of accuracy crept into the homes side’s game with passes not going to hand, dropped balls and mistimed knock ons. Together with a couple of innocuous penalties these placed Bedford Athletic on the defensive. Initially they held firm but from a defensive scrum they tried to run the ball out of defence, dropped it and allowed centre Harry Durham an easy score. His fellow centre Joel Laurence adding the conversion. The home side pressed hard in response and although they started to create chances they continued to cough up possession too easily. It took a deft grubber kick from full back Stephen Woodhead to find space allowing Archie Duncan to pressurise the visiting full back, turn the ball over and eventually Harry Sawford-Smith was the extra man for the side’s second try. Mortimer converted. Market Harborough continued to make the most of the opportunities that Bedford Athletic were giving them and they levelled matters and then took the lead just before half time. Another turnover ball and subsequent line break left the home side’s scramble defence too much to do and scrum half Josh Purnell sniped through the centre of the ruck for the equalising score. Then having managed to throw the ball into touch on both the left and the right hand touch line Bedford Athletic found themselves defending another attacking lineout on their own 22 and this time their defence was splintered by Laurence who crossed for the try to give the visitors a 17-12 half time lead.

Bedford Athletic started the second half with pace and purpose and a far more direct game put them in the ascendancy. The introduction of Nick Thomas saw them start to win many more of the collisions and as Market Harborough started to struggle to cope the penalties mounted against the away side. Eventually a penalty kick to touch brought a series of pick and gos close to the visitor’s line and the final half yard was navigated by Ryan Taylor for the try which with Mortimer’s conversion restored the home lead on 48 minutes. Bedford Athletic kept up the pace and soon visiting winger Jonathan Mundy was in the sin bin for a deliberate knock on. Adam Harris broke the line and Taylor was once again on hand to make the final yards for the bonus point try which Mortimer converted for a 26-17 lead. The home forwards kept the pressure on and from another penalty they drove from a lineout, shifted the ball at pace and allowed Thomas to spin through the tackle and ground the ball for the fifth try, once more converted on the hour mark by Mortimer. With a 16 point lead some of the intensity began to seep out of the home side’s game and a number of the inaccuracies of the first half returned. Several promising attacks from the visitors were all halted but the home side kept inviting pressure and eventually their line was breached for a second try to Durham in the 76th minute. A couple of loose kicks in the final minutes allowed Market Harborough a final attack and Laurence was able to kick a penalty which added to his conversion of the 4th try earned his side a second bonus point.

The match was a personal milestone for captain James Wallace who made his 100th appearance for the first XV. The team as a whole extended their lead at the top of the table to 19 points and travel to Oadby Wyggestonians on Saturday knowing just a point is enough to secure promotion. Kick off is at 2.15pm.