A try in the last minutes of the game secured Bedford Athletic a 24 points to 23 victory over Harpenden. Trailing in the final five minutes a kick and chase won by Steve Smith coupled with a faultless conversion by Leo Mortimer was just enough for victory.
From the kick off Bedford Athletic disrupted the visitor’s scrum and having gained possession had two immediate chances to take the lead. Both were spurned, the first being a lineout catch and drive that came to ground just short of the try line and the second being a wayward throw at an attacking five metre lineout. So it fell to Mortimer to open the scoring for Bedford Athletic in the tenth minute with a penalty. Harpenden immediately responded in kind with Tom Sweeney kicking the points. The first try of the day came following lengthy build up play from the home side, patiently testing the visiting defence with multiple phases until the play broke down due to a forward pass when the defence had been breached. The pressure was maintained and once an attacking scrum was secured, quick ball allowed centres Steve Smith and Harry Sawford-Smith to break through, Sawford-Smith scoring the try which Mortimer converted. Once Harpenden no.8 Jonathan Ward was yellow carded for a blatant ruck offence, Bedford Athletic seemed to get the upper hand and Oli Petridescrossed in the corner for a second try. The referee was slow to get to the grounding and ruled a goal line drop out as he had been unsighted. This swung momentum in favour of the visitors and when they were allowed to take a quick lineout from the wrong place they surged upfield to put pressure on the home defence. Justice seemed to be done when having crossed the Bedford Athletic line they dropped the ball in the act of scoring but despite this let off the home side could not relieve the pressure. Eventually a series of rucks on the home line saw the dam burst with Alex Osborn scoring the try. With Sweeney off the field injured Oli Johnson kicked the conversion. Worse was to come for Bedford Athletic as they again overthrew a lineout and with turnover ball Harpenden raced the length of the field for a score on the stroke of half time to Matt Shaw.
Trailing 15-10 Bedford Athletic misjudged the kick off and this set the tone for the second half with Harpenden dominating territory and Bedford Athletic thwarted by inaccuracy or unforced errors. The penalty count was mounting and Johnson kicked one of these to push the lead to 18-10 on 58 minutes. Josh Spearing charged down a clearance kick and Josh Walker won the race to the line to touch down for a try which with Mortimer’s conversion made the score 18-17. This did not inspire Bedford Athletic’s fortunes and whilst they defended with purpose the errors continued. ill discipline remained an issue with replacement prop Tom Bowman receiving a yellow card with 12 minutes left. Having had a try dubiously ruled out for being held up over the line, with the man advantage Harpenden were able to find space and eventually carried the ball successfully down the left wing to set up a series of rucks on the try line where Ward dived over to score. Crucially Johnson missed the conversion leaving the score 23-17 with five minutes to play. Bedford Athletic drove hard for the winning score and following a penalty, lineout catch and drive seemed to have it only for Erran Singh-Soomal to be adjudged to have committed a double movement offence in the act of scoring. Harpenden should have closed the game down from the clearing penalty kick but Walker stole their lineout and with the ball quickly transferred across the field Steve Smith kicked through the defence and won the race to touch down, Mortimer converting. Due to a deliberate slap down by the visitors in the lead up to the try, Bedford Athletic had a penalty from the kick off but they again contrived to lose possession and had to wait for a Harpenden error in possession to bring the game to an end.
“I’ve been hoping for a pressure kick like that” commented Mortimer on the winning conversion and the result sees Bedford Athletic up and running for the season ahead as they travel to Colchester this Saturday with a 3pm kick off.