Bedford Athletic escaped with a 26 points to 13 victory at home to Old Northamptonians.
In a match which the visitors dominated for large periods, it was the home side’s greater fitness and perseverance that earned them a bonus point win, in a match in which they probably deserved nothing and ended with everything.
Early signs were encouraging for the home side as a penalty was kicked to touch and a routine lineout catch and drive saw Jake Foster touch down for the opening try on 3 minutes. Old Northamptonians were soon into their stride, forcing Bedford Athletic on to the back foot and making the home side work hard in defence. Ironically their opening score came from a booming 50 yard clearance from the home team. With the lineout secured deep in their own half, the visitors ran through several missed tackles, gained quick possession in the home 22 and sent Fernely Simmonds over the try line for the equalising score in the 11th minute. Thereafter they maintained possession and as Athletics’ fluency completed deserted them they forced turnover after turnover eventually ending with play deep in the home 22 again and Rhys Evans crashing over in the corner. On a bitterly cold day with a biting wind, kicking was difficult and the conversion was again missed leaving Old Northamptonians 10 points to 5 ahead in the 21st minute. The weather began to get the better of both sides and the game started to get bogged down in a midfield stalemate albeit with the visitors demonstrating greater fluency. This changed in the 38th minute when Josh Cassell tackled man and ball in midfield, won the turnover, Stephen Woodhead was free to maraud down the right wing and he set Sven Meiland up for a try under the posts. James Mortimer converted for a 12-10 half time lead for Bedford Athletic that was thoroughly undeserved.
The home performance did not improve at the start of the second half. A penalty kick to touch was missed and the returning clearance kick was knocked into touch resulting in a negative gain in territory. Although this set back was survived, very soon a clearance kick went direct to touch inviting further pressure. This pressure led to an Old Northamptonians penalty, this was also kicked to touch and the visitors appeared to be building sufficient momentum to score again when their scrum half Harry Sanderson was sin binned for a punch in the 52nd minute. Bedford Athletic now had a chance to clear their lines but lost the ball running out of defence, conceded a penalty and finally trailed 13-12 to an Oli Burgess kick. It took until the hour mark for the home side to impose themselves on the game. Finally Andy Ince and Nick Thomas started to carry the ball directly into the heart of the defence, and once breached the space began to open up with Stephen Woodhead on hand to score the third try in the 62nd minute with Mortimer converting. By now it was the home side that were finishing the stronger. In continuingly dreadful kicking conditions, Mortimer missed a penalty to make the game safe on 70 minutes, but Bedford Athletic remained on the attack and eventually had an unlikely reward when Ben Middleton crossed for the bonus point try with the final move of the game that Mortimer also converted for the 26-13 win.
Bedford Athletic will trust that they can’t play this poorly again as they maintain a one point lead at the top of the table ahead of the visit of Paviors on Saturday with a 3pm kick off.