A determined performance from Bedford Athletic saw them defeat Old Northamptonians by 26 points to 14.
In a close contest, the home side made the most of the opportunities that came their way to secure a victory that leaves them one win away from claiming the league title.
Both sides were looking to play an open game from the kick-off and each probed hard against defences that were respectively well drilled. The visitors had early possession and with the wind in their favour more of the territory and opened the scoring with a penalty kicked by fly-half Joe Heslop in the seventh minute. It was not until the 15th minute that the home side escaped their own half. Having stolen a 5-metre attacking lineout in their own 22, Rob Watkins then held up a maul to finally allow fly half Leo Mortimer to drill the ball deep into the visitor’s half.
Bedford Athletic then had problems of their own 5 metres out as firstly a lineout drive and then a 5-metre scrum both failed to make headway, the scrum being penalised for early engagement. So the home side also had to settle for an opening penalty kick slotted by Mortimer on 22 minutes. In a structured game, it was the unplanned and unforeseen opportunities that were most likely to unlock the defences. Full back Rory Seymour escaped down the visitor’s right-wing and once again the resultant 5-metre attacking lineout should have lead to more but the throw was stolen by the home side.
Old Northamptonians remained on the attack earning two further penalties which Heslop attempted to kick for points with the latter attempt being successful for a 6-3 lead. The home side ended the half on the attack earning a penalty and subsequent lineout of their own deep in the visitor’s 22 but that lineout was again not thrown straight and the opportunity disappeared.
Trailing at half time Bedford Athletic started the second half with much more pace and purpose and some direct running started to cause havoc in the visitor’s defence. Three penalties were drawn in quick succession and Mortimer converted all of these to shift the momentum of the match giving the home side a 12-6 lead with half an hour to play. Looking to once again exit their own half from the restart, Bedford Athletic were turned over in possession, Old Northamptonians won a penalty and were able to set up a number of attacking lineouts in the home 22. Eventually, they profited from these as a rolling maul down the blindside of one such attack crossed the try line successfully with prop James De La Cruz claiming the try which went unconverted.
Bedford Athletic responded by playing some of their best rugby of the match and finally opened up the visiting defence. Steve Smith found the gap, Charlie Darlow fed the ball on to Harry Sawford-Smith and although he was tackled he offloaded to Josh Cassell for the home side’s first try on 59 minutes. Mortimer converted to put two scores between the sides at 19-11. The visitors then pummelled away at the home line but the defence drove them backwards and when Cassell intercepted it could have been a try at the other end. Instead, Old Northamptonians settled for another kickable penalty slotted by Heslop narrowing the home lead to 19-14.
An excellent 50-metre penalty kicked to the corner by replacement fly half Felix Mallalieu set the tone for the final ten minutes. Now it was Bedford Athletic’s turn to press hard on the visitor’s line. Seymour was sent to the sin bin for repetitive offsides and a continuing series of drives finally breached the defence with Liam Walsh burrowing over by the posts. Mallalieu converted to extend the lead to 26-14. Thereafter Bedford Athletic dealt with the remaining pressure from their visitors for the victory that takes them to within a win of the league title.
The first opportunity to achieve that comes at Peterborough this Saturday with a 3.00pm kick off.