Bedford Athletic were victorious in their first match of the New Year with a 36-14 defeat of Westcliff. Despite being hampered by a slow start they eventually produced a dominant performance to claim a bonus point victory against the league’s bottom side.
From the kick off the error rate from the home side was high with the ball knocked on and then lost in contact in the opening few minutes. Combined with kicking the ball straight into touch and several missed tackles Westcliff were gifted the opening territory and possession. Eventually such self inflicted pressure led to the predictable try when from a series of phases in the home side’s 22 outside centre Gregory Bannister crashed over for a try on 7 minutes that he himself converted. Momentum remained with the visitors and they nearly had a second when a kick through hit the post and was touched down by Bedford Athletic behind their own line for a 5 metre scrum. The home team survived if not dominated the encounter in an area of the game where they increasingly excelled as the afternoon went on. Although unforced errors meant the home side were creating few chances they did come within striking distance of the Westcliff line at the end of the first quarter but Andy Ince was held up over the line. Westcliff built in confidence and as the home side continued to miss opportunities with a penalty kick not making touch and too often getting isolated at the break down, Westcliff turned further pressure into a second try, this time hooker Henry Kiely getting over from close range, Bannister converting. It was half an hour before Bedford Athletic created anything of note, when having driven the visitors scrum backwards at a rate of knots, Andy Ince advanced at pace up the right hand touchline and in drawing in the defence created space on the other side of the pitch for Luke Denham to burst through a gap and score, Leo Mortimer converting. Another Denham break minutes later brought the side within 5 metres of their visitor’s line and a couple of 5 metre scrums might have brought a second score but on the latter occasion the home pack lost control of the ball and ended the half trailing by 14 points to 7.
The second half saw Bedford Athletic increasingly in the ascendancy but still profligate in possession, typified when two penalties in succession were kicked dead meaning that the scrum effort that earned them went to waste. Westcliff had lost wing Ellis Tremain to the sin bin but the home side could not capitalise on the man advantage with a further penalty kick at goal from Leo Mortimer sailing just wide. It took until the hour mark for the home side to break their visitors down with a number of scrums and lineout drives close to the Westcliff line eventually seeing prop Ryan Taylor touch down at the back of a rolling maul. Mortimer converted to tie the score and when on 67 minutes James Webster was sent to the sin bin for a ruck offence he kicked the penalty for a 17-14 lead. Having by now worn Westcliff down and with a man advantage the space began to open up for Bedford Athletic and a much more cohesive passing move executed at pace saw Charlie Darlow cross in the corner for a try and a 22-14 lead. Luke Denham then showed his pace to break free of the defence and although he was hauled down metres short of the line, Eldon Craven was on hand to pick up and score the bonus point try. A stream of possession should have led to other scores, with individuals guilty of trying too hard to score themselves ignoring several overlaps, and in the end it was the power of the pack that earned the fifth try as they shunted their opponents back over 20 metres following several resets to secure a penalty try.
A stuttering start finally yielded a deserving win as the team ground down their opponents over the course of the match creating the late opportunities against tiring opposition. Bedford Athletic are now one place and eight points clear of the relegation zone but the critical match comes this Saturday as they travel to the side directly below them, Rochford Hundred.