Bedford Athletic upset the form book with a 45 points to 28 victory over Rochford Hundred. In a performance full of energy and commitment but sometimes lacking in application the team deserved their bonus point victory.
Rochford started the game with initial pressure and territory but Bedford Athletic withstood a barrage of attacks and soon turned the ball over and counter-attacked. Pressure built on the visitor’s line and it was Casey George who struck through the middle of a ruck for the first try on six minutes. Rochford collected the restart, won a penalty and then drove a rolling maul from the lineout for a try touched down by hooker Robert Gardner, converted by Chris Dudman.
The lead did not last long as fly-half Felix Mallalieu converted a penalty given for a high tackle for an 8-7 lead on 13 minutes. He was also the instigator of the next try with a 50:22 kick giving Bedford Athletic an attacking lineout in the Rochford 22. The initial drive was held up over the Rochford line but from the goal line drop out, Josh Cassell carried the ball back and Andy Ince burst through the defence shrugging off several would-be tacklers for the second try, Mallalieu this time converting.
The third try arrived courtesy of a break from defence led by Jake Foster. With the Rochford defence backpedalling and in disarray the swift counter-attacking move was finished off by Nathan Litchfield. The half had been dominated to that point by the home pack who were controlling the contact area, with the back row of Andy Ince, Jake Foster and Casey George in particular always making yards and putting the side on the front foot. It was a break from Mallalieu that led to the bonus point try on the half hour. His surge was halted by a high tackle from Rochford second-row Patrick Jennings, who received a yellow card. Opting for a scrum from the penalty, No.8 George picked up and crashed over for the try. Mallalieu converted for a 29-7 lead. The final ten minutes of the half saw Rochford pressure with several scrums in succession and these finally led to a try when the ball was switched to the right wing for Mitchell Fielder to sprint over, Dudman converting.
Trailing 29-14, Rochford started the second half with two influential kicks. The first found space behind the home defence and the second was a crossfield kick collected by wing Seth Mokuolu for a try converted by Dudman. Harry Sawford-Smith was unlucky not to catch the restart, and the visitors swiftly countered. This led to three yellow cards in a row for the home side. Josh Cassell was the victim singled out for repeated infringements, Ben Middleton left the field for pulling a man down in the lineout and Liam Walsh departed for successive scrum penalties. Playing against 12 men Rochford made their scrum pressure count and earned a penalty try. Bedford Athletic did well to control possession in response given their shortage of numbers and even extended their lead from a Mallalieu penalty before numbers became equal again. Restored to a full complement the momentum shifted to the home side on the hour mark. Nick Thomas won a turnover penalty under his own posts and although Mallalieu twice missed touch with penalty kicks he was soon in front of the posts kicking at goal. His first effort struck the post but he had another chance minutes later and this time converted the kick for a 35-28 lead with ten minutes to go. Rochford were visibly tiring and Bedford Athletic kept the pressure on with Harry Sawford-Smith finishing off a flowing move for a try on 74 minutes converted by Mallalieu. And Mallalieu capped off a man-of-the-match performance with a penalty from the last kick of the game to bring his total to twenty points and the score to 45-28.
To date, Bedford Athletic have had a Jekyll and Hyde season and should now be aware that their performances need to be consistently good to get any reward in this league with second-place Harpenden the next visitors to Putnoe Wood in two weeks’ time.