Bedford Athletic secured promotion with a determined victory at Oadby Wyggestonians by 22 points to 10.
The win was based on a solid defensive performance and a propensity to make the most of scoring chances when they arose although on this occasion there was no try bonus point.
Oadby had the first opportunity to apply pressure but the visitor’s resistance set the tone for the day. A driving lineout made yards before being stopped. A 5-metre scrummage was repelled and a further maul from a lineout was held up allowing the Bedford Athletic forwards to make an early statement and clear their lines. They then carried the game to Oadby in the host’s half with a rolling maul making 30 metres. Although that chance came to nothing the forwards were probing well and making yards, notable busts coming from the second-row partnership of Nick Thomas and Erran Singh-Soomal. However, the opening score when it came went to the home side. A kick deep into the visitor’s half turned the defence and eventually saw them trapped on their own try line. Oadby drove hard at the resultant ruck, turned the ball over and inside centre Harry Jinks touched down for the try, Jack Elliott converting on 25 minutes.
The Bedford Athletic response was immediate. Oadby dropped the kickoff. Bedford Athletic drove forward from the scrum and two phases later Ryan Taylor broke the line down the blindside and offloaded to fellow prop Ben Thompson who crashed through the remaining defenders. Leo Mortimer’s conversion drifted just wide. Oadby should have responded in kind. From an attacking scrum following the dropped kick-off, the ball went wide and the overlap should have led to a score except that the ball was knocked on. Eventually Oadby had to settle for a penalty in front of the posts and a 10 points to 5 lead through Elliott.
Bedford Athletic had the final score of the half. Oadby ill-discipline allowed them a platform in the home 22 and from an attacking scrum Charlie Darlow ran a good line from the inside centre position for the second try. Mortimer converted for a 12-10 half time lead.
Bedford Athletic took the initiative at the start of the second half and several early surges promised a third try but ultimately ended with a successful penalty kick at goal in the 47th minute. There followed the first of three critical spells of defensive resistance from the visitors in the second half as a combination of wayward kicking and conceded penalties surrendered territory until the final 5-metre lineout was disrupted and the pressure relieved. The visitors made the most of the opportunity. A penalty of their own was driven firmly into the corner by Mortimer and from the lineout maul, the forwards smashed through a series of drives ever closer to the Oadby posts until Ryan Taylor pummelled his way over for the try. Mortimer converted from under the posts.
Oadby then had a second spell of pressure and multiple phases which a now disciplined visiting defence resisted until Tom Allwright spotted the opportunity to dive in and secure the turnover penalty. The bonus point try could have come about from a 50:22 kick by Darlow but possession was lost from the 5-metre lineout and although regained at a scrum the next move saw the player in possession isolated and the opportunity gone. Instead, Oadby finished the game with the third period of second-half pressure but once again the Bedford Athletic defence held firm as they ground out the win.
With promotion secured, Bedford Athletic maintain their 19 point lead at the top of the table and now need 7 points for the title. Next up is a Bedfordshire Cup Semi-Final against Ampthill Jets on Saturday 26th February at Putnoe Wood kick-off at 2 pm followed by a crunch league clash at home to Old Northamptonians on Saturday, March 5th at 3.00 pm.