National One: Bedford Blues 10 Pertemps Bees 21
Only the 2007-08 Pertemps Bees could turn their best performance of the season, one in which they completely outplayed a team nine league places better off, into a deflating experience. Their every silver lining seems to have a cloud.
Whatever could go wrong, in this most distressing of years, has and a darn sight more too. Coaches have come and gone like London buses — no changes for ages and then four in a matter of months, winning positions have produced agonising losses and anyone daring to aim a kick at goal has been automatically struck down.
That is a brief synopsis of why Bees, irrespective of this quite outstanding victory at Goldington Road, have been relegated to National Two. The wounds inflicted in the first half of the season proved too debilitating to overcome.
Yet they left Bedfordshire with not just a seventh win of the campaign but with enormous credit and a three-game unbeaten run to take into Operation Phoenix which has already begun in earnest.
There was something of the Greek tragedy about this, however. While the visitors’ vigour and appetite for the fight eventually crystallised into tangible reward on the scoreboard so too my mobile phone kept buzzing with updates for Park Lane.
Sedgley’s five-point half-time lead became ten, 20 and then virtually 30. The more hopeless Bees’ position became, the better they played to extent that for most of the second half Bedford could not contain their guests’ fanatical endeavour.
When referee Dean Richards signalled an end to a match he had threatened to spoil, to a man Bees’ players raised their arms in exultation. They had done what they came to do.
But the joy was short-lived, within a matter of seconds the stadium announcer proclaimed Sedgley’s 41-12 triumph over Rotherham. ‘So it’s Launceston and Pertemps Bees who go down," he revealed, not without a hint of mischief.
The men who had refused to lie down for the last hour and a half slumped to the ground as though Joe Calzaghe had just landed a crippling body shot.
They had sweated, bled and torn hamstrings for nought. Indeed they had reduced sixth-placed Bedford to ruins, in fact the hosts had been so anonymous the same announcer could not resist a jibe. "And the Bedford man of the match . . . there isn’t one." Had he been forced to choose he might have picked Richards who so conspicuously failed to reward Bees’ dominance in the scrums.
At least one home player had something with which to remember the day. Second row Arthur Brenton, every bit as invisible as his colleagues for the first 50 minutes, was substituted when his wife Karen, sitting in the stand, went into labour.
Perhaps the new arrival had been so appalled by the paucity of his father’s colleagues’ offering it felt they needed some help.
Nevertheless, the Brentons apart, this day was about Bees and what might have been. Their supporters can be forgiven for wondering why they can go to Bedford and win while they are unable to hold on to a 17-point lead at home to London Welsh.
The truth of the matter is that head coach Russell Earnshaw has settled on a small band of players in whom he trusts.
He has started the same side for the last three fixtures and has been rewarded with as many wins though none were more merited than this one.
Bees’ supremacy in the lineout was established in the first few minutes and their dominance of the breakdown garnered two penalties in next to no time.
The manner in which part-time kicker Paul Knight stroked the second of these through the home posts hinted at the sort of no-nonsense mood his team were in.
Knight doubled the lead in 22nd minute when the fractious Jon Phillips was penalised for not rolling away, though four minutes later — with practically their only attack of the period, James Pritchard made it 6-3.
The second half could not have been more different to the first. As the rising temperature took its toll on the combatants it was, surprisingly, Bedford who wilted first.
Indeed they tied themselves in knots when Marika Vakacegu raced out of his own territory and kicked down the line to the left corner where Nicky Griffiths was allowed to touch down. Grove’s conversion took Bees ten points clear.
The Welsh scrum half showed why Cornish Pirates have offered him a contract after an hour when he handed off Karl Dickson and broke 30 metres downfield.
Earnshaw popped up in support and gave the scoring pass to Andy Daish to won a footrace to the corner.
Grove couldn’t convert but his impudent drop goal with only ten minutes remaining cushioned the impact of Pritchard’s breakaway try which was converted by Elrick.
This was a game in which Bees were not to be denied but unfortunately for the players who worked so hard to win it, events in Manchester meant the battle had been won but the war lost.
BEDFORD: Burke; Moir, Pritchard, Allen, Page; Elrick, Chudley; Lyon, Sammons, Cole, Phillips, Brenton, Botha, Pienaar, McKay. Replacements: Richmond, Graham, Comb, Noonan, Dickson, Youngs, Hinkins.
BEES: Spee; Mitchell, Young, D Knight, Vakacegu; Grove, P Knight; Long, Pearl, Bucknall, Davidson, McComb, Matthews, Daish, Earnshaw. Replacements: Porter, Bick, Kazombiaze, Preece, Griffiths, Culpin, Maggs
Referee: D Richards (RFU)