Bedford Blues (24) vs Rotherham Titans (23) - Championship
Bester: “Bedford will serve as a barometer!”
Rotherham Titans make four changes to the side that beat a stubborn Plymouth Albion last time out, as they prepare for one of the Championship’s toughest away fixtures of the campaign at Bedford Blues this Saturday, kick off 3pm.
Titans coach Andre Bester has made three changes in the pack; club captain Sam Dickinson returns at lock for Barney Maddison. In the front row Bester continues his rotation policy as Shane Cahill comes in for Jamie Kilbane at loose head prop and Dan Baines replaces Ted Stagg at hooker.
The only change along the back line sees Jimmy Williams given the number nine shirt ahead of Matt Rhodes.
There is a long history between Rotherham and Bedford and the majority of encounters have always been tight, close, competitive affairs. One of Titans greatest days in their history was beating Bedford over a two-legged play-off back in 2000 which propelled the Clifton Lane men into the top tier of English rugby.
However the overall league head to head, including play-off games, sees Bedford holding a narrow 14-13 advantage. Furthermore, Titans have not beaten Bedford at Goldington Road for over five years, the last time being back in November 2006 when a late Gareth Steenson penalty sealed a 34-32 victory.
Andre Bester anticipates a stern challenge this weekend as his pre-match remarks testify, “Bedford are a very strong side and their intensity is very high right now and their consistency over the last few weeks has been very good. Of all the top sides I think London Welsh and Bedford have shown the most consistency over recent weeks.”
Bester continued his appraisal, “We know we have a tough task ahead of us and we know they are capable of playing the complete game. They play a very entertaining game and they play with a very quick tempo with quick hands. Mike Rayer has a deserved reputation of developing players and playing a style of rugby which is pleasing on the eye.
“They have a stronger scrum this year than they’ve had in previous years; the scrum has become a strength of theirs. They’ve always had a strong, solid line out, but it’s their ability to move the ball quickly that has always been their strength.”
Bester finishes his summary as he explains what he looking for from the game, “There’s no doubt about it, Bedford are a very dangerous side and the game will serve as a barometer for us and it will enable us to see exactly where we are and what we need to do come play-off time. For me that is what the Bedford match is all about and we’ll have a good idea on Saturday of where we are in the big picture!”
Rotherham Titans: 15 Tom Foden, 14 Ed Tellwright, 13 Dave McCall, 12 Pale Nonu, 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Garry Law, 9 Jimmy Williams, 1 Shane Cahill, 2 Dan Baines, 3 Rob O’Donnell, 4 Sam Dickinson (Capt.), 5 Adrian Griffiths, 6 Robin Copeland, 7 Sean Dougall, 8 Semisi Taulava.
Replacements from: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Jamie Kilbane, 18 Ben Hooper, 19 Barney Maddison, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Matt Rhodes, 22 Cliffie Hodgson, 23 Stephen Hamilton, 24 Elliot Brierley.
Titans just edged out at Bedford
In a fast, free-flowing game which was a wonderful advert for the Championship, it was Titans who took the initiative with a 17th minute penalty from Garry Law. From the restart an exhilarating move down the left flank that involved Law, Dougall, McCall and finally Monahan, culminated with Titans knocking on frustratingly close to the host line.
A minute later Law’s drop-goal attempt from 35 metres was badly scuffed wide. However soon after, Bedford knocked on inside their 22 and Pale Nonu collected before off-loading to Law who breezed in to score near the posts. Law converted his own try to give Titans a deserved 10-0 lead.
On the half hour mark Blues got on the scoreboard; from a 5 metre line out they set-up a catch and drive which culminated with former Titan Sam Walsh bulldozing over for James Pritchard to convert. Law extended Titans lead to 6-points two minutes later with a penalty after the Bedford scrum crumbled.
However just before the break it was déjà vu as Bedford scored an identical try to their first. Again from a 5-metre line out Blues set-up a catch and drive for open side flanker Sacha Harding to barrel over. Pritchard converted to give the hosts a 14-13 advantage at the break.
A couple of minutes into the second period Barney Maddison was yellow-carded for persistent infringements at the breakdown. However it was Rotherham who scored next! Dan Baines broke out of his half and made 30 metres, the ball was then shipped out wide to Monahan who again made good ground before finding Dave McCall in support. McCall, having his best game for Rotherham, made further metres before finding the onrushing Robin Copeland who proceeded to power through to score a fine team try. Law converted to give Titans a 20-14 edge.
Whilst Rotherham were still a man light Bedford took advantage. From a line out on the right flank the ball was spread along the backline for hooker Chris Locke to touch down in the left corner. Pritchard’s excellent touch line conversion gave the Blues a narrow 21-20 lead.
Pritchard extended the Blues lead just after the hour mark, after referee Matthew Carley awarded another penalty to the hosts. Titans hit back almost immediately when Law slotted his 3rd penalty of the afternoon to make it a 1-point game.
Titans pressed and good work again from Monahan and McCall took the ball to within touching distance of the Blues line. The ball came to Foden from the ruck, but unfortunately he knocked-on and the opportunity was gone. Late on and with Titans searching for victory, the pressure told on the home defence as they conceded a penalty 30 metres out on the angle. Unfortunately for Rotherham, Garry Law’s effort drifted just wide of the left upright and Bedford just held out for the narrowest of victories.
A frustrated Titans head coach Andre Bester said post match, “It’s impossible to play if we can’t understand the interpretation of the referee in certain area’s of the game. It was a fairly impossible task for the players to win the match today and they deserved more than that out of this game, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t want to comment further regarding the officials, we will make our points to the RFU through the proper channels.
“We deserved to win the match, I thought we were the better side on the pitch and that’s the bottom line. What killed us was the penalty count against us, which was sometimes astounding to me. We totally dominated them at scrum time, we got them on the back foot and they were standing up all the time.
“We were very disappointed to concede the two first half tries in the manner we did, especially as we defended the maul efficiently in the second half and they didn’t score from the driving maul again in three similar positions. But the positive is one point gained and we haven’t come away without taking something from the match.”
Referee: Matthew Carley
Rotherham Scorers: Copeland (T), Law (T, 3P, 2C).
Bedford Scorers: Walsh (T), Harding (T), Locke (T), Pritchard (1P, 3C).
Rotherham Titans: 15 Tom Foden, 14 Ed Tellwright, 13 Dave McCall, 12 Pale Nonu (Hodgson 74), 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Garry Law, 9 Jimmy Williams, 1 Shane Cahill, 2 Dan Baines, 3 Rob O’Donnell, 4 Barney Maddison, 5 Adrian Griffiths (Taulava H/T) (Kirwan 72), 6 Robin Copeland, 7 Sean Dougall, 8 Sam Dickinson (Capt.).
Replacements from: 16 Ted Stagg, 17 Jamie Kilbane, 18 Ben Hooper, 19 Semisi Taulava, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Matt Rhodes, 22 Cliffie Hodgson.
Bedford Blues: 15 James Pritchard (Capt.), 14 Handre Schmidt, 13 Brendan Burke, 12 Ian Vass, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jake Sharp, 9 Darryl Veenendaal, 1 Sam Walsh, 2 Chris Locke, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Mike Howard, 5 Sean Tomes, 6 Alex Rae, 7 Sacha Harding, 8 Paul Tupai.
Replacements: 16 Nico Steenkamp, 17 Dan Seal, 18 Billy Johnson, 19 Don Barrell, 20 Stefan Liebenberg, 21 Jamie Lennard, 22 Henry Staff.