Bedford kept their Champions Trophy defence alive with a brilliant 31-8 home win over Canford this afternoon.
The Champions had been made to work seriously hard against St Paul’s in the last 16 just to make this quarter final, but they looked a different side here, full of the pace, power, and width that has been the hallmark of Bedford sides over the last few years.
Canford arrived with a big reputation following a storming start to the season. Famed for their use of the full fifteen players on the field and an exciting running game, the potential for a brilliant game of rugby was there with two sides that like to attack.
As it turned out, it was slightly more fragmented than that, both sides did play some stunning rugby at times, ending in tries on a couple of noteworthy occasions, however cold hands on a bitterly cold Midlands day contributed to a lot of stoppages, while frustrations were high for both sides at times in a game that did see a lot of the touchline chatter centred on the man in the middle, sometimes a little too vociferously.
Either way, at times we were given a treat on the field from this Bedford side. However it was Canford who troubled the scorers first, landing a penalty when the game was barely a minute old.
From there though Bedford controlled almost the entire of the rest of the half, and doing so in their usual style, spreading the back row right out to both wings and putting real width on the ball. When that did not yield results then the boots of captain Fraser Dingwall, scrum half Jack Dalton, and fly half Ed Johnson, and full back Alfie Orchard would prod the ball deep into Canford territory.
Ten minutes in it yielded points as they set up a penalty opportunity for Scotland U18 international Fraser Dingwall, who duly leveled the scores.
The next ten minutes were perpetuated by the whistle as the referee grew tired with infringements, offside drawing particular ire from him. That came to bite Canford after 24 minutes as two penalties in quick succession on their own try line yielded a penalty try for Bedford, which Dingwall converted with ease for a 10-3 lead.
Barely two minutes later Bedford were over again, this time a wonderful sweeping move beginning deep in their own half, almost straight from the kick off. The ball burst through several sets of hands before the rangy Joe Rogers in the second row showed a surprising turn of speed to accelerate away an finish a quite wonderful team try. Again Dingwall converted, and at 17-3 his side looked very comfortable indeed.
From the kick off the again looked dangerous, pumping the ball in behind Canford, leaving their outstanding full back Luke Mehson looking isolated. Instead though, Mehson grabbed the game by the scruff of the next, embarking on a long winding run almost the length of the field before offloading to his openside Rob Tolcher just yards from the Bedford line. Tolcher, like any good 7, had almost no right to be there, but gathered brilliantly before releasing a beautiful pass back inside for the try to be finished off. It was as good as Bedford’s just minutes before, if not better, and suddenly at 17-8 the match felt like it was back in the balance and ready to ignite.
Lesser sides might have cracked at that point and let this clearly gifted Canford attack sweep through, but not Bedford. They have too much quality and too much experience of winning in this competition to let their focus slip. They furrowed their brows and dug deep, before moving on the attack again. The punched away at the Canford defence before again managing to release Rogers through the line at pace for his second try, this time almost under the sticks.
That gave Dingwall an easy conversion to send his side into the half time break with a fairly comfortable looking 24-8 lead.
The lead was commanding, and the feeling on the touchlines was that an early second half score for Bedford might just kill the game off. As it was they had a 50/50 chance when Dingwall lined up an early penalty, but it just drifted wide.
From there it felt as though any points would do for Canford, just something to get a foothold as they began to build probably their strongest period of pressure and Bedford began to infringe near their own line.
Indeed Bedford were probably lucky to avoid a yellow for cynically killing the ball under the posts, but from the resultant penalty Canford went looking for the try. It was an understandable option, they had a big mountain to climb, but the Bedford defence managed to repel the threat, and in the end the easy three points might just have provided something to build on.
Still the away side hammered away though, stepping up hugely through the second half, with loosehead prop Arthur Cordwell getting through the sort of shift that has been giving Mako Vunipola headlines.
Bedford gradually pulled back into dominance though, with their back row doing a brilliant job on the floor, winning penalty after penalty as Conor Finch, Joe Wallace, and Ryan Hussey began to dominate the battle up front, it was brilliant play and played a huge role in securing the victory. As did the kicking of Johnson and Dingwall in particular, who realised that with a healthy lead and a ticking clock, all they had to do was keep the ball at the Canford end of the field.
With a little under ten minutes left on the clock, that territory paid dividends as a lineout five metres from the Canford line was snaffled by Bedford. Setting up the maul they released Finch, who barreled over for his side’s fourth try, and tying up the win in the process.
Dingwall’s conversion took the score past thirty at 31-8, and really did finish off the game. Canford rallied admirably, and indeed spent the bulk of the end of the game attacking Bedford territory, but they just could not find away through this stubborn red wall that is the Bedford defence.
It was an outstanding display from Bedford, against what must be remembered as a very very good Canford side. This was no walk in the park, it was a hard fought, hard earned, quarter final victory.
The same will be true in the semi finals, for which the draw took place at the final whistle here. Bedford must travel to the winners of tomorrow’s game between Epsom College and Blundell’s, which is a repeat of last year’s semi final. From there the winner will reach the final at Allianz Park on Friday 2nd December, playing the winner of Oakham or Monmouth v Tonbridge.
For Bedford, back to back titles remain a possibility. The question is, can anyone stop them?
Full Time: Bedford 31-8 Canford
Semi Final Draw:
Oakham/Monmouth v Tonbridge
Epsom College/Blundell’s v Bedford
15 Alfie Orchard, 14 Ben Knight, 13 Fraser Strachan, 12 Fraser Dingwall (c), 11 Will Bowes, 10 Ed Johnson, 9 Jack Dalton, 1 Colston Kane, 2 Will Kerr, 3 Will Entwistle, 4 Ted Hicks, 5 Joe Rogers, 6 Conor Finch, 7 Joe Wallace, 8 Ryan Hussey.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Borland, 17 George Seward, 18 Alex Dennis, 19 Oli Hind, 20 Harry Donougher, 21 Jason Van de Walt, 22 Alex Shepherd.
15 Luke Mehson, 14 Oliver Dunger, 13 James Thorne, 12 Will Butt, 11 Nick Milton, 10 Toby Hett, 9 Louis Ephgrave, 1 Arthur Cordwell, 2 Will Westlake, 3 George Leggett, 4 Alun Sullivan, 5 Will Hutchings, 6 Jamie Vasey, 7 Rob Tolcher, 8 Pat Regan (c).
Replacements: 16 Ed Wilkinson, 17 Joe Kinnear, 18 Cosmo Hamilton-Davies, 19 Tom Conibear, 20 James Elwood, 21 Chris McIntosh.