Hartpury slipped to a third consecutive Championship defeat on a bitterly cold night at Goldington Road.
Despite no lack of effort and application, they were over-powered and, ultimately, outclassed by a Bedford side who look destined for a top four finish.
Despite the plunging temperatures, this was a great night for rugby and the atmosphere generated under the lights by a healthy and excited crowd added to the occasion.
Hartpury have been out of sorts recently, certainly compared to their early season performances, and it was no great shock when the management opted to make changes following last week’s home defeat to Richmond.
Aquile Smith and Alex Ducker were both given starts on the wings, with Jacob Perry returning at fly-half and James Williams moving out to 12. Gloucester provided Charlie Beckett to bolster the second row, where he was joined by the returning Joe Quinn. Will Safe was available to take a place in the back row.
Bedford have built a reputation as an attacking force and, after a bright opening from the visitors, they were quickly into their stride. Hartpury suffered an early blow when important flanker Rob Langley was forced to leave the pitch in only the third minute of the game.
Faced with a mobile Blues pack which swarmed about the pitch, Hartpury were soon leaking penalties and Bedford fly half, Will Hooley, used these to put his side deep into the corners.
As is usually the case, Hartpury defended with well-organised aggression and the home side had to work hard to make any progress from the lineout drive, however with referee Michael Hudson intervening on a regular basis it was hard for the visitors to break out.
The breakthrough came after nine minutes when, after three quick penalties in succession, former Leicester prop Camilo Parilli-Ocampo was bundled over.
Hartpury did have spells of possession in the Bedford half, but they were finding it difficult to find a way through a solid home defence. Additionally, in open-side Ben Adams, Blues had the outstanding break-down operator on the pitch.
There was a double-whammy just before the half-hour. In the midst of some frantic defence, Joe Quinn was yellow-carded, as much as a cumulative punishment for the team than for any notable transgression. The resulting penalty went to touch and, in the next play, Bedford drove over again, through Jarad Williams.
Hartpury continued to defend resolutely with 14 men, but the pressure told again on the stroke of half-time. The Blues set up the drive from an attacking scrum and this time it was lock Ed Taylor who got to the line.
With two successful Hooley conversions, Bedford had built a 19-0 half time lead without really showing the running rugby that has become their trademark this season.
If Hartpury expected to take anything from this game they needed to impose themselves up front but, apart from the normal efficiency at the lineout, it was the home pack that had the upper hand.
Hartpury did pull back a try after a brighter start to the second half. With Mr Hudson finally remembering that penalties could go either way – it was well into the half before Hartpury were awarded their first of the game – a driven lineout allowed replacement hooker Will Tanner to peel off and score. Williams added the extras.
Any lift that this may have given the visitors was quickly dissipated. Failing to deal with the restart, they allowed Bedford an excellent attacking position and fast hands saw centre Rich Lane slice through in a wide channel to score.
Blues were starting to play with more freedom and they snatched another good try with seven minutes remaining. Again, their forwards did the hard work before centre Michael Le Bourgeois, on as a replacement, picked a cracking line to pierce a tiring Hartpury defence.
Hartpury’s survival in the Championship will not depend upon results at Bedford, but a run of defeats is not welcome at any time in a season.
Next Saturday sees the visit of the powerful Ealing Trailfinders, currently second in the table and the only side remotely in contact with leaders Bristol, meaning that the games with Jersey and Rotherham – either side of Christmas – loom as critical fixtures.
Bedford Blues: Czekaj, Clement-Hill, Lane (Try 58), Dodge, Hutler, Hooley (cons 10, 40, 59, 74) Dickson; Parilli-Ocampo (Try 9), Lindsay, Penny, Taylor (Try 40), Carrick-Smith, Rae, Adams, Williams (Try 29). Reps: Edgson, McCarthy, Spelman, Tupai, Buggea, Burns, Le Bourgeois (Try 73).
Hartpury: Wilcox, Smith, Eves, Williams (Con 56), Ducker, Perry, Chapman; Murphy, Walker, Gibson, Quinn, Beckett, Langley, Safe, Grieve. Reps: Tanner (Try 56), Flook, Heard, Edwards, Dancer, Cochrane, Carpenter.
Referee Michael Hudson
Image: Hartpury scrum half Charlie Chapman moves the ball in front of former England man Lee Dickson. Photo by Rod Wetton.