It was a frustrating night for Hartpury at Goldington Road, as they failed to fire until deep into the final quarter of the match. A late surge brought the Red and Blacks two tries and had them within touching distance of an unlikely result, but eventually the team travelled home empty-handed.
After a strong win on the opening weekend, hopes were high that Hartpury could overturn a four-match losing streak at the home of the Bedford Blues. The hosts had been unlucky to sustain a single-point loss in an error-strewn match at Coventry.
However, for the opening three quarters this was an underwhelming performance from the Gloucestershire side, who seemed content to let the home team control the game for long stretches.
It was also a night of indiscipline from both sides, as no fewer than 28 penalties were awarded in the match. The fact that the kicks were handed out even-handedly by referee Simon Harding suggests that neither side were the more culpable, but it did mean that the game had a stop-start quality for long periods.
There was an early exchange of penalties between Josh Bragman and the Blues’ Will Maisey, before Bedford engineered the first try of the night.
After an initial dart from scrum-half James Lennon, full-back Rich Lane – often a thorn in Hartpury’s side – burst between two hesitant red-shirted tacklers to take play deep into the visitors’ 22.
Following some patient phase-play, it was Lane, again, who popped up as the extra man to score.
Bragman and Maisey exchanged further successful kicks before a calamitous Bedford error allowed Ben Foley to stroll in for his fourth try of the new season. The ball sailed over the waiting pod of forwards leaving winger Josh Gillespie to do the fielding.
He made a mess of his catch and the ball fell perfectly for Foley just 10m from the line.
Hartpury may have hoped to make better use of the elements and the slope before the break, but eventually it was the Blues who snatched back the lead late in the half.
Under pressure, Bedford scrambled to win their own lineout, before flanker Joe Atkinson set off for the line, stepping around a Hartpury defender on the way.
Maisey made it 20-13 with the last kick of the half, and added another three soon after the break, when Hartpury were penalised 30m in front of their own posts.
A rare lost Hartpury lineout provided the springboard for the next Bedford score in the 47th minute when, after Lennon had again made good ground, experienced hooker James Fish was on hand to barrel over.
Suddenly Bedford were 17 points clear and applying further pressure as Hartpury still failed to rouse themselves. Opportunities came and went for the Blues, before the visitors finally sprang into life.
With the penalty count ticking into their favour, Hartpury were finally playing with a bit more vigour and that was reflected in the opportunity to play from better field position.
Back-up scrum half, Calum Waters, introduced some much-needed energy and suddenly runners like George Simpson, Robbie Smith and James Williams were starting to find some space.
Replacement hooker, Nick Selway, was the first to benefit – his first try for the club – after a well-worked lineout drive and when Aled Ward repeated the dose a few minutes later, to drag Hartpury within five points, a surprise turn-around was not beyond the imagination.
To their credit, Bedford did not buckle and spent the next two minutes attacking under the Hartpury posts.
When the visitors were caught for not releasing, Maisey was left with the simplest of opportunities to move the result beyond doubt.
There was still time for some late drama when Waters sniped to within 15 metres of the Blues’ line, before it was the home team’s turn to transgress. Bragman’s final kick of the match could have rescued a losing bonus point, but his effort was pushed wide.
Hartpury Head Coach, Mar Cornwell, was understandably disappointed. “The boys just went completely off script and we didn’t really start to play until the 70th minute. All credit to Bedford, who fixed a lot of their mistakes from last week and did a job on us.”
Hartpury will be back at home in Round 3, with another Friday night kick-off. Their opponents will be Doncaster Knights, who have recruited heavily since last season and are currently sitting on two wins from their two opening games.
Bedford: Lane (Try 19), Gillespie, Niko, Bird-Tulloch, Worsley, Maisey (Cons 20, 40, 48. Pens 34, 42, 79), Lennon; McCarthy, Fish (Try 47), Prowse, Bean, Carrick-Smith, Newman, Atkinson (Try 39), Robinson. Bench: Fields, Wrafter, Hardwick, Iyogun, Hughes, Fenley, Mathews, Olowofela.
Hartpury: Simpson, Muric, Smith, Williams, Foley (Try 35), Bragman (Cons 36, 71. Pens 8, 24), Flinn; Challenger, Crane, Knight, Lemon, Ehizode, Ward (Try 75), Howard, Williams. Bench: Selway (Try 70), Adkins, Holenstein, Russell, Grieve, Gray, Stanton, Waters.
Referee: Simon Harding