Goldington Road once again turned pink for Ladies Day this afternoon as Bedford Blues welcomed Cornish Pirates in a crunch Championship Cup quarter final second leg tie.
The Pirates staged a late comeback at The Mennaye last weekend to lead the tie by a single point but it was all to play for on the raucous Goldington Road stage.
With just one point separating the two sides, it was bound to be a see-saw contest which Bedford Blues led after six minutes thanks to one foul swoop of Will Maisey’s left boot.
The Pirates responded, mounting their first attack on the Bedford try line but dogged Blues defence kept them at bay, much to the disappointment of the small but lively travelling Cornish fans.
The lead was doubled to 6-0 five minutes later; a superb tackle by George Hendy forcing the penalty for the Blues which Maisey despatched with ease.
The first half was quickly turning into a truncated affair; the referee’s whistle punctuating play with consistent penalty calls as both sides struggled for any consistency.
Cornish Pirates were the first try scorers, a smart move from a lineout finding its way to Carwyn Penny to dot down and with Arwel Robson adding the extras, the Pirates led 7-6.
Blues earn invaluable half-time lead
Mike Rayer’s side hit back almost immediately; a wonderful break and an equally wonderful assist from the impressive Hendy fed Matt Worley who sprinted over to restore the home side’s lead as the game ignited into life.
A second Worley try followed as Goldington Road erupted and with Maisey nailing the conversion, the Blues led 20-7 on the half hour mark.
A period of scrappy play followed but Bedford’s lead was nearly extended on the stroke of half-time as Will Maisey broke through the line only for the final pass to go astray.
The opening forays of the second half were played almost exclusively in the Bedford 22, but more superb defending kept the Pirates at arms length as they went on the hunt for early points.
However, the Pirates did eventually break through; captain Nico De Battista finishing off in the corner as the lead was reduced to six points and five in the tie.
The lead was theirs on the hour mark, a rolling maul paying dividends for Syd Blackmore with the conversion taking Cornish Pirates into the lead at 21-20 on the day.
Just like in the first half though, Bedford responded immediately courtesy of substitute Oli Stedman’s try to hand the initiative back to the home side with fifteen minutes left, leading 27-21.
Will Maisey had an opportunity from the peg to increase Bedford’s lead to nine points but pulled it right and it came back to bite as replacement Shae Tucker escaped free from the restart to swing the pendulum back in the Pirates’ favour.
The conversion was missed, and with Bedford leading by one point, the two teams were level at 64-64 on aggregate with five minutes remaining.
Grandstand finish at Goldington Road
The nerves were palpable around the ground as the clock ticked down. Even the vociferous travelling party were unusually quiet and the nerves seemed to translate on to the field.
Joel Matavesi knocked on at a vital point with the Pirates also making mistakes in the closing moments as chants of ‘Bedford!’ rang around Goldington Road.
Neither side could find the breakthrough, with Bedford Blues winning 27-26 but the tie finishing 64 points apiece as extra-time loomed large.
Bedford began extra time in the ascendency, spending the first five minutes camped on the Pirates try line, but they could not find a way through the steadfast visiting defence.
Once again, the Cornish Pirates made Bedford pay as Tucker touched down in the corner soon after to regain a 33-27 lead at half-time in extra time.
The Blues had their opportunities. Maisey’s magic had deserted him as he spurned a further penalty opportunity before Goldington Road erupted once more with Dean Adamson diving over.
Will Maisey missed the conversion though, leaving Bedford one point short once again but another opportunity came moments later, only for Oli Stedman to drop the ball in acres of space and the try line in his sights.
It was drama of the highest accord at Goldington Road and while Maisey had endured a torrid twenty minutes, he had the opportunity to make amends once more.
It was the final kick of the game and as the penalty floated wide, the full-time whistle was blown on a 33-32 Pirates victory, winning the tie by two points on aggregate.
It was a heart-breaking end to a pulsating afternoon of rugby in a game that swung one way and the other, but Bedford Blues will be disappointed not to have pounced on their opportunities.
Cornish Pirates go on to face Ealing Trailfinders in the semi-final after they comfortably saw off Ampthill, leaving Mike Rayer and his Blues charges wondering what could have been.