A Goldington Road Boxing Day affair is always a stellar moment for any local rugby fan, and despite newly-announced restrictions, the Blues family came out in their thousands this afternoon.
The visitors were Jersey Reds, the Islanders sitting two points behind league leaders Ealing in second and flying after three consecutive victories.
Bedford Blues have had a mixed time of late, squeezing past London Scottish in their last outing a fortnight ago and hoping to build on fifth place heading into 2022.
Mike Rayer made three changes from that victory; Jordan Onojaife replacing the injured Alex Woolford, while Alex Day and Ethan Grayson returned in the back line.
With the kick off delayed by twenty minutes, the huge crowd of 4,004 had to wait for the action to begin, and when it did, Jersey Reds immediately went about gaining territory.
However, Bedford also had their moments in the opening skirmishes, Will Maisey once again looking to orchestrate chances with some deft kicking skills, as he opened the scoring with a penalty from 25 yards.
The Blues then ignited the crowd with the first try of the game; Maisey collecting the kick off and squirming out of tackles, before Bedford set upon the try line with a series of stunning quick passes and offloads.
The try – a true classic of the Blues genre – was finished off by Jamie Elliott to a chorus of rapturous cheers and with Maisey kicking the extras, Bedford Blues led 10-0.
With a quarter of the game gone, it was the Reds’ turn to hit the accelerator pedal; a Bedford kick charged down culminating in a series of penalties and driving mauls, ending with a try for Eoghan Clarke.
Trailing 10-5, Jersey were almost the authors of their own downfall thereafter, as two players clashed trying to collect a high ball but Bedford were unable to find the pace to collect and touch down.
Maisey’s boot the difference once again
Will Maisey was the stand out player of the first half; fashioning out chances from nowhere with imaginative kicks, and emphatically dealing with the chances that were offered to him.
One aspect of the Bedford game that was struggling however was the lineout, but they were assisted by illegal Jersey drag downs that gifted the Blues easy penalties.
As Maisey pinged another one over – from a similar distance to his first – the Blues lead was extended to 13-5 with the half-time whistle on the horizon.
There was still time before the whistle for Bedford to extend their lead, as Maisey’s cross field kick was collected by Dean Adamson.
Adamson was unable to take his club try count into the nineties, but with the Reds defence clambering, Jack Hughes was on hand to bundle over for his third try in three games.
The biggest cheer of the first half was reserved until the last though, as Bedford defended a driving maul valiantly to prevent Jersey reducing the deficit from a well deserved 18-5 half-time scoreline.
The second half began frantically, both sides slipping on half chances with Matt Worley also making a key tackle to prevent a Jersey breakaway from their own half.
Jersey’s pure strength in the pack did finally pay off, Eoghan Clarke touching down for his second try of the game and with former Blue, Sam Leeming nailing the conversion, the score was 18-12.
Chances were becoming few and far between, Maisey’s rare penalty miss one of the squandered opportunities as the game started to become more attritional in midfield.
You could sense Jersey were gearing up for a surge, and with their pack once again dominating from the lineout, Clarke dotted down for a rare hat-trick as Jersey took the lead for the first time.
Another nail-biting finish for a bumper home crowd
Will Maisey’s excellent penalty restored Bedford’s lead soon after but with just fifteen minutes on the clock, the game was anyone’s to take.
The crowd may have been feeling the tension if it wasn’t for an amusing exchange of kicks, buoyed on by a boisterous crowd, sarcastically cheering each clearance for a solid minute, only for Rich Lane to stumble one forward.
Bedford’s defence held firm as the clock ticked into the final ten minutes, momentous cheers going up around Goldington Road at the award of any decision for the home side.
What came next was a stunning series of events; Jersey Reds’ James Mitchell sin-binned for a deliberate knock on, with Harry Simmons following him off for exactly the same offence a minute later.
With Jersey down to 13 and the ball firmly in their half, the Bedford crowd continued to urge their men on, with the score 21-19 to the Blues.
Experience and guile was the name of the game from here, but the Blues were not done yet; another flowing move ending with captain Rich Lane diving over to extend the lead to an unassailable nine points.
Blues players were strewn all over the pitch requiring treatment, a testament to the brutal efforts they put in all afternoon to secure a superb 28-19 victory against a strong Jersey side.
The crowd all played their part, growing in volume to a crescendo towards the end, pushing Bedford over the line for a hugely important victory in the context of the Championship table.
Elsewhere, Coventry beat Ampthill 26-22 in the early kick off while Doncaster beat London Scottish 39-19. The division’s other games were postponed.
Next up, Bedford Blues face another huge test as they travel to Doncaster Knights on New Year’s Day but this huge victory has the potential to jump start a surge heading into 2022.