Bedford Athletic went down to a narrow 34-30 home defeat to league leaders Colchester, but claimed two bonus points in pulling further clear of Rochford Hundred at the bottom of Regional South East Division One.
In a competitive encounter the team were always in contention and fully merited the bonus points they ended up taking from the game.
From the first scrum the Colchester number eight, Harrison Pickett broke and drove hard into the home defence. Colchester quickly flooded through the back-pedalling home side and fly half Corey Button went over in the corner for a try converted by Jimmy Mpailane.
Bedford Athletic responded with a penalty from Leo Mortimer.
The first quarter was evenly contested, both sides trying to gain advantage through a kicking contest, neither quite managing to find a breakthrough.
Mortimer kicked a second penalty on twenty minutes, but it was Colchester who then took the initiative largely through a series of unforced errors from the home side which gifted them possession inside home territory.
At first, Bedford Athletic defended the attacks well but prop forward James Mitchell spotted a gap at a ruck to dart through for an unconverted try.
The home team responded by kicking a penalty to touch and then sending a rolling maul fully thirty metres toward the visitors’ line. When it was pulled down the ball was quickly shifted wide for Harry Sawford-Smith to muscle past three defenders for his first try.
Mortimer’s conversion gave Bedford Athletic the lead at 13-12 but it was Colchester who took the lead into half time. Playing at pace from a set scrum in midfield they quickly went wide and scored in the corner through wing Luke Rokomoce to lead 17-13 at the break.
Bedford Athletic had their first clearance kick at the start of the second half charged down and from the resulting scramble, Colchester exploited several home mistakes to send wing Jonah Varela over in the corner for the bonus point try, converted by Mpailane.
Mpailane turned villain moments later when having been penalised, further back chat to the referee cost his side ten metres and then him personally a yellow card.
Bedford Athletic carried play up to the visitors’ line and from an advancing scrum, the ball went wide for Ed Parker to crash over.
The home side were immediately offside from the kick off giving Colchester three lineout catch and drive chances.
These were repelled, but at the cost of a yellow card for Connor Rogers and then they couldn’t clear the ball effectively from their own half allowing Colchester to counter attack at pace and finish the move with an unconverted try for Tahi Poasa.
An energetic third quarter continued with another try to Bedford Athletic; this time it was they who showed that they too could create a try from first phase from a scrum, with Oli Petrides the beneficiary.
Ath fall just short
Nevertheless, Colchester struck again on the hour mark, once again the pace and precision they were able to put on the ball was too much for the home side and wing Rokomoce was on hand for his second try with the home defence being pulled from one side of the field to the other.
Going into the final quarter, Colchester led the game 34-23.
Bedford Athletic survived the next period of Colchester pressure and countered when Ed Parker kicked and ran for sixty metres to set up play close to the visitors’ line.
Once again using the scrum as their foundation, the home side went wide to the backs and debutant Will Dorasamy and Sawford-Smith combined in midfield to send Sawford-Smith under the posts for a try converted by Mortimer with a little under fifteen minutes to go.
Both sides went on to have periods of pressure without creating any clear cut chances, but itt was Bedford Athletic who dominated the final stages as they searched for the winning try.
However, they were not accurate enough when in possession and too many errors frustrated the good field position they did establish leaving them four points short at the end of a compelling contest, where Colchester squeezed home 34-30.
The two bonus points gained help move the Ath thirteen points clear of the relegation places with just five matches of the season now left; the first of those being a trip to East Midland’s neighbours Oundle in two weeks time.
Words by Jeremy Tyrrell