To enjoy rugby at its best you have to endure it at its worst. Despite positive intentions from both sides at Headingley on Sunday, neither Leeds nor Bedford could lighten the gloom of a drab January afternoon in an error-filled encounter. There was about as much chance of a try bonus point for either side as there was of the sun coming out, writes Richard Grainger.
The visitors arrived in second place behind league leaders Bristol but returned to the East Midlands with just a losing bonus point, thanks to a near faultless goal-kicking display from Carnegie fullback Tommy Bell.
Leeds started the brighter and established base camp in the Bedford red zone on several occasions. But failure to adjust to the slippery conditions meant that ambition was not matched by execution, and the visitors were seldom required to defend more than eight phases before Leeds surrendered possession.
Bell put Leeds on the scoreboard with the first of his seven penalties before James Pritchard replied when Leeds went offside.
The visitors went ahead when Ian Vaas scored in the corner following an offload from Josh Bassett that appeared to have been knocked on. Referee Dave Pearson thought otherwise but Pritchard was wide with the conversion.
Bell pulled three points back before the break to leave the home side trailing 6-11 at the interval.
A steamy affair at Headingley
Joe Barker replaced Joe Ford at fly-half early in the second period. Ford was not at his best with kicks from hand but was not helped by his front five’s insistence on cluttering up the midfield to reduce his options and present slow ball.
Barker’s game management and sharpened tactical awareness soon paid dividends and Leeds began to kick-chase effectively and force Bedford into conceding penalties at the breakdown.
Bell took full advantage of the Blues’ indiscretions and chipped away, eventually putting Leeds 18-14 ahead with 12 minutes to go before Mr Pearson’s patience was finally exhausted and Brendan Burke was sent to the sin bin.
Pritchard managed to reduce the gap to a point before man-of-the-match Bell completed his almost perfect seven to see Leeds complete the double over Bedford with a 21-17 win. Check out – albeit fairly limited – highlights of the game
On Friday evening, Moseley held on against Plymouth to win by 9-3 in a try-less encounter at Billesley Common. Glyn Hughes kicked three penalties in the first half hour, but despite being dominant for most of a scoreless second half, Albion could only muster a losing bonus point from a James Love penalty.
Doncaster saw off improving Esher’s challenge winning 41-24 at Castle Park on Saturday thanks to a hat-trick, four conversions and a penalty from former Esher man Dougie Flockhart. Esher played their part in a scintillating game with three tries but headed back south empty-handed.
The Cornish Pirates exploited Bedford’s defeat to leapfrog them into second place with a 27-6 win at the Mennaye Field. Sunday wasn’t a day for running rugby in Cornwall either, but the Pirates’ pack managed to breach the Exiles’ line twice in the first half for Rudi Brits then Dave Ward to touch down.
By the interval, the visitors were 20-6 adrift and things didn’t get any better after the break when Matt Evans hacked and won the race to the line. The Welsh weren’t helped when Gordon Ross was binned in the 54th minute. For extended highlights, click here: http://cornish-pirates.com/pirates_tv/eye_player.htm
London Scottish remain second from bottom despite a spirited performance against Nottingham at Richmond on Sunday. Tim Streather’s late try sealed it for the Green and Whites; with a game in hand, they now look certain to finish Stage One in the top eight.
Finally, leaders Bristol dispatched Rotherham 37-3 in front of 4,822 at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday to underline their promotion credentials. Tries from Will Helu and Fautua Otto in a dominant first period, and from James Merriman, Ross Johnston and Jack Tovey in the second half clinched the bonus point. Click here to see the tries: http://www.bristolrugby.co.uk/news/7540/video-bristol-rugby-vs-rotherham-titans/
This leaves Bristol nine points clear at the top. For how the table looks after week 19, click here: http://clubs.rfu.com/Fixtures/MatchByDivision.aspx?DivID=130433319
With the most intriguing Six Nations for years kicking off this weekend, week 20 of the Championship promises equal intrigue with Bristol at home to Moseley and Bedford, who will be keen to get back to winning ways, hosting Plymouth.