Over the years, the A428 has been a well-trodden path between Franklins Gardens and Goldington Road with players switching between the Saints and Bedford and vice versa, whilst the friendly rivalry has bred allegiances and friendships. Somehow in recent years the relationship has cooled, Leicester and then Saracens, and even Wasps, have muscled in and sent their youngsters to develop in the famous dark blue and light blue shirts. However, in the last few weeks Howard Packman and Jordan Onojaife have appeared for the Blues and last night they lined up against their Saints mates together with the old warhorse, twice nearly twice- their -age Paul Tupai. It would be fantastic and hugely-beneficial to see the relationship re-established and perhaps last night helped in that process. The demise of London Welsh and Saints’ elimination from the Anglo-Welsh Cup left a hole in both fixture lists.
A hastily arranged fixture was embraced by the supporters of both clubs. The official crowd figure was 3,842; it seemed more as the venerable old stand was packed and it was standing room only around the ground. The game coincided with the club’s beer festival and St Patrick’s Day. The two were combined in the large marquee as tiny girls performed a mini Riverdance. The Saints decided to give valuable game time to those returning from injury, to squad players and to youngsters. Bedford went as strong as they could. The result was an excellent game with everyone out to prove a point.
In the first half, the Saints played up the significant hill and into a wind that didn’t relent throughout the game and left us all pretty chilled. Making notes was impossible and my view from the apron of the stand was limited to say the least. Perhaps we take our wonderful FG facilities and sightlines for granted. It’s Old School Rugby at Goldington Road. The Saints were straight onto the attack and soon scored through the energetic David Ribbans. We’re going to see more of our recent South African, but English-qualified, recruit. It was the first of three for him. when did a second rower last bag a hat trick? Lewis Ludlam in a standout performance was next on the scoresheet and added another in the second half. However, bit by bit Bedford hauled their way back probably helped by some sympathetic refereeing and their energetic scrum half, Tom James, skipped over from a scrum perhaps helped by Ben Nutley’s absence after a nasty clash of heads with Ethan Waller. They both returned. Less lucky was Howard Packman who left the Bedford ranks looking rather the worse for wear. Halftime came at 19-10 and the teams took the long diagonal walk back to the club house.
The Saints appeared still to be the clubhouse when James took a quick penalty on half way and put Wasps dual-registered centre Piers O’Connor through a gap to set up the speedy Paul Tapley who crossed under the posts. Saints gathered themselves and then launched a sustained offensive scoring 33 unanswered points. It didn’t seem to matter that well over half the side was replaced in one go . James Fish and JP Estelles added to the Ribbans and Ludlam efforts. The final try was scored by young James Grayson in a fitting week to the week that his Dad entered the Saints’ Hall of Fame . Grayson Junior has a faster turn of speed than his old man. If he has half his other talents, then we’ve got a good ‘un. Thoughts for the rest of the season: Luther was back and he looked sharp. I’d expect to see him in next week’s squad. Tom Stephenson looked very strong and came through unscathed. Next week is probably too early but he’s back in the reckoning. Api Ratuniyarawa, get practicing his name because you’re going to hear plenty of it, was immense in every sense. He went on two or three earth-shattering runs and was a fine sight on the hoof. David Ribbans is certainly the real deal. James Craig having filled Daisey’s boots very capably at the AJ Bell is still very much in the plans for this year; beyond, who knows? There have been whispers of Worcester. If he goes, they’ll get a good one.
What of Bedford? They can be proud of their efforts. The differences in fitness and class were there but they deserved more. Near the end, they mounted a lengthy assault on the Saints line, crossed once only to be recalled for an offence, and were only denied by a fierce Saints defence. It was a nostalgic journey back into the pre-league days and a glimpse into how the rest of the rugby world exists. It was great fun. Some might say that Bedford is a real rugby club. Let’s hope that the Saints play a significant part in it’s future.