BIG MATCH PREVIEW - Bedford
by PETER WOODROOFE
The Moseley squad and travelling support journey to Bedford on Saturday for a National League 1 games.
"Travelling faithful" is particularly appropriate as the writer John Bunyan joined the Nonconformist Church at Bedford in 1653 when he preached and, while in prison, he began The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678, an allegory recounting the spiritual journey of its hero, Pilgrim.
Bunyan’s statue is in St Peter’s Gardens. Let’s hope there can be light at the end of the tunnel for the Moseley travellers and that the squad are not travelling like ‘lambs to the slaughter’. The squad hardly merits the word lambs and the players are showing great resilience and learning all the time in readiness for when they will be meeting clubs with resources equal to their own.
By the same token, the travelling supporters are the very embodiment of the faithful as they work hard during the game and play hard enjoying the facilities of the club and the place they are visiting.
Bedford is, and always has been a very welcoming club and Goldington Road itself has all the attributes of a genuine rugby club with updated facilities as a result of Bedford’s period in the Premiership 1998-2000.
The original stand was built in 1905 and a reconstruction completed in 1933. There is a story that this was the first rugby grandstand to include a ladies toilet. In other words, very user friendly and of course there are bars in various rooms all over the place.
There is real memorabilia to be found behind impressive glass cabinet doors in the Larry Webb Room. The writer is not absolutely certain, but Larry Webb could be a Bedford prop who won four England caps in 1959. He was a mobile, ball-handling prop who would have been particularly suited to modern-day rugby.
He started life as wing-forward and was most unlucky in that he was chosen for the first international of the following season, but had to cry off and never won his place back, England winning the Triple Crown and drawing 3-3 with France with the same 15 players all season. Moseley’s PETER ROBBINS was one of the 15 in the 1960 side.
This is the return League game between the two clubs this season and in the Big Match Preview when they first met in September, it was pointed out how similar the history of Moseley and Bedford has been, both in the early days – the clubs were founded in 1873 and 1886 respectively – and from the arrival of League rugby in 1987-8 and the professional era in 1996-7.
In the attempt to compete in the brave new professional world, both clubs have been in danger of having to move away from their roots and have gone through two professional regimes before achieving, currently, stability with the help of local councils, businessmen and supporters.
The main difference is that Moseley lost The Reddings after 120 years, but then, after five seasons as tenants of Birmingham University, the club now has its own ground and clubhouse.
Bedford on the other hand have played over 100 years at Goldington Road and are still there.
Both clubs, however, have shown a resilience in adversity born out of their distinguished history and community links.
There are several players who have represented both clubs. In the professional era, the former Moseley Colt and their leading points scorer in League rugby in 2001-2, LEIGH HINTON, scored 347 points for Bedford in 2004-5 and is currently the leading points scorer for Leeds Tykes.
A former Moseley favourite at the start of the professional era, DARRAGH O’MAHONY, their leading try scorer in the first two seasons with 15 and 17 respectively, joined Bedford from Moseley in 1998-9, their first season in the Allied Dunbar Premiership 1.
He scored 11 tries, including one of Bedford’s tries in their survival play-off game against Rotherham, the second-placed club in Premiership 2. In the two games against each other home and away, both Bedford and Rotherham scored 38 points in aggregate, with Bedford retaining their Premiership! place by four tries to three.
Another winger, JAMES HINKINS, who was Bedford’s League leading try scorer in 2000-01 joined Moseley in 2002-3 scoring seven tries in 24 League appearances before returning to Bedford where he is a more than useful versatile member of the current squad.
After five seasons in National 1, Bedford achieved 2nd place last season behind runaway winners NEC Harlequins, their best finish since relegation from the Premiership in 1999-2000.
They also reached the final of the Powergen National Trophy losing 39-23 to NEC Harlequins. The aforementioned JAMES HINKINS played at full-back.
Bedford’s Director of Rugby is the former Welsh international full-back MARK RAYER in his second season. As a player, he was Bedford’s leading points scorer in the first two seasons of professional rugby when he scored a total of 527 points, 1996-8.
MARTIN HINES is the forwards coach and ANDY KEY their backs coach. Andy is the Leicester Academy manager, hence the strong East Midlands link which also includes Northampton.
On loan from Leicester this season, monitored by Andy Key, are winger OLLIE DODGE, son of the former England and Leicester centre PAUL DODGE, centre TOM YOUNG, son of the former Bedford and Leicester international scrum-half NICK YOUNG and prop DAN COLE, who scored a debut try against Waterloo, running 50 metres in a solo effort.
In addition, there is England winger TOM VARNDELL who scored tries against Waterloo and Exeter before suffering injury. Other newcomers include fly-half / full-back ROSS BROADFOOT from Leicester, fly-half BEN PATSTON from Northampton, prop BEN ALEXANDER from ACT Brumbies, and BEN PIENAER (back-row) from Leicester.
Returning to the club is full-back / wing JAMES PRITCHARD, a much-travelled Canadian international who has had spells with Randwick, Perpignan, Plymouth Albion and Northampton.
James holds Bedford’s League record for the number of points scored in a season, 374 in 2002-3, including 12 tries, to add to his 239 points scored in the previous season. He could be returning to the side on Saturday after representing Canada against Wales and Italy.
All these join many experienced players, mainly from Northampton, locks JON PHILIPS and ARTHUR BRENTON, prop MATT VOLLAND, over 100 1st XV League appearances, who represented England A along with the former Moseley prop NATHAN WEBBER, remember him?, against South Africa in 1996, hooker CHRIS JOHNSON, formerly of Leicester, and centre MATT ALLAN, another former Saints player.
Bedford Blues are currently lying 6th in National 1 with seven wins, five losses and one draw, their most notable win being against Leeds Tykes, 25-21 at Goldington Road.
They have scored 50 tries with JAMES PRITCHARD scoring six and scrum-half ALEX PAGE, JON PHILIPS, winger CRAIG MOIR and scrum-half KARL DIXON, three apiece. Twenty-four players have scored at least one try.
PRITCHARD has scored 104 points, including his six tries and ROSS BROADFOOT 71, including one try.
After last season’s 2nd place, Bedford may be slightly disappointed by their current 6th place, and a one-point loss at Nottingham and the loss and draw against Pertemps Bees could be considered set-backs to their aspirations. And of course, Moseley’s 44-37 win at Billesley after being 16-34 down after 50 minutes must have been dispiriting to the Blues as it was encouraging to Moseley in only their second game after their return to National 1.
The currently in vogue word ‘bouncebackability’ must be appropriate to Moseley at this time. Heavy defeats against Plymouth Albion and last week at Rotherham must not be allowed to sap the squad’s confidence. Their commitment against Earth Titans could not be faulted, especially in view of all the injuries sustained, resulting in uncontested scrums in the second half.
The Moseley injury list before and after that game is horrendous, not too strong a word, and there is much work going on this week to get players fit and to overcome the knocks sustained against full professional top two teams in National 1.
The Moseley lads must remain encouraged by the fact that there are fixtures coming up that they can win if they can maintain their shape in the difficult times.
Recent games against Bedford have been exciting, high-scoring affairs. This is in fact the 91st meeting between the two clubs, with Moseley winning 52 games and Bedford 31, with seven drawn.
So the tradition is there to be seen, but it’s a different ball-game in this, the professional era.
However, those Moseley supporters travelling to Goldington Road will enjoy the experience and the ever-optimistic hope that another surprise result could happen.
And from the Moseley squad point of view, it won’t be from lack of trying – whoever is fit enough to take the field.
Goldington Road is just 85 miles away
Directions are given on the Bedford website
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