Preview to Bedford (A) 9.2.13


Cash, Seabass and Saskatchewan - Blues and Jersey prepare for a real mouthful of a match

If a song was chosen to sum up the 2012/13 rugby season thus far, the winter rains might prompt Jersey RFC to go for Five Feet High and Rising, in which Johnny Cash asks "How high's the water Momma?" But this weekend the Jersey squad will travel to drier - and colder - Bedfordshire, in search of an antidote to swamp fever. They'll find it, as the Man in Black also sang, At The Home of the Blues.

Johnny -cash -and -the -tennessee -two -home -of -the -blues -sun

The fixture is an eagerly-awaited one, with four-and-a-half months having flown by since Bedford flew to the Channel Islands and registered a 19-29 victory in the opening fixture.

The Blues were unbeaten at that early stage of the season, and remain at the top end of the RFU Championship table, currently lying third. In fact they are the division's leading scorers, albeit just a penalty kick ahead of second-placed Nottingham, and with leaders Newcastle having a game in hand.

Bedford's last league outing was the televised match at Meadow Lane in which Nottingham tightened their grip on second spot with a 25-17 win that was arguably more convincing than the scoreline suggests. The Blues are still six points clear of the three-way tussle for fourth spot between Bristol, Leeds and the Pirates, but know that a slip-up would change the situation.

Whether this slip-up might happen at home to Jersey is open to doubt - the Islanders haven't won on the road in six league matches so far this season, and will have to contend with the Goldington Road contours - the ground is hardly alpine but nevertheless the slope is said to take a little getting used to.

Jersey will be encouraged by having scored three of the seven tries in the opening match. Bedford have conceded an average 21 points per game in the league so far this season, almost twice as many as Newcastle, leading to the possibility of a game that could approach the 50-points per match average set during the thrilling opening weekend of the Six Nations.

News from the Jersey Camp

Jersey's players had a weekend off to start February, allowing time to recover from the exertions of a hard-fought 13-10 win over Rotherham the previous weekend.

Director of Rugby Ben Harvey has a squad with fewer injury victims than at most points in the season so far, although back row men James Voss and Nick Trower are side-lined. Welsh full-back Barry Davies will be another not involved at Goldington Road, having been suspended for a fortnight by the club after an incident in the Rotherham match which was the subject of an RFU disciplinary hearing on Thursday February 7th, with a three-week suspension handed down leaving Davies on the sidelines until February 19th.

One player who will hope to be involved against one of his former clubs is fly-half Ross Broadfoot, who spent a season at Goldington Road in 2006/07, racking up 23 starts, four appearances from the bench, five tries and 71 points from kicks. We tried to find a picture of Ross from that era, but only managed one from earlier in his career at Leicester.


Broadfoot will start in the number 10 shirt for Jersey, while Mike Le Bourgeois switches to full-back in place of Barry Davies, who was suspended by his club in the wake of an incident against Rotherham two weeks ago, and has since received a three-week ban from a RFU disciplinary panel (he is free to play again from February 19th).

Jersey's reshuffled back line includes two 19-year-olds: loan signing Max Stelling takes the place of Dai Bishop in the centre after Bishop sustained a broken hand in training, while Chris Levesley starts at left-wing.

The forward line-up sees just one change from the 13-10 victory over Rotherham at St Peter, with loose-head Richard Barrington coming from the bench to swap places with Sean McCarthy.

The visitors' bench includes the powerful Tongan Talite Vaioleti, who will cover the back five positions in the pack and is set to play his first rugby following a three-month lay-off with a dislocated shoulder.

Director of Rugby Ben Harvey said he was looking for his side to improve on their performance from the first encounter with Bedford.

"I felt we showed them a bit too much respect, kicked poorly and were looking set for a heavy defeat at one stage," he said. "We recovered well and could have taken at least a bonus point or two, and if we can produce our best form over 80 minutes then I am confident Bedford are beatable."

Jersey have lost six consecutive league games on the road, in contrast to their 'won four, lost four' record at St Peter.

Jersey squad, sponsored by Locate Jersey and
1 Richard Barrington
2 Dave Felton
3 Jon Brennan
4 Nathan Hannay
5 Dave Markham
6 Kingsley Lang
7 Joe Buckle
8 Guy Thompson

9 Nicky Griffiths (capt)
10 Ross Broadfoot
11 Chris Levesley
12 Tom Cooper
13 Max Stelling
14 Ed Dawson
15 Mike Le Bourgeois

16 Sean McCarthy
17 Charlie Clare
18 James Gethings
19 Talite Vaioleti
20 Dave McCormack
21 Ashley Maggs
22 Glenn Bryce

Any Previous?

In their third home league match of the campaign, Jersey struggled to combat Bedford's attacking power in the first half, leading to a deficit of 0-22 at the break (tries by Paul Tupai, Mark Atkinson and Sacha Harding), soon increased to 0-29 after a 49th-minute penalty try.

Bryce Bed Try

But the home side recovered, with Glenn Bryce (above), Nathan Hannay and Ed Dawson scoring tries that raised hopes of at least a bonus point, maybe two, in the absence of the red-carded Ricky Reeves - a tip-tackle on Hannay - and the sin-binned Ben Cooper. However Jersey were unable to add to their 19 points.

For a more detailed report, see HERE.

Bedford in 2012/13

The Blues started the season by giving Moseley a 50-6 hiding at Goldington Road, and then looked set for another 'W' at Rotherham's Clifton Lane ground until they were pegged back to 38-38, a rare 3-3 draw in league points. Further half-centuries of points helped account for London Scottish and Plymouth, while another home win, a skin-of-the-teeth affair against Nottingham, was sealed deep into added time.

After a break for the B&I Cup, Blues suffered consecutive defeats at Bristol and at home to the Falcons, although the nine-point margin was one of the narrowest in games involving the league leaders so far, and then had a slightly fortuitous win by a single point on the road at Doncaster.

There was nothing fortunate about Blues' next two league outings, convincing wins over Pirates and Leeds, the latter being thumped by 25-45 even though the pitch at Otley froze over soon after the hour-mark leading to a premature abandonment. 2012 finished with a 22-16 Boxing Day success over Rotherham, while the New Year saw London Scottish defy the league standings to beat the Blues 25-23 at the RAG in the most recent league other than the aforementioned Sky game against Nottingham.

Bedford are the only team to have taken maximum points from the pool stages of the B&I Cup, with a 30-point haul from their games against Bedwas, Stirling County and Neath. This has earned a top seeding in the quarter-final teams and a home tie against eighth seeds Llanelli in early April.

As the longest-standing club at Championship level, it's hardly surprising that Bedford have more continuity among their playing ranks than any other team. Half of the starting XV from the game in Jersey had been with the club for at least five seasons including the current one.

Captain James Pritchard first joined the club in 2001 and has been there almost ever since, other than brief spells at Plymouth, Northampton and Perpignan. The 33-year-old may be the most prodigious National League points-scorer of all time, with something in excess of 2,500 points in the English club game, 90% of them achieved in Bedford colours. Born in Australia, Pritchard qualified for Canada through his grandfather from Saskatchewan and has gained 45 caps, including three World Cups, amassing 445 points.

Irish centre Brendan Burke is a former Leinster man who joined the Blues in 2007, while promising youngster Josh Basset, 19, is a graduate of the Blues Academy who signed a senior contract in summer 2011 and has also represented England at Under 20 level.

Bedford's potential half-backs include fly half Jake Sharp, in his fifth season at the club, and new recruits Mark Atkinson from Esher and Luke Baldwin, who is on loan from Saracens. Sarries also provide two dual-registered players in full-back Ben Ransom and hooker Scott Spurling, although Spurling is on the long-term injured list, alongside Harding and centre Henry Staff.

Bedford's forwards include Sacha Harding, a veteran of nine years' service at Goldington Road, but the flanker is another on the injury roll-call, ex-Northampton man Alex Rae, a 'back-five' forward who captained the side this time last year when Pritchard was at the World Cup, and the combative Darren Fox, who had something of a barney with Jersey's Nathan Hannay in November 2011 while playing for Cambridge, culminating in the Jersey player receiving a red card for an intended, tho' somewhat ineffectual head-butt.

STOP PRESS - Bedford announced today (Thurs) that Alex Rae has joined Premiership side Wasps with immediate effect - see the Blues website for full details.

Lock Ben Gulliver, signed from Worcester, has made 10 appearances so far this season, while number 8 Paul Tupai (below) is 38 years young and won five caps for Samoa in 2005.


Three players have appeared in all 14 of the Blues' league matches so far - Burke, hooker Neil Cochrane and lock Michael 'Something of the Night' Howard.

Looking ahead to Saturday's encounter with Jersey, Blues backs coach Paul Larkin said: "Selection once again was a tricky one, especially behind the scrum. A lot of the players stuck their hand up last weekend and deserve another opportunity, Mark Kohler being the only one to miss out through personal reasons. After two league games on the road all the players are looking forward to running out on and using, the wide and quick expanses of Goldington Road."

"Jersey caused us all sorts of problems at their place earlier in the season and have picked up some very valuable points recently in their battle for survival. It'll be game on here Saturday afternoon as we expect a tough battle up front from their pack and if given the right amount of possession then their experienced half backs will be able to boss the game. Our lads have trained exceptionally well however and are in pretty determined mood to put a performance in."

Starting line-up:

15. James Pritchard (c)
14. James Stephenson
13. Ollie Dodge
12. Mark Atkinson
11. Josh Bassett
10. Jake Sharp
9. Darryl Veenendaal

1. Darren Fearn
2. Neil Cochrane
3. Ben Cooper
4. Mike Howard
5. Ben Gulliver
6. Gregor Gillanders
7. Tom Armes
8. Don Barrell

Replacements: 16. Chris Locke, 17. Ricky Reeves, 18. Phil Boulton, 19. Joe Vandermolen, 20. Darren Fox, 21. Luke Baldwin, 22. Brendan Burke

History of Bedford RUFC


A few years after their separate foundations, Bedford Rovers and Bedford Swifts joined forces in 1886 to form Bedford RUFC. Close links between the club and two local schools - Bedford and Bedford Modern - led to the choice the dark and light blue strip, reflecting further links between the schools and the Oxbridge universities. This colour scheme exists to this day in both the home and away kits worn by the team, who are nicknamed the Blues, just to keep things tidy.

The club played at Goldington Road virtually from the outset, hosting some of the leading teams of the era. In 1893/94 they lost just one game out of 29 and in 1905 hosted the All Blacks - a 41-0 defeat was little disgrace given that the visitors lost just one match of a lengthy tour.

Fast-forwarding a few years, as one has to given limited space and time, and Bedford were a pre-eminent name in English rugby in the 1960s thanks to the likes of national captains Budge Rogers and David Perry. They won the Sunday Telegraph English-Welsh Rugby Table in 1969/70 and were led by Rogers to an 18-12 victory over Rosslyn Park in the 1975 John Player Cup Final at Twickenham.

When the league era began in 1987 Bedford were at level two, and the club has spent 21 of the ensuing 26 seasons at this level. The exceptions were a one-season foray into Courage Division One in 1989/90, two years below stairs at level three in the mid-90s, and then two years back at the top-flight, then named the Allied Dunbar Premiership, from 1998-2000. There were two eventful promotion play-offs with Rotherham during this time, the first won on try count-back after a 38-38 draw and the second lost 34-40 and resulting in relegation.

Like many clubs, Bedford have weathered the peaks and troughs of the professional era. In 1996/97 boxing promoter Frank Warren and the company Sports Network invested in the club and helped secure some major signings and promotion to the Premiership. However the club's sale in 1999 to Jefferson Lloyd International was financially catastrophic and at one stage looked likely to involve another sale and the club moving out of Bedford.

Following intervention by the RFU in October 1999 a consortium of Bedford businessmen headed by David Ledsom (SDC), Geoff Irvine (Irvine-Whitlock) and David Gunner with assistance from Bedford Borough Council and other professional people, the transfer of the club to Bedford Blues Ltd. was organised.

Several thousand supporters and businesses in the town bought shares and the club is now a thriving one that is a fine example for sustainability in the tough environment of Championship rugby.

Geoff Irvine remains a central figure as Chairman, and holds the same 'grand fromage' status role in the umbrella organisation for Championship clubs in their dealings with the RFU.

Director of Rugby Mike Rayer, 47, is in his eighth season in charge - on the playing side - at Goldington Road. He won 21 caps at full-back for Wales in the early 90s, scoring four tries including a brace as a replacement against Scotland in 1994, and played two seasons for Bedford between 1996 and 1998. Various sources claim that his name is slang for an all-day drinking session, especially in south Wales, as in 'I'm going for a Mikey Rayer' - JRFC lawyers insisted that we stress that this was for rhyming reasons rather than anything else.

Blues are now starting their 13th straight season at level two, making them the 'Fathers' of this league. Notable seasons since then:

* 2005/06: runners-up in the days before play-offs
* 2009/10: finished fourth, then second in relegation pool A, then beaten by Exeter in the one-leg semi-final at Sandy Park
* 2010/11: runners-up in the regular season, second in pool B, then lost 22-23 to Worcester courtesy of a late try by Kai Horstman, converted by Joe Carlisle
* 2011/12: second again after 'normal time', then the winners of pool B, and a two-legged semi (which sounds like something from the Karma Sutra) against London Welsh, lost by the agonising margin of 27-30.

The Blues, the Red Rose and other internationals

Many Bedford players have won international honours. Selected caps include:

* England: as well as the aforementioned skippers Rogers and Perry, and their 1960s contemporaries Geoff Frankcom and Danny Hearn, take your pick from Martin Bayfield, Andy Gomarsall, Jeff Probyn and Rory Underwood. Martin 'Chariots' Offiah never played union for England, but the GB league man did represent Bedford in 1997/98
* Moving to the present day, England centre Billy Twelvetrees, one of the stars of the opening 6N weekend, spent a season at Bedford in 2008/09, making 31 appearances and scoring 18 tries (including the one below), 16 conversions and 13 penalties. Twelvetrees was subsequently nicknamed 'Thirty-six' by Leicester team-mates after they heard Geordan Murphy pronounce his name - almost as good a nick-name as 'Chariots'


* South Africa: Rudi Straeuli, World Cup winner in 1995
* Wales: Mike Rayer and Paul Turner (also known - in Jersey at least - as Tommy's Dad)
* Scotland: Scott Murray and Billy Steele
* Tonga: Soane Tonga'uiha
* Canada: Gareth Rees and James Pritchard
* Australia: Ben Alexander and Alistair Murdoch

Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Bedford through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey from 5.30- 6pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (available online and on your transistor-wireless device
• Preview in Friday's JEP and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 soon after the final whistle on Saturday, plus updates during the match
• Preview, reports and match action on Channel TV on Friday and Monday evenings from 6pm; and a report on BBC Channel Islands TV on Monday evening at 6.30pm

The Championship this weekend

Saturday February 9
* London Scottish v Nottingham KO 12.15
* Rotherham v Plymouth KO 14.30
* Moseley v Bristol KO 15.00

Sunday February 10
* Leeds v Newcastle KO 12.00 (at Otley RFC)
* Cornish Pirates v Doncaster KO 14.30 (Six Nations? What Six Nations?!). The legendary prop Alan Paver is set to play his 300th game for the Pirates.

And Finally

A long-standing relationship between Victoria College in Jersey and Bedford School started on October 31st 1940, when 34 College boys took up places at the school after being evacuated from Nazi-occupied Jersey. In all, some 50 Victorians passed through the School. College boys took a full part in many school activities but retained their old school identity by wearing separate school caps, and having a separate Head Boy appointed for the Victorians. The last one was Michael Thorn. A collection was organised to pay for an oak panel suitably inscribed to be erected at the entrance of the Great Hall. The original was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1979, but a replica now hangs outside the Headmaster's study at Bedford.

A sports exchange has existed between the two schools since 1980. Each year, boys from Year 6 take part in an exchange with Victoria College Prep visiting Bedford, normally in November and Bedford returning to St Helier in the Spring or Summer term. The Jersey party got back from their 2013 trip just last week, and those on the Island looking for good omens will be pleased to hear that the VCP 'A' and 'B' teams both defeated Bedford Modern and Bedford Prep to complete a 4-0 tour record. Only the most nit-picking of pedants would then go on to point out that the games were played with a round ball...

Fingers are firmly crossed in Jersey that the weather will relent and allow the scheduled games to go ahead, with Jersey Athletic taking on the touring Blackheath 2nds at St Peter at 2pm and Wanderers playing Les Quennevais at LQ at 12 noon. On Sunday Banks Vets host HMP at Grainville at 12.30pm, while Jersey Colts are away to Havant.

Finally, quote of the week: having started with the blues, let's finish with 'em (with apologies to the 4,000+ people who've re-tweeted it), from Sebastien 'Seabass' Chabal, at 4.52pm last Sunday as the final whistle blew in Rome after Les Bleus had faced Il Azzurri: "Oh merde!"


Enjoy your weekend's rugby

Tom Innes


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