Preview to Bedford (A) 26.4.1425/04/2014
Shovels, sedatives and slide-rules at the ready...
Tunnels being dug, earth being dropped down trouser-legs, Steve McQueen jumping across barbed wire fences on a motorbike... only those who have spent the last 30 Christmases in the Sahara to avoid festive TV would be unable to name that film.
The film in question is being recalled this week with the interesting news that Ealing Trailfinders have been nominated for 'The Great Escape Award' by Rugby Paper writer Nick Verdier in the nationally-syndicated column he writes for club programmes.
Verdier praises Ealing for their recent form, inspiring a run that has seen the Londoners claim 15 points in four games, including a win against Jersey, to move ahead of the Islanders.
It's been an impressive run by Ealing, although there is just one technical issue - while they may have boarded the Escape Bus, the doors haven't closed behind them and the Nazi commander has yet to wish them 'good luck'.
The issue will in fact be resolved this weekend with two games. To deny Ealing their award, and place in next season's Championship, Jersey have to get a result at Goldington Road in Bedford. The Island side will hope to repeat a double over Bedford, although the home side will want to send home supporters and departing players Sacha Harding and Brendan Burke off on a winning note, and also have the advantage of knowing the lie of the land in respect of their home ground's sloping contours.
Following the events of Easter Saturday, and with a deficit of two points, the matter is no longer in Jersey's hands. Ealing will survive if they can match Jersey's result, and a win against Rotherham would end the debate. Talk of slide-rules being required is something of a cliché, as Jersey are well clear on points difference, a small crumb of comfort in the unlikely event of the teams finishing level on points because one of them has drawn.
Jersey will hope that Ealing get as little change out of Rotherham as they did in September, when the Titans dished out a 79-9 pasting to a side yet to adapt to level two. There's little resting on the game for the Yorkshiremen, as they have already secured a play-off spot and are unlikely to finish higher than fourth, but surely they won't wish to go into their play-off semi-final with Bristol on the back of two defeats?
All that remains is to click HERE and start whistling...
News from the Jersey camp
Head Coach Harvey Biljon has made minimal changes to his squad from the close tussle with London Scottish last weekend, which Jersey eventually lost 17-25. The starting pack is unchanged, while in the backs, Drew Locke and Mark Foster will start in place of Mark McCrea, who drops to the bench, and the injured Grant Pointer.
Jersey's bench includes the return of Latu Makaafi following a
Alex Rae (capt)
Luke Stratford, Sean McCarthy, Jon Brennan, Joe Buckle, Latu Makaafi, Jimmy Williams, Mark McCrea
The first match-up between the sides this season took place on the day of the Autumn Equinox, Jersey's first home game of the season. The Islanders struck early with tries by Ed Dawson and Fred Silcock helping them to a 20-14 lead at the break. And the visitors were kept scoreless in the second-half, with Nail O'Connor nialling down the win with two more penalties to take his haul to 16 points. James Pritchard scored all his side's points. It finished 26-14, and the full report's HERE
In February 2013 Jersey played up the famous Goldington Road slope and did well to trail just 14-9 at the break. Supposedly happier playing down the slope after half-time, Blues belied this by running in four second-half tries, going uphill, to seal a 38-21 success, Jersey scoring late tries by Nicky Griffiths and Guy Thompson. Report HERE
The final weekend of September 2012 saw a large Bedford contingent head to Jersey. They saw their team lead 0-29 soon after the break, bonus point secured, but the result was in doubt as Jersey roared back with tries through Glenn Bryce (pictured above), Nathan Hannay and Ed Dawson. The final score was 19-29 and the report's HERE
Bedford in 2013/14
The opening double-header fixture against London Scottish at Saracens' Allianz Park ground followed for the opening double-header of the league season. It was a feisty affair, and the combative Darren Fox was sent off for punching Rob Andrew (not the RFU big cheese), who also got a red. Welsh led 13-0 at the break, and were 23-9 up when Neville Edwards struck for Blues in the final minute, with James Pritchard's agonising conversion miss meaning there was no BP for his side.
With defeat in Jersey, followed by reverses to Leeds and Bristol, Blues lost four straight in the league before getting off the mark against Ealing, but then sustaining further defeats against Nottingham, Pirates and Moseley.
The only time this season that Bedford have won league games on successive weekends was in beating Plymouth and leaders London Welsh in November. The festive season was a mixed bag, with a heavy Boxing Day defeat by Rotherham and a New Year's Day win over Scottish.
The remainder of 2014, in league terms, has featured three more wins, against Nottingham, Ealing and most recently the Pirates in an Easter try-fest last weekend. Most disappointing was probably the 18-33 home defeat to Plymouth in March.
Last season Bedford got to the semi-finals of the B&I Cup, losing 15-18 to Newcastle, but this season they won just two of their six pool games.
James Pritchard is Bedford's top scorer this season, fourth in the Championship kicking chart with 136 so far, plus six tries which leave him just behind Patrick Tapley, who has scored seven. The Blues remain one of the best-supported sides in the Championship, although their average crowd of 2,298 has recently been overtaken by Leeds (2,346) as the division's second highest, behind Bristol (Jersey are fourth with 2,130).
A familiar face is likely to line up for the Blues - Michael le Bourgeois moved away from his native Jersey at the end of last season, five years after making his debut for Jersey's 1st XV as a teenager in London Division One (a.k.a level five).
After helping Jersey to Championship survival, 'Booj' opted for a change of scenery on the mainland rather than seek a new deal at St Peter, where he had been the first Island-born player to sign a full-time professional contract. He has had a decent season, playing in 19 league and six cup matches, racking up 53 points, and showing he can both give and withstand a big tackle.
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, Geoff Irvine 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 status in the umbrella organisation for Championship clubs in their dealings with the RFU.
Director of Rugby Mike Rayer, 48, is in his ninth 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. He has been awarded a testimonial by the club this season.
Blues will be back in September for their 14th straight season at level two, making them the 'Fathers' of this league.
Following the Game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Blues v Jersey through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey on Friday from 5.30pm, 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 on Saturday afternoon at 5.10pm
• Reports and match action on Channel TV online and on Monday evening at 6.15pm; and on BBC Channel Islands on Monday evening at 6.30pm
The Greene King IPA Championship this weekend
The expectation was that all games would kick-off simultaneously, but in fact the RFU guideline said that game must start no later than 3pm Saturday. Leeds requested a Friday slot due to the rugby league commitments of their siblings the Rhinos. Two points for Carnegie would guarantee third place; five could mean London Welsh have work to do when they host Nottingham on Saturday.
Ealing host Rotherham at Vallis Way - I think that one was mentioned already?
There's less riding on the other fixtures, although the winner
of Moseley v Albion will secure seventh place. Bristol and London
Scottish are the only teams in the table who cannot move up or down
Friday 25 April
Leeds v Cornish Pirates
Saturday 26 April
Ealing v Rotherham
London Welsh v Nottingham
London Scottish v Bristol
Moseley v Plymouth
Plenty of other rugby of interest this weekend. Play-offs excepted, most of the promotion and relegation issues in the national leagues should be resolved, including a too-close-to-call promotion tussle in National Two North between Macclesfield, Stourbridge and Darlington Mowden Park, and a battle to avoid the last remaining 'drop spot' in N2S.
Doncaster's attempt to bounce straight back to the Championship reaches the crunch-point with a trip to Blackheath where the Knights need a win to secure the Nat 1 title; should they fall short, Rosslyn Park are likely to seize the opportunity with a home win against Cinderford, who are fighting to avoid exiting Nat 1 in the other direction.
In the British & Irish Cup, Pontypridd host Leinster 'A' at Sardis Road in the first semi-final, with the winners awaiting the outcome of next weekend's clash between Bristol and Leeds.
The junior players of Jersey and Guernsey will take part in the annual Siam Cup weekend for all age groups from under 7 to under 18. A huge Red Army of players, coaches, parents and other supporters will be making their way to Guernsey for Saturday's matches on ferries, planes and - for all I know - stand-up paddleboards, and we'd like to wish them all the best for a successful trip ahead of the four adult Siam games on May 3.
Enjoy your weekend's rugby!