Stirling County 21 Bedford Blues 24
Stirling County came close to beating Bedford Blues in their British and Irish Cup tie with a late comeback.
County were keen to build on last week’s Premiership win in Aberdeen and were bolstered by props Ed Kalman and Jon Welsh from Glasgow Warriors, with Kalman starting, and Scotland Sevens flying winger Rory Hughes returned from injury to give more attacking options. Benji Barsanti returned at number 8.
Bedford Blues, who are currently joint-second in the English Championship, came into this match having taken maximum points from their previous four British and Irish Cup Pool 2 matches and had convincingly won the earlier match between the clubs at Goldington Road in October.
Bedford played with pace from the first whistle.
After attacks down both flanks centre Ollie Dodge found a gap in the stretched home defence before putting supporting open-side flanker Tom Arnes in for the visitors’ opening try, which was converted by James Pritchard.
County responded when Robbie Boswell stole a loose ball at a lineout and scored a try unchallenged, converted by Brian Archibald to tie the scores.
Bedford continued to press forward with their fast, open running style of rugby and regained the lead on 21 minutes with a try by hooker Chris Locke.
They extended their lead in the second half with tries by James Stephenson and Mark Atkinson, one of which was converted by Pritchard.
With half an hour left County were worried that the Blues might run all over them but credit to the Bridgehaugh side, who fought back.
In 56 minutes winger Byron Mcguigan went over for a try, coverted by Archibald.
Then the Blues were reduced to 14 men when Darren Fearn was sin-binned for blatant offside and County exploited the numerical advantage for McGuigan to score his second try, which Archibald converted to make the score 24-21 with 12 minutes remaining.
This set up a grandstand finish to excite the large crowd. County threw everything at Bedford and only a last-ditch tackle in the final play prevented County scoring in the left corner.
The Blues held out to narrowly win the match and maintain their 100 per cent record in securing top spot in Pool 2. County remain in second place.
Stirling County: Hope, McGuigan, Bennett, Archibald, Hughes, Edwards, S Kennedy; MacDonald, Moffat, Kalman, Leishman, Deacons, Swindall, Barsanti, Boswell. Replacements: Welsh, R Kennedy, Hutton, Robertson, Clarke, Gilmour, Turnbull.
Bedford Blues: Pritchard, Stephenson, Dodge, Atkinson, Kohler, Vass, Baldwin; Reeves, Locke, Cooper, Howard, Rae, Gillanders, Barrell, Armes. Replacements: Cochrane, Boulton, Fearn, Gulliver, Vandermolen, Price, Burke.
Referee: N Correll (IRFU).
This was an encouraging result for County and head coach Graeme Young will be looking to take the positives from this match into the crucial forthcoming RBS Premiership encounters.
On Saturday County visit Welsh Premiership side Neath in their final British and Irish Cup Pool 2 match. Kick-off at The Gnoll is 2pm.
Thanks to County’s British and Irish Cup match sponsors United Auctions and Anderson Strathern, club sponsor Ondeo Industrial Solutions and all others who continue to support the club.