Nottingham stifle play-off rivals Bedford in fine home win
'THE best form of defence is attack' is normally a phrase more associated with football than rugby union.
But, up against a side with over half a century of tries in the RFU Championship this season, this tactic worked a treat for Nottingham Rugby to stifle a free-flowing Bedford side at Meadow Lane.
The Green and Whites were tied on 45 points with the Blues going into this crunch, top-of-the-table clash at Meadow Lane – but it was Martin Haag's men who took the game by the scruff of the neck to record a 25-17 win to cement second spot in the standings.
It was a show of territorial dominance against their play-off rivals, who had leaked 18 points by the time they were able to claim their first foray into the home side's 22 after 38 minutes of action.
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A disciplined defensive effort, coupled with James Arlidge pulling the strings from fly-half to push the visitors deep in their own half, helped the Greens stamp their mark – with the damage being entirely done in the first half.
A positive start, in front of the Sky Sports cameras and a crowd of over 2,000, saw the hosts 6-0 up in as many minutes thanks to two penalties from the boot of Arlidge.
The early pressure was relentless from Nottingham, whose slick interplay in the backs was a joy to watch throughout as Arlidge and his two centres – Tim Streather and Joe Munro – were able to stretch the Blues' back-line from one side to the other.
But for all the eye-catching twinkle-toes action from the backs, it was the hard work of the pack which laid the foundations for the victory, led by their highly-impressive skipper, Brent Wilson, who produced a masterclass in how to control a rolling maul.
The line-out was also working well and after quick ball was provided by No.8 Alex Shaw, it set the platform for Nottingham to spread the ball right and then left to score their first try on 17 minutes.
Munro's lovely pass enabled wing Alex Lewington to come onto the ball at pace at the angle to break the line and he in turn played in Streather to go over at the left corner.
Arlidge missed a difficult conversion and then was short with another penalty attempt.
But after Bedford's Phil Boulton was sent to the sin-bin on 25 minutes, for an infringement at the ruck, the home side turned the screw.
They thought they had added to their score when full-back David Jackson went over on the right, only for the referee to adjudge he had failed in his attempt to ground the ball, but did score again a minute later.
Wilson barged his way to the line and, despite being held up inches short, scrum-half Sean Romans was on hand to tunnel his way over from the next play. Arlidge converted and it was 18-0 inside 30 minutes.
It could have been even better for the Greens, but Lewington was flagged for his foot marginally scraping the white line on the right touchline – this after he had intercepted and raced in the clear.
Finally, Bedford got some ball in the Nottingham 22 just before the break and their efforts saw them given a penalty – although James Pritchard missed a fairly easy chance to get their first points.
The Blues came out brighter after the interval and winger Pritchard, this time, made sure of a penalty to reduce the deficit four minutes in.
But, soon after, Bedford were again turned around by some clever, tactical kicking and struggled to clear their lines for the next ten minutes.
Another sustained period of pressure was rewarded for the Greens when, from an attacking scrum five metres out, the Blues were penalised for standing up in the scrum and a penalty try was awarded. Arlidge converted for 25-3.
But with over 25 minutes still to play, Bedford had more than enough time to launch a comeback and when dangerous winger Josh Bassett finished off a fine move six minutes later – which involved several telling line breaks – the deficit was back to 15 points.
However, at a time when building momentum was crucial, two knock-ons frustrated the visitors and once more it was Haag's men who were back dictating territory.
Another try went begging for Nottingham when wing Rhys Crane dropped the ball in the act of touching down in the left corner.
This was punished, on 75 minutes, when sub wing James Stephenson raced in under the posts for a converted try, after a fine break down the middle from the Blues, for 25-17.
In truth, this gave the scoreline a feel that the game had been closer than it was.
It was, however, also a reminder of how dangerous Bedford can be and how well Nottingham had done to keep the visitors at bay for the majority of the clash to record a fine victory and send a message to their other play-off rivals.
Nottingham: Jackson, Lewington, Streather, Munro, Crane, Arlidge, Romans, Parr, Duffey (Malton, 68), Holford (Bower, 67), Montagu, Rouse, Cooper, Wilson, Shaw (Calladine, 65). Subs not used: Quinn, Barnham, Lynn, Cobden
Man of the match: Tim Streather