Bedford Blues held their nerve to claim a gripping 19-16 victory over London Welsh in a pulsating contest at Goldington Road.
In front of the TV cameras, Bedford and Welsh produced some scintillating rugby as well as obdurate defense and the Blues looked to be heading for a comfortable win until a dramatic end.
Trailing by 13 points with just minutes to go, Welsh appeared to have no way back but two tries in quick succession left the home crowd on the edge of their seats.
Despite their efforts, though, Bedford held on for a valuable win to leapfrog Welsh and move back into second in the process.
Having defeated Nottingham only on Sunday, Bedford director of rugby Mike Rayer made a host of changes to allow his squad to recover after some intense rugby in the past weeks.
Darryl Veenendaal and Tom Bedford returned to the backs while up front Dan Seal, Alex Rae, Sacha Harding, and Jackson Wray all started.
And his decision paid off immediately as Bedford came storming out the blocks and took the lead inside three minutes.
In front of an electric atmosphere, the Blues were first to attack when Myles Dorrian broke free down the right and sped down the wing giving Bedford territory.
Welsh were then caught offside on the ten-meter line and a nerveless James Pritchard stepped up to convert the penalty.
Both sides look pumped up but Welsh, in the knowledge that the cameras would be magnifying every small mistake, were the team that looked overawed by the occasion.
As a result Bedford took control and soon extended their lead after some quick passing caught Welsh offside and allowed Pritchard to add to his tally.
It continued to be all Bedford in the opening stages but they wasted several chances with impatience at the crucial moments.
The match then began to turn in Welsh’s favour and they reduced the deficit with an Aled Thomas penalty after Harding was punished for not rolling away.
The three points seemed to settle Welsh down and all off Bedford’s early momentum had been reversed to give the visitors control of the game.
They applied relentless pressure on Bedford’s defence for the rest of the half but the home sides’ defence has been outstanding all season and was so again.
Welsh refused to go away, though, and dominated the match but Bedford’s continued to stand firm with their efforts highlighted by a brilliant last ditch tackle by Wray to prevent a certain try.
However Welsh did level the scores through a Thomas penalty but Bedford would have been extremely grateful that it wasn’t more.
It remained 6-6 until the break after an exhilarating first-half, which emphasised why these sides have the best defensive records in the league.
The second-half begun in much the same fashion as the first with Welsh looking strong but as they failed to turn possession into points, Bedford started to lift the tempo.
Ten minutes after the break Pritchard had a golden chance to give his side the lead again only to see his penalty attempt drift wide.
It didn’t matter, though, as two minutes later Bedford registered their first try of the game.
The home side broke down the left and good hands allowed them to work the ball in field before Sam Walsh was held up just short but quick thinking from Veenendaal rounded off a well worked try.
Pritchard added the extras to give Bedford a 13-6 lead and it was clear that the try had breathed new life into Bedford while taking a lot out of a tired London Welsh.
A couple of mistakes from the visitors meant that Pritchard could add to his lead with a pair of well-taken penalties.
It gave Bedford a commanding 19-6 lead going into the last ten minutes and the match appeared to be out of Welsh’s reach.
But their never-say-die attitude was rewarded with minutes to go when Marland Yarde went over in the corner but Simon Whatling missed the conversion leaving the crowd to breath again.
However the incredible late drama wasn’t over as two minutes later Welsh scored again.
Josh Drauniniu received the ball midway inside Bles’ half and weaved his way passed a number of Blues’ players to score a second Welsh try.
Whatling again missed the kick to leave the scores at 19-16 with just seconds to go.
But the referee still didn’t end the game much to the annoyance of the crowd, who could barely watch as Welsh piled on the pressure in the dying moments.
But, much to the relief of the spectators, Welsh were penalised for not releasing the ball whilst on the attack and therefore handing Bedford a vital win.
Blues: Sam Walsh, Joe Clark (Dan Richmond 26), Dan Seal (Sean Tomes 66) (Nick Walshe 80), Mike Howard, Alex Rae (Phil Boulton 66), Gregor Gillanders, Sacha Harding (Chris Goodman 73), Jackson Wray, Darryl Veenendaal (Will Chudley 80), Myles Dorrian, James Pritchard (c), Ian Vass (Brendan Burke 59), Tom Bedford, Ollie Dodge, Edd Thrower
London Welsh: Shawn Pittman, Vili Ma’asi, Lorne Ward (Max Lahiff 62), Martin Purdy, Matt Corker, Dan Williams, Michael Hills (c) (Jon Mills 67), Ben Russell (Epi Taione 49), Nick Runciman (Jack Walsh 80), Aled Thomas (Liam Gibson 76), Josh Drauniniu, Simon Whatling, Hudson Tonga’uiha, Dom Shabbo (Marland Yarde 61), Errie Claassens. Replacement not used: Marc Breeze,
Referee: Llry ApGeriant Roberts
Touch Judges: Gareth Copsey and Steve Leyshon
TMO: Tony Spreadbury
Attendance: 3, 548
Star Blue: Jacskon Wray – everyone put in a terrific shift but some last-ditch tackling gave Wray the edge.