A last-gasp Tom Kessell try brought the Butts Park crowd to its feet and gave Coventry Rugby a first maximum haul of the Championship campaign.
As the second half wore on and the score remained tied at 19 apiece the tension ratcheted up notch after notch. But with Bedford reduced to 13 men and Coventry’s scrum increasingly dominant the try became more and more likely, and the win was deserved.
In the Championship Cup match three weeks previously Coventry had failed to capitalise on a couple of early opportunities. The opposition may have been the same but there was no repeat of those rushes of blood to the head as Max Trimble finished off a great try in the third minute.
Nile Dacres won a lineout, Ryan Burrows crashed up the middle, and when the ball came wide from Will Maisey to James Stokes the full back drew the final man to put Trimble over.
It was the start Butts Park Arena wanted, but almost immediately there was a setback. Phil Boulton yellow carded at a lineout, and when Bedford went to the corner the space opened up for Ryan Hutler to go over in the corner.
Bedford came knocking on the door soon after with another penalty kicked deep into Cov’s 22. But Dacres came off with the ball, and a couple of phases later Jack Ram went straight through the middle of a ruck to sprint upfield.
Pete White was in support, but the pass was over-elaborate and while White had the presence of mind to kick ahead any chance of a long-range score was gone.
With Boulton still off the field Bedford went ahead with a peach of a score. Rich Lane came into the line at pace and put Matt Worley through with the offload. The centre’s afterburners were too hot for the home defence to handle and the visitors were in front.
Back came Cov, James Stokes sparking an attack with an arcing run. Dacres crashed through the defence, and while White was in support so was the defence and the ball hit the deck for a Bedford scrum.
There was another promising attack shortly afterwards, with intricate passing and running to hold the Bedford defenders, creating space on the right wing for Rob Knox to power into the 22. Coventry still had the scrum, but in the next passage of play Bedford were awarded a penalty at a breakdown to clear their lines.
Trimble’s second try in the 24th minute tied things up, and like the first the winger finished the chance well after being put into the clear, James Voss the man this time to show clear thinking by drawing the final man and sending the pass.
Just after the half-hour Bedford were back in front in somewhat contentious fashion. Worley was the man with the try, his second of the day and in his last action, but the home faithful were not shy in letting the officials know they thought that at least two of the passes in the build-up were forward.
Bedford had a dangerous attack ruled out by a more legitimate offload from Jordan Onojaife the next time they got the ball, and then a try chalked off for obstruction which ended the half.
Having had that escape at the end of the first half Cov then had the perfect start to the second. Maisey must have coated his shirt in Teflon during the break, such was the way he went through the Blues’ defence, and with Jennings on target from in front of the sticks the scores were tied.
It had been the ideal way to begin the half, but as the hour approached Bedford took control of possession, putting the Cov defence under immense pressure in the process. For their part the hosts were not helping themselves, especially at lineout time, but there was nothing wrong with their rearguard effort, which stepped up repeatedly to keep the scores level.
With overhead conditions worsening as well – the sunshine surrounding Spon End not being reflected in the heavy showers soaking this area of the city – it looked increasingly likely that the contest was going to be decided more by who would make the fewest mistakes.
Lewis Robling missed a straightforward penalty, and a strong Cov maul came to nothing when the ball was fumbled. The hosts got a penalty from the subsequent scrum, but Maisey followed Robling’s example to keep the nerves jangling.
Maisey missed a more challenging chance with three minutes left as Bedford challenged for the ball from an offside position.
But Maisey kept his cool and with a floated pass to Knox he sparked the move which would lead to the winning score. Knox powered deep into Bedford’s 22, Heath Stevens was in support, and when Dan Temm came over the top close to his line the replacement back rower saw yellow.
Cov opted for the scrum, then again, and again, with Karl Garside also sin binned as referee Neil Chivers’ patience ran out. There was a free attack which saw Trimble denied his hattrick by a desperate tackle, but play came back for another set piece and this time there was no mistake as Kessell made most of the space to dart over.
15 James Stokes; 14 Rob Knox, 13 Heath Stevens, 12 Rory Jennings, 11 Max Trimble; 10 Will Maisey, 9 Pete White; 1 James Gibbons, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Nile Dacres, 5 James Voss, 6 Adam Peters, 7 Jack Ram, 8 Ryan Burrows (capt)
16 Scott Tolmie, 17 Toby Trinder, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Alex Woolford, 20 Senitiki Nayalo, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Tony Fenner, 23 Luke Wallace
Try – Max Trimble (2), Will Maisey, Tom Kessell. Cons – Rory Jennings (2), Will Maisey
Yellow card – Phil Boulton
15 Rich Lane; 14 Pat Tapley, 13 Matt Worley, 12 Fraser Strachan, 11 Ryan Hutler; 10 Lewis Robling, 9 Alex Day; 1 Sean McCarthy (capt), 2 Robbie Smith, 3 Henry Paul, 4 Jordan Onojaife, 5 Will Carrick Smith, 6 Oli Curry, 7 Joe Atkinson, 8 Huw Worthington
16 Andrew Boye, 17 Joe Wrafter, 18 Karl Garside, 19 Dan Temm, 20 Devante Onojaife, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas, 23 Ed Coulson
Tries – Ryan Hutler, Matt Worley (2). Cons – Lewis Robling (2)
Yellow cards – Dan Temm, Karl Garside
REFEREE Neil Chivers
Coventry are next at home against Doncaster Knights on Saturday, November 9th. Book early and online to save cash and beat the match day queues at coventryrugby.co.uk/tickets