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By James Cunliffe at Goldington Road
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Pre-season friendly: Bedford Blues 12 Saracens 24
Saracens got their pre-season campaign off to a winning start but they didn’t have it all their own way at Championship side Bedford Blues.
The Premiership side eased to a 17-0 half time lead but the hosts fought back after the interval and scored two magnificent tries that will give Mark McCall’s men something to work on.
It was the third straight year that the two clubs have opened their summer friendly accounts at Goldington Road, born out of a dual registration relationship that has benefitted both.
Many of the players involved in that agreement for the coming season took to the field for the kick-off, while there were men on either side that have played in both the blue of Bedford and the black and red of Sarries.
Leading all-time Premiership points scorer Hodgson set the Vicarage Road-based outfit on their way with the first 10 points, including one score, while he converted a penalty try to top up his side’s lead.
Will Fraser crossed Bedford’s line after the interval but then came a truly stunning second half effort from home wing Josh Bassett. It was backed up by a fine Ali Price touch down to make things less comfortable for the 2010/11 English champions.
They were on the back foot for most of the opening ten minutes. Pegged back in their own 22 they were let off on one occasion when Blues had numbers out wide but fumbled the chance with captain James Pritchard poised to strike.
It was from virtually the Premiership side’s first foray into the hosts’ territory that the opening points arrived – their talisman charging down an Ian Vass clearance kick and dotting down between the posts. The half back converted with ease and then added to his tally with moments later with another kick at goal.
Saracens’ lead was extended further on 25 minutes when, somehow, Bedford managed to concede a penalty try from their own put-in at a five-metre scrum.
The first time the visitors’ goal-line came under threat was when new Blues wing James Stephenson chased his own chip, showing a clean pair of heels to all defenders bar Chris Wyles who covered to get hands on the ball first and help keep a clean sheet in the first half that ended 17-0.
There were the obligatory raft of half time changes but when the next score came for Sarries it was courtesy of two dual registration players that could find themselves in blue at some point during the forthcoming campaign.
Prop forward Mako Vunipola made an outstanding break, showing the lightness of foot that number ones aren’t supposed to posses, before the ball was spun out wide and Fraser – who has already played for Blues – applied the finishing touch. It was their last piece of action before being replaced, while Nils Mordt converted.
But Blues struck back and finally got on the scoreboard on the hour – and it was done in sublime style. Last season’s Championship top try scorer Bassett showed audacity and searing pace to run in from 45 yards, slicing through a clutch of bewildered black and red shirts before sliding over next to the upright. Pritchard converted.
The Premiership side’s lead was further reduced when Price supplied the finish from 20-yards out.
James Short, who was a team-mate of the second Bedford scorer in last month’s JP Morgan 7s first leg, almost came up with an instant riposte as he bore down on a delicate chip through the 22 but Stephenson was alert enough to palm the ball out of his opposite number’s path.
Saracens will now travel to Italy to face RaboDirect Pro12 outfit Benetton Treviso in a week’s time – their second of four pre-season preparation contests.
Blues: James Pritchard (c), Mark Kohler (Josh Bassett, 40), Henry Staff, Mark Atkinson (Jon Vandermolen,61), James Stephenson, Ian Vass (Jake Sharp, 40), Darryl Veenendaal (Ali Price 31), Darren Fearn, Chris Locke (Scott Spurling, 40), Ben Cooper (Phil Boulton, 40), Ben Gulliver, Alex Rae, Gregor Gillanders, Darren Fox (Sacha Harding, 40), Don Barrell (Tom Armes, 40)
Unused replacements: Dean Seal, Neil Cochrane, Mike Howard, Heath Stevens
Saracens: Chris Wyles (Ben Ransom 54), Ollie Marchon (Adam Powell, 40), Joel Tomkins, Duncan Taylor, James Short, Charlie Hodgson (Nils Mordt, 4), Richard Wiggelsworth (Ben Spencer, 54), Mako Vunipola (Jared Saunders 54), Jamie George (John Smit, 40), Petrus, Du Plessis (Lorenzo Romano, 40), Eoin Sherriff, Alistair Hargreaves (Billy Johnson, 66), Jackson Wray, Will Fraser (Nick Fenton-Wells, 54), Ernst Joubert (c) (Jonno Ross, 40),
Unused replacements: Arran James-Nicholls,