Any thoughts of prematurely engraving the name of Newcastle Falcons on the Championship silverware were put firmly on hold when Bedford came within seconds on inflicting a first defeat on the run-away league leaders.
It took an 80th minute try by winger Noah Cato, converted by Jimmy Gopperth, to spare the Falcons’ blushes at Kingston Park on Friday night.
“They really gave us a game tonight and we had to dig something out at the end,” head coach Dean Richards told the Newcastle website. “Our tactical kicking on the evening was poor and their kicking was better than ours” he added. “That said, I was happy with our defence and full credit to our boys for preventing a team like Bedford from scoring a try — they have scored a lot of tries this year.”
Bedford can consider themselves more than a little unlucky. Mark Atkinson produced two siege-gun drop goals, adding to three penalties from Myles Dorrian to give the Blues a deserved lead of 7-15 going in to the final quarter.
Gopperth, who had earlier been sent to the bin along with Blues’ James Stephenson following a minor disagreement between the two, added a penalty in the 68th minute before converting debutant Cato’s try to notch a fortuitous victory for the hosts.
Richards described the 17-15 last gasp win as a ‘wake-up call’ for his side, but other promotion hopefuls will be scenting blood.
And first in line to knock the heirs apparent off their aspirational throne will be Nottingham, who did the double over Bristol at the Memorial Ground on Friday night.
Although they couldn’t match the 63-7 drubbing they had inflicted on the westcountrymen in November, tries from captain Brent Wilson and No8 Alex Shaw were enough to see them home.
Bristol, who had won 10 of their last 11 games, led 9-7 at the break with two penalties from Tristan Roberts and a drop goal from Ruki Tipuna.
Bristol fought back with a 72nd minute try from George Watkins, converted by Roberts, after Joe Duffey had broken through to put Shaw in for the Green and Whites’ second try. But a third James Alridge penalty on the stroke of time sealed the visitors’ 19-23 victory.
Leeds Carnegie’s 26-3 win over London Scottish at Hull Ionians on Sunday put the erratic Yorkshiremen into fourth place ahead of Bristol. Tries from Oli Goss, Jacob Rowan, Joe Ford and Chris Walker, three of which were converted by Ford, earned Carnegie a vital bonus-point.
It was only 7-3 at the interval and although the exiles were under the cosh, a 40 metre James Love penalty had at least got them on the scoreboard.
However, this never looked like being six wins out of six for Scottish, as Leeds were much more accurate in the second period and closed out the game with gas to spare.
Losing bonus-points will not be enough to prevent Doncaster from the drop, but this was all they could take from their home fixture against Rotherham on Saturday.
Rotherham’s own season has stalled; after a bright start, they are currently languishing in eighth place. So perhaps it is no surprise that head coach Alex Codling, who only joined the Titans in November, will be looking for a move to a seventh club in as many years at the end of the season.
However, Rotherham inflicted the fifth consecutive league defeat on their south Yorkshire neighbours at Castle Park, despite the hosts leading 12-6 early in the second half.
Although the Titans upped the pace in the third quarter with tries from Mike Doneghan and Eamonn Sheridan, the game was still in the balance until referee Mr Matthew Carley tired of the Knights’ repeated infringements and awarded a penalty try. Garry Law added his third conversion to two first half penalties and the visitors looked to be home and dry.
However, lock Matt Challinor drove over against his old club and Dougie Flockhart added the conversion to make the final score 19-25 and keep the Knights’ survival hopes alive.
But these hopes were dealt a major blow with the news that Jersey had competed the double over Plymouth at Brickfields.
Albion, who were quick out of the blocks in the early part of the season, and had reached the dizzying heights of fourth place, have now lost nine games in a row.
The Channel Islanders, who achieved their first away win with two tries from skipper Nicky Griffiths and a third from No8 Guy Thompson, look as if they may have done enough to cement their place in the Championship for another season.
And finally, in a contest between two sides going nowhere this season, the Cornish Pirates edged out Moseley 17-14 at a frozen Mennaye Field on Sunday.
All this action leaves the Championship table looking like this: