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Frustration as Cov slip again; RUGBY UNION: Attacking game at the Butts Park Arena proffers just one bonus point.

Byline: By John Wilkinson

Coventry 24

Bedford 31

YET again Coventry had just a losing bonus point to show for all their attacking endeavour as they slipped to their sixth single-score defeat in an increasingly frustrating season.

Scoring three tries in a sparkling first 29 minutes to lead 24-7, they appeared well on the way to upsetting Bedford's challenge for second place in National Division One.

But the rest of the game went by without a single home addition, and although Cov were responsible for nearly all the running rugby on show, it was the mauling strength of the Bedford pack which won the day.

Line-outs accounted for all five Bedford tries - the first a penalty award - and with a sprinkling of snow giving a seasonal look to the Butts Park Arena pitch, referee Martin Fox assumed the role of pantomime villain with a series of decisions against Cov which gave the visitors all the encouragement they needed.

The more the game progressed, the more Cov seemed to fall foul of the whistle, and Bedford were only too happy to kick for territory and drive on from the line-out which invariably brought a score or the platform of another penalty.

It strangled the life out of the game, to the vocal disapproval of a large holiday crowd, but it proved too effective for Cov to overcome

"We've got to find a way to combat that driving maul," said head coach Mike Umaga. "It's pretty hard to take - we played some really good rugby and took them by surprise, but we let them in at a crucial time just before half-time for what I felt was the decisive score of the game when we just needed to show a little more concentration.

"We knew what they have to offer, and the only way to combat that is to play rugby. Bedford have taken over from Plymouth and Exeter with their driving forwards game. But I totally commend the boys for their commitment and they worked solidly for 80 minutes. Collectively as a squad the first half was probably the best this season, they are starting to take things off the training ground which is good to see."

On the referee's performance, Umaga added: "It's probably not the best game I've seen from him.

"As much as you can you give them what they want, but I don't think he managed the ruck area well. He gave decisions against us at crucial times which is very frustrating."

Cov capitalised on a bright start with a well-taken try on eight minutes by Dave Harvey, who looped outside James Moore in a neat exchange of passes to cross on the left after Mike Buckingham had pounced on a Bedford throw to the back of a line-out.

Moore converted, but six minutes later there was glimpse of things to come when Bedford twice drove at the home line from penalty line-outs before they were awarded a penalty try, improved by Mike Harris, as Cov defended too desperately for the liking of Mr Fox.

It took less than a minute for Cov to regain the lead, Kurt Johnson latching on to Harvey's restart and sending Henno Venter away to the line with Moore again converting before adding a 25-metre penalty for a tackle off the ball.

Two minutes later Bedford were rocking as Craig McGrath took a quick penalty in midfield, centres Dave Tiueti and Apoua Stewart linked to find a gap in the cover, and Harvey's clever kick was chased down by Stewart for his maiden try in Cov colours - Moore's conversion securing a 24-7 advantage.

Harris, the division's leading points scorer, hit the right upright with a meat-and-drink penalty attempt, but three minutes before the interval Cov were caught out on the blind side of a line-out maul and flanker Nic Strauss burst clear to set up a try for open side Adam Kettle.

Harris mis-hit his conversion attempt, but it gave Bedford the lift they needed and an onslaught at the start of the second half saw Cov again get on the wrong side of the referee and hooker Chris Johnson finished off another penalty line-out drive.

The conversion was missed, but the visitors had their tails up and Gareth Gravell was yellow carded as Cov attempted to stem the forward tide before Junior Paramore crashed over from close range with Harris adding the extras to tie the scores.

The deciding score came on 72 minutes, with Cov again down to 14 men after a yellow card for Richard Protherough, and from a predictable source as Johnson finished off yet another catch-and-drive, Harris converting.

Coventry: tries Harvey (8), Venter (16), Stewart (29); conversions Moore 3; penalty Moore (27). Bedford: tries Johnson 2 (45, 72), penalty try (14), Kettle (37), Paramore (52); conversions Harris 3 (14, 52, 72);

Coventry: Harvey; K Johnson, Stewart, Tiueti (Geraghty 73), Moore; Higgins, McGrath; Pulu (Brits 54), Protherough (Pulu 75), Bucknall, Campton, Gulliver (Gravell h/t), Venter, Buckingham (T Johnson 80), Rheeders.

Bedford: Harris; Kendall, Luke (Hinkins 79), Allen, Staten; Hepher, Malone; Tonga'uiha, Johnson, Brooks, Phillips, Brenton, Strauss, Kettle, Paramore (Brady 69).

Referee: M Fox (RFU).


D30283_3. D30283_2. SLIP SLIDING AWAY... Kurt Johnson struggles in the icy conditions at the Butts Park Arena yesterday while Ben Gulliver stands tall in a maul Picture: James Balfour
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Dec 28, 2005
Previous Article:Blaze blast past Stingrays in cup; ICE HOCKEY: Coventry goal-feast ahead of big league trip to Belfast.
Next Article:Wilkinson on the verge; RUGBY UNION.

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