THERE cannot have been many in the crowd who entertained realistic expectations of a home success, given the comprehensive drubbing handed to Stirling when they visited Bedford last year, writes Martin Laing at Bridgehaugh.
Indeed, there was even a pragmatic acceptance by the Stirling management as a number of first-team regulars were rested. But Stirling played a full part in this intriguing British and Irish Cup encounter, restricting the visitors to just a five-point lead at the break, and contributing a level of physicality that seemed at times to surprise their vaunted opponents.
Bedford flew out of the traps, early pressure seeing flanker Tom Armes breach the home defence after just five minutes, James Pritchard converting. Stirling soon hit back when Robbie Boswell pounced on a loose lineout ball for a touchdown to which Brian Archibald added the extras.
Hooker Chris Locke put the Blues ahead again with a score in 21 minutes, but Stirling rallied excellently after that setback to frustrate the visitors.
However, the professionals looked likely to prevail and tries in quick succession for James Stephenson and Mark Atkinson gave Bedford breathing space, Pritchard converting.
Byron McGuigan restored County hopes, Archibald goalling his 55th minute try and, with their tails well and truly up, the same pair added a further seven points to reduce the Blues lead to three with 12 minutes remaining.
County launched everything at Bedford but the visitors held on. The moral victory, however, was Stirling’s.