Cents show resolve as fightback puts them into semi-final
St Albans Centurions delved deep into their battling reserves to clinch a thrilling 36-34 win at Bedford Tigers and move into the semi-final of the East Cup.
The game at Great Ouse Way had started terribly for the visiting Cents who found themselves 12-0 down with a little more than 10 minutes on the clock.
But they dug deep to take a lead into half-time and then close the game out under a flurry of late pressure from the hosts.
Careless errors by St Albans early in the tackle count and repeated turnovers were chiefly responsible for the Tigers' early advantage.
And it was only once they had been cut out that their irresistible forward play began to shine.
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On 24 minutes a typically powerful run by Kristian Naylor saw him cross the line, swiftly followed by a superb, long-distance solo effort from Dale Gardner. Alex Powdrell added the conversion.
The Tigers bounced back with an elegant try of their own but a close-range effort from player-coach Simba Mupamhanga and a bullocking charge by the unstoppable Josh Lawrence meant Centurions entered the break 20-16 ahead.
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Bedford started the second half as impressively as the first and levelled the scores on 42 minutes but, stung into action, the St Albans forwards reacted in style with Naylor smashing over for his second of the day.
The end-to-end contest continued with two more tries for the Tigers giving them a 30-24 lead.
But again the forwards stepped up to the plate and after shrugging off would-be tacklers, Lawrence stretched out an arm for his second try which Powdrell converted to bring the sides level.
And with just over 10 minutes to go, Naylor left Bedford defenders trailing in his wake to grab his hat-trick.
The conversion gave the Centurions a six-point lead which the Tigers almost cancelled out with two minutes to go.
Fortunately the conversion was missed and determined defence kept them out for the remaining time.
Coach Mupamhanga said: "The result was the most important thing and the lads showed incredible character to get back into the game and keep them out at the end.
"But with a little more composure that game should have been put to bed a lot earlier.
"The great thing is though, we're improving every week."