IF Yorkshire Carnegie had failed to win this game, you imagine head coach James Lowes would have found all new levels of incandescence.
He can be famously hot-headed at the best of times and is never afraid to be blunt in his appraisals.
However, after referee Adam Leal gave a try to Bedford Blues’ Alex Penny with the very last play of a high-scoring contest in the 86th minute, Lowes must have been ready to flip.
Everyone inside Headingley seemed to see the replacement front-row had fumbled when barrelling over the line against the desperate hosts, who were down to 13 men after forwards Jack Whetton and Richard Mayhew had been sin-binned within 60 seconds of each other during a frenetic period of injury-time.
Indeed, the assistant referee signalled such but, after consultations, Leal awarded the try regardless, meaning Will Hooley, who was with Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs last term, had a conversion attempt from just inside the right touchline to snatch his side a draw.
The replacement fly-half had already nailed two sublime conversions from wide out on the other side and, in fact, his colleagues actually started celebrating, such was their confidence, as his latest attempt headed towards its target again.
Those celebrations, however, were premature; the ball struck the far upright and agonisingly fell just inches the wrong side of the crossbar so Carnegie hung on for a deserved 38-36 victory.
Admittedly, Lowes’ men, at times, did make life hard difficult for themselves along the way.
They had seemingly taken control when forging 38-24 ahead in the 71st minute, hooker Mike Mayhew celebrating an unlikely hat-trick after another highly-effective driving maul, the line-out weapon that created four of Carnegie’s six tries.
However, they struggled with their game-management in the closing stages, gifting position for Chris Czekaj, the Bedford full-back, to glide over with alarming ease from a rudimentary backline shift in the 78th minute, Hooley’s kick setting up a tense finish.
Carnegie should have still closed it out from there but, when in possession on half-way deep into injury-time, they managed to somehow concede a penalty.
To make matters worse, Whetton illegally prevented Bedford restarting play quickly, so he received a yellow card, Richard Mayhew following soon after as his side desperately tried to protect their own line.
Minus two key forwards from their pack, it seemed inevitable the visitors – only beaten by leaders Bristol and high-flying Ealing Trailfinders previously this term – would score from the resulting line-out but Carnegie did bravely initially repel the first attack before Penny wheeled away for that contentious score.
Lowes’ side remain in sixth place but they are now level with both Bedford, directly above them, and Doncaster Knights in fourth. This win was all the more impressive given they lost three players to injury in the first half, openside Josh Bainbridge, lock Mike Myerscough and centre Tom Casson while fellow centre Pete Lucock was already manfully filling in again as a fly-half.
They were 19-17 ahead at the break despite Bedford largely having the better of the play in the first period.
That said, it was a wonderful try that gave Lowes’ side that interval lead. Bedford were on the attack near Carnegie’s 22 when Lucock – offering more physicality at 10 if not as many of the position’s usual subtleties – ripped possession clear in a tackle before quickly finding Whetton.
The giant lock is not renowned for his line-breaking yet made a coruscating surge down the middle, swatting off defenders.
Whetton’s dad Gary and uncle Alan were both legendary All Blacks; the final pass that sent Chris Elder over was one that Sonny Bill Williams would have been proud of.
Stevie McColl – who retained the No15 jersey with Elder switching to wing – converted having also improved the first of Mayhew’s two first-half tries.
Bedford flexed their muscles at regular intervals, former Carnegie and Doncaster No8 Jarad Williams responding to Mayhew’s opener after the hosts had kicked away an overlap opportunity.
Then, following Mayhew’s second in the 23rd minute, a simple effort from ex-Bath centre Rich Lane badly exposed Carnegie’s blindside. Harry Sheppard converted both and added a penalty for a 17-12 lead but, after Elder’s fine score, Ollie Stedman benefitted from another line-out drive early in the second period to secure Carnegie’s bonus point.
McColl missed a simple penalty attempt but atoned with a crucial try-saving tackle on Elliot Clements-Hill, a feat he would repeat later.
Bedford winger Dean Adamson, the Championship’s leading try-scorer, crossed for his ninth of the season in the 56th minute, Hooley levelling at 24-24.
Carnegie replied with another line-out drive that ended with a penalty try in the 62nd minute.
But, as became clear, that was just the start of the drama.
Yorkshire Carnegie: McColl; Watkins, Forsyth, Casson (Brown 40), Elder; Lucock, Homer (Green 65); Thomas (Thraves 79), M Mayhew (Newborn 79), Millar-Mills (Beech 70), Whetton, Myerscough (West 39), Beck, Bainbridge (R Mayhew 26), Stedman.
Bedford Blues: Czekaj; Clements-Hill, Lane, Le Bourgeois, Adamson; Sheppard (Hooley 56), Burns (Dickson 56); McCarthy (Tupai 56), Edgson, Cooper (Penny 56), Onojaife, Carrick-Smith, Rae, Adams, Williams.
Referee: Adam Leal (RFU).