- London Welsh take 37-21 away win back to Kassam Stadium
- Four-try Exiles impress in Penzance
Photo: RFU Archive/Brian Tempest
London Welsh significantly dampened Cornish Pirates’ Championship hopes at the Mennaye Field as two second-half tries in quick succession gave them an impressive 16-point advantage at the halfway stage in the RFU Championship Final.
Under the fading light on the Cornish coast, the Exiles produced a vintage display to become only the second team to beat the Pirates in Penzance this season.
It was always going to be tough for Lyn Jones' men, with their last win at the Mennaye Field coming back in 2010 and, as expected, it was the home team that started the game the stronger, putting Welsh under immediate pressure from the kick off.
Two attacking scrums in the first four minutes paid dividends when Pirates’ captain Gavin Cattle fed the ball to acting fly-half Grant Pointer, who stepped through Mike Denbee and Jack Moates and went over directly under the right-hand post, with Rob Cook adding the conversion.
However, it wasn’t long before Welsh were on the scoreboard too as they swiftly won the ball back from their kick off, before driving forward and winning a penalty 30-yards out after Pirates’ centre Andrew Suniula failed to roll away from the tackle.
Welsh full-back Alex Davies stepped up and kicked the points to bring his personal tally to 220 in this campaign, and the score to 7-3.
Despite their early setback, Welsh continued to back their ability to run the ball out from the back and when Pirates second lineout missed its intended target, Ceiron Thomas’ intentional knock-on cost him ten minutes in the sin-bin.
As Pirates continued to struggle with their line out, Welsh had no such problem and after 20 minutes a mixture of composed passing and decision making with quick ball at the breakdown allowed Joe Ajuwa an easy step-in and score on the left wing.
The extra man was telling for Welsh and when Davies added the conversion, the score was 13-7 to the Exiles.
Pirates’ line-out problems continued and it was only a matter of time before it cost them.
Their fifth failed set-piece was intercepted by the scampering flanker Jonathan Mills who fed the ball to scrum-half Rob Lewis, before his lofted pass was converted by the right winger Nick Scott, who crossed thewhitewash. He now has seven tries in his 11 games for London Welsh.
Lyn Jones would have been keen to see Welsh make the most of this dominant period of play, and fly-half Gordon Ross made sure they did just that when he clinically converted a good phase of play with a tidy drop goal from 25-yards out to send them 23-7 up.
Pirates continued to threaten when going forward and with five minutes still to go in the first half, a central penalty-scrum just five yards out nearly resulted in a try, before the referee awarded another penalty, again central, again five yards out.
Pirates could have easily taken the three points, but again chose the scrum and their perseverance paid off, when the referee Greg Garner felt Welsh were illegally denying Pirates the chance to score, rewarding them with a penalty try.
Cook added the conversion, meaning that although Pirates went into the break 23-14 down, the momentum was with them.
Pirates began the second half with the same attacking intent that they ended the first with but struggled to make their chances count. After 48 minutes, Rob Cook’s 41-meter penalty became the first kick of the match to miss the target.
The away team were continuing to break well from the back at every opportunity and the boot of Gordon consistently found touch with precision.
Pirates were desperate for a reward to their possession but some staunch defending from Welsh, noticeably from scrum-half Lewis in his own 22, meant that the home side went unrewarded.
Hudson Tong'uiha from Welsh and Cattle from Pirates both made great last ditch interceptions at either end, before Welsh’s James Tideswell fell victim to injury and was replaced by Viliami Ma’asi.
It was another lineout that led to Welsh’s third try of the game and Pirates’ reshuffled defensive line was found wanting by Tong'uiha as he raced through from 40 yards out to score.
No sooner had they received the ball from the Pirates kick-off, Welsh were back at it again, when Rob Lewis fed Ed Jackson, whose layoff was met by the oncoming centre James Lewis to finish in the corner from 30 yards out.
Davies added his fourth conversion of the game and Welsh now had a 23-point lead to take back to the Kassam Stadium with them.
After 68 minutes a long kick forward by Ross was caught cleanly by replacement Pirates full-back Matt Evans, who was taken out mid-jump by Tong'uiha.
The Samoan international had no complaints as he was immediately shown the yellow card by Garner and when Billy Moss didn’t release at a ruck inside his own half, Ross kicked for the corner.
Pirates kept the ball in the ruck in the bottom left corner, continuing to make ground on the Exiles before spreading the play across the field and back, where flanker Burgess scored in the left corner.
Cook’s kick was much better this time and brought the deficit back to just 16 points.
Again Welsh’s defence proved hard to break down for Pirates who pressured them in the last five minutes of the game, but it will be advantage Welsh going into the second leg at the Kassam Stadium next week.
Cornish Pirates 15. Cook; 14. Pointer, 13. Suniula (Kessell, 64), 12. Hill, 11. Doherty; 10. Thomas (Evans, 69), 9. Cattle (capt); 1. Rimmer (Storer, 61), 2. Ward (Elloway, 70), 3. Paver (Smith, 67), 4. McGlone, 5. Nimmo (Smith, 69), 6. Ewers (Myerscough, 68), 7. Burgess, 8. Marriott.
Tries Pointer, penalty try, Burgess Cons Cook 3.
Sin-bin Thomas 14.
London Welsh 15. A Davies; 14. Scott, 13. Lewis, 12. Tonga'uiha, 11. Ajuwa; 10. Ross, 9. Lewis; 1. Lahiff (Moss, 79), 2. George, 3. Tideswell (Vili, 70), 4. Mills (capt), 5. Corker, 6. Beach, 7. Denbee, 8. Jackson.
Tries Ajuwa, Scott, Tonga'uiha, Lewis Cons Davies 4. Pens Davies 2. Drop-goal Ross.
Sin-bin Tonga'uiha 68
Referee G Garner (RFU) Attendance 3,205.