- London Welsh head into home leg with seven-point defecit
- "We pride ourselves on our defence" – Ross
Photo: Tania Richards Photography
Having finished the regular season as the meanest defence in the league in terms of points and tries conceded, London Welsh were uncharacteristically generous in the first leg of their semi-final against Leeds Carnegie at Headingley.
They conspired to give away seven penalties and shipped 38 points, scoring 31 in reply, which leaves them needing to overturn a seven-point deficit in the rematch at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford on Sunday (kick-off 12.45pm) if their bid to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking is to remain on track. The match will be screened live on Sky Sports 3 HD.
Despite the deficit, the three well-worked tries scored by Welsh – replacement Alan Awcock bagging two of them - and the kicking of Alex Davies and Gordon Ross means it is still very much “all to play for” in the words of head coach Justin Burnell.
And, all things considered, evergreen fly-half Gordon Ross believes Welsh, the 2012 Championship winners, can be slightly relieved to still be within a score of their opponents especially after they trailed 16-3 in the early stages of the game in Leeds.
“We pride ourselves on our defence but we didn’t work as a team in that area and conceded far too many points,” he said. “It is not often we concede 20 points never mind 38 so that’s a big work on for us.
“We missed a hell of a lot of one-on-one tackles and our kick chase, which is normally quite good and one of our strengths, was not up to scratch.
“Our discipline let us down at times too. We gave them a lot of opportunities to kick points and fair play to their 10 he kicked outstandingly well and had a fantastic game overall.
“Obviously we would have preferred to be in the lead but at one stage we were staring at a 20-30 point defeat and showed good character to come back.”
Photo: Tania Richards Photography
Ross and fellow kicker Alex Davies – an injury doubt for the second leg after picking up a knock at Headingley – have contributed over a third of Welsh’s points between them. When Ross has been absent Davies has stepped in and vice-versa.
Named London Welsh’s Player of the Month for September, Ross started October in equally impressive form, two penalties and five conversions in the 41-6 home win over Cornish Pirates stretching his run of successful kicks at goal to a remarkable 33. Ironically, an early miss at Leeds, his old stomping ground, ended any hopes of a new world record being set.
A fair few of those penalties have come on the back of the hard work of the forwards who, in the vast majority of games, have dominated at scrum time. In the tight five, prop Tom Bristow and lock Mitch Lees are two that have stood out. Welsh, led by the outstanding Carl Kirwan, are also ferocious at the breakdown where they are past masters at slowing ball down or forcing a turnover.
With ex-Premiership star Tom May patrolling midfield, their backline isn’t too shabby either, arch-poacher Nick Scott and Seb Stegmann, formerly of Quins, providing a real threat when given a chance in the wide channels.
Welsh’s only defeat in 10 outings at the Kassam Stadium this season came just before Christmas when they lost 13-5 to London Scottish, in a match broadcast live by Sky Sports.
Men to watch
The best scavenging openside in the league, Kirwan's work-rate over the ball at ruck time is phenomenal. Would be top of most opponents’ lists of players they’d rather not face.
Now in the autumn of his career, 36-year-old Ross is still playing to a very high standard. His ability to put Welsh in the right areas with his kicking from hand and his accuracy in front of goal make him a key player for Welsh.