Welsh go top of play-off pool
A Nick Scott hat-trick helped take London Welsh to the top of Pool A with a 40-19 win over Doncaster Knights on Saturday.
It leaves the Exiles needing just a point from their final two pool games to ensure their place in the semi-finals for a third consecutive year.
Scott’s treble took the on loan Bath wingers tally to five tries in six appearances for Welsh, and ended Doncaster’s faint hopes of reaching the last four.
For the second week running, though, Welsh had to dig deep in the second half. The home side led 14-13 at the break with Scott and James Tideswell crossing for the visitors, while Fred Burdon and Tomas Francis went over for Doncaster.
But just like at Old Deer Park seven days earlier, the Exiles struck early in the second half through Scott, and the visitors dictated from there.
Ed Jackson forced his way over against his club to secure the bonus point and two penalties from the boot of Alex Davies took the game away from the home side.
Burdon claimed his second try and a consolation for the Knights late on, but there was still time for Scott to intercept and complete his hat-trick.
With Bristol being held at home by Nottingham, Welsh travelled to Castle Park knowing that would victory would never send them top of Pool A.
Doncaster had given Welsh plenty of warning at Old Deer Park of their attacking capabilities and just minutes in Burdon broke the Welsh line and had the guile to go all way, despite Scott’s last ditch effort. Dougie Flockhart added the extras.
Welsh responded well, though, and proceeded to dominate, but the Exiles would find Doncaster’s defence difficult to break down.
Scott came closest only to be brought down just short, but with Doncaster offside Davies got Welsh on the board.
The Exiles were dominating territory and possession, but with every thwarted Welsh attack one couldn’t help but wonder whether it might be one of those days for the visitors.
The breakthrough would eventually come, however. More Welsh pressure ended in frustration and a knock on, but the Exiles turned the ball over at the scrum and having been held on up short, Tideswell forced his way over and Welsh led.
The home side would not be behind for long and when Michael Keating chipped ahead, only to be blocked by Lee Beach, the home side pushed the ball into the corner.
Doncaster set up their driving maul from the lineout and although Welsh managed to bring it down short, Francis scored. Flockhart converted and the lead changed hands again.
Welsh would hit back late in the half. More pressure in the Knights 22 forced a penalty, which Gordon Ross nudged into the corner.
Attempts by the Welsh pack to batter their way over were repelled but when the Exiles went wide Scott was able to beat his man and get the ball down. Davies couldn’t convert to leave the home side leading 14-13 at half-time.
In the sides’ meeting at Old Deer Park last weekend the Exiles struck within a minute of the restart - this time they would cross just two minutes in.
Latu Makaafi burst out from the restart, but when the ball was lost in midfield Beach pounced on the lose ball. Ross kicked down field and although Doncaster got men back the Exiles turned the ball over.
The Welsh fly half then picked out the leaping Scott with a pinpoint cross field kick. Davies converted. The Exiles were slowly beginning to assert themselves.
Ross’ kick to the corner pinned the Knights in their own half and forced an error from the Doncaster lineout. Overthrown, Mike Denbee was waiting at the tail to gratefully accept the gift and the flanker headed straight for the Doncaster tryline.
Denbee was kept out and Tideswell was also denied with Doncaster defending on their own line, but Welsh were not about to let the opportunity pass them by and Jackson muscled over against his former club. Davies converted.
Bonus point secure and 13-points clear, Welsh needed just one more score to leave Doncaster needing to score three times.
Ross saw his drop goal attempt drift wide of the posts and it might have proved a costly miss when Burdon sidestepped through, only for Hudson Tonga’uiha’s tackle to slam the door shut on the centre, who had men cueing up outside him if he’d managed to get the ball away.
It was a warning for Welsh, who introduced Simon Whalting for his 50th league appearance for the club in place of James Lewis.
A scrum in Doncaster territory yielded a penalty and Davies despatched it between the uprights to effectively seal the points for the Exiles.
The full back stretched the lead further and the Exiles could begin to breathe a little easier, and look forward to Bristol’s visit to Old Deer Park on April 15.
Burdon got the second try his performance deserved, when he forced his way over late on, but Welsh would have the final word as Doncaster threw caution to the wind.
Dan George nearly claimed his second try in a week, as the Knights tried to run it from their own in goal area, with the hooker so nearly intercepting.
But Doncaster didn’t heed their warning and from the scrum a floated pass across the face of their own tryline was picked off by the flying Scott to complete his hat-trick. Davies’ conversion was the last kick of the game.
For Welsh, it was a job well done.
Doncaster Knights: Tries: Burdon (2), Francis; Cons: Flockhart (2).
London Welsh: Tries: Scott (3), Tideswell, Jackson; Cons: Davies (3); Pens: Davies (3).
Doncaster Knights: Michael Keating, Dougie Flockhart, Oli Goss, Fred Burdon, Ben Toft, Gareth Quinn-McDonogh, Michael Heaney, Royce Burke-Flynn, Jack Yeandle, Tomas Francis, Matt Challinor ©, Dom Parsons, Latu Makaafi, David Bradford, Chris Planchant.
Replacements: Zach Farivarz for Makaafi (58mins), Adam Kettle for David Bradford (58mins), Alexander Brown for Parsons (62mins), Daniel Smith for Goss (62mins), Steven Boden for Yeandle (66mins), Andrew Brown for Burke-Flynn (70mins).