Welsh edge Exiles clash
9:49am Monday 20th February 2012 in London Welsh
Two tries from Ben Russell ensured London Welsh took the bragging rights in the ‘battle of the Exiles’, and kept Lyn Jones’ side in the hunt for a top three finish.
Russell crossed in either half to keep up his good record at the Athletic Ground, having scored two tries earlier in the season on the same ground to help Welsh to victory over their near neighbours in the British & Irish Cup.
Ed Jackson touched down in the third minute to silence the home crowd, but when Alex Karonias replied all was set fare for a full-blooded local derby.
Russell’s first afternoon helped the visitors take a 17-8 lead into the break, but with Welsh having had first use of a strong wind it remained to be seen whether it would be enough.
Within four minutes of the restart it looked like it wouldn’t, when Gerard Mullen – a recent convert from Old Deer Park to the Athletic Ground - touched down in the corner.
Welsh responded well and two tries in the space of five minutes looked to have taken the game beyond the reach of the home side.
But it had taken a last gasp Gordon Ross drop goal for Welsh to escape with the points when Scottish had made the short journey to Old Deer Park in the league in November, and another tense finish was ensured when Mark Bright crossed.
Welsh, though, held out for the win.
Admittedly, both sides’ play-off destiny had already been decided, but you’d have hardly known it at times at the Athletic Ground.
Keen to make the wind tell to their advantage, Welsh were given the perfect start when Jackson dived over under the posts for his tenth of the season.
Welsh picked their way through home defence nicely to give the number eight a run to the line, after Ross and James Lewis had made the initial half breaks.
Lee Beach then broke through before linking with Russell for Jackson to cross. Ross converted.
Scottish’s reply came within four minutes and it established a pattern for the game – a Welsh score followed by a Scottish riposte.
When Mullen’s kick bounced awkwardly for Rob Lewis, Karonias picked up and there was no stopping the big Scottish second row from a few metres out.
Grove couldn’t convert, however, and Welsh still had their noses in front, but not for long as the Scottish fly half made amends with a penalty to give the home the lead for the only time in the game.
It was a position they would enjoy for a mere three minutes as Ross stepped up to bisect the uprights after the home pack were penalised in the scrum.
Another pattern of the afternoon was the home side’s difficulty in containing Welsh when they moved the ball through the hands.
From a scrum close to the left hand touchline on half way, Rob Lewis picked up and spied a gap before linking well with his brother James.
Tonga’uiha and Beach kept the move going up to the Scottish 22 and only a superb tackle by Ryan Westren on Jackson stopped Welsh from adding a second try with men out wide.
Try number two would not be long in coming, however, although the danger looked to have passed after Ross’ kick had found touch in the corner, only for the Scottish lineout to hold firm close to their own tryline.
But in trying to run the ball out, Beach stripped the ball in the tackle and found Rob Lewis, and the scrum half had Russell in support to cross. Ross added the extras and Welsh led 17-8.
The home side would finish the half the stronger and although they were unable to close the gap, Welsh had no further chance to extend it further.
Leaving all to wonder whether a nine-point lead would be enough in the conditions.
It certainly didn’t look sufficient when Grove spotted some space behind the Welsh defence and his kick was perfect for the fast arriving Mullen to collect and touch down in the corner.
Grove capped it off with an excellent conversion from the touchline.
The home side were looking lively and none more so than Mullen, and Scottish should have been ahead when Welsh were penalised at a ruck in front of their own posts, only for Grove to pull his kick to the left of posts.
It would prove costly. Ross put Tonga’uiha through a gap and the Tongan centre slipped two tackles before combining with Guy Armitage and touching down.
Ross couldn’t convert, but Welsh soon had breathing space when Russell sprinted away to score in the corner.
Welsh put the ball through the hands and good play from Nick Scott, Tonga’uiha, James Lewis and Jackson pulled the home defence one way and then the other, allowing Seb Jewell to find a hole.
The full back had James Lewis and Scott in support and with the Scottish defence breached, Russell burst clear and to score in the corner.
Ross added an excellent conversion from the touchline and although 17 minutes still remained Welsh seemed as if they’d drawn the home side’s sting.
But Scottish had other ideas and a tense finish was assured when Adam Kleeberger stripped the ball in the tackle to set up number eight Bright to stretch and touch down.
Grove’s conversion left just seven points between the sides and Scottish went in search of the try they needed, with Mullen threatening to race clear down the Welsh right.
Late penalties allowed Grove to build the pressure in the Welsh 22, but it came to nothing when great work on the floor by Michael Hills won Welsh a penalty and Ross booted it off the park to ensure the win for the visitors.