Last gasp heartache for Welsh
A Matthew Jones penalty with the last kick of the game denied London Welsh the chance to go top of Championship Play-off Pool A at the Memorial Ground on Sunday.
Gordon Ross looked to have won it for the Exiles when his 69th minute drop goal went over off the right hand up right, but Jones, who scored 120 points in 15 appearances for Welsh in 2007/08, struck deep into injury time to salvage a draw for the home side.
For Welsh, it was more Memorial heartbreak, after Jack Tovey’s last minute try had snatched victory from the Exiles’ grasp earlier in the season on the same ground.
A draw was enough to keep Bristol top of Pool A, but it sets up nicely the return game between the two sides at Old Deer Park on April 15 in front of the live Sky Sports cameras.
Between them, Bristol and London Welsh chalked up 13 tries last weekend in the opening round of the play-offs, but they couldn’t manage one between them on Sunday.
Welsh’s other points came from three Alex Davies penalties, but the full back would spurn the chance to give the visitors a first minute lead when he pushed his penalty wide of the uprights.
The Bristol forwards brushed off up their driving maul, as they trundled 20 metres up field and into Welsh territory, but the Exiles would blunt the home side thereafter in this area.
While neither side could not manage a try, both were not without their chances and the first of those fell to Welsh.
Davies threaded a grubber kick through for Nick Scott to chase, but rather than bounce on, the ball sat up, forcing Scott to check his run ever so slightly, but it was enough and the wing was bundled into touch in the corner just inches short of the line.
Welsh had made a lively start, but they hadn’t taken their chances and they were made to pay when Tristan Roberts’ cross field high ball eventually led to a kickable penalty, which the fly half landed to open the scoring.
Roberts extended the lead after Welsh were penalised at a scrum but Davies soon after halved the deficit when the fly half failed to make touch with a penalty and the Exiles ran it back.
This time Davies found the target, but it might have been more after Welsh created an overlap down their right, but Hudson Tonga’uiha took the tackle with Scott on his right shoulder.
It was stop-start stuff on a sodden pitch, but Jon Goodridge produced a moment of class when he carried the ball out of his own 22 and collected his own chip.
The game looked to have turned in the home side’s favour when Mike Denbee was yellow carded for an offence at a ruck.
Roberts couldn’t make Welsh pay on the scoreboard, however, as his attempt at the posts kick sailed wide, but Denbee’s sinbinning breathed fresh impetus into Bristol and Tovey momentarily threatened down the right.
Instead it was Welsh that struck in the closing minutes of the first half, although there would be more than an element of good fortune about it.
Although under no pressure Goodridge and Tovey managed to knock on Ross’ punt down field and from the resulting scrum Welsh’s seven-man pack got the drive on to win a penalty. Davies made sure his forwards’ effort didn’t go to waste.
However, it would take a superb try saving tackle from Joe Ajuwa in injury-time to ensure the Exiles went in all square at the break, with the winger just managing to force the dangerous Fautau into touch in the corner.
Welsh would gift the initiative back to Bristol from the restart as they conceded a five-metre scrum from which Jones edged the home side back in front. It was self inflicted, but the Exiles would probably have settled for the outcome.
Denbee returned to the fray with Bristol having been unable to take advantage of his absence.
A good spell of pressure and possession ended with Otto forced into touch inside the Welsh 22, but some solid defence, coupled with great savaging work on the floor by Ed Jackson, helped the away side see out the danger.
Having weathered the brief storm, Welsh were back on level terms once again when Goodridge’s kick out on the full gifted the Exiles good field position, and Bristol infringed at a ruck.
With the tension beginning to build among the home following, the next score was looking more and more like it could be the match winner.
Crucially Welsh had field position and when Iain Grieve picked up from a scrum in his own 22 a thumping tackle by Tonga’uiha forced a knock on.
The scrum had been a titanic battle throughout and Jackson picked up with Welsh under pressure. Although on the back foot, Ben Stevenson, making his first appearance of the season, darted through a gap to take Welsh to within ten metres.
The forwards took it on, edging closer, before Ross dropped back into the pocket and despatched his goal attempt between the uprights, via the right hand post, to give Welsh the lead for the first time in the match.
It may not have yielded the tries of the two sides’ 35-33 clash at the Memorial Stadium back in September, but once again we were in for a nervy finish, and as it would happen more late drama.
Welsh looked like they might have seen the game out when their pack won a crucial scrum in their own 22, after Bristol had opted to take a quick tap penalty in front of the Welsh posts, only to be held out just short.
But what would a Bristol-London Welsh game this season be without a little late drama, and Jones provided the story against his former club when he stepped up deep into added time to grab a share of the spoils with the last kick of the game.
Bristol: Pens: Roberts (2), Jones (2).
London Welsh: Pens: Davies (3); Drop goals: Ross.