London Welsh needed a strong second half performance to overcome Doncaster Knights, as the visitors threatened to derail the Exiles’ Championship title hopes at Old Deer Park.
First half tries from Andy Boyde, Oli Goss and Dougie Flockhart left the home side stunned at the break, but the boot of Welsh full back Alex Davies kept the deficit to just seven points, when it might have been more.
Lyn Jones’ half time words, however, clearly had the desired affect, although the early second half sinbinning of Matt Challinor certainly helped turn the initiative in their home side’s favour.
Dan George forced his way over almost immediately and Alex Davies’ fifth penalty edged the Exiles in front.
The crucial score would come 12 minutes from time when Nick Scott intercepted Flockhart’s pass and raced clear.
Tails up, Hudson Tonga’uiha dived over to make the game safe, although Flockhart crossed from the last of play of the game to give Doncaster their first point of the play-offs.
Welsh may have gone into the game on the back of a creditable away draw at Bristol, but it was Doncaster, showing few ill effects of conceding 95 points in their opening two games, who bossed the early exchanges and indeed the first half.
Their undoing would be two-fold and largely self inflicted, with the first being an inability to turn their bright start into points.
When captain Chris Hallam combined with Michael Keating to open up the Welsh defence, Lee Beach was in the right place at the right time to intercept and the danger was averted.
And so it went on for Doncaster, and almost inevitably in such scenarios it was the home side that took the lead.
Davies stroking over a penalty after the full back collected Gareth Quinn-McDonogh’s kick before chipping ahead.
Goss cleared up, but Welsh won the scrum and drove on through Tonga’uiha, with the away side offering up a simple kick in front of their own posts as they went over the top.
The Knights might have replied immediately, however, when Ben Toft meandered down the left wing, but he choice to kick ahead when he might have looked for support inside, and again the chance was gone.
Davies punished the visitors further when he added his second penalty with Doncaster caught offside after Beach picked up the loose ball and released Scott to make yards down the right.
Welsh had made the most of their visits into enemy territory, while Doncaster had not, but that all changed when Boyde picked the ball and showing a good turn of pace sliced clean through the Welsh defence to score.
Flockhart converted and the visitors finally had something to show for their good start.
Not for the last time, though, during the course of this game, the Knights would curse their bad luck, as Boyde’s try came at a high price, with the flanker picking up an injury in the act of scoring.
The boot of Davies would keep his side in touch and he immediately fired over his third penalty, but Doncaster would take advantage of two Welsh players lying prone to snatch back the lead through Goss.
The centre making the most of the space to ghost over and Flockhart added the conversion.
Further bad luck for Doncaster preceded Davies’ fourth penalty, with Hallam forced off, and the Welsh full back reduced the gap to just two points.
The home side would have settled for that margin at the break, but Flockhart kicked ahead in the dying seconds of the half and won the race to touch down.
It gave the half-time score a fairer reflection, but still the deficit was only seven points.
Despite having been outplayed, a converted try was all the separated the sides.
If a failure to turn pressure into points was Doncaster’s first failings, then the second was ill discipline.
Welsh came out with renewed purpose, and no doubt a rollicking from Jones still ringing in their ears, but they were given a helping hand when Challinor saw yellow for holding back Ben Stevenson as the scrum looked to take a quick tap penalty.
Ross stroked the penalty into the corner and the forwards drove up to the line, with replacement hooker George touching down. Davies’ missed conversion would be the only time he would err in the match.
George’s try would be the only score in Challinor’s absence, but Welsh remained on top and they were given a further fillet when Planchant, making his way off the field with injury, couldn’t resist leaning a shoulder into Ajuwa as Welsh threatened down their left.
The price would be Doncaster’s second yellow card and Davies landed the resulting penalty to edge the home side back in front.
With a one-man advantage Welsh now then went in search of the try that would move them closer to victory and a semi-final place.
It arrived in the dying moments of Challinor’s sinbinning, and after Flockhart’s penalty attempt at the other end had drifted wide.
Flockhart’s pass was read by Scott and the winger raced clear for his second try in Welsh colours. Davies converted and the relief around Old Deer Park was tangible.
Tails up, Jack Moates cut through Doncaster, just as he had in their mid-week meeting, only this time he offloaded for Tonga’uiha to dive over as the tackle came in on the scrum half.
Quinn-McDonagh’s pop pass sent Flockhart over for his second try to give Doncaster their first points of the second half and of the pool, but it was little more than a consolation.
London Welsh: Tries: George, Scott, Tonga’uiha; Cons: Davies (2); Pens: Davies (5).
Doncaster Knights: Tries: Flockhart (2), Boyde, Goss; Cons: Flockhart (2).
London Welsh: Alex Davies, Nick Scott, James Lewis, Hudson Tonga’uiha, Joe Ajuwa, Gordon Ross ©, Ben Stevenson, Tom French, Saul Nelson, James Tideswell, Adam Brown, Matt Corker, Lee Beach, Mike Denbee, Ed Jackson.
Replacements: Dan George for Nelson (h-t), Jack Moates for Stevenson (53mins), Greg Bateman for Tideswell (68mins), Simon Whatling for Tonga’uiha (73mins), Gary Johnson for Brown (73mins), Shawn Pittman for French (73mins), Ben Russell for Jackson (73mins).
Doncaster Knights: Michael Keating, Dougie Flockhart, Oli Goss, Fred Burdon, Ben Toft, Gareth Quinn-McDonogh, Chris Hallam ©, Royce Burke-Flynn, Steve Boden, Thomas Francis, Matt Challinor, Dominic Parsons, Andrew Boyde, Zack Farivarz, Chris Planchant.
Replacements: Adam Kettle for Boyde (20mins), Michael Heaney for Hallam (29mins), Jack Yeandle for Boden (53mins), Alexander Brown for Francis (53mins), Stuart Corsar for Burke-Flynn (67mins), David Bradford for Planchant (68mins), Daniel Smith for Farivarz (71mins).
Yellow cards: Matthew Challinor (41mins), Chris Planchant (58mins).
Half-time: 12-19 Referee: Matthew Carley; Assistant referees: Greg MacDonald & Richard Parker-Sedgemore Attendance: 1,048.