London Welsh head coach Justin Burnell welcomed the tough test served up by Henley Hawks on Saturday, as the Exiles prepare for their Greene King IPA Championship opener against Bedford at the Allianz Park on September 14.
Welsh eventually came through 45-5 but certainly didn’t have things their own way at Dry Leas with the home side opening the scoring through Liam O’Neill’s fourth minute try.
Although Mike Denbee’s converted try six minutes later saw Welsh edge ahead, the Exiles needed tries from Mitch Lees (2) and Tom May in an 11-minute spell leading up to half-time to take control.
Despite second half tries from Joe Ajuwa, Rhys Crane and Ollie Stedman, however, the Exiles were never allowed to coast to victory.
“I would have been more concerned if we’d sailed past a team and being put under no pressure whatsoever,” said Burnell.
“This was absolutely fantastic; it makes us realise that we’re not always going to have it all our own way, and we’ve sometimes just got to work that little bit harder.
“I’m more pleased with certain aspects than compared to last week [v Scarlets], because some things weren’t going our way, whether that was the bounce of the ball, skill or decision-making, and not just by the players. We’ve got to learn from that.
“But we didn’t concede a try after their third minute score, which was pleasing, and went onto score seven tries. We’ve also got to give Henley the respect they deserve and rightly so.”
Saturday’s win ensured Welsh ended their three game pre-season schedule unbeaten, after also beating Chinnor and being held to a draw by the Scarlets, and Burnell is pleased by way preparations have gone.
“We’ve got a competitive bunch of players fighting for the same positions. I don’t think there’s a massive difference within the squad, which is healthy,” he said.
“In the three games it would have been quite easy to try and put out our strongest 15. I didn’t do that; I was quite comfortable that we could change players around and hopefully that will show in the next eight months.”
With just two weeks now before the Exiles begin their campaign for a swift return to the Premiership, Burnell admitted he’s still yet to decide on his starting 15 to face the Blues, but that that was no bad thing.
“I’ll reflect on what I’ve seen, watch the videos again and look at the stats, but I’m quite confident that the 15 that take the field against Bedford will represent London Welsh in the spirit, and certainly the manner, that we’re looking for this season,” he said.
Burnell did confirm, however, that injuries picked up by Nick Scott and Seb Jewell in the first half against Henley were “just knocks”.