London Welsh prop James Tideswell is anticipating a huge physical battle at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 2:30pm), when the Exiles put their 100 per cent record on the line against second placed Bristol.
The versatile front row forward, who turned 30 today (November 6) came on to steady the Welsh scrum against Leeds Carnegie at Headingley, and help the Exiles turn a 12-point deficit into a 31-24 win.
Victory saw Welsh maintain their place at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship table, but that lofty position will face its sternest challenge so far on Sunday, as Andy Robinson brings his Bristol side to Oxford.
“It’s going to be a real physical battle up front – that’s where it will be won. But if we can take it to Bristol, as we have to every side so far, I’m sure we can come through,” said Tideswell. “Whoever makes the most errors will probably lose.”
Welsh made precious few of those in the last 30 minutes at Headingley, as they brought all of their experience to bear to prise victory away from Leeds.
It was the second time this season Justin Burnell’s side had looked to be slipping to defeat, only to turn it around - the other being away at Rotherham Titans. On both occasions the strength of the Welsh bench proved crucial.
“If you look at our squad there’s not much to choose between the players. The strength in depth we’ve got should hold us in good stead,” said Tideswell.
“If one lad can’t play, somebody else can fill that role and it doesn’t make that much of a difference.
“We brought the bench on [v Leeds] and that seemed to raise our game back up to where we were at the start. Fresh legs made the difference [in the scrum]. On our ball we were 100 per cent - it was just on their ball that we perhaps switched off.
“Alec [Hepburn] and I are a bit lighter than the other two [Peter Edwards and Nathan Trevett] and we just went with Andy [Titterrell]. Whatever he wanted to do, we aimed in that area. They were probably the best pack we’ve faced so far, but obviously we’ve got another tough challenge this weekend.
“It’s a tough challenge each week and Justin’s got a hard job. When boys are playing well they’re going to keep their spots and then if you don’t have a good game you might go back to the bottom of the pecking order.”
Coming down from the Premiership, Tideswell is acutely aware that opposition sides are eager to knock Welsh off their perch and be the first to take their scalp. Indeed, Tideswell was part of the Exiles side that stunned relegated Leeds at Headingley on the opening weekend of the 2011/12 season, before going on to win the Championship title.
“We targeted that game as we wanted to set down a marker. Teams do generally look at the side that’s come down and they want to beat them,” he said.
“We’re the only team still unbeaten in the top three tiers of English rugby, and they want to measure themselves against us.”
In his third season at the club, Tideswell has racked up more than 50 appearances for Welsh since joining from London Irish in 2011, although it would have been considerably more but for injuries.
Part of Welsh’s Championship winning and Premiership campaigns, Tideswell believes the Exiles have firmly put the disappointment of relegation behind them, and they’re only looking forwards now.
“We lost our way a bit but we still had a good team spirit and if you look at the team this year you’ve got 30-odd guys with the one goal, everyone’s pushing towards that and players are playing for each other,” he said.
“You see it on the pitch, at training, at meetings, when we have food together - it’s a close-knit environment. It’s a good bunch of boys. When you’re winning you’re always looking forward to the next game.” They don’t come any bigger than Bristol.
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