MATCH: London Welsh 29 v 20 Leeds Carnegie (Agg 60-58)
Greene King IPA Championship
DATE: Sunday 18th May, 2014
VENUE: Kassam Stadium
London Welsh produced a comeback of Lazarus proportions at the Kassam Stadium to set up a showdown with Bristol to decide who’ll take Worcester’s place in the Aviva Premiership next season.
If the sides’ recent meeting at the Memorial Stadium is anything to go by, it promises to be an epic tussle over two legs, but it will have to go some to match the sheer drama served up at the Kassam on Sunday.
Down by six points on the day, but more significantly 13 points on aggregate, with just 12 minutes to go, the obituaries were being penned on Welsh’s season.
They were somewhat premature. Seb Stegmann crossed for a converted try and suddenly the momentum was with the Exiles. Ollie Stedman then returned to haunt his former club by forcing his way over, but Gordon Ross couldn’t add the extras, and Leeds still led by a solitary but crucial point.
That was until Ross stepped up two minutes from time to land what would prove the match-winning penalty.
It was only the second time Welsh had led on aggregate in this intense two-legged semi-final - indeed twice at Headingley seven days earlier the Exiles had trailed by 13 points. But their timing would prove impeccable; they hit the front at the Kassam when it mattered most.
But there was still more drama to be played out before the Exiles could celebrate victory and a place in the final, as Leeds engineered a last-gasp drop goal opportunity for Alex Lozowski. The replacement fly half, however, couldn’t take the pass and Ross took great relief in booting the ball into the stand from the resulting scrum.
Trailing by seven points from the outset, Welsh had openingly targeted scoring first. Instead the first chance of points went the way of the visitors, after Ross’s kick-off had gone out on the full and the Leeds pack had won a penalty at the resulting scrum on half-way
Hughes, however, was short and wide. The Leeds fly half couldn’t miss at Headingley. At the Kassam, he landed just one from four attempts before being replaced at half-time.
It was a let off and Ross nudged Welsh into the lead and Hughes missed for a second time. It was just that type of nervy afternoon, and errors were par for the course from both sides. It was impossible to forget the stakes being played for.
So dangerous from broken play, Leeds’ desire to play from deep, however, would lead to Carl Kirwan’s opening try for Welsh. Choosing to take a quick tap penalty in their own 22, Leeds were turned over and Ross sent the flanker over.
Welsh led on aggregate for the first time. It was an advantage they held for less than two minutes as Stevie McColl burst clear to touch down. Hughes converted and Welsh’s good work was undone.
But Leeds would again be the architects of their own downfall as an attempted short drop out resulted in the away side being penalised on the floor and Ross went some way to cancelling out McColl’s try.
The visitors, though, still led by three on aggregate and they took that slender advantage into the half-time interval with them, but not before Hughes missed for a third time after Leeds had turned defence into attack from turnover ball. David Sisi put in a powerful carry with Welsh penalised on the floor as they scrambled back, but Hughes couldn’t capitalise.
Referee Greg Garner brought a tense opening 40 minutes to a close, but it would only get tenser in the second half.
The home side started brightly but twice Ross spurned chances to bring them level on aggregate before finally doing so at the third attempt.
Leeds hit back immediately, though, as Welsh infringed at a lineout and Lozowski restored the away sides’ three-point aggregate cushion. That became six when Kirwan saw yellow and the game suddenly seemed to be slipping away from the Exiles.
That feeling was heightened when Ross saw his penalty attempt clip the outside of the right hand upright and less than 60 seconds later Charlie Beech went over at the other end. Lozowski’s conversion left the home side six points adrift on the day, and a colossal 13 points on aggregate.
It was now all about character for the Exiles. With nothing to lose, the 14-men of Welsh hurled themselves time and again at Leeds and they so nearly got their reward as Peter Browne went for the corner, only to be bundled into touch. With advantage being played, however, the chance hadn’t gone and with Kirwan back in the fray, Seb Stegmann found a way over in the opposite corner.
Ross belied his earlier misses by landing a superb touchline conversion and Welsh, and the Kassam, were alive. With the wind now in their sails the Exiles were in again just three minutes later - Stedman breaking a couple of tackles to touch down.
This time, however, Ross couldn’t add the all important extras and Leeds – by one point on aggregate – still had one foot in the final.
Welsh were not to be denied, however, and having forced their way to within range, Leeds were penalised on the floor and Ross stepped up to complete an extraordinary turnaround.
There was still more drama to be played out, though, but Lozowski couldn’t provide the sting in the tail to deny the home side. The dream of an immediate return to the Premiership lives on.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Kirwan, Stegmann, Stedman; Cons: Ross; Pens: Ross (4).
Leeds Carnegie scorers:
Tries: McColl, Beech; Cons: Hughes, Lozowski; Pens: Lozowski (2).
London Welsh: Alan Awcock, Seb Stegmann, Tom May (C), Seb Jewell, Nick Scott, Gordon Ross, Tyson Keats, Nathan Trevett, Nathan Morris, Peter Edwards, Will Spencer, Matt Corker, Peter Browne, Carl Kirwan, Ollie Stedman.
Replacements: Chris Cook for Keats (38mins), Tom Bristow for Trevett (46mins), John Quill for Spencer (53mins), James Tideswell for Edwards (58mins), Nathan Vella for Morris (61mins), James Lewis for Awcock (64mins), Ben West for Browne (67mins).
Yellow cards: Kirwan (57mins).
Leeds Carnegie: Stevie McColl, Jonah Holmes, Rob Vickerman, Fred Burdon, David Doherty, Glyn Hughes, James Doherty, Charlie Beech, Phil Nilsen, Damien Tussac, Richard Beck, Mike Myerscough, David Sisi, Jacob Rowan (C), Ryan Burrows.
Replacements: Alex Lozowski for Hughes (h-t), Christian Georgiou for Vickerman (46mins), Calum Green for Beck (48mins), Joe Graham for Nilsen (61mins), Chris Walker (72mins), Lee Imiolek for Beech (74mins), Ben Hooper for Tussac (74mins).
Referee: Greg Garner
Referee Assistants: Steve Lee & Jonathan Healey