Justin Burnell was a contented man as London Welsh closed out their pre-season schedule with a 40-12 win over Pontypridd at Sardis Road.
Next stop the Kassam Stadium, Oxford, on Sunday 7th September and a meeting with Exeter Chiefs for a London Welsh team that go in to the new Aviva Premiership season quietly confident that they can surprise one or two.
It’s a view founded on a busy summer of recruitment and a three pre-season friendlies which have seen the Exiles show enough to suggest that they can back up Burnell’s belief that they can aim higher than just surviving, and indeed compete.
A comfortable win over Henley Hawks was followed by 50 encouraging minutes against Wasps, at which point the Exiles led by seven before going down 38-24. On Saturday the Exiles stamped their authority on Ponty from the moment Seb Stegmann crossed in the third minute.
“That’s [Exeter] what we’ve all been building for and we’re all excited about it,” said Burnell. “It’s progressed from Henley which was the most important thing. It was about getting us to move forward and we’ve achieved that. We’ve now got two weeks.
“When we got in the right areas [v Pontypridd], apart from ten minutes in the second half when we didn’t execute a lineout and a scrum, we finished them off.
“When we played at our temp and speed, Ponty couldn’t live with us. We scored some great tries in that first half and the temp was good. Ponty didn’t turn up at their own ground to roll over.
“Unfortunately then when the game got slowed down we struggled to maintain our momentum. But six tries is the pleasing thing.
“Disappointed with the two easy tries for them, but it was the third game and it was an improvement from Wasps.”
Pontypridd was also a final chance for players to stake a claim for a starting place against Exeter – players both old and new. Burnell now has some tough decisions to make.
“I thought some of the players really put their hand up and made a mark for Exeter. Lachlan McCaffrey at seven did himself proud and Peter Browne,” he added.
“We know what Seb’s [Stegmann] got and I think he’s getting better. Last year I thought we had the two outstanding wingers – Nick Scott was outstanding. They’ve got a massive statement to make in the Premiership.
“It’s also great to have Piri on board and it was good to see him doing his duty-boy stuff. We had the most expensive waterboy…..he’s got his new nickname, Bobby Boucher.”
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