Another seven tries leaked and 50 points conceded by London Welsh in the space of six days, but there was a four-try bonus point to soften the blow and enough encouraging signs to suggest that it’s far too early to be dismissing the Club’s hopes of avoiding a swift return to the Championship.
In the context of another exciting and high scoring weekend of Aviva Premiership action, the moment could well have gone unnoticed when Lachlan McCaffrey accepted a Bath lineout at the tail in the 60th minute and powered over for Welsh’s all important fourth try. The significance of which only time will tell.
Just as against Exeter, however, the negatives were plain to see, more missed tackles and a still miss-firing set-piece. For all of Bath’s finishing ability, and there was plenty, there was no disguising that the Exiles contributed greatly to their own demise at The Rec on Saturday.
Needing an error free, miserly start, Welsh found themselves behind after less than two minutes to a Chris Cook try. The omens looked ominous.
But Welsh had other ideas and Pete Browne went over for Club’s first Premiership try of the season. Semesa Rokoduguni and Jonathan Joseph replied as Bath looked to reassert control, but Seb Stegmann’s late touchdown kept the visitors just about in touch at the break, trailing 27-14.
The second half would see Welsh trade blow for blow with Bath. Lerdy Houston’s try was cancelled out by Seb Jewell – arguably the try of the game – only for Rokoduguni to intercept McCafrey’s pass and race clear.
But McCaffrey redeemed himself by claiming Welsh’s crucial fourth try to ensure the Exiled would not leave The Rec empty-handed. Joseph and Carl Fearns rounded things off for the home side.
After the events of Exeter, just six days earlier, Welsh made the worst possible start when Fearns bulldozed through a couple of tackles before releasing the more nimble of foot Kyle Eastmond.
Only a last-ditch flying tackle by Nick Scott prevented the centre from going over, but Bath had numbers and Cook – a member of Welsh’s Championship winning side - forced his way over to mark his first start with a try. George Ford converted.
But back came Welsh; Stegmann was denied in the right hand corner and when the Exiles worked their way back across the pitch and Jewell fed McCaffrey, who juggled but kept hold of the ball, to in turn supply Browne to crash over, much to the delight of his teammates and the Welsh replacements bench.
It was a well worked try, but Welsh would struggle to get themselves back in to a similar position to see whether they could repeat it. The main reason for which was their set-piece.
Ford nudged the home side back in front with a penalty in front of the own posts and the fly halves’ alert thinking, when he took a quick tap penalty, nearly caught the Exiles out only for Rokoduguni to be denied in the corner and Fearns then split the ball forward to Welsh’s relief.
With their set-piece giving them no platform to alleviate the slowly building pressure a second Bath try seemed only a matter of time.
Sure enough it arrived; Ford slipping a tackle and Rokoduguni went over in the corner. Ford added the extras but fortune then smiled on the England fly half when his clearance was charged down by Browne. Bath recovered with Cook finding touch.
Bath’s third try was evidence of Welsh self-inflicting tendencies. Houston gratefully accepted an overthrown Welsh lineout and this time the Exiles would not escape unscathed. Joseph collected his own grubber kick to touchdown, albeit aided by Stegmann’s unfortunate slip. Ford converted and Bath had clear daylight.
Undoubtedly the most pleasing aspect that Justin Burnell and his team will glean from Saturday will be Welsh’s attacking threat – particularly in light of being niled by Exeter. At The Rec the Exiles showed they are a side which can score tries.
Setting up camp deep inside the Bath 22, Welsh made sure they came away with points. Something they didn’t do against Exeter. Barkley pushed a succession of penalties in to the corner and although the home side’s defence around the fringes held firm, when the Exiles went wide Stegmann managed to evade the tackles and squeeze over. Barkley converted.
Ford added a late penalty with the last kick of the half and Bath took a 27-14 lead in to the break.
Welsh needed to score first one sensed if they were to continue to keep alive hopes of a win, but instead it was the home side that flew out of the blocks. The dangerous Rokoduguni splintered the Welsh defence, only for great scrambling work by the visitors on the floor to earn a penalty. It should have been a chance to clear the danger.
Welsh’s lineout woes, however, were showing no signs of abating and having been pilfered by Bath, Houston eventually forced his way over from close range. Ford converted.
Cook might have added his second after the ball squirted out of the side of a Welsh scrum and the Bath number nine’s kick and chase forced Scott back and Jewell to find touch under pressure. That gave Bath field position and they seemed poised to capitalise, only to cough the ball up and for Welsh to counter with devastating effect.
Started by Tom May and finished by Jewell, with supporting cast roles for the weaving Stegmann and McCaffrey, it was a try which will warm the hearts of all London Welsh supporters, as the Exiles went from one tryline to the other. Welsh can score tries in this league; they now just need to close up the gates at the other end.
The final scoring pass for Jewell to touchdown under the posts came from McCaffrey – the beginning of an interesting passage for the Australian. With the game becoming increasingly more open, Piri Weepu led a Welsh breakout from his own 22 only for Rokoduguni to intercept McCaffrey’s pass for an easy run.
The Australian would redeem himself just four minutes later, however. After Tom May had been forced in to touch just metres out, McCaffrey was then perfectly placed at the tail of the lineout to accept the gift – Bath’s turn to overthrow - and the flanker wasn’t going to be stopped from that distance. Bonus point secured.
Twenty minutes still remained and another Welsh try now might have had The Rec faithful twitching, and the Exiles produced arguably their most controlled period of the game as they kept the ball, went through the phases and marched up field. Unfortunately it brought no points and Bath took the opportunity to finally put the game to bed – Rokoduguni making the initial break and Ford sending Joseph over for his second. Ford converted.
There was still time for Fearns to add try number seven as the home side finished strongly - Fearns crashing over under the posts from Ford’s quick tap penalty.
It may have been only one point for London Welsh, but who knows how significant it could yet prove to be. Welsh will hope for more when they head to Sale Sharks next Saturday.
Bath Rugby scorers:
Tries: Rokoduguni (2), Joseph (2), Cook, Houston, Fearns; Cons: Ford (6), Pens: Ford (2).
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Browne, Stegmann, Jewell, McCaffrey; Cons: Barkley (3).
Referee: Matthew Carley
Touch Judges: Ross Campbell & Roger Baileff