Peter Lydon snatched victory from London Welsh’s grasp for a second time this season, as London Scottish took the spoils in the 70th Battle of the Exiles.
Having landed a last-gasp drop goal to settle matters when the sides met at the Athletic Ground, Lydon struck in the 79th minute at Old Deer Park to break Welsh hearts with an excellent touchline conversion.
Excellent because Lydon had already seen two shots at goal, with a gale force wind at his back, balloon high, wide and not very handsome. But the full back found the target when it mattered most after Tinus du Plessis had gone over in the corner to level the match.
It was the only score of the second half after the home side had led 17-12 at the break – Martyn Thomas and Alex Woolford touching down for Welsh, with Mark Bright scoring twice for the visitors.
Turning around into the teeth of a very strong wind, it looked like it might not be enough of a lead, but some outstanding Welsh defence – including surviving ten minutes when Chris Elder and Rob Lewis were sinbinned – saw the home side hold out until two minutes from time, before du Plessis and Lydon broke Welsh hearts.
Needing to build a lead, Welsh made the perfect start when turnover ball saw Seb Jewell kick long and when the retreating Dan Newton fumbled, Thomas gathered and slid over in the corner in just the third minute. Barkley made light of the wind to add a superb conversion from the right hand touchline, just as Lydon would do from the exact same spot 76 minutes later.
The home side close came to extending its lead when Newton found only Josh Drauniniu with his clearance, and Lewis and Koree Britton took Welsh to within touching distance of the Scottish line, only for the visitors to turn the ball over and clear.
But Barkley added a penalty and with Welsh on top in the scrum, the home side seemed well placed to build on that lead. It might have got even better for Rowland Phillips’ team when some Scottish back-chat then saw a Welsh penalty advanced to within range, however, Barkley was unable to punish the visitors for their ill-discipline.
Scottish’s way back into the game was cruel on Welsh. Great work by Seb Jewell at the breakdown in his own 22 gave Josh Drauniniu the chance to clear downfield, only for the wind to carry the ball dead. It gave Scottish an attacking platform from which the visitors then pushed a penalty into the corner and skipper Bright was driven over.
They repeated it four minutes later. Max Maidment got up a head of steam and when Welsh were penalised Lydon again found the corner and Bright forced his way over for his second. This time Lydon judged the wind to perfection to bisect to uprights, and Scottish suddenly led by two. The home side’s hopes of establishing a match-winning first half lead had been dealt a devastating double blow in the space of four minutes.
Welsh responded well however. A penalty allowed Barkley to find the corner, and although the initial catch and drive was thwarted, the Welsh forwards remained patient and Woolford forced his way over for his debut try for the club on his first start.
Barkley added the extras and the home side took a 17-12 lead into the break. Some way short of the advantage they would have liked, given the strength of the wind, however.
Lydon might have reduced that margin within three minutes of the restart, but the wind was just as difficult to master from either end.
Time and time again, Welsh’s set-piece would thwart the visitors. Woolford and Josh McNally (twice) rose to pilfer Scottish lineout ball, while the home side’s scrum continued to dominate.
It was then Scottish’s turn to see a hoof down field bounce and roll dead, but despite then laying siege to the away side’s tryline, Welsh could find no way through. It was the home side’s sole visit to the Scottish 22 in the second half, as it became a game of Scottish’s attack versus Welsh’s defence, as the home side defended for their lives.
Welsh were then dealt a seemingly fatal double blow as Elder and Lewis both saw yellow at the same time – the former for a deliberate knock on and the Welsh scrum half for a high tackle.
Leading by just five points and playing into a near gale wind, the home side were faced with having to negotiate the next ten minutes with just 13 men. A Scottish score seemed inevitable. However, none arrived, due to a combination of some astute game management, some good fortune and some sheer guts.
Accidental offside, a missed Lydon penalty, great scavenging work by Britton – the minutes continued to tick by and still no Scottish breakthrough.
Will Carrick-Smith was held up over the Welsh tryline and Guy Armitage drafted, into the back row, drove Bright backwards and forced a knock on when the Scottish Number 8 picked up and burst for the line from the resulting scrum.
Welsh had done enough and Elder and Brendon Snyman (replacing Lewis) entered the fray like the calvary arriving just in the nick of time.
When Lydon pushed a penalty into the corner, only for the Welsh pack to rouse themselves one more time to produce a counter drive good enough to win the put in at the scrum, it seemed as if the home side had done enough.
But there would be one final twist, just as there had at the Athletic Ground. Finally, Welsh resistance was broken as replacement scrum half George Horne went blind and for once the home side were caught short of numbers. Scottish worked the overlap and Du Plessis slid over in the corner to give Lydon the chance to win it, and the full back – not for the first time this season – delivered.
A thrilling climax to the 70th Battle of the Exiles, but one which was undeniably cruel on London Welsh.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Thomas, Woolford; Cons: Barkley (2); Pens: Barkley.
London Scottish scorers:
Tries: Bright (2), du Plessis; Cons: Lydon (2).
Referee: Dean Richards
Touch Judges: Philip Watters & Michael Patz