London Welsh came from behind to edge out Newport Gwent Dragons 29-24 at Old Deer Park on Thursday afternoon.
The hastily arranged friendly, with both sides without a competitive fixture next weekend, proved an entertaining and physical encounter. The Dragons led by seven going into the final quarter only for Nathan Trevett’s try to draw the home side level and then Ben Pienaar to force his way over with ten minutes remaining to secure victory for the Exiles.
Welsh had earlier started brightly and twice went close in the opening minutes – Rhys Crane denied by a try saving tackle and then Alan Awcock by an unkind bounce from Alex Davies’ chip.
The Exiles, though, would get their reward with an excellent try from first phase. Clean lineout ball was moved quickly into the hands of Will Robinson and his chip was well collected by James Lewis, who released Chris Elder to race clear to score.
In keeping with this tit-for-tat affair, the Dragons responded well and having stretched Welsh down their left flank the ball was spread back across the width of the pitch and Cory Hill sent second row partner Scott Andrews over in the corner.
The Dragons might have edged in front, only to be penalised for holding on when right on the Welsh tryline and the home side made them pay when a scrum penalty was pushed into the corner and Daniel Browne forced his way over from close range. Will Robinson added the extras and then showed his defensive abilities to tidy up just yards from his own line after the Dragons had intercepted on the Welsh 22 and then hacked down field.
Welsh were then indebted to Jimmy Litchfield with the prop was in the right place at the right time to intercept on his own tryline to ensure the Exiles took a 12-5 lead into the break.
The half-time interval brought wholesale changes from both sides.
The Dragons, though, needed just five second half minutes to get back on level terms as Hill went over under the posts following a concerted spell of pressure from the visitors. Tom Prydie converted to tie the game up, but not for long as Welsh were back in front in less than two minutes.
Tristan Roberts fired a penalty into the corner after the Dragons were caught offside, and Matt Corker made sure of the lineout ball with Koree Britton touching down from a well-executed catch and drive.
Given all that had gone before, it came as little surprise when the Dragons hit back within five minutes – a quick tap from a scrum penalty eventually leading to James Benjamin slipping down the left hand touchline to scoer in the corner. Tom Prydie’s conversion put the Dragons in front for the first time.
They extended that lead to seven points just four minutes later when Seb Jewell was forced to concede a five metre lineout and a good spell of pressure from the away side ended with hooker Rhys Buckley touching down from a catch and drive.
The Dragons were beginning to exercise an element of control, while Welsh needed to hit back quickly. The home side did just that three minutes later.
Ben West picked a great line to burst through the Dragons’ defence before Rob Lewis allowed the ball to barely brush his his hands on its way through to Trevett, and the prop had the gas to make it to the tryline. Roberts converted to level the game with 18 minutes still to play.
Trevett’s try had reinvigorated Welsh and they went in search of a match winning score. It came ten minutes from time and via another perfectly executed catch and drive – Pienaar the tryscorer.
Rather than closing up shop, however the Exiles went in search of a sixth try, keeping the Dragons pinned in their own half. A sixth try would not materialise, but the Exiles had done enough to secure a confidence boosting win ahead of their Aviva Premiership clash with Bath Rugby at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday 29th March (KO 2:30pm).