London Welsh were decidedly second-best as they endured a miserable and fruitless trip to Lady Bay Sports Ground on Friday night.
The Exiles were 14-0 down inside 11 minutes as Heath Stevens and Richard Andrew crossed to leave Welsh with a mountain to climb that they never looked like conquering, in the face of a well organised and determined Green and Whites side.
Joe Carlisle and Dan Langford traded penalties and the home side took a 17-3 lead into the break. However, the Exiles continued to all too regularly incur the displeasure of referee Luke Pearce and one flurry of penalties led to Paul Grant being driven over.
Chris Elder touched down Carlisle’s crossfield kick with 16 minutes remaining, but it was already a lost cause, although Welsh would deny their hosts a bonus point score.
Coming into the game on the back of defeats the previous weekend, both sides were looking for a response, but it was Nottingham who produced it.
The early salvos saw Carlisle and James Lewis combine nicely in attack, before Welsh thwarted one concerted Nottingham attack under their own posts. The deadlock was soon broken, however.
Ben Woods burst through the Welsh midfield and had his centre partner, Stevens, in support to race clear and touch down. Mugford added the extras and the fly half added a second conversion four minutes later. A quick tap penalty by Murray McConnell and the scrum half released the pacey Sam Coghlan Murray to weave his way down the left. Just as it seemed the winger would go all the way, the Welsh cover converged, but the home side had numbers galore loitering on the right and Woods gave Andrews the final scoring pass.
Welsh were looking up at a mountain. They looked for a response and Rob Lewis made one sniping dart, and the scrum half had Kieran Murphy in support, but Welsh couldn’t turn it into points.
James Lewis, Guy Armitage and Murphy all made breaks as Welsh moved fluently down field, before Carlisle's perfectly weighted grubber turned Coghlan Murray, and under pressure from Martyn Thomas, the winger was forced to touch down in-goal and concede a five-metre scrum.
This was Welsh’s chance but having forced one scrum penalty, the home pack got the next decision and Mugford was able to clear the danger after the Exiles had been sat on the Nottingham line for what seemed like an eternity. It was an opportunity the Exiles could ill afford to let slip through their fingers.
Welsh would not go into the break with a zero to their name, however. Carlisle slotted over after a succession of penalties saw the Exiles move down field with little effort, and the Green and Whites offered a shooting chance for the Welsh fly half by infringing at a maul.
But Mugford immediately wiped out Carlisle’s strike to restore Nottingham’s 14-point cushion, and while the home side made their way back to the dressing room, Welsh remained huddled on the pitch for several moments before joining them.
The Exiles faced an unenviable task as they re-emerged from beneath the Green Stand, but Dan Leo’s thumping hit, as he followed up a high ball, suggested a team up for the challenge. Unfortunately the penalty, as so many did on the night, went the way of the home side.
It was tentative stuff from both sides at the start of the second half, as they sparred like two fighters seizing each other up. With every passing minute the importance of the next score increased and unfortunately it went the home side’s way, although it owed much to fortune as James Lewis collected the ball in an offside position from an Exiles box kick which brushed the hand of the Welsh jumper, with the centre just ahead of the ball. Mugford stepped up and made no mistake.
Not for the first time on the night, Welsh rucked the Green and Whites off their own ball, only for Martyn Thomas to be forced into touch, and the home side effectively made the game safe when Number 8 Paul Grant was driven over from a catch and drive.
The mountain now looked unassailable, but they manufactured a reply when the Welsh pack won a scrum penalty and then with advantage being played, as they mauled towards the Nottingham line, Carlisle despatched a cross field kick for Elder to battle for, and the Welsh winger collected at the second attempt to cross. Carlisle converted.
If that try had stirred faint Welsh hopes of a comeback, they were not to be realised. Indeed, Welsh were immediately back defending in their own 22, and although they frustrated the away side, Mugford added three more points with the boot from another scrum penalty.
Having turned down that opportunity to press for a fourth try, the Green and Whites had one final opportunity to secure the bonus point, as Mugford’s penalty took play to within five metres of the Welsh line, only for the ball to split.
That brought the final whistle and a welcome end to a thoroughly miserable night for London Welsh.
Tries: Stevens, Andrews, Grant; Cons: Mugford (3); Pens: Mugford (3).
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Elder; Cons: Carlisle; Pens: Carlisle.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Touch Judges: Ashley Rowden & Llyr ApGeraint-Roberts