London Welsh made it seven consecutive league wins with a bonus point victory over Jersey at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
An afternoon which saw the Exiles keep up their fine tryscoring form of late, by running in six tries, was also notable for the return to action of Hudson Toga’uiha and Tyson Keats - the former after 16 months out with injury and the latter a year on since his last appearance for the club.
However, with Bristol matching Welsh’s bonus point win, with victory at Moseley, Saturday’s result at the Kassam therefore had greater implications at the bottom of the table, with Ealing Trailfinders’ bonus point win over Nottingham moving them to within just three points of Jersey.
Nonetheless it was a victory that maintained Welsh’s recent momentum ahead of next Friday’s mouth-watering and intriguing clash with Greene King IPA Championship leaders Bristol at the Memorial Ground.
Just as at St Peter, Welsh didn’t have it all their own way, however, against Jersey. Drew Locke’s well taken fifth minute converted try cancelled out Alex Davies’ penalty, but tries from Joe Ajuwa and Tyson Keats saw Welsh wrestle back a measure of control by half-time to lead 17-7.
John Quill’s early second half touchdown put the home side firmly in the driving seat and when Mark McCrea saw yellow for a deliberate knock on the Exiles took full advantage – Matt Corker and Quill crossing in the centre’s absence. Welsh’s sixth try came from Toby L’Estrange.
Making his first appearance since December 2012, Tonga’uiha didn’t have to wait too long to make an impact – the centre crashing up the middle from a lineout on the Jersey 22. When the visitors were penalised on the floor, Davies kicked Welsh into an early lead.
But Jersey responded well. Having laid siege to the Welsh tryline with no avail, they instead turned to subtly – Aaron Penberthy’s perfected placed and weighted grubber kick collected by Locke to touchdown. Penberthy converted.
It was a well worked try and one that momentarily seemed to stun the Exiles. When they did get down into Jersey territory, errors would frustrate them. That was until Ajuwa struck.
Coming into the line off his left wing, Ajuwa blasted through the first line of Jersey defence on the Welsh ten-metre line. Once in behind, there was no catching him, and he nonchalantly rounded Penberthy and Jersey full back Jack Burroughs before touching down for his sixth Championship try of the campaign in as many appearances.
Davies – making his 50th league appearance for Welsh – converted.
Every time Ajuwa got his hands on the ball thereafter he was a threat, with Jersey struggling to contain him. One promising break, after Jersey lineout ball had landed in the hands of Quill at the tail, only ended when Ajuwa’s offload mistakenly found the grateful Joel Dudley.
Quill would be instrumental in Welsh’s second try. L’Estrange made the initial break from full back, with the flanker then handing off several would-be Jersey tacklers before Keats announced his return to action with his first-ever try for London Welsh. Davies converted.
Jersey did have the chance to narrow the gap before the break, but after a scrum penalty in front of the Welsh posts, elected to put a kickable penalty into the corner, only for good spoiling work by Welsh on the floor to force a knock on.
Welsh’s third try would arrive just four minutes into the second half, but it might have come even sooner. After Locke had sliced through the Welsh defence, the centre’s wild offload was picked up by Tonga’uiha, only for his pass to release Ajuwa to find only touch instead.
Welsh wouldn’t have to wait too long however. Davies pushed a penalty into the corner and the home pack drove their way over. Quill the scorer. Davies added the extras and Welsh had daylight.
It would be the catalyst for a crazy few minutes which would end with the game firmly beyond Jersey’s reach. Tom May’s break from the restart led to McCrea being yellow carded for a deliberate knock on, and with the centre barely off the pitch, L’Estrange’s quick tap penalty saw Corker crash over the Jersey line. Davies converted.
Moments later Welsh were in again – Quill crossing in a carbon copy of his first try from a well-executed catch and drive. Davies did the rest.
McCrea returned with Jersey having shipped 14 points in his absence.
But Welsh hadn’t finished there. Hungry for more tries, they nudged a penalty in front of the Jersey posts into the corner. The resulting catch and drive would snake its way back across the pitch before Welsh were eventually held up over the tryline by the Jersey posts.
Relentless pressure, however, would bring a sixth try as L’Estrange found a gap and had the angle to cross in the corner, before converting his own try.
When Locke then saw yellow, the home side might have expected more tries to follow, but despite camping themselves in the Jersey 22, and forcing a succession of scrums, some spirited Jersey defence ensured the Exiles would have to settle for just the six tries.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Quill (2), Ajuwa, Keats, Corker, L’Estrange; Cons: Davies (5); Pens: Davies.
Tries: Locke; Cons: Penberthy.
Referee: Greg MacDonald
Referee Assistants: Thomas Davis & Clare Daniels