London Welsh made a welcome return to winning ways at Old Deer Park with a five-point maximum against Nottingham Rugby to get their play-off hopes back on track, and end the Green and Whites five match unbeaten run.
The Exiles produced a dominant first half display and were good value for their 21-0 lead at the break. Joe Carlisle started the ball rolling with a sublime finish after just three minutes with Nathan Morris then claiming his third try in as many games from a driving maul.
Carlisle converted both and then added a third conversion after Nick Reynolds produced a finish to rival that of Carlisle’s earlier effort.
Welsh had first use of a strong wind in the opening 40 and the Green and Whites looked on the comeback trail when Tom Holmes went over just three minutes after the restart.
But the Exiles continued to show a willingness to throw the ball around and Chris Elder’s try secured the bonus-point and put the home side in a commanding position with only 14 minutes left to play.
However, David Williams’ try gave the Green and Whites something to play for and when Ben Brownlie went over in the 77th minute the visitors needed just one more try to ensure they’d take away two points from their trip south, and it duly arrived from the final play of the game as Murray McConnell dived over from close range.
Showing few ill-effects from their narrow late defeats to Ealing Trailfinders and Bedford Blues, Welsh played with an ambition and hunger from the very start and were rewarded after less than three minutes when Carlisle ghosted through Nottingham defensive line before side-stepping Billy Robinson to touch down under the posts.
Carlisle converted with Welsh looking sharp and Martyn Thomas and Kristian Phillips, in particular, eager to get their hands on the ball at every opportunity.
It was through the forwards, though, that the home side’s second try would come. Nottingham had already survived one catch-drive opportunity, but not a second as Morris was driven over for his third try in as many games. A rich vein of try scoring form for the hooker. Carlisle again did the honours from the tee.
Knowing that defeat wasn’t an option, or risk losing touch with the top four, Welsh were playing like a caged tiger, as well as having point to prove after those painful defeats to Ealing and Bedford.
But they needed to turn their dominance into points. A scrum penalty allowed Carlisle to take Welsh back into the same corner from which Morris’ try had come, only this time for the lineout ball to slip through Ben West’s fingers.
Wind or no wind, Welsh were running it from almost everywhere, and when Nottingham did get themselves into an attacking position Kieran Murphy ran through Darryl Veenendaal and Mitch Lam as Welsh countered from their own 22, such was the home side’s intent.
But just when it seemed that the Exiles might have to settle for a two-try lead at the break, Nathan Trevett’s deft pass sent Reynolds clean through on a great line to score. Carlisle’s conversion gave the scoreboard a more reassuring look, as well as a truer reflection, from a Welsh perspective, with Nottingham’s turn with the win still to come.
It was a lead the away side nearly made inroads into the first halves’ dying moments, however. With just five seconds remaining Welsh failed to secure their own scrum ball and having pulled the Exiles one way, the Green and Whites created an overlap on the right, only for Lam’s laboured pass to slow the move and Elder’s tackle on Vili Hakalo to save a try.
A late scare for the home side and it took on even greater significance when Lam found the corner with a penalty and Holmes was driven over from an attacking lineout just three minutes into the second half.
Lam couldn’t add the extras on a miserable afternoon for the Nottingham number ten from the tee, as he missed with all four of his attempts at goal.
An overthrown lineout saw a second catch-drive opportunity go a begging for Nottingham, and Welsh were able to weather the mini storm without further alarm and were soon able to rediscover the attacking ambition which had so characterised their first half display.
Welsh moved the ball swiftly through the hands of Murphy, Rob Lewis, Ryan Hodson, Barney Maddison, Ben Pienaar and Reynolds to move within striking range, only for Elder’s final pass to Phillips to find touch. Not the first time the final pass had been missing to bring an anticlimactic end to a promising Welsh attack.
But Welsh had now fully recovered from the early set back of Holmes’ try and after Phillips had sliced through Nottingham with another electrifying burst of speed, the home side’s ambition was rewarded.
Having driven into the Nottingham 22, Welsh spread the play across the width of the pitch and into Elder’s hands. The winger still had much work to do as he cut inside, but showing great strength he managed to beat two and hold off a third to force his way over. Carlisle’s conversion came back off both posts and stayed out.
Even so, Welsh led 26-5 with 12 minutes remaining, but anyone who had been at Clifton Lane, or even more recently the games against Ealing and Bedford, wasn’t about to start putting up the bunting just yet. And within two minutes Nottingham had a reply on the board as Williams finished with aplomb.
The Green and Whites then lost Jamie Stephenson for a dangerous tackle on Murphy, but it did little to halt the momentum, which was now firmly with the away side as they went for broke. Three minutes from time they forced their way over from a catch and drive in the corner through replacement hooker Brownlie, and it was now a game within a game.
Could Welsh stop Nottingham claiming a fourth try and salvaging what could prove to be two very valuable bonus points? A scenario which never looked likely when Elder crossed.
Frustratingly they couldn’t; a couple of quick penalties allowed Nottingham back into the Welsh 22 and from the game’s final play McConnell dived over from close range.
A hugely important bonus-point win for Welsh nonetheless, but one which would have tasted a great deal sweeter but for Nottingham’s late comeback.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Carlisle, Morris, Reynolds, Elder; Cons: Carlisle (3).
Nottingham Rugby scorers:
Tries: Holmes, Williams, Brownlie, McConnell.
Referee: Jack Makepeace
Assistant referees: Darryl Chapman & Gregory Garner