A last-gasp Craig Price try salvaged a draw for the Scarlets at the Kassam Stadium, after London Welsh seemed set to extract revenge for their defeat in last year’s corresponding fixture.
For Welsh, there was a rather eerie sense of Deja Vu to events 12 months ago at Parc y Scarlets, when on that occasion the Scarlets were indebted to Scott Williams’ late try to snatch victory from Welsh hands.
As the Kassam on Sunday, swap Price for Williams, with Josh Lewis adding the conversion from in front of the posts to level the scores, and again leave the Exiles rueing how close they’d come to a famous win over the Scarlets.
Welsh were gifted the early initiative when a wild pass forced Nic Reynolds to touch down over his own tryline, but the home side couldn’t make the most of it in the face of some aggressive Scarlets defence.
Aled Thomas, who scored 549 points in 92 games during his time at London Welsh, opened the scoring for the Scarlets.
Gordon Ross had the chance to level following a thumping tackle by Rob Andrew on Reynolds, but the Welsh fly half was off target.
He made up for it when given another chance, which followed Tom May’s half break, and then edged the Exiles in front after nice play had released Stegmann into space down the Welsh left.
Welsh should then have registered the game’s opening try. James and Rob Lewis combined to take the home side to within sight of the Scarlets’ tryline, only for Nathan Trevett’s pass inside to be intercepted by Dion Jones.
A tremendous 25-metre drive from the Welsh pack ended with Shaun Hopkins being brandished with a yellow card for dragging it down.
Ross missed for the second time at the posts, and the home side would have to wait until the stroke of half-time before taking advantage of their numerical superiority. Once again, James and Rob Lewis were on the same wavelength, with Stegmann on hand to finish and Ross added the extras.
Hopkins returned to the fray four minutes into the second half without any further damage to the scoreboard in his absence, and just in time to see Aled Thomas cut the deficit with his second penalty.
Joe Ajuwa and May combined nicely up the Welsh right, only for the Exiles captained to be bundled into touch, while Rhodri Williams displayed some nifty footwork under pressure inside his own 22 and take play into the opposing 22.
Aside from those moments, attacking opportunities were few and far between with the action contained to the middle third of the field.
Lewis’ penalty brought the away side to within four points, but a knock on straight from the restart allowed Welsh onto the front foot and Ajuwa held off the tacklers on a looping run, only for the final pass to fail to go to hand with the tryline begging.
Will Robinson’s penalty ensured Welsh didn’t come away empty handed, with Lewis then seeing his strike come back off the post.
Twice Welsh might have put two scores between themselves and the Scarlets, and made the game safe. First, Robinson’s penalty drifted just wide and then Pete Browne broke through with Robinson taking it on, but Welsh couldn’t make the opening count with the ball eventually lost forward.
That gave the Scarlets one final chance, and they took it. Tapping and going, and keeping the ball alive, Rhodri Williams put Lewis away and he had Price in support to go in under the sticks.
It was harsh on Welsh who had arguably done enough to hold out for the victory, but while to concede so late on will have hurt, there were plenty of positives for the Exiles to take into Henley Hawks next Saturday.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Stegmann; Cons: Ross; Pens: Ross (2), Robinson.
Tries: Price; Cons: Lewis; Pens: Aled Thomas (2), Lewis.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Referee Assistants: Paul Dix & Andrew Watson