London Welsh will hope that their recent dip in form is solely confined to the B&I Cup, after Pontypridd gave head coach Dale McIntosh a fitting send off at a wet and muddy Sardis Road on Saturday.
In contrast it certainly wasn’t the homecoming Justin Burnell had hoped for, although the cauldron Welsh walked into lived up to all his pre-match expectations and memories.
Welsh’s role, if they didn’t know it, was purely of the supporting variety – bit part players in Ponty’s party. Roared on by passionate home following of 3400, the stage was set for ‘the Chief’ to bow out on a winning note, although Welsh did their best to prove party poopers.
Pontypridd’s greater need did out in the end, however, and while not in isolation a fatal blow, Burnell’s Greene King IPA table toppers now have seven days to rediscover their winning formula in time for the visit of Cornish Pirates to the Kassam Stadium next Saturday.
Leeds Carnegie and Bristol follow in quick succession – a triple-header that will tell us much about Welsh’s title aspirations.
Prior to kick-off Ponty’s players paid their own tribute to McIntosh with a guard of honour, but Sonny Parker clearly hadn’t read the script when he crossed to give Welsh the lead against his former club.
That came after 18 minutes and against the balance of play. Without really threatening the Welsh line, Ponty were the ones dictating, although the Exiles’ defence was coping with all being thrown at it.
Ponty were penalised for driving in at a scrum and Welsh found touch in a promising position. The Exiles stretched the home side one way and them the other, before Ross sent Nick Scott through and although the winger was tackled short he found Parker to score.
Ross’ conversion miss was something of a collector’s item, given the fly halves recent run of form with the boot.
Ponty’s response, though, was as swift as it was clinical. Simon Humberstone’s miss pass sent Daftdd Lockyer away and he released Matthew Nuthall down the left wing. The Welsh cover came across but the winger had full back Geraint Walsh on his inside shoulder to cross. Humberstone converted to give the home side the lead.
With the pitch turning into a mud bath, Welsh edged back in front just before the break through a Ross penalty.
The home side were back in front within five minutes of the restart, and there was more than an element of fortuitousness about it. James Lewis did well to collect a clearing kick on the full, diving forward, only for his offload to be read by Ellis Jenkins and the flanker raced more than half length of the pitch to score, leaving the Welsh centre to beat the ground in frustration.
The away side were soon reclaimed the lead however – Seb Stegmann and Scott combining nicely for the latter to go over. Ross converted and Welsh led by three.
The game then turned in the home side’s favour. Tempers flared, in what was an otherwise incident free contest, and Welsh flanker Carl Kirwan saw yellow for his part.
Ponty took immediate advantage. A scrum penalty gave the home side the chance to set up field position and while some good last-ditch defence initially kept Ponty at bay, the Exiles were undone by Lockyer’s floated miss pass which found Chris Dicomidis loitering on the right wing with the line at the Ponty captain’s mercy. Humerstone’s converted.
Welsh responded well – their pack shoving Ponty backwards to win a penalty and set up a spell of pressure on the home side’s tryline. But crucially Welsh couldn’t make it count and when Humberstone landed a superb penalty from just inside the Welsh half the gap was a converted try.
One did immediately follow, only it came from the home side – Ponty counterattacking from turnover ball with Nuthall denied by a desperate last gasp tackle by Ross, only for the supporting Macauley Cook to touch down. Humberside added the extras.
Stegman’s fine individual effort was some consolation, but Welsh were ultimately forced to accept being cast in that supporting role at Ponty’s party.
The serious business begins in earnest for Welsh next week – the visit of Cornish Pirates should be more enough to re-sharpen minds.
Tries: Walsh, Ellis Jenkins, Dicomidis, Cook; Cons: Humberstone (3); Pens: Humberstone.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Parker, Scott, Stegmann; Cons: Ross (2); Pens: Ross.
Referee: Kevin Barry
Referee Assistants: Jason Langdon & Tom Simms