London Welsh cemented their place at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship with a comprehensive victory over Cornish Pirates at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday night.
The Exiles ran in five tries on a one-sided affair to double their lead at the top of the table, and move two points clear of second placed Rotherham Titans.
Welsh, showing no signs of a B&I Cup hangover, following their back-to-back defeats to London Scottish and Pontypridd, played with a real intensity and purpose from the outset.
It was performance and result that reaffirmed their title credentials to those who raised an eyebrow in the wake of those two defeats.
But the Exiles were still left for food for thought. Dominant in the scrum thus far this season, Welsh didn’t have it all their own way against a combative Pirates pack, and the return meeting at Mennaye Field in February promises to be an intriguing encounter.
First half tries from Seb Jewell and Carl Kirwan saw the home side take a commanding 20-6 lead into half-time, with Rob Lewis’ 47th minute try all but ended the game as a contest.
Welsh wrapped up the bonus point through Andy Titterrell with Tom May’s intercept try adding the icing eight minutes from time. All Pirates could muster in reply was two Kieran Hallett penalties.
Gordon Ross opened the scoring in the second minute. It was the first of seven successful kicks at goal for the London Welsh fly half and assistant coach, who by the end of the evening had stretched his run in the league since his last miss to an impressive 33, going back to the opening game of the season against Bedford.
That came from Lewis’ break with May then finding a similar hole in the Pirates defence. That set up a sustained spell of Welsh pressure inside the Pirates 22, but the home side were forced to settle for another Ross penalty as the away side’s defence held firm.
Nick Scott had to be alert to go back and tidy up, as the Pirates broke with purpose and kicked though. It had been a good response by the Pirates to those two early Ross penalties, and Hallett did have the chance to get the Pirates on the board, only to see his attempt drift wide.
Welsh made them pay. From a lineout in the Pirates 22, Nathan Trevett crashed up the middle and quick ball and a flat pass from Ross sent Jewell through - the full back taking the tackle but having the strength to force his way over.
Ross converted and suddenly Welsh had an element of breathing space, leading 13-0. Hallett got the Pirates on the scoreboard at the second time of asking, but Welsh were now into their stride and having battered away at the Pirates line, Kirwan picked up and dived over after Lewis was hauled down just short. Ross did the rest.
When Hallett’s restart disappeared out on the full, it seemed as if the wheels were in danger of falling off for the Pirates, but their pack was more than holding its own in the scrum and they were given a lifeline when Trevett saw yellow.
The Welsh prop receiving ten minutes in the sin bin for tackling a Pirates player off the ball, after full back Craig Holland had bounced off a couple of tacklers to break through.
Hallett accepted the easy three points on offer, but crucially the Pirates would make no further inroads into the Welsh lead before Trevett returned to the fray early in the second half.
Three minutes later Welsh put the game to bed. It looked like the initial chance had had gone, when Welsh overthrew on their own lineout ball on the Pirates 22, but they managed to win possession back and Titterrell’s break and brilliant offload found Lewis, who managed to stretch for the line. Ross converted.
Turning down a kickable penalty, the Pirates did have the chance to respond, gambling all under the Welsh posts as they put their faith in their pack.
A score now would have kept Cornish hopes alive, but instead it was Welsh who got the decision at the scrum and within the blink of an eye play had switched to the Pirates 22, as the Exiles now went in search of the bonus-point try.
For the next nine minutes play was confined to the Pirates 22, as Welsh forced scrum after scrum, only breaking for Matt Corker to be held up over the line. They eventually made the pressure tell when Titterrell found a way through from close range. Ross added the extras.
May rounded things off when he intercepted five metres inside his own half, as the Pirates chanced their arm, and raced clear for try number five. It had been a comprehensive return to Championship action for the Exiles.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Jewell, Kirwan, Lewis, Titterrell, May; Cons: Ross (5); Pens: Ross (2).
Cornish Pirates scorers:
Pens: Hallett (2).
Referee: Ian Tempest
Referee Assistants: Craig Maxwell & Dino Maddern