London Welsh came out on top against Bristol at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday, to move five points clear at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship table.
In the context of the season, it remains to be seen what significance, if any, this result will have. At times, though, Bristol looked more like the home side, dominating possession and territory for long spells, but it was Welsh’s greater clinicalness that won the day, with three opportunistic tries.
Alex Davies gave the home side the lead while Bristol’s fixation with turning down kickable penalties to instead go for corner paid early dividends when Ross Johnston was driven over to level the game up, but it was to prove something of a white elephant.
Seb Stegmann restored Welsh’s lead after Gordon Ross had intercepted, and when presented with a sight of the uprights, Davies bisected the posts to leave Bristol needing two scores. Ollie Stedman added the icing late on.
Davies’ grubber kick to the corner put Welsh on the front foot early on. Daniel Browne was unlucky not to pinch Johnston’s throw, but the chance to strike first hadn’t gone, as the home side won the scrum against the head.
Browne picked up and only five metres out fed Davies to dart over. The scrum half added the extras from in front of the posts.
Moments later Welsh might have been in for a second, but the home couldn’t fully capitalise on Stegmann’s break. If they had they might have been able to pull away. As it was Bristol began to get a foothold in the game and possession for Welsh became hard to come by.
Bristol spurned the chance to open their account to instead go for the corner – a couple of wayward passes thwarted the away side however.
When the chance for points again presented itself for Bristol shortly after, following untidy work by Welsh at their own scrum, the away side again targeted the corner, only this time they got their reward as Johnston was driven over. Robinson converted to bring Bristol level.
Welsh were living off scraps and when they did get their hands on the ball, they couldn’t keep hold of it. It was against the balance of play, therefore, that Welsh went back in front.
Ross intercepted and although the fly half was quickly overhauled, Welsh were in behind Bristol. In a flash, Carl Kirwan fed Davies and the scrum half sent Stegmann racing clear. Davies added the extras.
Clearly believing their driving maul had the measure of Welsh, a belief fuelled by Johnston’s try, Bristol turned down another kickable three points to plant the ball in the corner. On this occasion there would be no way through, as the Welsh defence held firm and the home side went in at the break leading 14-7.
The first chance of points in the second half came the way of Bristol, after Bryan Rennie had danced his way through. No change in the Bristol plan, only this time it was their own lineout that let them down as Johnston’s throw wasn’t straight.
The home side lost Sonny Parker to a yellow card but saw out the ten minutes minus their centre without undue alarm. Two more kickable chances for points came Bristol’s way, only to be met with the same predetermined tactic. Both times Welsh wriggled off the hook.
The dangerous Ruki Tipuna slipped out a tackle and fed Ryan Edwards, only for Robinson to knock on, and Parker returned to the fray without any damage to the scoreboard in his absence.
Rob Lewis hacked through but was just beaten to the touchdown by George Watkins, but a great kick by the replacement scrum half kept Welsh deep in Bristol territory and Exiles’ pack earned Davies a shot at the posts.
There was no chance of Welsh putting this one in the corner and Davies left Bristol two scores adrift.
But Bristol had the chance to immediately cut that deficit when Watkins kicked through for James Grindal to chase, only for the replacement scrum half to knock on as he went over the line.
Welsh in contrast had been clinical and when one final opportunity presented itself they took it. Tom May burst clear and the London Welsh captain had Stedman in support, and the flanker had the angle and the gas to make the corner to round off an seventh straight win for the Exiles.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Davies, Stegmann, Stedman; Cons: Davies (2); Pens: Davies.
Pens: Johnston; Cons: Robinson.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Referee Assistants: Richard Kelly & Michael Patz