London Welsh moved back to the top of the Greene King IPA Championship table although the Exiles had to withstand a spirited fight-back from the home side.
It was a welcome return to winning ways for Justin Burnell’s side, after consecutive league defeats to London Scottish and Bedford Blues, and condemned the home side to a sixth straight defeat.
It seemed at one stage that Welsh might canter to a bonus point victory. Niall O’Connor’s penalty had seen the home side strike first, only for the visitors to hit back through tries from Mitch Lees, Joe Ajuwa and Mike Denbee.
With fly half Alex Davies adding all three conversions the Exiles built up a healthy 21-6 lead with half-time approaching, however, Jack Burroughs’ opportunistic try rekindled Jersey hopes and when O’Connor added his third penalty upon the resumption just five points separated the sides.
The boot of Davies, though, steadied the Welsh ship, with the Exiles number ten landing four penalties, separated only by another strike from O’Connor.
However, the Exiles were left to face an uncomfortable final seven minutes when Ollie Stedman’s yellow card was followed by a penalty try for the home side. But Welsh saw the game out to leapfrog Bristol at the top of the table.
With first use of the wind, the home side made the perfect start when Irishman Niall O’Connor landed an early minute penalty from close to half-way.
Jersey’s good start was compounded by Davies’s restart drifting out on the full, but the Exiles quickly composed themselves and replied through a try from Lees.
But when the home side were penalised at a scrum, Alan Awcock saw an opportunity to attack down the blindside and a couple of missed tackles ended with Lees crossing. Davies converted and from being on the back foot, Welsh had settled and were now on top.
The Exiles were beginning to look dangerous and when they came up with the ball following a Jersey scrum inside the home side’s 22 they then produced the kind of clinicalness that they wish they could have displayed against Scottish.
Tom May was held up just short but Ajuwa is a tough man to stop from close range and the winger forced his way over. Again Davies added the extras.
O’Connor had the chance to reply for the home side, after Ajuwa’s high tackle, but his penalty attempt slipped past the right hand upright. However, the Jersey fly half made amends soon afterwards when Welsh were penalised at a scrum.
Welsh’s response was swift. Having already displayed a keenness to keep the tempo high, the Exiles found touch from a penalty and set up a driving maul, only for the way to the tryline to suddenly open up for Denbee, and the flanker burst clear to score his side’s third try.
Davies’ conversion saw Welsh open up a very healthy looking 21-6 lead, and they’ll no doubt be slightly disappointed that the bonus point try would prove allusive, given the time that remained.
Indeed, it was the home side that finished the half the stronger. A spell of late pressure saw O’Connor keep Welsh pinned in their own 22 with Jersey turning down several kickable opportunities to go in search of the try they knew they needed if they were to have any hope of ending their run of five straight losses.
Welsh looked as if they’d soaked up the best that Jersey could muster, only to be undone by a quickly taken lineout – Grant Pointer’s back of the hand pass releasing Burroughs to cross for his first try for Jersey and the home side’s first in two and a half games.
O’Connor added an excellent conversion and Welsh’s lead had been reduced to 21-13 as the sides disappeared back to their dressing rooms.
O’Connor’s third penalty, six minutes into the second half, was just reward for the home side’s bright opening and having trailed by 15 points at one stage the gap was now down to just five.
A well placed kick, however, wasn’t dealt with by Burroughs and O’Connor picked up in an offside position to allow Davies to reply. The Welsh fly half would go on to land a further three kicks – sandwiching a fourth penalty from O’Connor – as the visitors stretched their lead to 14 points and looked to have made the game safe.
Just as in the first half, though, the home side would finish the half strongly. But with Welsh no doubt beginning to contemplate a fourth try and a bonus point, it was Jersey that built up a head of steam.
That endeavour saw the home side held up over the Welsh tryline and the pressure was enough to persuade referee Greg Macdonald to brandish a yellow card in the direction of Stedman.
Jersey made sure they made their numerical advantage tell, with Macdonald awarding the home side a penalty try with Welsh under pressure in the scrum. Coupled with O’Connor’s conversion the stage was now set for a gripping finale at St Peter, but to their credit the Exiles saw out the time remaining without undue alarm to go two points clear of Bristol at the top of the table.
Tries: Burroughs, Penalty Try; Cons: O’Connor (2); Pens: O’Connor (4).
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Lees, Ajuwa, Denbee; Cons: Davies (3); Pens: Davies (4).
Referee: Greg Macdonald