Victory wasn’t enough to take London Welsh through to the quarter-finals of the British and Irish Cup, but there was plenty of solace to be found as Justin Burnell’s side avoided a third straight defeat to London Scottish.
Such a scenario, however, had seemed a distinct possibility as James Love’s six penalties saw the home side open up an 18-3 lead by the half hour mark.
But Tom May’s try before the break hinted at a Welsh fight-back and taking the game to the home side the visitors would go on to dominate the second half, with Will Robinson edging them closer on the scoreboard with two penalties.
Nathan Morris’s close range try proved the game’s decisive moment, although Welsh had to withstand a late Scottish rally, which included the home side being held up over the Welsh tryline, before they could celebrate a third consecutive win.
Welsh’s interest in this season’s B&I Cup may have ended at the Richmond Athletic Ground - as too did Scottish’s – but the win and the manner of it will send Welsh back into Championship action in fine fettle.
If Scottish’s victory over Welsh at the Kassam Stadium on December 21 had prompted some soul searching and question asking within the Welsh camp, then the players’ subsequent response against Jersey, Pontypridd and now Scottish has gone a long way to answering those doubts.
Playing with a deceptively strong wind at their backs, Scottish grasped the initiative straight from the kick-off. A booming kick to touch sent Welsh scuttling back into their own half and a lineout infringement gave Love the chance to open his account.
Seb Jewell had the chance to respond for Welsh straight from the restart, but his attempt drifted wide of the right hand post and the Scottish full back duly doubled the home side’s lead after Alan Awcock’s up and under caught on the wind, catching Welsh offside.
With Welsh still yet to settle, Love added his third penalty and things got worse for the away side with Jewell forced off with a shoulder injury.
Love’s fourth penalty extended the Scottish lead to 12-0 before Jewell’s replacement, Will Robinson, finally got Welsh on the board. Joe Ajuwa made ground up the left wing in typically robust fashion and with Scottish on the back foot a penalty for not rolling away gave Robinson a shot at the posts – his banana bend of a kick heading well right before curving back between the uprights.
But Robinson’s physics defying kick was immediately cancelled out by Love’s fifth penalty and the Scottish full back made it six in a row when Welsh were penalised for holding on in the tackle. A third straight win over the Exiles seemed on the cards for the home side.
But the restart was knocked on by Scottish and that gave Welsh a platform they would exploit. Ollie Stedman’s carry got Welsh over the gain-line and Robinson’s floated pass found May on the right wing, and the centre intelligently cut inside before having the strength to force his way over.
Robinson couldn’t add the extras and Love had the chance to limit the impact of May’s try, only for the full back to prove himself human as he finally missed one.
Love would err for a second time upon the restart – his early second half penalty attempt curling across the face of the posts and wide - but Welsh had already shown enough encouraging signs to suggest that this game was far from lost.
After an even first half contest in the scrum, Welsh were beginning to get the upperhand and a complete front row change only added to their dominance in that area.
Robinson edged Welsh within a converted try, but was then off target. But Welsh were now asking all the questions and slowly but surely turning the screw.
A scrum penalty allowed Robinson to close the gap even further, but when a similar opportunity presented itself moments later, when Scottish went in at the side, the replacement produced an excellent kick to the corner.
And Welsh’s bravery was rewarded when Morris peeled off from the driving maul to force his way over from close range. Robinson’s conversion saw Welsh open up a three-point lead, 21-18.
Forced to throw caution to the wind, Scottish pushed forwards but curiously turned down a kickable penalty when a draw would ultimately have been enough to see them top Pool 2 and secure a place in the quarter-finals, at Pontypridd’s expense.
Instead Scottish went for broke only to be held up over the tryline and a penalty to Welsh at the resulting five-metre scrum meant the home side left empty-handed.
Welsh held out and while the failure to collect a four-try bonus signalled the end of the club’s interest in this season’s B&I Cup, this win could yet prove a key moment in their season.
Pens: Love (6).
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: May, Morris; Cons: Robinson; Pens: Robinson (3).
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)
Referee Assistants: Simon Harding & Simon McConnell