London Welsh’s quest for a swift return to the Aviva Premiership began with a comfortable and comprehensive victory over Chinnor at a wet and windy Kingsey Road on Saturday.
Played over three 30-minute periods, the Exiles ran in 17 tries with Joe Ajuwa grabbing a hat-trick and Seb Jewell, club captain Matt Corker and Daniel Browne all claiming a brace.
It was London Welsh’s largest win since they defeated Gwent’s Blackwood 100-7 at Old Deer Park in 1998, although the splitting of Saturday’s pre-season work out into thirds prevents it from being hailed as a new club record. Not that Justin Burnell is likely to lose too much sleep over that.
There were plenty of positive for the club’s new head coach to purr over. Solid in the set-piece, the Exiles repeatedly pushed the home side off their own ball at the scrum, while in open play they simply had too much power, pace and precision for their National 2 opponents.
Of course, the Scarlets on August 25 at the Kassam Stadium will provide a far sterner test of the Exiles’ Greene King IPA Championship credentials, but as starts go Welsh will take it.
It was not without its downside, though, as Welsh lost Alex Davies to a hamstring injury inside five minutes. His replacement Jewell crossed in the corner with his first touch after the visitors had shown their power in the scrum to win one against the head.
While Jewell’s effort didn’t quite open the floodgates, the Exiles didn’t have to wait too long for their second try. Ajuwa’s clearance inside his own 22 was partly blocked, but the ball broke kindly for Welsh and after Rob Lewis and Ollie Stedman had both taken it on, new team captain Tom May went over for his first try in Welsh colours. Will Robinson added the first of his five conversions.
Nick Scott’s break and a nice pass from Jewell then set up Ajuwa for the first of his three tries – again the final breach in the Chinnor defence coming down their right.
Dominant in the scrum, the Exiles had little hesitation in opting for a five-scrum when awarded a penalty after May had been held up over the line. The result was somewhat predictable, as the home pack was marched backwards, leaving Ollie Stedman to simply fall on the ball to score.
Daniel Browne went close to adding try number five when he stretched for the line, only to lose the ball forward. But the flanker made amends a short time later after Welsh had again won ball against the head and Rob Andrew had taken it up to the line. Daniel Browne this time making no mistake from close range.
Robinson’s conversion saw the Exiles end the first third ahead by 31-0.
The game’s first break didn’t just bring wholesale changes in personnel on both sides, it brought kit changes, with Welsh reappearing in their more traditional red, having played the opening period in black.
The Exiles would up the pace and intensity upon the restart, racking up nine tries in a one-sided second period.
Corker smashed his way over and the floodgates, if they’d only buckled in the first period, were now forcefully kicked open.
A lovely move involving Gordon Ross and Jewell paved the way for Seb Stegmann to cross, with Ross adding the first of his six conversions.
Jewell then had a hand in James Lewis going over – the centre ghosting through the Chinnor line before releasing Scott, who flung the ball inside as he was bundled into touch. James Lewis scooping up the loose ball and touching down.
James Lewis then turned provider, fending off a succession of would-be tacklers before setting up Scott to score. It was a try that had its origins in an overthrown Chinnor lineout gratefully picked off at the tail by Mike Denbee.
It was one-way traffic, and Welsh were taking their tries well. Jewell broke away to add his second and he then took a great line to accept Ross’ perfectly timed pop pass and the Chinnor line was again breached. Once in behind, Jewell released Ajuwa and Welsh had their eleventh try.
Chinnor threatened momentarily but a solid Nathan Trevett tackle brought a promising move to an end, and when play switched to the other 22 the home side were again pushed off their own ball at a scrum and Mitch Lees became the latest try scoring debutant for the Exiles.
The best was still yet to come however. Chinnor had struggled to contain the strength of Ajuwa all afternoon, and the powerful winger left numerous Chinnor players in his wake as his crossed from 60 metres.
Not to be outdone, Trevett showed off a fair turn of speed of his own to go over. Ross’ conversion brought a very one-sided second third to an end with London Welsh leading 88-0.
Although Corker opened the scoring, the final third would be anything like its predecessors, as the home side finally enjoyed a sustained spell of possession and pressure. Their home crowd were finally given something to cheer when Ricky Hopwood broke clear to score in the corner.
However, the last word, or rather the last two words, went to Welsh. Pete Browne grabbed the away side’s sixteenth try, with Daniel Browne rounding things off.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Ajuwa (3), Jewell (2), Corker (2), Daniel Browne (2), May, Stedman, Stegmann, James Lewis, Scott, Lees, Trevett, Pete Browne; Cons: Robinson (5), Ross (6).
Referee: Tom Davis
Referee Assistants: Clare Daniels & Rhy Davis