London Welsh got their 2014/15 campaign off to a winning start with a comfortable victory over Henley Hawks at Dry Leas on Saturday.
Justin Burnell’s side ran in ten tries – eight of which came in a clinical first half showing – but just as with the corresponding meeting 12 months ago, it would be foolhardy to read too much in to the result.
There are far sterner tests to come, starting with a trip to Adams Park next weekend, but Welsh did what was asked of them against the Hawks, particularly in the first half, and now have an invaluable 80 minutes under their belts for the coaches to dissect and scrutinise.
Handing debuts to a host of the Club’s summer signings, Welsh needed less than three minutes to strike for their opening try. Early pressure and Henley penalties allowed Tristan Roberts to pepper the corner and after Welsh’s initial catch and drive was halted, Ben West crashed over from close range.
The home side, however, showed few ill effects from that early set-back, and were instead displaying a keenness to spread the play wide at every opportunity and themselves play at a quick tempo.
Welsh’s second try, though, wasn’t long in coming. Daniel Browne slipped through the first line of Henley defence before unleashing the pace of Elliot Kear, and he in turn provided West with a run in for his second.
The visitors would have to wait for their third try as the Hawks continued to show a determination to compete with Welsh, but come it would.
A thumping London Welsh tackle dislodged the ball in the tackle and Darren Waters was first to react to scoop up the loose ball and turn defence in to attack. The flanker sending Adam Field clear to score.
The two divisions separating the sides was becoming increasing apparent. Henley were finding it hard to penetrate this Welsh defence, while in defence they were beginning to fall off tackles.
When Henley split the ball on half way, as they searched for an opening out wide, Rhys Crane picked up and sent Nic Reynolds racing away to touch down in the corner.
Arguably the pick of Welsh’s ten tries would come from Elliot Kear. Pinned in their own 22, Henley were forced to find a hurried touch. The lack of distance gained gave Welsh an attacking platform and from the lineout Roberts and Reynolds combined to create an opening for Kear, coming in off his left wing, to cut clean through the Henley defence on a great angle.
Suddenly Henley looked vulnerable and Welsh like they could score every time they got the ball in their hands.
A flurry of late first half activity saw Roberts break before feeding Crane to cross, and two minutes later Crane was in again after collecting Browne’s perfectly weighted grubber kick. Welsh were rampant and Chris Elder brushed aside a couple of tacklers to canter over for try number eight. Roberts’ conversion brought up the London Welsh half century.
Both sides made wholesale changes at half-time and the home side could reflect on a far more competitive second 40, although Welsh would deny their hosts a consolation score.
It wasn’t for the want of Henley effort though. The Hawks asked far more questions of the Welsh defence after the break, but finding a way to the tryline proved a dilemma they couldn’t solve.
Welsh had difficulties of their own as they struggled to recapture their first half potency. That could in part be explained by Henley’s first-up taking improving.
The scrappy stop-start nature of the half meant Welsh’s ninth try was nearly 30 minutes in coming – James Lewis going over after a penalty had taken the Exiles deep into Henley territory.
London Irish scrum half Connor Murphy and Tom Gardner both stood out for Henley in the second half, but even they couldn’t manufacture that consolation score. Instead, with the Hawks down to 14-men with a man in the sin bin, Jimmy Litchfield crashed up the middle and Jamal Chisholm’s inside pass sent Elder in for his second.
A winning and welcome start for Welsh, but Wasps at Adams Park next weekend will be a very different proposition.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: West (2), Crane (2), Elder (2), Reynolds, Field, Kear, J Lewis. Cons: Roberts (5), Robinson (2).
Referee: Veryan Boscawen
Referee Assistants: Simon Adams & Mark Doran