London Welsh were given a taste of what they can expect when the Aviva Premiership season kicks off for real in three weeks time, as Wasps ran in five tries at Adams Park on Sunday.
After more than holding their own in an encouraging first half display – Nick Scott’s 19th minute try cancelling out Charlie Davies’ early touchdown for Wasps – the Exiles regained the lead for a second time thanks to a 50th minute penalty try.
But the home side bossed proceedings after that, racking up four tries as they upped the intensity – Nathan Hughes (2), Guy Thompson and Myall Kearnan all crossing. The last word, however, went to Welsh as Chris Elder finished off a fine move after the Exiles unlocked the Wasps defence.
As preparation for Welsh’s return to the Premiership is concerned, events at Adams Park could not have been further removed from the Exiles’ comfortable ten try win over Henley Hawks eight days earlier. There was little held back in a physical contest that was a far sterner test of the Exiles’ Premiership credentials.
Ollie Stedman’s carry and offload to release Pete Browne was one of Welsh’s bright early moments - the away side showing real patience in the possession.
Wasps, though, were slowly building the pressure and Scott did well to tidy up a testing grubber kick with Jonah Holmes bearing down upon the Welsh winger.
The away side’s defence, though, was being increasingly questioned. Rob Millar had the door slammed firmly on him, but Wasps were edging ever closer and the Exiles were grateful to an accidental offside decision as the home side pressed.
It was brief reprieve. Wasps turned the scrum ball over and scrum half Davies picked up and forced his way over. Alex Lozowski – last seen lining up against Welsh for Leeds Carnegie in the Championship semi-finals – converted.
Welsh respond well, however, to that set back. A knock on by Wasps from the restart gave the Exiles a platform and a kickable three pointer was pushed into the corner by Barkley – a decision which got its reward but only after some tremendous defence by Wasps on their line. Eventually, though, with Welsh keeping their composure, Scott found a gap to touchdown. Barkley converted.
Lozowski put the restart in to touch on the full but Wasps won a scrum penalty back on half way and when the fly half then found touch on the full, it was to set up field position.
But turnover ball and a brilliant clearance kick up field by Seb Jewell took play deep in to the Wasps 22 and Richard Thorpe nearly forced his way over after collecting at the tail. A penalty in front of the posts, however, saw Barkley nudge the Exiles into a 10-7 lead.
The visitors had certainly enjoyed the better of proceedings since Davies’ try. Things were going Welsh’s way; when Lozowski threatened to weave his way through, his offload to Will Rowlands was deemed forward by referee Dean Richards.
Welsh were making fewer mistakes and even displaying a degree of control, which was beginning to frustrate their hosts.
A rare error, however, as Matt Corker couldn’t quite reel in Koree Britton’s lineout, led to Lozowski levelling the scores at 10-10 and the home side might have led but for a flying tackle from Tom May to deny Tom Varndell, as the winger eyed the corner after slipping the tackle of Seb Stegmann.
Welsh, though, were more than good value to go in level at the break.
The half time interval brought changes from Wasps, while Welsh elected to stick with their starting XV from the first half.
A scrappy start to the second half was punctured by an encouraging scrum penalty for Welsh, who’d overturned Wasps’ early advantage in this area. The Welsh lineout, though, still wasn’t quite firing and Buster Lawrence broke with fierce pace when Welsh overthrew. The former Moseley flanker had Chris Bell in support, but the Wasps captain couldn’t find Holmes on the left wing.
A Welsh penalty allowed Barkley to again find touch, only for Welsh to again overthrow. This time it was Lozowski who broke and the fly half fed Sailosi Tagicakibau, only for Welsh to again escape as Rob Lewis came away with it.
The game as opening up and Scott found a gap only for Welsh to be turned over just short of the Wasps line. Simpson’s hurried clearance found touch but not distance, and as Welsh’s driving maul headed for the corner, referee Dean Richards had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try as the home side were adjudged to have illegally halted its progress towards the tryline. Barkley converted and Welsh led 17-10.
Wasps weren’t behind for long, however. After putting a penalty in to the corner, the home side pounded away at the Welsh line until Thompson forced his way over. Ruaridh Jackson’s conversion levelled things up.
The bit between their teeth, more pressure from Wasps ended with Hughes barging his way over the line just five minutes later. Jackson again added the extras.
Wasps had visibly upped the intensity, leaving Welsh struggling to get their hands on the ball and escape the confines of their own half.
Although the Exiles continued to display some tigerish defence, the way to the tryline then suddenly opened for Hughes to ghost over for his second. Jackson’s third conversion took the home side in to a two score lead.
Tristan Roberts and Nic Reynolds combined nicely to send the latter through a hole and to within touching distance of the Wasps line, only for the home side to turn the ball over and, led by Varndell, Wasps duly went the length of the pitch with Myall adding try number five.
Harsh on Welsh, but these are the lessons that the Exiles must quickly learn in time for when the season kicks off the real on September 7 against Exeter Chiefs at the Kassam Stadium.
Welsh, though, would have the final word. Roberts pushed a penalty in to the corner and after the initial catch and drive stalled, the Exiles went wide and a lovely move, with Rhys Crane coming in off his right wing, saw the winger break through the Wasps defence and Elder had the easy run in. After a tough 30 minute period, it was a bright end to the game by Welsh.
The Exiles complete their pre-season programme with a trip to Sardis Road next Saturday to take on Pontypridd (KO 3pm).
Tries: Hughes (2), Davies, Thompson, Myall; Cons: Lozowski, Jackson (4); Pens: Lozowski.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Scott, Penalty, Elder; Cons: Barkley (2), Roberts; Pens: Barkley.
Referee: Dean Richards