London Welsh made it back-to-back Aviva Premiership wins with a performance that bordered on heroic at times against Sale, and condemned the Sharks to a fourth straight defeat.
Many of this latest crop to don the London Welsh jersey weren’t even born when the club last tasted victory over Sale – a 30-7 win in 1983 – but hell bent on proving that last week’s victory over Exeter Chiefs was no fluke, the Exiles took their chances and then tackled like demons.
It was an immense performance. Just five days after Welsh’s historic victory over the Chiefs, Lyn Jones’ men were at it again – no apple cart is safe as the Exiles defied more odds, and proved more of their doubters wrong.
Further proof, if any were needed, that last year’s Championship winners have no intention of meekly retreating from whence they came, at a quicker rate of knots than it took them to arrive.
It was a victory build on solid foundations. Jonathan Mills’ try and eight points from the boot of Gordon Ross saw Welsh lead 13-0 after ten minutes. Welsh were in dreamland.
It was also a welcome break from the norm. In each of their opening three Premiership games, Welsh had obligingly allowed their opponents a two try head start. Not this time.
Three Danny Cipriani penalties dragged the home side back into the game, but Ed Jackson’s second try in a week and the boot of Ross saw the Exiles take a 23-9 lead into half-time.
Ross added his fourth penalty before relentless pressure from the home side yielded a try for Tom Brady. When MacLeod added a penalty a converted try was all that separated the sides, but Ross’ successful penalty with the last kick of the game secured the win for Welsh and deprived the Sharks the consolation of a bonus point.
Keen to pick up from we’d they’d left off against the Chiefs, a knock from the kick-off by Sale, followed by a penalty, allowed Welsh to do just that. Ross made no mistake and was soon adding the conversion to Mills’ try - the Welsh captain trudging his way over from close range after Nick Scott’s perfectly weighted kick had forced Sale to concede a lineout in their own 22.
Cipriani was off target with his first attempt at the posts and Ross extended the Welsh lead after Sonny Parker had scooped up a loose ball and Jackson surged up field.
Worryingly the penalty count was growing against Welsh and Cipriani chipped away at the lead with three successive penalties. The last was followed, however, by a steadying riposte from Ross with the Exiles going back to route one for their second try.
Tom Arscott made the initial break, finding a hole in the Sharks’ line where none seemed possible. Once into the 22, the Welsh forwards took over, but clearly sensing they had the measure of their Sharks counterparts, the Exiles kept it tight, kept their composure and were eventually rewarded when Jackson went over for his second try in five days.
Crucially Welsh would withstand a spell of late pressure from the home side and headed back to their dressing room content with their first 40 minutes work, but knowing that they would need to dig even deeper in the second half.
Welsh’s determination to keep the ball in hand took the sting out of Sale’s early thrust, and the visitors claimed the first points of the half courtesy of Ross’ fourth penalty with the home side penalised at a scrum.
The Exiles couldn’t build on it, though, as Sale camped themselves in the Welsh 22. Time and time again the home side looked destined to breach the Welsh line, only to be repelled by some truly heroic defence. Welsh defended their line as if their very lives depended upon it – in some ways they did, their Premiership lives at least.
The pressure eventually told when Sale changed tact and went wide and Brady crossed. Nick MacLeod added an excellent conversion from the left hand touchline and when the replacement fly half added a penalty the Welsh lead was down to seven and a nervy finish was now unavoidable.
There was still time for one last throw of the dice from Sale, but a penalty to Welsh at a scrum with less than a minute on the clock was the cue for celebrations. By the time Ross put boot to ball the clock had reached zero, and with it went Sale’s losing bonus point.
Tries: Brady; Cons: MacLeod; Pens: Cipriani (3), MacLeod.
Tries: Mills, Jackson; Cons: Ross (2); Pens: Ross (5).
Referee: Greg Garner
Referee Assistants: Paul Burton & Alan Hughes