London Welsh will go in to their Aviva Premiership opener against Exeter Chiefs at the Kassam Stadium on September 7 on a winning note, after a convincing win over Pontypridd at Sardis Road on Saturday.
Bouncing back from defeat to Wasps six days earlier at Adams Park, Justin Burnell’s Exiles proved too good for Ponty, running in six tries in a comfortable win.
Seb Stegmann’s third minute try set the tone for a commanding first half performance, which saw the winger cross again before Nic Reynolds and Nathan Vella touched down to see the visitors take a comprehensive 26-0 lead in to the break.
Twenty-nine scoreless second half minutes passed, as both sides rung the changes, before they shared two tries a piece in the final 11 minutes. Tom May and Rhys Crane crossing for Welsh, Owen Shepherd and Lewis K Williams for Ponty.
Perhaps mindful of their visit to Sardis Road last season, Welsh needed just three minutes to open their account. The Exiles turned down a kickable penalty in front of the posts, instead opting for a scrum, and it paid dividends as Ollie Stedman picked up and drove at the heart of the Ponty defence, and Olly Barkley sent Stegmann over. Barkley added an excellent conversion from close to the right hand touchline.
It had been an impressive start by the Exiles. In contrast, Ponty were struggling to get out of their own half. Welsh took the game to Ponty, who might have hoped to have ruffled the Premiership newboys’ feathers in the early stages. Welsh had other ideas however.
Try number two asserted their dominance. In the face of some excellent Welsh defence around the fringes, Ponty were unable to make ground and were eventually penalised on the floor. Paul Rowley took a quick tap and with Nic Reynolds and Stegmann on the same wavelength, the winger raced clear down the right to claim his second. Barkley’s conversion was a repeat of his first attempt.
The gulf between the sides was looking apparent, with the home side still struggling to cross half way. Welsh were bossing proceedings, as arguably as they should against a semi-pro side. But part-time of not, the Exiles knew only too well the capabilities of this Ponty side from their two British & Irish Cup meetings last year.
Welsh might have added a third try when Barkley pushed a penalty into the corner, but Ponty disrupted the Welsh catch and drive enough to win the put in at the scrum. The reprieve was fleeting; Welsh won the scrum against the head and after some brave Ponty defence on their own line, Barkley, Tim Molenaar and Stegmann combined to send Nic Reynolds over. For a third time, Barkley split the uprights from the right hand touchline.
The restart saw the home side reach the Welsh 22 for the first time. Simon Humberstone nudged a penalty in to the corner, but their lineout let the home side down and Barkley cleared the danger.
Craig Locke’s strong carry stirred the home crowd, but when Ponty were turned over Stegmann broke. The winger had Dean Schofield and Peter Browne in support and although the flanker was grounded, Welsh still had numbers and Stegmann popped up again to supply Nathan Vella to canter home.
Ponty came close to an immediate riposte but Jordan Sieniawski was bundled in to touch just short. It was their last chance to register some points before the end of a pleasing first half for Justin Burnell’s side.
The early second half pressure came from Welsh as the visitors set up base camp in the Ponty 22. However a succession of scrums and lineouts brought no fifth try – a tip of the hat to the home side’s defence, who were then denied themselves in the corner. It was the catalyst for a good spell for Ponty, as both sides began to empty their benches.
Good Welsh defence and Ponty errors, however, meant Ponty had to wait until the 69th minute before they finally forced their way over the Welsh line to open their account – a well worked catch and drive unlocking the door to the Welsh tryline.
But Welsh hit straight back through a lovely first phase try. Clean lineout ball off the top saw James Lewis split the Ponty defence off a flat pass from Tristan Roberts, and the centre drew the last man before feeding May to cross. Roberts converted.
That kick-started Welsh back in to life and late pressure saw Crane hold off two tacklers to force his way over – Roberts adding an excellent conversion from the left hand touchline.
But there was still time for the home support to be sent home happy as Lewis K Williams ghosted in to touchdown behind the posts.
Job done in Wales for Justin Burnell’s Exiles. Now it’s all eyes on Sunday 7th September and the visit of Exeter Chiefs to the Kassam Stadium.
Tries: Owen Shepherd, Lewis K Williams; Cons: Lewis K Williams.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Stegmann (2), Reynolds, Vella; Cons: Barkley (3).
Referee: Gwyn Morris
Touch Judges: Mike Bethall & Justin Evans