London Welsh got their Greene King IPA Championship campaign off to a winning start with victory over Bedford Blues at Saracens’ Allianz Park.
Both sides finished the game with 14-men after the first half sendings off of Rob Andrew and Darren Fox, for a fracas that also saw Blues prop Darren Fearn despatched to the sin bin.
Welsh, who led at the time thanks to a Will Robinson try and Gordon Ross penalty, added a second try through Joe Ajuwa and took a 13-0 lead into half-time.
Two James Pritchard penalties brought the Blues back into contention, and the Bedford full back then swapped three-pointers with Ross, before Nathan Morris’ converted try ensured it was Welsh that took the points.
Neville Edwards’ try from the last play of the game left Pritchard with a touchline conversion to salvage a losing bonus point for the Blues, only for his attempt to come back off the post.
For Welsh, it was a win built on the dominance in the scrum, which brought a consistent succession of penalties throughout.
Both sides were reduced to 14-men as early as the third minute when Andrews and Phil Boulton saw yellow after tempers flared.
The Blues had made the better start and a flurry of Welsh penalties gave Pritchard the chance to open the scoring, only for his strike to fall short. At the other end, Ross saw his attempt drift to the left of the posts.
The restart brought the game’s opening try. Ajuwa showed his strength to break a couple of tackles and when the Exiles spread play across the width of the pitch they had an overlap and Ollie Stedman sent Robinson over in the corner.
A Ross penalty extended the Welsh lead after a good catch and drive, while the Exiles’ superiority in the scrum was already undeniable. Had the Exiles’ lineout been half as effective then Welsh might have already been out of sight.
As it was, Jake Sharp missed the chance to get the Blues on the board, with Bedford then bravely turning down a near certain three points to instead go for the corner, only for the Welsh defence to stand firm.
Bedford were enjoying a consolidated spell of pressure and territory, without ever really looking like scoring a try. Yet another Welsh penalty from a scrum was the trigger for Andrew and Fox to see red, with Fearn’s departure leaving the Blues down to 13-men.
Welsh wasted little time in taking advantage of their numerical superiority. Although Pritchard’s excellent cover tackle forced May into touch, Welsh struck from the resulting lineout, as they stretched the Blues’ defence first one way and then the other.
James Lewis made inroads down the right and when Welsh moved the ball back across the width of the field, May and Robinson found Ajuwa with a yard of space and the powerful winger wasn’t going to be denied from that kind of range.
On top, Welsh went for the jugular and Carl Kirwan was held up over the Bedford line, but some spirited defence saw the Blues make it to the break without further damage on the scoreboard.
Just as they had in the first half, the Blues again started the better and Pritchard got the Blues on the scoreboard with a penalty. Eight minutes later he added a second to leave just a score between the sides, with Exiles on the back foot.
Michael Le Bourgeois nearly made a telling first contribution when he broke the Welsh line, only for a subsequent forward pass to halt the Blues in their tracks.
Welsh could still rely on their scrum, however, and the penalty count against the Blues was rising. Turning that dominance into points was a proving a different matter until Ross added his second penalty in the 76th minute, only for Pritchard to hit straight back from the restart.
The Exiles made sure of the points in injury-time and fittingly the scrum would play a supporting role. With the Blues under pressure just five metres from their own tryline, the ball squirted loose and Stedman was quickest to react, and Nathan Morris forced his way over from close range.
Ross’ conversion left 14 points between the sides, but the Blues would at least have the final word as Edwards dived over in the corner. Pritchard’s conversion, though, would come back off the left hand upright and with it went a bonus point for the Blues.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Robinson, Ajuwa, Morris; Cons: Ross; Pens: Ross (2).
Bedford Blues scorers:
Tries: Edwards; Pens: Pritchard (3).
Referee: Matthew Carley
Referee Assistants: Thomas Davis & Jonathan Healy