A comfortable bonus point win for the Top 14 high flyers at first glance as they kept up the pressure on Edinburgh Rugby at the top of Pool 4, but London Welsh made the home side work for it in game played in tough conditions.
With 12 minutes remaining the Exiles trailed 12-3 and the game still hung, one felt, in the balance – there was certainly an uneasiness amongst the home support – but ultimately this was a tale of two sinbinnings.
The cagey stalemate of the opening 26 minutes was suddenly broken by Clement Maynadier’s try after James Lewis had been yellow carded amidst some desperate last-ditch Welsh defence on their own line.
Pierre Bernard converted with Tristan Roberts replying for the Exiles, but the home side stretched their lead to 12-3 eight minutes before half-time through Charles Brousse’s try in the corner.
The next score would be crucial and Welsh seemed posed to get it when Paulin Riva saw yellow after the Exiles had broken up field. But unlike Bordeaux, Welsh couldn’t make their extra man count and Metuisela Talebulamaijaina’s try made sure of the win for the home side. The excellent Bertrand Guiry wrapped up the bonus point score for Bordeaux to send the home fans away happy.
The rain had long since stopped by the time proceedings got underway at the Stade André-Moga, but its impact would be long felt. On such a mud bath of a surface this was always destined to be a gruelling, kick dominated affair, and so it proved.
From the kick-off the Exiles were on the back foot, but like so often this season in the early exchanges they soaked up the early pressure and absorbed everything the Top 14 side could throw at them.
The home side, though, were undoubtedly enjoying the lion’s share of possession and that dominance eventually brought points, although Bordeaux would have to wait until the 26th minute – far longer than they had no doubt envisaged.
In a game where every inch had to be fought for, the home side suddenly found space – breaking to within touching distance of the Welsh line. The Exiles’ scramble defence was good, but Bordeaux were on the front foot and Pierre Bernard seemed over, only for the referee to spot that the fly half had split the ball as he was tackled over the Welsh tryline.
With advantage still being played, however, Brousse wasted no time is taking a quick tap, hoping to catch the Exiles napping and short of numbers, and James Lewis saw yellow for not releasing.
Bordeaux opted for the scrum but one of the overriding positives on the night was the Welsh scrum, and the visitors were duly awarded a free kick. The reprieve was short, though, as a Bordeaux penalty soon after was pushed into the corner and a well worked move saw Baptiste Serin send Maynadier over.
Bernard added the conversion but from the restart Welsh were on the board as Roberts landed an excellent penalty, given the underfoot conditions.
Welsh were still minus James Lewis, though, and the home side extended their lead when Julien Le Devedec sent Brousse over in the corner. This time Bernard couldn’t convert and despite a spell of late pressure, the home side were forced to be content with a 12-3 lead at the end of a testing first half in which both sides struggled to keep hold of the ball in the conditions.
The next score would be key and it should have gone the way of the visitors. From soaking up more pressure inside their 22, the Exiles suddenly turned defence into attack as Rhys Crane kicked long. Rob Lewis on the chase hacked on and although Seb Stegmann couldn’t do likewise, Bordeaux wing Paulin Riva saw yellow for slowing the ball down as Welsh desperately sensed an opportunity with the home side all at sea in defence.
Roberts pushed the resulting penalty into the corner, only for the home side to pinch the lineout and clear, and the chance had gone with the Exiles dragged into a muddy arm-wrestle for the remainder of the winger’s sinbinning.
Awarded a penalty with Riva pacing the sideline, Roberts’ attempt was wide to the right of the posts and the winger returned without any damage to the scoreboard in his absence.
Welsh had enjoyed the better of the third quarter and with the home side still harbouring hopes of catching Edinburgh, a certain uneasiness was growing inside the Stade André-Moga. The home support wanted the points put to bed, and their side hadn’t quite done that against a Welsh side which had showed a stubborn refusal to just lay down. With every passing minute the next score was becoming ever more crucial.
Twelve minutes from time, however, they could finally breathe easy. Serin’s chip caused havoc and Talebulamaijaina hacked on with the centre winning the race to touch down. Lionel Beauxis converted.
With the game safe the home side now went in search of the bonus point and it arrived six minutes from the end. Jefferson Poirot was held up over the line, but from the resulting scrum Guiry picked up and drove his way over for try number four.
Tries: Maynadier, Brousse, Talebulamaijaina, Guiry, Cons: Beauxis (2), Bernard.
London Welsh scorers:
Referee: Gary Conway (IRE)
Touch Judges: Kieran Barry & Olly Hodges